Who is worth what?

Fresh Old Ideas

By Arnold Malone

Pioneer Columnist

Determining the value of a person’s work may be impossible. Who is worth what? We do know however, that a person’s value to society is not a measure that determines how much they are paid.

We are an interdependent society. We need others. Everyone needs our farmers and fishers. In fact, we need them three times a day. All human food comes from either soil or water. There are no other sources. We need carpenters, electricians, plumbers, mechanics, pharmacists, and hundreds and hundreds of others.

The whole list of whom we need is unending. Some needs are occasional like requiring a doctor, others are repitious such as a hair salon. Then some are situational such as needing a mechanic. All of our needs are a part of our societal interdependence. We all need people.

Yet when we look at who gets paid at the very top of the scale we find therein a group of persons who we may enjoy but certainly don’t need. This includes movie actors, sports professionals, and TV personalities.

Kawhi Leonard has signed with The Los Angeles Lakers for $103,000,000.00 for a three years contract with an op out clause at the end of the second year. No doubt Mr Leonard did create a lot of pride for Canadians and in particular those citizens in Toronto.

Nevertheless, $103 million for a non-needed service insults what we pay people we need or should need. When it comes to NEED I have never needed a baseball player or a movie star. Yet many of these people acquire a pay scale thousands of times greater than people whose services are essential for a good life.

Some of the most important jobs in improving our social structure are the very jobs that are underpaid. Daycare workers and caring for the elderly are worthy examples. Such people help mould our children and provide dignity in the winter of our lives.

Many families desire a two-person income and there are a lot of single parents. Such people need childcare. Moreover, childcare allows a single parent to have a job that pays taxes. Then rather than being a drain on government funds they are a contributor. There are too few day care and senior workers mainly because their reward is unattractive.

Finding a proper way to reward people for their contribution to society is difficult. How does one measure the value of an engineer against someone who helps to shape a child’s moral values? Who has the greater value, a farmer who feeds many or a doctor who cures many?

Some countries assigned a value to jobs and the governments set a pay scale.

That is a non-starter. I once was in a Polish souvenir store when Poland was under the administration of the, then, Soviet Union. I found an item that I wanted to purchase. However, five attendants were sitting in a circle while one person talked followed by group laughter. I think they were telling jokes.

I was unable to attract their attention. It was a situation unlike here in Canada where the customer is the foundation for business success. In that souvenir store, the customer was a nuisance. Those clerks got paid the same irrespective of whether they sold anything or not. I left without a purchase.

I don’t have an answer for the huge gap in pay between our needs and leisure. It would be wrong to destroy individual incentive for persons wanting to advance their own well being. Yet it just seems prima facia that paying a baseball player $18 million to play baseball is a reward too rich.

I am sure that you and I would play baseball for less than than half that amount.

Arnold Malone served as MP for Alberta’s Battle River and Crowfoot ridings from 1974 through 1993. He retired to Invermere in 2007.

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