It occurred to me the other day on the way to the Men’s room at work that society’s value system is less than logical. The reason this occured on my trip to the restroom is that I ran into the janitor on the way. Right before I had seen the janitor I was thinking about my finances and how I am going to afford a new (to me) car. I was lamenting about how I should have more. I didn’t immediately feel bad about it as I felt entitled to more. However for whatever reason as soon as I looked at the janitor I stopped thinking about my problems.
Instead I began to wonder how much he made an hour. I really have no idea but I assumed around $10-15 an hour. Then I thought about what the janitor accomplishes in a day. I came up with a short and incomplete list including dumping trash, mopping floors, cleaning the toilets, scrubbing various other surfaces and restocking the supplies. Then I thought about what exactly I accomplish at work. So far I have successfully completed three projects. The first was a program that one of the programmers wanted to make their jobs simpler. The second was the equivalent of programming busy work that needed to get done. The third was a monitoring tool which wasn’t strictly necessary anymore. When I compared the two different workloads I found my self valuing a clean and well stocked bathroom over the work that I had accomplished.
So why is it that programmers are paid so much more than janitors? The common explanation that all parents give their children is that it’s the education (It makes kids want to go to school more). However I am beginning to become more convinced that is not the reason. I think the difference in wages is generally arbitrary and is instead a tool to control the types of people who have the money. You can pick your favorite example (school teachers, rock stars etc…) but in the end salary does not seem to correspond to value in any meaningful sense.
While this is somewhat disappointing the thing that I find more scary is the fact that society raises people of the highly paid professions to expect higher salaries. Yet these salaries may be unfounded in reason. This has only recently come to light as the third world has began the outsourcing phenomena. For the first time these professionals must compete to show their worth. When they do they realize they aren’t as valuable as they believed. Nothing can be more traumatizing then to realize you have believed a lie you entire life. So instead of improve our skills and add value we choose to stick our heads in the ground and hope the world will disappear. Only this time it won’t.