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.
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.