Conventional wisdom says that the free market compensates people based on how hard they work, their ability,Â or the importance of their job. People with rare or high levels of talent and strong work ethic rise to the top and make the most money.Â It is certainly true that most of the people at the top are highly talented and make lots of money, but the sorting is not very complete. It seems like lots of other people with talent who are doing important jobs which require great skill are paid almost nothing.
If you look at any of the various web pages which tell you which college degrees make the least money you will find Social Work at the top of almost all of them. Until a few years ago I guess I had no idea what these people do or why it matters. Sure. I get the idea. They work on social problems, big deal. Why don’t they get a real job? Weren’t they smart enough in school?
When you look around at the real deep problems in society:Â poverty, drug abuse, homeless teens etc., these issues aren’t going to be addressed by the next iPhone even if it is on Verizon. They also aren’t going to be fixed simply by allocating more money to Food Stamps or low cost housing. Those things can help but they mostly help make a bad situation more tolerable. Changing any situation requires effort/work. I don’t know what the best plans, policies and programs are but I know that we aren’t going to make society better without working on it. What kind of workers will we need? How should that work be valued?
I have seen a few things in the last few years that I hadn’t chose to notice before. People patiently spending time with street kids to try to help them think through their situation to make better choices since there are no functioning parents around to do it. Breaking this cycle is very hard but someone has to try or we are only perpetuating and growing the problem.Â Its too bad the people trying help people get out of poverty are often just above the poverty line themselves. I once watched someone talk a drugged out kid into handing over the knife he had before anyone got hurt. That’s a pretty tough gig, especially for someone making basically minimum wage. How many years would you stay in that job for crappy pay? Or what about taking the call at night when your groups mentally ill client stops their meds and rips up the apartment you helped to get them placed in. What’s a fair rate for the person who has to go in and sort that out with the apartment manager?
Sure I know, we don’t want to pay people more just to attract more or better people. Money distorts things. We want people who are in it for the passion and not just after the money.
Funny how we don’t seem to say that about Corporate CEOs.