Tuesday Talk*: What’s “Deserve” Got To Do With It?

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.

60 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: What’s “Deserve” Got To Do With It?

  1. Mike

    I’m curious to think if Bernie realizes that we can only “afford” to pay so much for baseball players because of the measly total numbers actually playing for that amount of money.

    Or maybe in his mind what they “deserve” is the almost $2000 bump that would happen if the MLB used player salary to give teachers a raise.

      1. Mike

        I’m renting the analogy only as long as it takes to ponder if Bernie only thinks teachers deserve an extra couple grand a year.

        Or perhaps he believes that most teachers can hit a 2-1 curveball with runners on the corners.

      1. Howl

        No, seriously, don’t dis Ariana, or we’ll submit every video of hers one at a time. And then every item on the Dairy Queen menu throughout history, also one at a time.
        As a good-will gesture of repentance, leave the keys to the Healy in the trash bin at 928 8th Ave, before noon today.
        We’re not fooling around here.

            1. ShootingHipster

              I thought even Tuesdays had limits. Very well then.

              (Sorry I can’t make it embed)
              (Ed. Note: I can, and don’t push me.]

            2. LocoYokel

              Start a discussion on the various pros and cons of different calibers for hunting and you’ll find the limit.

            3. Hunting Guy

              30.06 for the win.

              .308 in second place.

              30-30 in third.

              .416 Rigby for the governors cup.

            4. SHG Post author

              And we now have two caveats to Tuesday Talk Rules: no caliber discussions and no Ariana Grande videos. I cannot unwatch that video.

  2. delurking

    “it’s not just baseball, but all pro sports,”
    I’d like to see the median income in the US of all professional athletes. That would include baseball minor leaguers, pro lacrosse of various stripes, soccer pros (men and women!), golf pros and tennis pros (most of whom earn money only by giving private lessons at clubs), pro sailors and mountain bikers, etc.

    It’s all about the income inequality! Those top-paid pro athletes are making 10,000X what the bottom-paid ones are. Bernie should propose to do something about that! You know income inequality is toxic.

  3. DaveL

    Whenever someone wants to talk about what I deserve, I find it’s invariably something I’m going to end up paying for, whether it’s a fancy car or a punch in the face.

    We can afford to pay top ball players millions of dollars because millions of people are willing to pay 50 bucks each to watch a game. There’s nothing in the law that keeps these people from taking that $50 and spending it on an algebra lesson instead, but that’s not what they did. So Bernie’s position is that these people are wrong, and the solution is for all these same people to band together to force each other not to act the way they’re all inclined to as individuals.

    1. SHG Post author

      If the law required you to watch a WNBA game for every NBA game, women basketball players could be paid as well as men. Why do you hate women?

      1. wilbur

        If the law required that, I’d never watch an NBA game. I don’t watch many now.

        I greatly enjoy watching women play pro golf, soccer, softball and volleyball. Basketball is a bridge too far.

      2. Black Bellamy

        Advertising rates for compulsory viewing would plummet. I would never pay the same rate for WNBA and NBA games, because most WNBA viewers are checked out and annoyed and much more likely to ignore my call to action and to associate my product with a negative experience.

        Also, I’m more likely to not advertise on NBA games as well, seeing as they’re tied into this compulsory and controversial scheme. I would take my advertising budget to MLB instead.

        Market forces would destroy that scheme.

        I have a better proposal. Just take all the salaries of NBA and WNBA players, total them up, then divide by the total number of players. This way Curry, Westbrook, James, and Paul can do their part for all this income inequality. Why inconvenience millions of people when we can just screw a couple of hundred?

  4. phv3773

    “Do the relative salaries of teachers and baseball players reflect societal values of education and sports?”

    I’d like to say “no” but some people are really, really into sports.

    1. Rick Smith

      It reflects the level of skill required and how likely you are to find somebody at that skill level. A lot more people are qualified to be public school teachers than to play baseball at a high level.

