I was listening to throwback tracks earlier this week, when 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ came on. To give a sparse synopsis, the song is about 50 Cent being cool and rich. While it’s not my typical choice of music, the song sparks great philosophical self-contemplation. This song, among many others, embodies our prevailing culture of an obsession with money.
To begin, money itself is a strange concept. It objectively quantifies the value we universally place on things. For example, a piece of paper will cost you at most around 25 cents, while an iPhone can cost you 600, 700, 800 dollars. Most people would rather lose a blank piece of paper than an iPhone.
This example is further qualified by the total money a person has. If someone has one million dollars, perhaps losing an iPhone would not be as big of a deal as it would be to someone with, say, ten dollars. Or in a less shallow example, putting a decent meal on the table for a family of four is much easier for Person A with a million dollars than Person B with ten. In other words, the objective quantification of value for objects is a fraction: the generally agreed-upon cost of the object over the total amount of money a person owns. Perhaps this is why people in destitute poverty are eternally grateful for a scrap of bread while people in upper-class economic standing throw the crusts of their bread away without a second thought...
The larger implications of the quantification of value are evident when it comes to valuing people’s work. We implicitly show how much someone matters, at least as a contributing member of this workforce, by how much they earn. In a company, the higher your position, generally, the higher your wage. It’s almost to say that people at the lower tiers are easily replaceable, like an AA battery or a roll of toilet paper.
Lawyers and doctors tend to earn more than grocery baggers or childcare specialists. And in turn, the message that sends is that the latter don’t matter as much as the former, by so-and-so amount of dollars.
So why would this be? Why is it that, for the most part, a certain ’tier’ of work earns more than another? My personal belief is that wage comes down to education. We need lawyers just as much as we need nannies, to fulfill entirely different purposes. But to become a successful lawyer, a person must undergo years of arduous training through a formal education system. To become a nanny, the training required is largely experiential, informal rather than formal.
While we could spend days scoping out anomalies of rag-to-riches stories in which poor people worked their asses off to get a formal education, the truth is that they are anomalies. So while I greatly respect their ability to rise from poverty, I won’t consider their cases for the purpose of this rant. Because sadly, those that are monetarily poorer do lack the same opportunities and cultural emphasis on proper education that richer people have in their upbringings. It is easy for a richer person to tell a poorer person who isn't thriving in school: ‘Just study harder. Look at Obama. He could do it, why can't you?' But that piece of advice is hardly ever a feasible reality. When your family can barely scrape together a decent dinner, why would you give a flying crap about analyzing Walt Whitman's poetry? And following from that, if people don’t have the capacity to thrive in the formal education system, how are we expecting those same people to ‘place high’ in a workforce that evaluates a person’s worth by their success in this formal education system? Not to mention the public education system is based largely, if not entirely, on property tax. Some people are literally born to lower chances for success than others.
And finally, this is something that I will touch on briefly but like everything else I'm mentioning, deserves its own rant. The wage gap is perhaps the greatest perpetuation of quantifiable worth. It has always been that mentally/emotionally able, relatively young, White, straight males earn the most out of everyone. What does this say about how we inherently view people? How we value people differently by salient traits? How we have defined what is deemed desirable? After all, something that has more value is generally more desired.
The fact that I'm afforded the time to think and develop thoughts like this can be traced back to the fact that I live in economic comfortability. I’ll leave it at that.