Democratizing the workplace

I came across this article from the BBC the other day and it absolutely fascinated me. The article focuses on a Swedish software firm , Crisp, and their rather innovative approach to how their business is structured.

Crisp doesn’t have a CEO.

Yassal Sundman, a developer at the firm, explains: “We said, ‘what if we had nobody as our next CEO – what would that look like?’ And then we went through an exercise and listed down the things that the CEO does.” The staff decided that many of the chief executive’s responsibilities overlapped with those of the board, while other roles could be shared among other employees. “When we looked at it we had nothing left in the CEO column, and we said, ‘all right, why don’t we try it out?'” says Ms Sundman.

This is something that I have long suspected about the business world–that in many cases, the boss is completely superfluous. More on that in a bit. So what does a workplace without a designated leader look like?

Crisp holds four-day meetings for all staff two to three times a year. They are used to making decisions on issues that affect everyone, such as an office move, but workers are encouraged to make decisions themselves at other times. It also still has a board – a legal requirement – and this can be used as a last resort to resolve issues if something is not working.

Imagine that, the people who are actually doing the work are making the decisions! Together!

Henrik Kniberg, an organisational coach at the firm, argues that not having to ask a boss for decisions on projects or budgets means the firm can respond faster. “If you want to get something done, you stand up and start driving that,” he says. Yet Mr Kniberg stresses that not having to ask permission does not remove the need for staff to discuss issues or bounce ideas off each other. Because they are all in charge, workers are more motivated, he argues. Crisp regularly measures staff satisfaction, and the average is about 4.1 out of five.

Who would have guessed that giving the worker bees more freedom and self-determination would lead to a happier and more agile workforce? Truly shocking.

What I like about this article is that, for me at least, it dispels some long held myths that people have about business that they apply to their politics. There’s this idea that business is always better at everything than government. I’ve said for years that this patently false for a variety of reasons, but I think this article really drive home on central point:

Businesses can be just as bloated, top-heavy, and overly-administrative as the worst government you can think of. The equivalent of bureaucracy is alive and well in the private sector, and it’s just as detrimental.

I’m not sure how many presidents, vice presidents, junior vice presidents, CFOs and CEOs a company needs, but I’m willing to bet that, as this article from the BBC suggests, the answer is probably “None of them.”

The average CEO in 2014 made $22.6 million dollars per year. That’s a pretty tidy sum for a position, that, if Crisp’s example is any indication of, is essentially worthless. What’s more, that year CEO salaries increased almost 9%–way ahead of the 2.4% that the rest of the economy grew. And a 2000 study found that performance is a weak indicator of CEO compensation. The best predictor of CEO salary was the size of the company–no matter how terrible of a job they did. I’m sure everyone remembers all of those Wall St. folks that gave themselves huge bonuses after they collapsed the economy? The numbers are all here for you to take a look at.

And then there’s the lovely ‘golden parachute’ that we all hear about so much, which sounds like something Donald Trump would pay Russian hookers for, but is really just a giant check they give the top brass upon retirement. Here’s a list of the top 20 golden parachutes according to Bloomberg. I’ll recreate the top five for you here:

  1. Steve Wynn (Wynn Resorts): $358,134,747
  2. David Simon (Simon Property Group): $302,425,834
  3. John Hammergren (McKesson): $198,150,788
  4. David Zaslav (Discovery Communications): $161,119,864
  5. Brent Saunders (Allergan): $140,672,343

Man, what a great deal: getting paid tens of millions of dollars a year no matter how poorly you perform…and then they give you HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS when you retire!

What a fucking joke.

How many billions of dollars are wasted every year on executives that don’t do shit? Billions that could be reinvested in the company or the employees. While everyone else’s hours and benefits are slashed because of taxes or Obamacare or whatever bullshit line they throw out, the CEO gets to retire with hundreds of millions of dollars in his pocket. Notice how it’s never the top earners that are asked to tighten their belts during the lean times?