      1. phv3773

        I wasn’t talking about supply. I was talking about demand. A lot of people have zero demand any sport. I personally wouldn’t care if basketball, hockey, and, ….curling disappeared off the face of the earth. That the aggregate societal demand for sports is so high is a little disturbing, given all that apathy.

        1. SHG Post author

          I’m not a huge fan of rap music, but I don’t begrudge others enjoying whatever they enjoy. To each his or her own.

  5. Scarlet Pimpernel

    I know it is accepted that teachers are under paid but is that true. In my neck of the woods, the average household income is $55k, whereas the average teachers salary is $85k. It has always struck me as odd, that people whose household incomes are 2-3 times that of the student they teach cry poverty and ask those households for more money.

    Just because I was curious, the best I can tell the average public school teachers salary in the US is ~$58k and there are 3.6 FTE teachers, for a total salary of around 210 billion. The total salary for MLB baseball players is 4.1 billion. In pure dollars spent, the US is valuing teachers as a whole much more than they do baseball players.


  6. B. McLeod

    If baseball players were paid by taxpayers, they, too, would be on EBT food assistance. Teachers are victims of a fraud that elected politicians (including Bernie) actively practice, whereby voters are told they can have whatever they want, but without paying for it. It doesn’t work.

  7. Mark

    I can’t speak to other areas of the country, but teacher wages at where I’m at are actually good. The problem is when the unions negotiate contracts with the districts they concentrate the wage at the top. New hires make a joke wage somewhere in the high $30k range while teachers who have been in the system for years can cap out at $90k. I wouldn’t be against hearing arguments for increasing teacher salary, but not without this also being part of the conversation.

    1. SHG Post author

      Teachers unions are run by and for the older unit members, so they burn the kids to get more on the back end. Average teacher salaries and benefits where I live are quite good, but new teachers can’t get jobs because the competition is so stiff that they take teaching assistant jobs in the hope that they’ll get some credit if there’s an opening in the future. Supply and demand.

  8. Jay

    All these posts about wages with Scott just sound like the bigoted guy on top shouting to those trying to climb up to go fuck themselves. You’re not an economist Scott. Hell you’re not even on top of the heap. Sorry it bugs you that people don’t like the shit world you’re kinda successful in. It’s not sustainable, you dumbass.

    1. Skink

      I’m pretty good at deciphering incoherent thinking. I do it every day. It’s a skill that comes from time and patience. Sometimes, it requires giving words meaning they don’t traditionally enjoy. Other times, words get moved between sentences to give coherence.

      But your words are in another category. It’s as though you write them on different pieces of newspaper print in crayon; rip the words from the pages; put the pieces in a giant garbage can with a rabid possum; then type them as they fly from the can.

      That’s an amazing skill. Way more amazing than my ability.

      1. SHG Post author

        If Jay doesn’t get it out, his head will explode all over the well. You don’t want a well full of head goo, do you?

    2. Guitardave

      So you think robbing an overpaid ballplayer so you can overpay a glorified hall monitor is “climbing up”?…is that your plan for ‘success’ in this horrible ‘shit world’ you didn’t make?
      As to the rest of your comment… there ain’t enough sugar on the planet to fix those grapes you’re chewing on. Good luck with that and thanks for showing us what you’re made of.

  9. Keith

    I think Bernie is on to something. We should pay teachers more. A lot more.

    Of course, once the teachers are making that much, there will be intense pressure to GET those jobs. The laws protecting the unions and bad teachers will have to go, so the demand could be adequately met.

    The best and the brightest will work on forcing out all of the mediocre teachers that are there now. I can just see the massive clamor to get rid of laws defending rubber rooms in order to protect and keep teachers that suck. The unions won’t be able to keep up, so they’ll have to find another racket.

    And once the kids get a taste of what a real education looks like and how market forces can get rid of the failures imposed on them by government fiat & laws protecting medocrity, we’ll have a generation capable of understanding just how batshit crazy Bernie was.

    Let a million flowers bloom.

  10. Jim Tyre

    Or should we put aside the multitude of reasons why a comparison between star ballplayers and teachers fails on every level

    Forget teachers, let’s talk POTUS. In 1930, Babe Ruth signed a contract for $80,000, a truly extraordinary amount at the time, that was greater than what POTUS was paid. When Ruth was asked if he thought he deserved to be making more money than President Hoover, he said, “’Why not? I had a better year than he did.”

