Class Envy
Class Disrespect

Dateline: 7 December 2015

Many years ago (I believe it was in the late 1980s) a local paper published the salaries of all the teachers and administrators in all the public schools in the county I live in. This was, of course, in the days before you could find such information on the internet. 

Seeing how much money the local teachers made was an eye-opener for my small rural community. Many of the teachers were being paid what was at that time a LOT of money. One husband and wife, both long-time teachers at the high school, were making over $100,000. 

A quick check with an online inflation calculator shows that $100,000 in 1989 had the equivalent buying power of nearly $200,000 in today’s dollars.

Do the math, and imagine earning $4,000 dollars every week (maybe some people reading this are doing just that—I’m sure not). And just think, government school teachers have two months of vacation every year.

So this revelation of income inequality (compared to the average local working folk) was, at that time, something of a sensation. 

When this happened, I remember talking to a man I've long known who operated a local business. I distinctly recall one part of our conversation on that long-ago day. The man said to me: 

“Did you see in the paper how much money these teachers are making? That’s just not right!” 

And my response was:

“Well, I’m not into class envy. They went to school and got an education, and if they can earn that much money teaching, then good for them.”

It was evident that the man was surprised at my answer.  There was a short silence and we went on to talk about other matters.

The fact is, I’ve never bought into the class envy paradigm of thinking. Not on a personal level or a political level. 

Oh sure, I've had plenty of little moments of envy. Lately, I have a tendency towards barn envy. I see a nice barn and think to myself, "That's the kind of barn I need for my Planet Whizbang business!" And I'm prone to think about the barn I don't have. 

But such little examples do not "rot my bones" like Proverbs 14:30 says. I'm actually a very contented (and profoundly thankful) person. When I speak of class envy, I mean something bigger: a state of mind focused on jealousy because some person or some group of people have a lot of money, and the things money can buy.

The way I see it, if someone is earning a lot of money at honest work, I’m sincerely glad for them, and, to some degree, I’m encouraged by their example, especially if they happen to be self-employed entrepreneurs (such people have always been role models to me).

However, that isn’t to say that I think all people who have a lot of money (which I define as having more money than me) are worthy of respect. On the contrary, there are quite a few wealthy people who I have little to no respect for because they have made their money through unfair advantage, or by cheating, stealing, or harming others in various and sundry means.

For example, many people in banking and finance have clever ways of taking advantage of “the system” and fleecing their clients, earning for themselves large amounts of money without producing a legitimate product or worthwhile service. Politicians are notorious for using their political resources to enrich themselves far beyond the salary their political position pays. 

If we really think about it we could come up with a whole host of people of means who have made their money not by benefitting, but by harming individual people, and mankind in general. What about people who enrich themselves by working for evil corporations like Monsanto, or any of a number of other corporations that prosper by systematically destroying the environment and the health of so many innocent victims? 

In the final analysis, I don’t buy into class envy based on wealth alone, but I do hold to a form of class disrespect. I disrespect anyone and any group who has made their wealth by what I consider to be immoral means.

So, when faced with the example of a person of wealth, you might want to consider for yourself how this person came by their wealth. Was it by moral or immoral means? If by moral means, then you should mentally applaud their success. But if by immoral means, then class disrespect may be in order. 

Envy, however, should play no part in our thinking. It "rots the bones." Besides that, envious people are easily exploited by political manipulators. And people who are easily exploited are not truly free. And personal freedom is far more valuable than money and stuff.

There’s something to ponder on this Labor Day, 2015.


Anonymous said...

Excellent treatment of the subject, Brother Herrick! Thank you!

David Smith

Gail said...

Great thoughts. I do not "rot my bones" either.

My sister, a retired teacher, would wish she taught in your area. Her salary was never that much.

Have a blessed night.

Pam Baker said...

Labor Day.
Do you know how many Americans have absolutely no idea what Labor Day is about?
Interesting commentary Mr. Kimball. For me, it goes back to walking a mile in someone's shoes. However, for people who live an abnormal life.....infamous, superwealthy(inherited), showbusiness and superathletes...okay, and politicians...they do not necessarily deserve my adoration nor conversely, my disdain. Theirs is an existence beyond comprehension. At least mine anyway.
What if a business man makes loads of money by somewhat nefarious means but later has an epiphany and takes that money to do good works. Should he be on the receiving end of my disdain or disrespect? What if you meet the man in the middle of his transformation? Would you know it? Wouldn't God want you to love this man and assist him on his journey?
What a fascinating topic. One could go on for hours but alas I must retire. Turkeys like to rise early.

Elizabeth L. Johnson said...

Just a "side-bar", after reading about your farmer's calendar project. I'm looking forward to reading the essays from 1825-1850, to see how truly agrarian communities used to live in America. You were saying in your introduction to them that after that time period our nation really did turn industrial; and also, became very progressive, in a bad way. In 1838 John Dewey made new fangled recommendations for the public school system that started its ruination. Progressivism crept in, and agrarianism went by the wayside, for the most part. Thanks for all your work on the project, so we can gain insight!

Todd said...

I wouldn't describe the angst over teach salary as envy. For most people I know the concern is in it being theft money paying the salary. If teachers worked at a private school or another business no one would care what they are paid. If parents paid out of pocket for tuition for the kids instead of having it stolen and us having no say how it is spent, people wouldn't care. If school was too expensive then they wouldn't send their kids there. Salary would work itself out naturally.

I have a problem with the president of the boy scouts making over a million $ a year salary. Also these big cancer charities making huge salary. The money is suppose to be going to the cause, it is donation money.

Herrick Kimball said...

Thanks for the comments. I wrote this essay quickly and without giving it a lot of thought. It could serve as a springboard for a lot of discussion. But I just wanted to put a few things "out there" to, as I stated... ponder.

Re: The Farmer's Calendar Project... I hope to complete a couple moref months during this upcoming winter. To some degree, the old almanac writers mirrored early Progressive thinking in the area of public education, and I found that disappointing. On the other hand, the old almanac essays celebrated agrarian life and agrarian virtues,and were often critical of modernism. I focused on selecting those excerpts for my Project.

Todd said...

I see what you mean, teachers might not have been the best example as there is more than just salary involved there.

I go through this myself in dealing with other people. We choose to have a single income and to not work excessively so as to be home with our family. Yeah we can and don't buy what other people do but that is our choice. In most cases if you find someone making a lot of money they typically work lots as well. The two seem to go hand in hand.