Tonight at work I accidentally kinda sorta stumbled onto one of those areas of conversation you’re not supposed to bring up at work. It just sort of happened, all sudden like. At one point I remember thinking to myself, “dear god, what are you doing? Do you realize where you’re at?!” But then the other half of me tells that half “fuck you, this needs to be said! Damn the man!” Or something along those lines. I remember my Biomedical Ethics professor used to tell me that I needn’t hit people over the head with the hammer of reason so often. Perhaps I should try planting a seed of doubt instead. Dialogue, conversation, and changing someones mind are equal parts art form and reason. Yea right! Pfftt! Shows how much he knows…
It all begun innocently enough; “maybe some of the CEO’s bonus could go to getting us some extra help on the floor?” Exit stage left. Enter stage right: WaldoDude. “Well you know, CEO’s typically earn quite a bit more than most (When I say quite a bit more I mean their yearly bonus is more than what my sum of the occupants in my neighborhood will make in their lifetime)” And from there it only got worse. I couldn’t hold back the flood gates. Could not stop myself! As someone who has recently risen above the amount for 2012 median household income, I simply despise the idea of any one person making substantially larger sums than any other individual. To me, it just doesn’t add up.
When I was nearing the end of school and preparing for graduation, I remember thinking that my entire life was about to change. I had never made more than minimum wage up until that point. Suddenly I was going to be making 4x or 5x the amount I had made previously in life? Sure I worked my ass off and granted I was going to be in debt until the cows come home, but what about me had changed to such an extent that I suddenly deserved half an order of magnitude more now than I did before? Was I 5x more valuable than someone who didn’t make as much as I did? Is a CEO who makes 380x more than me that much more valuable? Are people really okay with such large wealth discrepancies? Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill? What the fuck?!
We know that approximately 42% of America’s wealth lies in the hands of the top 1%. For some reason this is a figure that until graduation didn’t mean a whole lot to me. Up until that point pretty much everything out there was so far beyond my grasp that it may as well have not existed. Burrito at the new burrito shop? Not a problem. Night out on a town? Sure, every once in a while. New video game? Maybe every now and again. New wardrobe? Think again. How about a new car? Go fuck yourself. Buying a new home? Seriously, die. Now that I’ve graduated it looks like I’ll be paying loans back for the next 20-30 years in an effort to catch up, so why don’t I hear more about this? What aren’t people more vocal and upset?
I think part of why I don’t hear more on the subject is that making more than ~50k a year is analogous to the way I looked at life before I graduated. It’s so far fetched and impossible that it’s relegated to the land of myth and legend. It’s almost as if it’s something that doesn’t really exist, but yet it does. Because I don’t come anywhere close to fitting into the top 1% bracket, it’s easy to forget that it’s even there. What’s it like to want for nothing? I don’t know, I’ve never experienced that. How can I put myself in the shoes of someones life I have a difficult time dreaming up? There are individuals on this planet who have enough money to not only purchase sports teams, but have so much wealth generated that they could hypothetically create a second league and fund every team and every stadium by themselves. These are people who are capable of not just purchasing luxury vacation homes, but entire islands unto themselves.
Thinking about the titanic scale of difference between the top 1% and everyone else inevitably causes me to rethink my ideas about the financial gaps at my own work. A new grad RN can be brought on for around ~50k annually. Anesthesiologists on the other hand can expect to earn an average of around $343,000 per year. But WaldoDude, Anesthesiologists go to school forever! That’s why they earn more! Well, there’s clearly no debating that. But what if tomorrow everyone woke up and decided to pursue a specialty? What if everyone decided to get respective doctorates and graduate degrees in their applicable fields? It’s simply not feasible. In order to have people at the top, you have to have others at the bottom. In my world, I liken RN’s to information gatherer’s and MD’s as information processors. There’s no debating that it takes more schooling and more knowledge to process the info and decide on a plan of care for a patient. However, there’s no way that job can be done without an informant gathering info. Further, there’s no way I can do my job without the help of clerks, aids, social workers, physical therapy, respiratory therapy, etc. Why then if our jobs are interconnected and we all can’t be at the top, are we compensated with such lopsided amounts?
I’m hoping that people don’t get the impression from this that I’m ungrateful with where I’m at because that’s definitely not the case. I’m happy just to be alive. I don’t buy into heaven or hell and I’m convinced that this is the only life we have and I want to make the most out of each and every day. I regret that I can’t live 1000 lifetimes in order to experience each and every facet life has to offer. Financially speaking I also feel somewhat comfortable with where I’m at (although I clearly question whether or not I should). I’m miles beyond where I’ve lived most of my life and it’s surreal at times to think I’m not homeless and I’m even dating someone who considers me a decent catch! However, after all that is said, moving forward the same way we have been doesn’t seem to be a sustainable option. Accounting for inflation, it costs more to earn less from a bachelor’s degree now than it did 40 years ago. Fast forward another 50 years, does that mean my progeny will require doctorates to make what I’m making now?
Forget any specific quotes, stats, figures, or numbers about economics. As time goes on, resources do not increase, they decrease. Population continues to increase. Competition will continue to increase. Not only will there never be another Rockefeller family, but cutting out your own slice of the ever-shrinking pie becomes that much more difficult with each passing year. Meanwhile while you battle for less, more and more wealth continues to accumulate in the hands of the wealthiest Americans. Is it fair? No. Is it life? Yes. Should I be worried that 75% of the population in World of Warcraft contains just 14% of the gold? No, and for that I thank the Chinese farmers who endlessly toil behind bars to help me pad my virtual coffers.