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But why is it this bad? How do these salaries get set? Well, in many companies, executive compensation is set by the board of directors. And who’s on the board? You guessed it–all of the executives. Executive salaries are out of control and keep going up despite poor job performance because they’re the ones giving themselves the raises and the golden parachutes. Pretty convenient, huh? This article in Forbes covers some of the insane catch-22s that allow this kind of unfettered greed and inefficiency to continue.

And then people wonder why a candidate like Bernie Sanders is so popular with people. Because people are tired of being bullshitted by business leaders and conservative politicians about how dire everything is while they keep making more and more money. They tell us all that they’ll need to get rid of social security and medicare while lowering the tax rates on the guy who just made $358,134,747 simply for retiring.

Because for all the ways they paint the private sector as noble, something for government to aspire to, the same bullshit happens there, too. The same bloating, the same excess, the same waste, the same frivolity. The same lack of accountability for the people at the top. Human greed and ignorance permeates all aspects of society, something that is often lost on conservatives. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Companies like Crisp are showing that. They’re just starting to show that there’s a different way to do things. You can essentially democratize the workplace–give the employees the reigns. Give the employees more of a stake in things. Give the employees the freedom they don’t get with a top-down organizational structure.

Because the same is is true in the workplace as it is in politics: the people have the power. Unions used to be how workers flexed that muscle. And then the bullshit started. “Well, you know, those unions, they just ensure that bad workers can’t be fired.” You hear this bullshit all the time, like with teachers. The teachers union just protects bad teachers!

An argument that seems especially ironic given that of the top 25 paid CEOs in ANY GIVEN YEAR from 1993-2012, one quarter of them worked for firms that took federal bailout money. In other words, these incompetent assholes fucked up, then used your tax money to stay in business and continue to give themselves a massive raise and an even more massive golden parachute. But hey, it’s the unions that are greedy, right?

It’s all bullshit, folks. Did you know that there are countries that don’t have a minimum wage? Doesn’t the sounds like a conservative republican’s idea of paradise!? Well, not so fast. Places like Iceland and Sweden have no minimum wage because workers have the right to collectively bargain. A lot of those evil socialist countries follow that model.

Oh, I get it: when the CEO gets to determine their own outrageous salary, it’s capitalism and moxie, but when the workers try to have a say in how much they’re paid it’s evil socialism. Again, how convenient.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that the government is wasteful and stupid, count for them the many ways the the private sector is also full of corrupt hypocrites.

 

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In defense of socialized medicine

Socialized or government run healthcare is often derided by its capitalist critics here in America. But does it really deserve all of the hate and mistrust that it gets from us? So many times I’ve heard people claim that such systems are inefficient, even tyrannical because they limit choices. More recently, I’ve heard and read many people talking about how even people in the Scandinavian countries are turning their backs on socialist principles.

However, much of these claims remain to be proven. Strangely, nobody ever offers evidence that increased choice leads to better health outcomes. As for inefficiency, most people who demonize socialized medicine cry about increased wait times for procedures. And what about citizens themselves turning their backs on socialized medicine? I’m willing to bet that the majority of the people who make this claim have never been to any of these other countries and have never bothered to ask its citizens what they actually think–they’re simply parroting economic and political rhetoric and propaganda.

In reality, it’s actually pretty easy to take a magnifying glass to socialized medicine and hold it up to scrutiny. There are a lot of data one can analyze and compare to determine whether socialized medicine is really the evil and inefficient scourge that people claim. There’s even a way to find out what the people in places like Sweden actually think about their healthcare: by–shockingly–asking them point blank and not relying on American politicians and conservative economists to spoon feed you their own biases.

There are two primary resources that we’re going to be looking at in this post. The first is here. That link will take you to the complete 2014 International Profiles of Health Care Systems released by The Commonwealth Fund. The majority of the information I will be providing comes directly from the report. It’s an excellent read, albeit a long one. The report compares the healthcare systems of Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US. That’s a pretty broad base to compare, and I feel it’s an adequate sample to really show genuine reflections in outcomes and costs.

