Thursday, November 8, 2012

Spreading the Wealth

I was watching one of the campaign workers on the winning side of the recent election gush about what would be accomplished in the coming four years.  And during that she made a statement that I had heard before, but had never really thought about.  I do not remember precisely what she said but it was to the effect that they would continue the effort to level out incomes.

Much of what is spewed out during election campaigning gets filtered out somewhere between my ears and conscious thought: not sure why this particular statement did not. But the thought has settled down and is causing an itch that I need to scratch. I should admit upfront that I do not know all that is meant by this expression, and my understanding of economic stuff is generally limited to making periodic trips to Lowes or REI to stimulate the economy.  But when has expertise ever been a requirement for having an opinion.  And so, without further ado ...

I am assuming that many think of income leveling as having all of us fully employed, making good wages, and with no lower or upper class.  And that sounds really great.  But is it feasible?  Quite honestly, I don't see how it could.

It seems like a basic assumption to this is that all people are equal.  Now while there are some aspects of that which I believe have merit; it is not really a reflection of reality: we are all different.  As impressed as I might be with my meager athletic ability, I am not a Michael Jordan.  Neither am I an Einstein, a Billy Graham, a Bill Gates, or a skilled physician or business man.  I have an aptitude for certain fields that society seems to find valuable and is willing to reward me for.  And not in other fields.  And that is the same for pretty much all of us.

Is it reasonable for me, as a computer programmer with 4 years of college, to expect to earn the same salary as an experienced heart surgeon with 8+ years of college and medical school.  Or as a high school drop out who is flipping burgers at the local fast food joint?  Is it unreasonable to expect that those 'professions' that are more essential to society, that require more preparation, or are more difficult to fill, should be more highly compensated than those that are less essential, require less training or are easy to fill?

Even within a single profession, say computer programming, does it make sense to pay all of us the same amount?  If that were to happen, why would I put forth any more effort than was required to keep my job?  I might like that as a struggling programmer, but it would really offer no incentive to improve, or excel, if all I get is my own job satisfaction.

If I have the ability to efficiently and effectively run a big business, one that employees many people; is there anything inherently wrong with being well compensated?  After all, my ability is helping to keep many other people employed.  Why should my salary be the same as theirs.

Now I am all for having everyone gainfully employed and able to care for their families.  But it seems to me that wage leveling is not the way to do that.  Instead, it seems like it would disincentivize most people from becoming doctors or lawyers (maybe not a big loss) where the salary would not recompense the long training effort required.  It would offer no reason to advance in my job, since there is no financial reward for doing so.  And is it that much of a reach to imagine that this would even extend to those unwilling to work?  I wonder...

Before leaving this topic, I found an interesting quote attributed to Mikhail Gorbachev.  If even he found this idea to be foolish, why is it being touted for our country?

“Wage-leveling has a destructive impact not only on the economy but also on people’s morality, and their entire way of thinking and acting. It diminishes the prestige of conscientious, creative labor, weakens discipline, destroys interest in improving skills, and is detrimental to the competitive spirit in work. We must say bluntly that wage-leveling is a reflection of petty bourgeois views which have nothing in common with Marxism-Leninism or scientific socialism.”

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