  11. Aaron G

    Salaries depend on grosse income more than anything else. Sure, Tom Brady could probably insulate his houses with crisp $100 bills at this point but that’s because Robert Kraft makes the money of Football, Baseball, eSports, and a bunch of commercial goods. If Coca-Cola owned a public school and charged admission fees; I bet teachers would get paid six figures on a regular basis.

    Capitalism is funny that way, even essential services can only spend as much money as they have.

    1. SHG Post author

      Taxing authorities have a bottomless pit, until they hit the point where they’re voted out of office for taxing too much. If people didn’t want to pay for sports, they wouldn’t. Nobody has that choice with teacher salaries.

    2. j a higginbotham

      Brady actually has made a lot less than he could have which helps his team sign other players. But then again, he has a wife who makes real money.

  12. MLA

    Private school teacher here. I long ago accepted that my school will pay exactly what it needs to pay to keep me around, no more and no less. I can gripe all I want about how it’s not actually enough (and goodness knows I do when I’m out with my friends), but the fact of the matter is that I’m still here, grading the little bastards’ crappy essays, when I could absolutely be doing something else – so it clearly is enough.

    I’ve learned from observing colleagues that this is the case for most of us – when the compensation truly stops being enough, we get out. Teacher burnout in the first couple years is very high, as people discover that what they’re being paid isn’t enough for them to deal with what they’re being asked to do. Guess what – teaching is tough, and the external rewards can be slim, and if that’s not going to work for you, it’s best you find out sooner rather than later. (I am, of course, talking about teaching in schools that meet the barest standards of functionality. There are genuine problems with the working conditions and level of teacher turnover in several very poor school districts. There are many causes of those problems and I don’t know how to solve most of them, and neither, whatever they might tell you, do the teacher’s unions or Bernie Sanders.)

    My starting salary was less than what the public school teachers around here make, but the trade-off is that I have to swallow a lot less garbage from the state of Florida than they do. I strongly suspect that Bernie’s Bernie-ing about, if put into practice, would come with a whole lotta strings attached, and I also suspect that those strings would make my brand new shiny higher salary. . .no longer enough. Thank God I’m where they can’t (for now) get me.

    1. SHG Post author

      My daughter got a “pay raise” by quitting the union and pocketing the dues. It wasn’t much, but it was more than the raise the union negotiated for her unit.

  13. PseudonymousKid

    Pops, you’re right. The analogy sucks and doesn’t make any sense. Bernie would do better to focus on wealth disparity in general. But you’ll probably tell me that Zuckerberg deserves to control more money than entire nations of people because he deserves it more than anyone else, so what’s the point?

    All that aside, do TT rules mean I can call you a dumbass? Another commenter got away with it, and I am jealous.

    1. SHG Post author

      Don’t get hung up on that “deserves” word. Zuck is a unicorn, and as such, he gets what he gets. It’s neither that he deserves it or doesn’t, but that he got what he got. Life is unfair, which is why you can call me a dumbass under TT rules, and I will remember on your birthday.

  14. The other other Rob

    “Deserve” is that shaky, worn down, poorly constructed fence separating capitalism from socialism. One day it will fall over, and depending on which side it falls? We are all in for a wild ride.

  15. Erik H.

    The odd thing is that everyone keeps talking about the middle-to-bottom section of the teacher pyramid (public school teachers) and comparing them to the acme of the sports pyramid (MLB players)

    There’s a low level rookie league near me and the players can barely afford food. I think they’d be pretty psyched to get paid as much as public school teachers.

    Even if you forget about the fact that it’s much harder to be even a low-level pro baller than a teacher, it doesn’t hold.

    1. SHG Post author

      When structuring a false equivalency, one gets to cherry pick his data points. Minor leaguers get paid squat. Teachers on Long Island are very handsomely paid. But that would make a really shitty talking point for Bernie.

Comments are closed.