First, it’s worth noting exactly how all of these systems work in terms of how they cover healthcare. Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Sweden all have national health systems that cover all citizens, run by the government, and funded through taxpayers. France, Germany, and Switzerland have a statutory insurance mandate, similar to Obamacare, wherein all citizens are required to purchase insurance; funding largely comes from employee/employer contributions. And finally the US, where 56% of people have private insurance, 13% are uninsured, and the remaining 31% are covered under government run programs (Medicare, Medicaid).

Now, the first thing we can do is look at cost, since that’s currently what we are bemoaning here in the US. Per capita, here is what healthcare spending looks like in each of those countries. I will highlight the highest and lowest numbers.

  • Australia: $3,997
  • Canada: $4,602
  • Denmark: $4,698
  • France: $4,288
  • Germany: $4,811
  • Italy: $3,209
  • Japan: $3,649
  • Netherlands: $5,219
  • New Zealand: $3,172
  • Norway: $6,140
  • Singapore: $2,881
  • Sweden:$4,106
  • Switzerland: $6,080
  • UK: $3,289
  • US:$8,745

The US pays the most, almost double the average of $4592. Now, what about spending as a part of GDP?

  • Australia: 9.1%
  • Canada: 10.90%
  • Denmark: 11.00%
  • France: 11.60%
  • Germany: 11.30%
  • Italy: 9.2%
  • Japan: 10.30%
  • Netherlands: 12.1%
  • New Zealand: 10.00%
  • Norway: 9.30%
  • Singapore: 4.7%
  • Sweden: 9.6%
  • Switzerland: 11.40%
  • UK: 9.3%
  • US: 16.90%

Again, the US spends the most. We get an average here of around 11%, and the US is a good 50% higher than that.

So we spend the most of all of those countries. Surely, then, we get better outcomes for that, right? Well, let’s look at some healthcare quality indicators listed in the survey. The first one is: “Diabetes lower extremity amputation rates per 100,000.”

  • Australia: 4.6
  • Canada: 10
  • France: 7.1
  • Germany: 18.4
  • Netherlands: 13.5
  • New Zealand: 6.7
  • Norway: 8.7
  • Sweden: 3.3
  • Switzerland: 7.1
  • UK: 5.1
  • US: 17.1

Hey, look! The US wasn’t #1! That honor goes to Germany. But just barely, we’re a close second. It’s still worth pointing out that we’re still nearly double the average rate (9.2). So I don’t really know if I would qualify that as a victory.

What about lifespan?

  • Australia: 82.8
  • Canada: 82.2
  • Denmark: 80.6
  • France: 82.4
  • Germany: 81.0
  • Italy: 82.7
  • Japan: 83.7
  • Netherlands: 81.9
  • New Zealand: 81.6
  • Norway: 81.8
  • Singapore: 83.1
  • Sweden: 82.4
  • Switzerland: 83.4
  • UK: 81.2
  • US: 79.3

(Data from the WHO).

We don’t seem to live the longest, which is odd considering how much we pay compared to everyone else. Okay, well what about deaths due to the healthcare system? In other words, how many avoidable deaths in the healthcare system were there (per 100,000)?

  • Australia: 57
  • Canada: n/a
  • France: 55
  • Germany: 76
  • Netherlands: 66
  • New Zealand:79
  • Norway: 64
  • Sweden:61
  • Switzerland: n/a
  • UK: 83
  • US: 96

Yikes. Looks like our healthcare system kills more people.

Now it wasn’t all bad news for the US. We had the highest 5 year breast cancer survival rate (barely) and we were somewhere in the middle of the pack when it came to mortality after admission to a hospital for a heart attack. And that seemed to be the general trend, that the US was either the worst offender or somewhere in the middle.

Okay, what about the long waits and rationing? There were several markers here. The first was “Able to get same or next day appointment when sick.”

  • Australia: 58%
  • Canada:41%
  • France: 57%
  • Germany: 76%
  • Netherlands: 63%
  • New Zealand: 72%
  • Norway: 52%
  • Sweden: 58%
  • Switzerland:n/a
  • UK: 52%
  • US: 48%

Everywhere else but Canada it’s easier to get a same/next day appointment. The next measure was “Very or somewhat easy getting care after hours.”

