Bernie pulled a Bernie.
If we are a nation that can pay baseball players hundreds of millions of dollars, don’t tell me we can’t afford to pay teachers the salaries they deserve.
Is this a false equivalency, or maybe just a non-sequitur? Or should we put aside the multitude of reasons why a comparison between star ballplayers and teachers fails on every level and focus instead on the latter part of Bernie’s being Bernie. What do teachers “deserve”? What does “deserve” have to do with what they get paid?
I posed the question on the twitters and the responses were curious. Some were astoundingly vacuous, while others made clear that sophistry rules when it comes to belief systems. Do the relative salaries of teachers and baseball players reflect societal values of education and sports, or somewhat more concrete concerns, such as scarcity and quality, or private versus public sector employment?
One thing that came through fairly clearly is how many people open to Bernie’s analogy believe that there is an “invisible hand” of society dictating how each occupation is compensated by dint of its relative social virtue. Does society negotiate star baseball players’ contracts or do their agents and team owners?
And before anyone points out the obvious, it’s not just baseball, but all pro sports, not to mention other forms of “ephemeral” entertainment. Maybe musicians and artists, although one might be hard-pressed to blame Picasso for how much people will spend on his paintings. Ariana Grande, on the other hand, calls into question whether pop music should be in a category of its own.
Basic compensation theory suggests that a position will pay whatever amount is necessary to obtain qualified employees. If the pay is too low, teachers will go elsewhere to teach, or take other jobs that pay better. If schools need teachers, they will pay what the market requires or go without.
But there are other forces at work here. For people who have committed their education to an occupation, they feel locked into doing what they were trained to do, and what their student loans compel them to do lest they feel they have a poor choice. There is a structural employment problem, jobs available in some parts of the country but unavailable in others, and if people were willing to move freely to where the jobs are, they would expand their employment and compensation opportunities. But theories aside, people don’t like to move that much, even if it’s in their occupational best interest.
And then there’s the union.
The replies on twitter were interesting, and surprisingly informative about how much, or how little, people know or care about such matters. What do teachers “deserve”? What do lawyers “deserve”? What does anybody “deserve,” particularly given that Ariana Grande’s alternative occupation likely involves inquiring whether the customer wants to “supersize”?
Many argued that teachers, as college graduates and critical links in our having an educated body politic, should be able to enjoy a comfortable middle-class existence in the area where they teach. Sounds good, but is it doable? And who doesn’t “deserve” that?
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.