Who Makes What and Why
As a general principle, I find Parade magazine to be about as vapid and mindless as a Marjorie Taylor Greene dissertation on the subject of Jewish Space Lasers. Now for those of you who do not know what I am talking about, Parade is a trite weekly publication inserted into your local newspaper for the purpose of mildly amusing old people and selling them hearing aids through full-page testimonial advertisements. It largely consists of Hollywood gossip of the most watered-down variety- something like TMZ for the nursing home set. However, once a year Parade magazine publishes its “What People Earn” issue, and I can’t help but take a furtive perusal of its contents, if only to make me completely and entirely repulsed.
The salaries are a veritable cornucopia of pre-tax earnings for people from a variety of vocational endeavors. But if there is one glaring conclusion that I continue to reach year after painful year from my reading it is that a whole lot of people get paid shit tons of money to do stuff that really doesn’t fucking matter. And that, my weekly friends, leads me to a place of such unmitigated angst and furor that it makes me want to try out Tucker Carlson’s ball-tanning theory just to get my agro-masculine side back in order.
Did you know that Nicole Kidman made a million dollars per episode of Nine Perfect Strangers? Or that Max Scherzer made $43.3 million last year pitching for the New York Mets (yes, those New York Mets)? How about Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez making $55 million and $40 million respectively for God only knows what? Were you aware that Kristie Wolfe makes $327k a year for sitting on her ass and being an Airbnb host in Boise, Idaho? Yes, you read that right. Boise fucking Idaho. Who the hell even wants to go to Boise in the first place? Someone diagnosed with tuber fetish disorder? Did you know that Peter Kern, CEO of Expedia, raked in nearly $300 million for what I can only assume was a whole lot of sitting around his yacht telling people to fuck off? Shoot, Al Roker made a cool million for wearing tacky suits and telling you what the weather was going to be like later today in Tulsa, Oklahoma, even though you have an app that can tell you all of that in 30 seconds or less.
Meanwhile, back here in the real world, Laurette Holst of Bayshore, NY makes $52k working with people with disabilities. Cassie Angu makes $35k as a community doula. Desi Ekstein earns just $41k as an educator in Lake Elsinore, CA. Home health aides who work with people with disabilities or chronic illnesses have an average salary of $27,800. And we wonder why this country is so screwed up.
This preposterous dichotomy of incomes really highlights two systemic issues with income distribution in a country where free market capitalism runs amok. The first of these lies in who is making all this money. In reading through the top salaries I mentioned earlier, you may have noted a familiar theme: none of these people actually do much in terms of contributing to making the world a better place. Sure, actors and athletes provide us with entertainment, but how much do they really enhance our lives and shape the community around us? I love sports and movies as much as anyone else, but while I might celebrate my favorite team winning the Super Bowl, that shit ain’t going to pay my mortgage. And you may suggest that CEO’s and financial advisors work hard for their money and people should take home whatever someone is willing to pay them, but when was the last time you found yourself saying, “I sure am glad that Peter Kern is the CEO at Expedia.” If you’re like me, you don’t even know who Peter Kern is, let along that he is running things over there at Expedia.” But you sure as hell know who your kids’ Algebra teacher is considering that they were the first educator that was able to get your kid to like Math. You know the name of that amazing hospice nurse who took care of your grandmother in her last few days and hope someone will be there for you in the same way when your time comes. Unfortunately, given the inexplicable way our society incentivizes those who help themselves over those who help others, there may very well not be.
We are witnessing shortages in all of these vocations where pay is not commiserate with the benefit conferred onto the community at large. The prevailing notion of free market capitalism is that the system will inherently reward those who render services the community most desires. But instead, our economy most benefits those who help themselves rather than others. We are subsidizing and endorsing the wrong professions. Imagine how much better a place we would be in if top teachers were pulling down $50 million a year while baseball players eked out a living making $45k a year. Your kid would certainly know a whole lot more about Civics and the American Revolution, that’s for sure.
But as much as I might like the notion of living large off the field of education and making it rain Benjamins from yet another massive payday, I know that nobody deserves that much money. Nobody. I am a pretty damn good teacher and make the world a better, less grammar-deficient place, but I don’t make it a $50 million dollar a year better place. The economic schism we currently live in is untenable and is only widening with each passing year. In 2020, annual wages rose fastest for the top 1.0% of earners (up 7.3%) and top 0.1% (up 9.9%) while those in the bottom 90% saw wages grow by just 1.7%. Over the 1979–2020 period, wages for the top 1% and top .1% grew by 179.3% and 389.1% respectively. For the rest of us, they grew just 28.2%. Besides just being audaciously selfish and outrageous, these types of salary differentials and disproportionate wealth distribution lead to all sorts of societal ills, such as poverty, mental health issues, and crime. Even worse, I had a pretty darn good History teacher back in high school and learned what happens when income inequality became so stratified in 18th-century France. Spoiler alert: it didn’t end well. And I remember something about those who do not learn from History being doomed to repeat it. Fortunately, I had a great History teacher. I’m just not sure that at $45k a year, most Americans got the same thing.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com