  • Australia: 46%
  • Canada: 38%
  • France: 36%
  • Germany: 56%
  • Netherlands: 56%
  • New Zealand: 54%
  • Norway: 58%
  • Sweden: 35%
  • Switzerland: 49%
  • UK: 69%
  • US: 39%

Again, the US isn’t the worst, but it’s far below the average (48.7%). Okay, now the one I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for: “Waited 2 months or more for a specialist appointment.”

  • Australia: 18%
  • Canada: 29%
  • France: 18%
  • Germany: 10%
  • Netherlands: 3%
  • New Zealand: 19%
  • Norway: 26%
  • Sweden: 17%
  • Switzerland: 3%
  • UK: 7%
  • US: 6%

Well, well, well. While it’s true that other people have to wait longer to see a specialist, we weren’t necessarily the fastest. And it isn’t as if people those other countries are dying in the streets because they can’t see a doctor. Indeed, it would seem as if this whole issue is really a nonissue–clearly it doesn’t affect mortality, as every other country on the list had a higher average lifespan than America. Also, “waiting” depends on what we’re talking about: we might get people into specialists faster, but other countries do primary care faster than we do. However, there’s one more piece of this issue to look at: “Experienced access barrier because of cost in the past year.”

  • Australia: 16%
  • Canada: 13%
  • France: 18%
  • Germany: 15%
  • Netherlands: 22%
  • New Zealand: 21%
  • Norway: 10%
  • Sweden:6%
  • Switzerland: 13%
  • UK:4%
  • US: 37%

While it’s true we do get people seen faster in some instances, we certainly make them pay through the nose for it. So much so that some people can’t or don’t access healthcare at all. I wrote awhile back about stress in America and the role that Americans said money played: 20% said they put off medical appoints because of cost. That’s worth noting.

Also worth noting before we move on is how much people pay for drugs per capita in each country:

  • Australia: $588
  • Canada: $771
  • Denmark: $295
  • France: $651
  • Germany: $668
  • Italy: $514
  • Japan: $718
  • Netherlands: $450
  • New Zealand: $297
  • Norway: $414
  • Singapore: n/a
  • Sweden: $478
  • Switzerland: $562
  • UK: n/a
  • US: $1,010

Look at that, ours is the only number with a comma in it.

Okay. So we’ve looked at efficiency and outcomes. But what about popularity? You often hear that criticism. “Well yeah, it’s cheaper in Sweden, but the people over there hate it!” Is that really true? Well, luckily for us, we have some sources.

Public views of the health system: “Works well, minor changes needed.”

  • Australia: 48%
  • Canada: 42%
  • France:  40%
  • Germany:42%
  • Netherlands: 51%
  • New Zealand: 47%
  • Norway: 46%
  • Sweden: 44%
  • Switzerland: 54%
  • UK: 63%
  • US: 25%

You can ask the converse, too: “Needs to be completely rebuilt.”

  • Australia: 9%
  • Canada: 8%
  • France: 11%
  • Germany: 10%
  • Netherlands: 5%
  • New Zealand: 8%
  • Norway: 12%
  • Sweden: 10%
  • Switzerland: 7%
  • UK: 4%
  • US: 27%

Well it looks to me like socialized medicine is pretty popular. Meanwhile, a much higher percentage of people don’t like the American healthcare system. In fact, very few people in countries with socialized medicine feel it needs to be completely abandoned. That’s not exactly a stinging rebuke of socialism. As an example, I find it interesting that Canada, the nation with the worst scores when it came to access, had numbers in the single digits with regard to completely scrapping their system. And we can look at other sources, as well.

Eurobarometer conducts public polling in the EU. When asked about the overall safety and quality of their healthcare, almost 3/4 of EU citizens responded that it’s good (71%).

While it’s true that in many other countries people can purchase private or supplemental insurance, those numbers are generally low, with some exceptions. In England, only 11% of people buy supplemental coverage. That number plummets to 7% and 5% in Norway and Sweden. Again, hardly a shunning or abandonment of socialist principles. And where those numbers are much higher (between 50-70% of people) that coverage mostly allows for things like private hospital rooms, elective surgery, optometry, etc–it doesn’t necessarily buy access to better basic care (although in some cases it certainly can buy you access to faster private hospitals and doctors).

