Monday, April 16, 2007

What Do We Americans Value?

Well, the verdict is in: Parade magazine has published its edition that tells us who makes how much, and the answers are, well, interesting. The range of earnings reported in Parade goes from $0 (California Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger) to $341 million (YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley), and there is a lot in between.

Let’s look at some examples:

Air Force Staff Sergeant (E-5) Kenneth Martin makes $48,000 a year.

Gary Fearn, a minister, makes $9,000 a year.

Wynde J. Lawson, USPS letter carrier, $49,200.

Robert Pacht, magazine editor, $55,000.

Mary Ellen Caruso, nurse, $70,000.

Janet Napolitano, Governor, New Mexico, $95,000.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives, $212,100.

Kathryn Nelson, police judge, $132,000.

Most of us would say that the people in the above examples are paid appropriately, or maybe that some of them are underpaid, based upon the specifics of their job and/or what they contribute to our society. These people are at the lower end of the scale, as reported by Parade. I wonder how we feel about those at the upper end, where we find people paid what I can only term absurd amounts of money for doing things that arguably aren’t worth as much as they get for them.

Now, make no mistake: I’m still the capitalist pig I’ve always been; I think capitalism, while imperfect, is the best economic system on Earth. Ever. I think the opportunity to make as much money as we can, which is what a capitalist economy affords, is one of the few great things that life offers us. No, it is not capitalism that I criticize; it is the way we Americans prioritize things that enables some of these people to earn what truly are obscene amounts of money.

Here are some examples of what I consider highly overpaid people: the TV Food channel’s Rachael Ray made $6 million in 2006. I watch the Food Network and while Rachael Ray isn’t one of my favorites, there is certainly nothing wrong with her. But $6 million? I just don’t see it. Julia Roberts and George Clooney, people who pretend to be someone else for a living, are paid $10 million to $20 million per film. Yeah, they’re pretty people, but so are a lot of others making a fraction of what they rake in. Radio guy Howard Stern made $302 million, and rapper 50 Cent made $41 million. Howard and 50 and the other rappers and shock jocks get paid millions to spread their trash. Pitcher Randy Johnson made $13,100,000 one year, and catcher Mike Piazza made $13,000,000 a year for playing a game. Maybe they are some of the best in baseball, but it’s just baseball. And the high salaries of corporate CEOs are a continuing source of dismay.

I’ve nothing against actors or chefs or entertainers or athletes or CEOs, but what makes these people worth that kind of money? Objectively, nothing can justify that kind of money for those jobs. What it comes down to is that people who give us what we want make the big bucks, not the people that give us what we need, and that says bunches about our society and its twisted priorities. It says that we want entertainment of all descriptions from teaching us how to cook 30-minute meals to watching grown men and women play games to listening to vulgar guys like Howard Stern and 50 Cent to men and women who produce dividends and rising stock prices. And it says that such relative trivialities are more important to us than our national security, and developing and teaching our children, and being cured when we are sick, and our national character.

It is one of the increasingly numerous signs that our culture is collapsing.

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