Do our lives matter?

In a perfect society, I think that what people earn should depend solely upon the effort they put into their job.


Recently, I’ve been duking it out with friends who are Trump supporters, and one of them sent me a thought-provoking video.  (Which you should watch before you read my article).  It tells a simple story of three brothers with similar skills who own homes next to one another.  They decide to build a gate and resurface their common parking lot at the cost of $30,000.  Normally, that would call for each paying $10,000.  However,  Tom earns $25,000, less than Dick at $75,000 and Harry at $150,000.  So Tom proposes that they pay in accordance with their earnings. Which might make sense, except that Tom works half as much as the other two, and Harry puts half his earnings into savings and so has $25,000 interest income.  Moreover, Tom’s wife doesn’t work, Dick’s wife works part time and earns $25,000, and Harry’s wife works full time and earns $50,000.   So how do you deal with these additional facts?

If Tom and his wife worked as hard as Harry and his wife and also saved, they would also have $150,000.   Same for Dick and his wife.  Putting money into savings means you don’t have present enjoyment of the interest, not to mention the salary that you put away, so Tom and Dick should have a “virtual” $25,000 added to their earnings to balance what Harry does. And Tom and his wife should have a similar $75,000 added because she doesn’t work and he only works halftime, and Dick and his wife should have $25,000 added because she only works halftime.  Given all that, they should each pay $10,000 into the kitty.

Now let’s do a more difficult comparison.  Let’s suppose that none of the wives work and no one earns any interest.  Moreover, the three brothers each work 50 hours a week.  However, Harry has been lucky enough to be a basketball star and earns $150,000 a year.  Dick is bright enough to be an accountant and earns $75,000 a year.  But Tom is neither bright nor super athletic, and works as a janitor for $25,000 a year.

Under those circumstances, I would argue that Harry should pay 60% of the cost, Dick should pay 30% and Tom should pay 10%.  In other words, they should pay proportionally to their salaries, because each is working to the same degree, and the difference in pay is due to natural qualities that they were born with.   

If you’re a capitalist, you probably find that unfair, thinking that each person should be permitted to exploit and take advantage of their own qualities.  I would argue, though, that the skills Harry and Dick have are just a matter of luck, and Tom shouldn’t be penalized.

In a perfect society, I think that what people earn should depend solely upon the effort they put into their job.  If they suffer from bodily or mental weakness, or even bad luck, that shouldn’t be stacked against them.  So in other words, if you work your butt off, you should be paid the same whether you’re a janitor or the president of a company.  The important thing is putting in the effort.

If you’re a lawyer and you get into a case against another lawyer, you should both be paid the same, regardless of whether the case settles or one of you prevails over the other, so long as each of you does his or her best.

Well, then, you might ask, if your earnings don’t change no matter what you accomplish, then what will motivate you?  Answer: Your ranking in your career and your society.  If you win a lot of law cases, you get promoted to the top of your department or you get selected as a judge.  You get named as captain of your team.  Your birthday gets celebrated.  You get a celebratory march down main street.  You become elected as mayor of your town or governor of your state.  

If you’re the best janitor your town has ever had, you get a street named for you.

If money were no longer the way we tried to motivate people, there still are plenty of ways to instill motivation.  But if all salaries were equal, there should be plenty of money to go around, with plenty left over to provide care in disasters.

Focusing our attention on jobs and money will eventually cause disaster.  Artificial intelligence and robotics are bound to cut down on the jobs available, so our concern should not be just on work that produces goods and services.  We should pick those best suited to guide the robots, but we should also choose those best suited to be artists, writers, musicians, athletes, and other careers which will add to the happiness of all of us.  We should teach our children that all lives matter, regardless of race, creed, sex, gender, or occupation.  We should celebrate every person who adds to the betterment of others.  And, should we do that, cooperation will become the mainstay of our lives, and competitive things like war should disappear. 

I might also point out that crime should gradually disappear.  What would stealing money do?  If you appeared wealthier than everyone else, that would be a clear indication that you should be suspect of a crime.  And if everyone has more than enough, what would be the point of taking a chance on crime?  Better to put your effort into what you’re supposed to do and become celebrated.


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