Alright, so what can we conclude from all of this? Well, for one, we can say that when politicians call US healthcare the greatest on earth, they’re talking out their asses. It’s not. The data clearly demonstrate that it isn’t. It doesn’t manage to make us live longer, and it puts us in the middle of the pack when it comes to industrialized nations as far as most other health outcomes. We pay the highest prices for mediocre results, basically.

At this point, I don’t really know how anyone can completely bash socialized medicine. It produces better outcomes for less money. That isn’t up for debate, that’s what the numbers indicate. There are some aspects that don’t measure up to the needs of some Americans, like the amount of time one waits to see a specialist. Although, that might be one reason why they pay so much less than we do: they don’t refer people to specialists at the drop of a hat. That probably saves a lot of money in the long run.

These data also seem to speak against the idea that “When the government gets involved everything goes wrong.” On the contrary, we see that the countries where the government is most involved have the lowest costs, the best outcomes, and the highest rate of approval among their citizens.

And as far as the “they’re all fleeing socialism to embrace the free market” lines go, that’s a bunch of baloney. By and large, people are satisfied with socialized medicine, and people are turning to private industry mostly for niche care. And even if more people are embracing some aspects of the free market, they aren’t doing so while abandoning socialism: it seems most countries agree that basic healthcare is a human right, and all citizens should have access to it.

I suspect that the American fear and hatred of socialized medicine is due to several factors. One, for many generations we’ve simply been taught by our government that socialism and communism are dire enemies. Two, here in American we’re used to a corrupt and inefficient government, so we naturally don’t see how centrally planned healthcare can work. But just because our government is inept doesn’t mean that all others are; indeed, it would seem that every other government has found a way to produce better outcomes with less money, which doesn’t exactly prove the “government is inept” theory. Admittedly, socialized medicine wouldn’t work in the current American government. Mostly because the government is bought and paid for in America, where overseas that isn’t the case (or at least not to the same extent as here). Which brings us to three: healthcare, to most of the world, is a human right, while in the United States it remains mostly a privilege.

Most countries see the health of their citizens as something that shouldn’t be considered a for profit venture. We can’t really say the same for the US. We provide healthcare for the elderly, but even that’s questionable now that republicans control all three branches of the government here. There’s a very real possibility that Medicare will be dismantled and replaced with a voucher system where our seniors will purchase private insurance. The problem with that is that insurance companies are in it to make money, and if a senior can’t afford what the insurance companies are charging, tough luck. I guess grandma doesn’t get healthcare.

In reality, having the government run everything allows them to stand up to the pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies (where applicable) and set price ceilings and negotiate. In our American system, we pretty much let private companies write the laws, literally. And now we have a group of people in power who want less government involved, because for some reason the same people who were going to drop you like a brick when you got sick are magically going to have a change of heart once Uncle Sam isn’t looking.

In summation: socialized medicine works. It’s cheaper and it’s more effective. It’s nothing to be afraid of, unless you own stock in an insurance or pharmaceutical company. Anyone who tells you different just isn’t living in a world of facts (or ethics, if you ask me).

I leave you with a meme.

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Why do we work?

The other day my brother was showing me this Facebook thread that he was commenting on. The subject was Wal-Mart paying their employees more. There was one comment that caught my eye in particular. You’ll find a comment just like it said or written in just about any discussion about wages or income inequality, and it goes something like this: “BUT IF WE ALL MAKE THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY WHAT INCENTIVE DO PEOPLE HAVE TO WORK HARD?!?!?!”

That panic-stricken caps lock emphasis is my own, because I always imagine these people shouting in confusion and ignorance at their computer monitors. But this is a pretty common attitude for people to have, surprisingly. I posted once before about raising the minimum wage, and the subject of that article, the owner of the longest lived McDonald’s franchise, said something to the effect of, “If I started people out above minimum wage, what incentive do they have to learn their job?” From here, conversations with people who believe this kind of drivel usually degrade into tirades about socialism and how welfare just keeps people dependent upon the government teat. All of these ideas share one common theme: Incentive.

