Skills and Value

Topics are building up in my head faster than I have time to write them, and so despite the fact that I swore I was going to write about numerous other topics, particularly in the area of psychology a Facebook conversation has led me down a different path.

The conversation was about a McDonalds worker who wanted her $8/hr salary to go up to

From money.cnn.com

the living wage of $15/hr.  Which is still not a terribly high wage.  The conversation that ensued went as you’d expect.  Most people (who are in good jobs and living comfortably) saying that working at McDonalds requires no skill and thus should be paid accordingly.  Or criticizing the person for not doing more with their life and thus have no one but themselves to blame.  One person did make the argument that no wage has kept pace with inflation, which is true, but minimum wage has gone up at an even slower rate.

I made numerous arguments in response, most importantly challenging the assumption that the person had all these choices in their life.   Most of the people reading this blog live in a position of privilege.   And it’s not your fault.  Your parents probably pushed you, help educate you, made you aware of different options for your life, encouraged you to do well in school.  You probably grew up in relatively safe neighborhoods.  You had friends that were similar to you.  You had good schools to go to, with a lot of skilled teachers.  But not all neighborhoods are safe.  Not all parents care enough to encourage your education.

From blog.volunteerspot.com

Not all schools are equal in the quality of education they provide.  Some environments make it easier to fall into a bad crowd.  Not everyone has the freedom to go for further training after they get out of high school.  Maybe they have to work to take care of a sick parent who has massive bills because they couldn’t afford health insurance.  There are a million scenarios that could limit the opportunities one has.

I also made the argument that I did not choose my career path as a meteorology professor because of the money.  It is because I loved it.  I am glad it pays well enough for me to live comfortably.  But should all of a sudden a McDonalds job become available that pays more.  I am not going to jump ship and say, “Yay more money, flipping burgers all day is going to be awesome!”.

An argument was made by someone that garbage men get paid a good wage so they

From nypost.com

could do that instead of working at McDonalds.  Okay true.  But we can’t all be sanitation workers let alone teachers, lawyers and doctors.  It’s also important to remember that at one time sanitation workers didn’t get paid very much.  Thanks to unions though they could organize, strike, and refuse to pick up garbage until they made a decent wage to live by.  Because picking up the trash and removing waste from our streets is actually an important and necessary part of our society.

I think education and teachers are extremely important.  But do I think that makes a job that doesn’t require as much knowledge and skill less important?  Of course not.  There is nothing inherently more valuable about my role in society than someone who picks up the garbage.  In fact someone could argue that picking up the trash is perhaps more important.  When trash was in the streets, things like the bubonic plague happened.  Hygiene and sanitation are extremely important.  So let’s go a step further.  Is there anything more inherently valuable about my job than a restaurant worker?  Arguably we can have a world without restaurants and everybody cooks their own food.  Might  not be a bad world, but that’s not ultimately our world.  People like to go out to eat.  There will always be restaurants.  So restaurants are just as much part of the fabric of society as anything else.  So should the required skill level in any job be what determines the wage.  The sanitation worker, from a skill level is just as demanding as a burger flipper and yet makes more.   Is that right?  I would further argue that an employee earning a living wage at any job has more loyalty to the company and stays longer thus becoming better at their job.  If you’ve had bad service at a McDonalds, maybe it’s because they are constantly having to train new people since the pay is so bad that people leave after a short time.  The money isn’t probably worth the level of abuse they get from customers.

Now there are even more good arguments to be made about a McDonalds worker making a living wage.  They would need less social programs saving the taxpayer money, they can perhaps afford to move to send their kids to a better school to break the cycle of poverty, not to mention they may now have more free time to better themselves or spend with their kids, which also helps break the cycle.  However what concerns me the most is the attitude towards the poor.  One commenter on this thread said that “it serves them right making a low wage for their self-inflicted wounds”.  I was like wow.  As I’ve just argued it is extremely judgmental to assume the wounds are self-inflicted, but basically this person is saying:

“Hey poor person, sucks about the mistakes you made in the past.  You deserve now to suffer the rest of your life because of that”.

How callous is that? I wonder if that person has ever had somebody so unforgiving to their mistakes. And how should the poor person respond?

” Thank a lot Captain Hindsight.  Now that I realize my mistakes I’ll go back in time and fix it.”

Furthermore we can see how materialistic our society is by people who would look down on poor people in such a way.  Because where is the condemnation to the rich owner of

From socialmarketbuzz.com

McDonalds or any corporation?  Why don’t we judge him just as harshly?  Because he has money of course.  And obviously he must be working really really hard in order to make all that money.  This is of course nonsense.  A single mother working two jobs to support her family is most definitely working harder than the CEO of McDonalds. And I doubt that mother is having fancy lunches on an expensive account and playing a round of golf out in the sun with business associates.  But even if they were equal, why is that CEO more valuable than the person working at minimum wage jobs?  The corporation itself made almost $30 billion last year in revenues.  And the CEO’s take home pay is $9 million a year.  Is that CEO that much more valuable than one of his employees?  Is he/she that much more skilled?

And if workers should get a living wage, many argue about how much everything will cost.  But there is a second option.  The company could make less money.  The CEO could make less money.  Is that likely?  Perhaps not, but in the free market there is always somebody who is going to take an advantage of an opportunity and will undercut the competition and take home only 2 million a year instead.  That CEO is still living a better life than 99.99% of the people in this world.  If we want to equate a monetary value to skill, a CEO still makes far beyond what his or her skill warrants.

The Great Pyramids, one of the 7 wonders of the world, was built on the backs of slave labor to entomb the rich and powerful.  When I look at the vast wealth of a few, at the expense of countless millions who can barely meet their daily nutritional needs for themselves and their families, I wonder how much things have really changed.  What’s clear is that by dehumanizing the poor as many do in this country it allows a system to continue that allows the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.  So it saddens and sickens me when I hear people idolize wealth and abhor the poor.  If the income gap continues to widen in this country I can tell you that statistically speaking one is more likely to find themselves in a poor man’s shoes.  Perhaps only then will people learn.