Ever wondered why an investment banker makes so much money? Or a CEO gets paid more than 330 times what his average employee earns? Or a venture capitalist takes 30%, or more, of the gain created by someone else?
The simple answer is “Why not?”
As far as I know, there is no law against making money. There is no statute against “too much”. Why shouldn’t someone, anyone, make a lot of money? Why shouldn’t they maximize their personal gain?
I can assure you that nobody has ever claimed they should make more than all the kindergarten teachers in the US. Or make more than all of their employees combined. But asking to make more than a peer? Or a more than a competitor? All the time. And often in quite a brutal process.
The “financial argument” is simple. If I can take a pile of your money, and turn it into a bigger pile, you will be happy. If you are happy, do you really care how much I make along the way?
I do not think these money-grubbing capitalists, myself included, are evil. Far from it. Each person is simply making an individual choice, based on the factors they see. But the end result, with so much being made by so few? And so many making so little? Sure doesn’t strike me as right. Or fair.
So how do we change the thinking? How do we add other considerations to the “financial argument”? How do we get people to think about more than themselves?
Which led me to wonder: “Where has religion gone in the last thirty years?”
I’m a lapsed Episcopalian. And maybe the Bible has changed a bit since I was more familiar with it. But my memory is that Bible, and almost every sermon of my youth, had a lot to say about caring for your fellow man. Charity. Generosity. And a fair number of negative things to say about crass wealth accumulation. I’m pretty sure the Torah and the Koran, or whatever flavor you favor, has similar comments. So where has this religious voice been in the last thirty years?
In the United States, social issues of abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and even evolution seem to have taken up a lot of religious airtime. While those issues may be important to some, are they really the central issues of the Bible? Of any religion? Really?
(Wordle of the New Testament, from brandonvogt.com)
I am not pointing to religion as the only social force that can constrain wealth accumulation. But it sure can be a force. And one that could use its bully pulpit to help good hardworking people to think about others when they are negotiating their compensation. So a venture capitalist would realize that the “carry” they don’t take accrues as a benefit to the investing teachers’ pension. So that a CEO would understand that each dollar they don’t take can mean more dollars for their workers.
The Pope seems to have turned his eye towards this area. I hope he, and other religious leaders, can help guide us away from spiraling “why not?” compensation at the top.