10. People Are Paid for the Value They Create for Others — That Does Not Mean That That is Their Worth

This essay is part of my 42 Deep Thoughts project.

In a fair world, if you worked full-time you would be able to support yourself completely, and with dignity; there should be laws that ensure that.

That’s what minimum wage is supposed to be for.

Unfortunately, the effort you put into your work has very little to do with what your salary will be. There isn’t even always a direct correlation between the quality of your work, and your wages. This is one of those shortcuts in life.

Talking about money is taboo. Because of that, we don’t discuss the important things enough. This is one of those things that needs to be talked about. It might make you feel uncomfortable.

I did my degree in philosophy, but started with several Econ classes. That, of course, makes me an expert.

There are several elements that factor into what a salary will be. The first is how hard it is to get someone else to do the job you’re doing, instead of paying you more, a.k.a. the free market. The second is how much money you are making for your employer. There are more, but I’ll focus on those two here.

The first factor has to do with training. If you’re in a field that isn’t easy to acquire skills for, you’re likely to get paid more. It takes years to get an MD, doctors get paid a lot.

Until recently, for the lowest paying jobs there were more people willing to work the jobs than the number of jobs. That meant that the employers could pay as little as they legally were able.

Since COVID that changed somewhat. People didn’t want to work for minimum wage and risk their lives. Companies were forced to pay more, because they couldn’t find people to work for what they wanted to pay.

The second factor has to do with how your work can be leveraged to make more money. A carpenter, even of the highest skill level, can only make so many tables in a day. A software developer can make a widget once, and it can be sold to an unlimited number of people.

The carpenter can be the best in the world, but there is a limit to how much someone will pay for a table. The company who hired the software developer can keep selling that widget again and again. That’s leveraged effort.

This applies to starting businesses too. The key to starting a successful business is finding a need that you can provide a solution for. The more people who need what your solution solves, the more you can make. If your solution can be reused, and/or easily replicated, you profit potential will be exponentially more, i.e. software vs. a table. The more you’re providing value for people, the more money you can earn.

What this means is that if you get paid more or less than someone, it doesn’t make you more or less valuable as a person. It doesn’t even make you smarter. It just makes you fortunate.

We need janitors, and teachers, and people in every job that can’t be leveraged. Society would fall apart without them.

As a society we should ensure that those people are paid enough to support themselves without having to work more than a full-time job.

As a society, we should ensure that companies that are profitable should not be able to get away with paying people less than the full cost of living.

The fact that companies have had record profits means that we can afford, as a society, to make this happen.

The fact that these companies need to hire people to fill these positions means that those positions are needed by the company. If that company is profitable, they should compensate these essential workers fairly.

It’s a stain on our society that we do not.

I’m a fan of capitalism, as long as it’s paired with social safety nets. It’s a powerful feeling to create things other people need, and get paid a lot for them. It’s powerful to work and provide for yourself and your family; to be able to give to those around you.

Alternatives have been tried, such as communism, and failed miserably. Capitalism isn’t designed to value everyone equally. It’s not perfect—it’s a lot like democracy, as in, it’s the best system we have.

It’s up to us to ensure that everyone is valued.

Whether we can push our representatives to do this or not, as individuals we have responsibilities to our communities and neighbors too.

Treat every person as you would an equal. Regardless of how they support themselves. There is dignity in getting up every day and working hard. There is dignity in honing your craft. There is dignity in serving others.

If the idea of cleaning toilets after other people disgusts you, then thank the person who is willing to do so. Because you’d certainly be disgusted by walking into a filthy bathroom.

Society today worships people of means; they’re treated with deference. Everyone, though, should be treated equally and with respect.