What drives people, what motivates them, what makes them act (or not act)? I’d like to tackle this subject and expose some of this economic/political rhetoric for what it really is: total bullshit. Let’s begin, shall we?

1. Welfare just makes people lazy and not want to work. 

I certainly hear this one a lot. This idea is alive and well, and the stories of “the welfare queen” can still be heard or read, even though that story is total crap. Modern iterations include people on welfare with new expensive cell phones and iPads, etc. But the idea is still the same: people on welfare live high on the hog and never lift a finger, etc. All on your dime! Except that, as the story about the welfare queen explains, only 2% of welfare cases are fraudulent. Furthermore, the people most likely to benefit from social safety nets in general are children and the elderly. But let’s take the crux of this idea–that welfare is a disincentive for people to work–and examine it for a moment.

I find several things about this ironic. First, I’d be willing to wager that most of the people making this argument about welfare themselves would prefer or choose not to work if they didn’t have to. How many people dream about winning the lottery or striking it big so they can quit working? Gambling and the lottery are big business for a reason.

Second, and more importantly, are the solutions for dealing with this “problem.” The problem to these people is the government. Fine, but there have always been homeless people or people who are out of work or unable to work, and there probably always will be in our society. So what do these people propose to do about that? “Well, that’s not the job of the government, that’s where private citizens and charity can play a role.”

Ah, yes, charity. Everything the government does is evil and wasteful, and everything private business and individuals do is brilliant and effective. Spoiler alert: it’s much easier to defraud or embezzle from a charity or private business because there is no oversight like there is with government programs.

So then, the follow up question: why wouldn’t people just come to rely upon charity the same way they rely upon welfare and other social safety programs sponsored by the government? The correct answer is that there’s nothing at all that says they wouldn’t. If someone is going to defraud the government of money, they’re probably willing to defraud total strangers of it too. So stop volunteering at the soup kitchen! All those free meals are just going to make the homeless want to stay homeless! Stop donating your old clothes to Goodwill or Salvation Army–you’re just teaching children that they can rely on freebies and handouts! See how ridiculous the logic behind the “welfare makes people lazy” is?

2. It’s socialism!

Apparently all of the people out there who make these claims about income inequality and wages never made it past 8th grade social studies, because they certainly have zero idea what the hell socialism really is. So let’s go ahead and straighten this matter out right here and right now.

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Socialism is defined by the dictionary as, “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution,of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”  So where in that definition does it say everyone will make the same amount of money? That’s right, it doesn’t.

I have zero idea where the notion came from, but there is nothing in socialism that dictates equal income. You can go to any socialist country on the planet and you’ll find people of varying incomes and a representative elected government. There’s nothing to be terrified of.

More to the point, you already use things everyday that are “socialist” in nature. If you send your children to public school, congrats–you’re participating in socialism! If you support our troops, congrats–you’re supporting socialism! And more to the point, I don’t think any sane person, regardless of their political bent, would argue that public school and the military are bad things. But aside from the fact that people are generally wealthier, healthier, and happier in socialist countries, the people who like to espouse the evils of socialism are totally right on the money. Please read that last bit with sarcasm.

3. IF WE ALL MAKE THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY WHAT INCENTIVE WILL PEOPLE HAVE TO WORK?!

I saved the most ridiculous argument for last. There are a lot of things wrong with this line of thinking. Buried within this idea is a statement about hard work: some people don’t deserve to make as much money as other people because they don’t work as hard. I’ve tackled this issue before, but let’s tackle it again. What exactly constitutes “hard” work? You could probably ask 10 different people and get 10 different answers.

And that’s one of the problems with this argument. There’s no way to quantify “hard work” and so any comparison of jobs or careers will never be apples-to-apples. Is manual labor “harder” work than creative or intellectual work, or vice versa? There’s no correct answer to that question. Politicians are often fond of saying that teachers, policemen, and firemen are “the backbone of this country.” Yet their pay is hardly reflective of that sentiment. Does a doctor or lawyer work “harder” than a policeman or a teacher? Ask a policeman or a teacher if you’re struggling with this concept.

