Why We Look down on Low Wage Earners – Free Ebook

We’re not necessarily involved in this kind of judgment ourselves, but we recognize the phenomenon in our society well enough. The more someone earns, the more likely to be admired by strangers and perceived as interesting and exciting. Respect appears all too often to be directly awarded, according to earnings. And in a related move, if you don’t have much economic endorsement, it can be hard for your character or views to be taken seriously. It’s not a mystery that this relationship got established. because there are so many conspicuous cases where we find a genuine link between talent, effort, skill, contribution, and income. The most impressive examples involves brilliant surgeons, the authors of Matilda and Harry Potter, or the team behind the development of graphene. All these geniuses had a lot of talent, they made a lot of money, and their contributions are terrific. They make the connections between a high income and virtue seem right and natural. But, turn to the pages of economics textbooks, and a very different, far less emotive account of wages emerges. Economics states that : wages are determined, not by social contribution, but by the number of people able and willing to do a given job, that others want done. If there are a lots of people able to complete the task, you won’t need to offer very much money to get their labor. And if there are very few people able to do the job, you’ll have to pay a lot more. But note that there’s no room to judge the worth of the work being done. The determinant of wages is just the strength of demand in relation to supply. Taken in one direction, this explains the high salary of a hit man. A person who can, for the most exacting and difficult missions, where the target possesses private guards and is protected by triple glazed security glass, extract an early seven-figure sum $1,500,000. Simply because almost no one on earth is capable of carrying out such a complex maneuver. Taken in the other direction, the same theory of wages, explains the salary of the modern hospice nurse. Charged with accompanying people through their last days, a task as meaningful as one could imagine, yet whose yearly salary is a tiny fraction of the murderer’s stipend. In neither case do the wages have any connection to the contributions being made. It simply has to do with how many people are capable of carrying out a task, and how much demand there is for it. It so happens that in our society, some really wonderful qualities, like consideration, sympathy, and hard work, are actually rather widespread, which has a deeply paradoxical consequence. You can employ someone with astonishing qualities and get away with offering them pretty much nothing at all. The whole economic system can seem entirely lacking in justice. And our minds rebel against the gross violation of the principles of fairness. It’s normal if we should then scan the horizon in the hope of finding some answers that can lessen the pain. In the history of the West, there have been two huge intellectual attempts to resolve the impression of injustice around wages. The first is: Christianity, a doctrine which has insisted that a person’s worth is to be determined in an entirely different sense to the financial. After death, a person’s soul will be weighed by God, and his or her true merits perfectly rewarded for eternity. Wages can’t change here on earth, but the meaning of the wage will in the eyes of Christianity be altered, and the humiliation of poverty should hence lose some of it’s bitter sting. The other huge attempt to introduce justice was Marxism. Karl Marx’s work argued for a new world in which workers would, for the the first time, be rewarded according to the worth of their contributions to society. So down would go; the wages of the hit men, casino owners, and mining tycoons. And up would go the wages of the nurse, and the farmer. Communism would return justice to incomes. In their own day, these seemed like very impressive solutions. Yet for different reasons, they’re not in any way things we can now put our hopes on. The current economic order is pretty firmly established, and is not about to change any time soon. But the hopes remain for some way of dealing with the disjuncture between wages and contribution. It may be an odd place to look, but the most immediately usable solution to the situation may lie in a really unexpected place; the walls of an upper gallery in the Wallace Collection in London’s Manchester Square – home to a small painting called, The Lace Maker, by a little-known German artist called Casper Netscher, who painted it in 1664. We’ve caught the Lace Maker in what looks like a quiet mid-afternoon. She’s concentrating on a difficult task, carefully threading her needle. It would take her around five hours just to make one square centimeter. Her eye’s will tire, she’ll make something dazzling and moving, an externalization of the best sides of her nature. And yet, her reward for the exquisite craftsmanship will be a few pennies at best. Lace making was a major industry for women in the 17th and 18th centuries. But as it happens, it was also one of the lowest paid, for a stubborn unbudgable (immovable) reason we’re coming now to understand. Lots of people could do this work. Interestingly, many artists were drawn to paint lace makers at their task. The artists had no hopes of reforming how lace makers got paid, but they had an ambition to change the lives of lace makers nevertheless. They wanted to use art to alter the status of these lace makers. By directing viewers to the intelligence and dignity of the craft of lace making, they hoped to redeem the social standing of this economically slighted class. What the artist were doing with lace makers reflects a general capacity of art, to redraw what we think as prestigious and to return proper appreciation for what certain people, especially those deemed marginal by the dominant social hierarchy, are and do. Sadly, for all the status we accord it, art is actually a pretty small thing in the world. But the move that art has made, needs to, and can be redeployed on a much larger scale. Art is a mechanism for appreciation, which is particularly adept at the close study of the ways in which an individual might be deserving of tenderness, sympathy and admiration; and yet neglected by the wider world. The goal of art is to increase the amount of dense and accurate information about people’s jobs, so that we can stop using mere wages as our measuring rods. Once we get to know people well, in art or otherwise, the state of their bank balance invariably declines a little. And what they’re really bringing to their tasks, starts to emerge, along with a fairer way of distributing honor and respect.

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