After writing my last post, I heard a radio program where someone called for more disclosure laws. Then I read Alison Bass' interesting posts about "about the strange case of Dr. Helen Mayberg, a neurologist at Emory University who has testified in more death penalty cases in recent years than almost any other doctor in the country."
I've come to the conclusion that more laws that essentially legislate behavior will not do much of anything, except lull people into a false sense of security. We can't legislate morality. Dr. Mayberg and others, who have had a spotlight put on them, are merely the tip of the iceberg of the financial greed that permeates our culture. Until we address that issue, laws requiring more disclosure and transparency are really no more than band-aids on a very large wound that needs stitches (or maybe an amputation).
There is little in our society that greed hasn't touched. Our basic societal assumption is that an individual has the right to make as much money as they possibly can, and that they deserve every penny of it (even if we bitch and moan about it when we learn of the latest "outrage" such as Charlie Sheen making $2 million dollars per episode of a sitcom). Why are things different in Japan, where it's dishonorable for a CEO of a company to make more than 9 times what the lowliest employee of his company earns?
People who make a lot of money think they earned it, but in truth, luck plays a much bigger role in these matters than anyone would care to admit. We say "we didn't pick our parents," but we act as if we did. If a person is born into a wealthy intact family, the chances for financial success in life are very high. If one is born in poverty, one's chances are low. Of course, there are people who fall down the socio-economic ladder, and there are people who climb up, but they are the exceptions, not the rule.
As long as we continue to believe in "The American Dream," the dream of a meritocracy, then those who are poor will continue to believe they have done something wrong, and those who have money will believe they are good, and right. Those who are poor will continue to believe that they just might make it, achieve the life of an American dreamer, and so, that carrot dangles forever in front of folks, both taunting and luring.
We need to question our basic assumptions. People like Dr. Mayberg are not anomalies. If you read her story, she sounds as if there's a good likelihood that she has some sociopathic personality traits, but the truth is, those traits are quite useful in being a financial success in America.
There's a good article in the Guardian about luck and financial success (amongst other things). Hmm. Second time this week I've linked to the Guardian. Good reporting there (and this article is a lot more coherent than I am, but of course, I'm not a professional writer, as you can probably tell).
To find out how much money different people are "worth," go here. I'll give you a taste. I would like to ask this question, "How much money does a person need?" Also, why do we still pay teachers so little? People moan about it all the time, but really, asking this question, it seems to me, is at the heart of a great deal of what's wrong with this country. Aren't our values more than a little skewed?
Tom Cruise: $250 million
Rapper 50 Cent: Yes, he's "worth" as much as Tom Cruise. $250 million
Charlie Sheen: $35 million
Martin Sheen: $50 million
Steven Spielberg $3 billion Just give that some thought. Yes, he's a good director, but really?
Oprah Winfrey $2.7 billion Her salary is $315,00 million a year. She's a great example of someone who truly pulled herself up by her proverbial bootstraps, gives money to charity, and would probably give you some really great reasons why she, ahem, attracts wealth.
Dick Cheney $90 million
The median wage for a teacher in the United States is approximately $47-51,000 per year. The U.S. Department of Labor says, "Teachers can boost their earnings in a number of ways. In some schools, teachers receive extra pay for coaching sports and working with students in extracurricular activities. . .Some teachers earn extra income during the summer by teaching summer school or performing other jobs in the school system." I looked up how much a public school janitor makes, and this was shown in hourly wages. After a bit of math, I discovered that a janitor in the same school makes a median salary of approximately $37,000. I am not suggesting the janitor make less.
For those of you considering teaching in Maine, the average teacher with a Master's Degree earns between $22, 171 and $34, 428.
Perhaps the Department of Labor should encourage teachers and janitors who have some acting or rapping talent to look for work in those fields during their summer vacations, or they can try being a guinea pig, where they can earn $100-300 per day according to gpgp.net, "the world renowned information resource for research participants." Interested? Take an eligibility test, but don't bother if you're "not interested in clinical trials or invasive procedures."
Image note: Oprah's latest favorite shoes are these Julienne Leather Heels from J. Crew, and according to Oprah, "cheap" at $198. Totally unaffordable on a teacher's salary, though don't worry, I googled "Can I find a cheap substitute for J. Crew's Julienne Leather Heels?" I did expect to get a hit on this question, and the answer, is yes. Found it over at uberchicforless. Anyway, the J. Crew ones are sold out.