“Fine, but doctors and lawyers need more extensive training and spend more time in school,” one might say in rebuttal. Yes, that’s true, and I would agree that this obviously plays a role in their wages. However, other highly specialized work is paid less than non-specialized work. The average salary according to Standford University of an electrical engineer with a PhD is $108,000. Meanwhile, according to payscale.com the average CEO makes $152,000/year. And how many CEO’s do you know with a PhD in CEO-ing?

Obviously education and training plays a role in determining wages, but only to a small degree. So, some people might argue, the answer is how important a job is! On the surface that makes sense. That’s the common economic argument: that people are paid according to how valuable their job is to society. But again, let’s think about what makes a job “valuable” to society. Let’s think of our policemen and firemen, and then expand that idea to include people like garbage collectors and utility workers.

Every single one of those jobs earns somewhere around $50,000/year on average. Now, compare that again with the CEO’s pay. Or the pay of the average NBA player salary, which is $4,167,386/year (Chris Bosh makes $118,705,300 alone). Now let’s perform a little thought experiment. Let’s imagine that tomorrow, suddenly every single police officer, firefighter, garbage collector, and utility worker disappeared from the face of the earth all at once. How do you imagine your life would be affected? Things probably wouldn’t run so smoothly, huh? Might be a little difficult, to say the least, until they could be replaced. In short, if these people didn’t exist, your life would suck a lot harder.

Now let’s imagine what would happen if tomorrow every professional athlete, actor, and musician disappeared. What would happen? A big resounding nothing. Society would continue to function and your life wouldn’t be quantitatively affected at all. What if all the CEO’s disappeared? Again, probably nothing. I’m willing to bet that most people in larger companies and corporations have never met the CEO and never will. In other words, them knowing how to do accounting or marketing or cashiering has absolutely nothing to do with the existence of a CEO. Unless you think that CEO’s go around everyday and one-on-one show every single employee how to do their job, CEO’s are more or less superfluous.

A case in point...
A case in point…

So while value to society does play a role in determining wages, it’s really only up to a certain point. We pay the people who contribute nothing meaningful to society the most, while leaving teachers and plumbers and utility workers to languish in stagnant wages. Clearly something else is afoot here. The truth of the matter is that your wage is determined by how much someone with more money is willing to pay you. If they want to offer you less they will and if they want to offer you more they’ll offer you more. It’s as simple as that. There’s no hard science or mathematical formula that determines wages.

Chris Rock once had a bit about the minimum wage. “If an employer is paying you minimum wage, what they’re really saying is ‘I would be paying you less money if it weren’t illegal.'”

Okay, what about the idea that with equal income, there is no incentive to move up the ladder or work harder or whatever other bullshit this idea is peddling? Well, I would argue that is patently false. Most obvious is the fact that people aren’t motivated solely by money, as evidenced by the fact that we aren’t all lawyers and hedge fund managers. Let’s examine some of the non-financial things that motivate people to work.

a) people find their job challenging/interesting/intellectually or physically stimulating

b) people want to make a difference or change in the world

c) people like their coworkers/clients

d) pride/personal enrichment

I just find it utterly baffling that people think the invisible hand of Adam Smith only operates if there is inequality. I don’t know why people think that, considering there is no logical or practical reason to assume so. If you believe that people choose jobs based upon their natural personalities, inclinations, and abilities, then it shouldn’t matter how much money people make: they will always gravitate toward varying and different jobs.

People who make these arguments reduce people to automatons. They think people are no better than trained animals doing tricks for treats. The argument that people will only perform if paid is the same logic we use to train circus animals. Plus it’s demeaning to anyone who holds any sort of ideals higher than “I do work to make money to buy shiny crap.” This philosophy almost denigrates people who want to do things for altruistic reasons. It completely removes the ethical and intellectual arguments for work and productivity. It’s dishonest and it’s low brow. And quite frankly it needs to stop.