What’s a thing worth?
Carl Sandburg wrote, “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”
For what do we trade our time?
Again, it’s tricky when we begin to assign value in dollar terms to time, but it’s what we do. And that time value of a dollar often is confused with the value of a person.
According to an article in the Palm Beach Post, we have a small company here in West Palm where the CEO makes about $44 million a year. According to the same article, the median income in West Palm is about $64,000/yr, about what the CEO makes in a day.
Many times in driving around Jupiter and West Palm, there will be men standing at off ramps of I-95 with signs asking for donations, food, work. According to most faith persuasions, those men and the CEO bringing in $44 million a year have the same value.
But we don’t really believe that. Is the CEO really worth $44 million a year while the other men are worth a handout? That’s what we believe. And most folks who drive by the men at the off ramps don’t even believe they’re worth a buck or two. Most, including myself, make value judgments about their character or why they don’t get a job, make themselves useful.
We also make judgments about the folks driving their Mercedes and BMWs and Bentleys past the man with the sign “Will Work for Food.” Somehow, they’re worth more.
And the money they earn, like it or not, they can spend however they want, on Mercedes or BMWs or Bentleys. Why not? It’s their money, they earned it. The fact that they could get the same utility out of a Chevy and find a way to help that person at the off ramp with the 30 thousand or 60 thousand or 200 thousand dollar difference doesn’t even come up on the radar, does it?
It’s their money, they earned it, they can do with it what they want.
What’s the value of a person? Not really much in the way our society parcels out the leavings to those less fortunate.
On September 5, 1997, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu died. She was 87.
She owned almost nothing, and didn’t really care about that, although she could have been fabulously wealthy. She thought that even the poorest of the poor deserved better, and set out to help, one person at a time, in the streets of Calcutta. We know her better as Mother Teresa.
She saw the world differently than most of us do, she saw people.
Most of us don’t.
Some dam panhandler trying to wheedle a few dollars out of us at an off ramp. Hard earned money that they sure as hell don’t deserve.
What’s a person worth? Minimum wage?
At the national level, the parties argue vehemently about “minimum wage.” What is that exactly, minimum wage? It’s not a living wage…no family can survive on the minimum wage. It only ensures a desperate lifestyle of second and third jobs, yet Congress argues endlessly about the pennies spent on the minimum wage, all the while living a comfortable life at about $174,000/yr., plus benefits, plus investments and income from life before politics. And the generous donations from the CEOs making $44 million/yr., employing the thousands at minimum wage producing what it is that generates the $44 million/yr. over and above the cost of producing the product, whatever it is.
What’s a person worth?
Joni Mitchell wrote of hearing a street musician in “Real Good For Free:”
Nobody stopped to hear him
Though he played so sweet and high
They knew he had never
Been on their t.v.
So they passed his music by
I meant to go over and ask for a song
Maybe put on a harmony...
I heard his refrain
As the signal changed
He was playing real good, for free.
What’s the music worth, and by extension, the musician?
In Mitchell’s case, she’d made it by that time. Her music, her time was worth tens of thousands of dollars an hour.
Vincent Van Gogh created more than 900 paintings in his lifetime and sold only one in his lifetime. One of his paintings sold in 1990 for $82.5 million. I was fortunate enough to see his “Starry Night” at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris, and I was mesmerized. What’s it worth? A little oil on canvas…hard to tell. A hundred million or so. He died at 37, virtually penniless, supported primarily by his brother Theo.
He could have easily been holding a sign at an off ramp.