Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"I Work Hard, But You Are Lazy"!

Premise No. 1:  "I work hard, but you, well, you are lazy."

This seems to be the reigning mantra for many people.  Breaking down the phrase, I don't know what the hell it actually means.  What is "working hard"?  Do you have to suffer while working to make it hard work?  What if you enjoy doing something--what makes it different from a hobby, which isn't even considered "work"?  Is physical work harder work than mental work?  Say you are a ditch digger.  Before the backhoe, you had to dig the ditch with a hand shovel.  This was physically exhausting, back-breaking work.  Then the backhoe comes along.  Now the digger spends his time moving foot and pedal levers while the machine does the muscle work.  Does the digger still "work hard"?  Does this mean he should get paid more or less?  The same goes for mental work.  Before the Internet, doing legal research was a pain in the ass.  You had to go look up case law using books, which took a long time.  Plus you had to manually check the validity of cases, which was a real burden.  Now, lawyers can use the Internet to do extensive legal research much more quickly and efficiently.  Does this mean that legal research was hard work before the Internet but is now not hard work?  If it takes less time, does this mean the cost savings should be shifted to the client?  An interesting and important question.  I know in my own case, if something only takes me a brief amount of time, I only bill for the actual time spent, not more.  This means the Internet saves me time (but costs me money).  The client ends up the winner (which overall is a good thing).  However, I still have to have the legal knowledge, the analytical ability, and the know-how to interpret the law. This part still requires law school training and legal experience, which deserves adequate reimbursement.

Premise No. 2:  "I work hard, so I deserve my money.  I earned it."

This is another challenging phrase.  Mitt Romney recently claimed that he shouldn't be derided for making 20 million dollars per year.  He said he "earned" his pay, and that he didn't inherit it or win it.  We know ditch diggers, farm workers, teachers, and mostly everyone doesn't make 20 million dollars per year.  By this standard, Mitt Romney must have worked millions of times harder than 99.9% of everyone else given his income.  I find this hard to believe.  No one works that much harder than others.  So in America, the notion that "working hard" correlates to pay doesn't mean anything.  The other argument is that maybe he added so much value to society through his work that he earned his 20 million dollars per year.  If he invented something like the Internet, the computer, Taxol (chemotherapy), or the laser, we might agree he added so much value to society he is worth 20 million per year.  Unfortunately, however, this isn't the case.  In fact, all of the previously mentioned high technology items were invented by the government and then given to corporations to sell for a profit.  If you don't believe me, look it up.  Romney acquired his money by heading a financial investment firm that essentially downsized corporations and fired people to maximize income for shareholders.  While helping the small proportion of stock holders in various corporations, the overall added value to our society is minimal compared to even your most modest garbageman, who serves the vital function of ensuring public health and safety are maintained by removing filthy, disease spreading trash.

Almost everyone thinks they work hard.  Some also believe that while they work hard, other people are lazy.  This is almost like Garrisson Keillor's Lake Wobegone, where everyone is above average.  Statistically, it just cannot be true.

There is a tendency for some people who earn a great deal of money to believe they are making a bigger contribution than what they actually are.  In our society, the notion of pay is supposedly based on supply and demand.  If you  have skills which are rare but in need, then you get paid more.  Assuming this is the case, it doesn't mean you are adding more value to society.  There are porn stars who make millions per year, but it doesn't mean they are bringing more value to society than a grade school teacher who teaches kids to read and write.  The same goes for LeBron James.  Ultimately his job really doesn't matter.

Pride is also a problem.  There are people who have mental jobs which few people might be able to do.  Some of these require an extensive education and the investment of years of work.  This being the case, it makes sense that one should be compensated for this added investment.  However, sometimes these workers are excessively prideful about their status.  They must be mindful of contributing factors which had nothing to do with them.  For example, some people are born into middle and upper class families that provide extra opportunities.  Some are born with the genetics for intelligence.  Some are taught self-discipline and have good parents.  However, no one chooses these things.  No one chooses to be born dumb, or born to poor or absent parents.  These are things outside of our control.  So even if one took advantages of opportunities and combined one's natural gifts with hard work, that person's success is not 100% their own.

Remembering this, one would think, would lead to a sense of humility.  Yet there are some men who believe their penis's are cartoonishly enlarged.  These folks need to learn humility.  The same goes for elite athletes who make millions of dollars.  Because despite how hard they work, ultimately what they do is a form of entertainment.  They are not curing cancer or teaching children to read.  They certainly aren't taking away the trash.  The same goes for rappers, any of the Real Housewives of Whatever, and Rockefeller heirs.

The truth is that in America, how much money you have and how hard you work have little correlation. On average, a person born to average privilege in America has to do some work to financially survive.  But the work that is done is rarely so valuable that the pay is directly tied to the benefit provided.  And even if this is the case, there are external factors that lead to individual success which cannot be wholly attributed to that person's "hard work".  Therefore, humility is in order.  Maybe it's time to stop judging other people based on how lazy you perceive them to be.  Maybe we should be thankful for what we have and not presumptuous about how great we are while everyone else sucks.

Maybe this also means not judging people who work their asses off as retail clerks, day laborers, and other positions but still need government assistance for food, medical care, and housing.

Jesus would have expected no less.

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