ADDENDUM: WORKING HARD OR HARDLY WORKING
In Part I, I tossed out some salary figures, and I’d like to dissect those a little bit, briefly.
As mentioned, the CEO of UnitedHealth Group has a salary of $101,960,000 (again, not including his $111,400,000 in shares).
The average general surgeon salary in NYC is $259,000.
The highest pay for a firefighter in NYC is $161,281, including fringe benefits.
In a single hour — if you divide out his yearly income by 52 weeks, then 40 hours — the CEO of UnitedHealth Group makes $49,019.
– In about 5 1/2 hours, he makes more than the average surgeon in NYC makes in an entire year.
– In about 3 1/2 hours, he makes more than the highest-paid firefighter in NYC.
There’s merit to the argument that those who have to make the toughest decisions should be paid more than the average employee. If the person working the cash register makes a mistake, a customer gets overcharged or undercharged a few dollars, but if an executive makes a mistake, it could cost hundreds of workers their jobs. Plus, the idea is that their skills and experience are rarer and more valuable. I’m on board with that.
But it’s the quantity where we run headlong into the absurd. The difference in pay is so tremendous that it’s offensive. You can’t argue that UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen J. Hemsley works harder in two hours than a five-year firefighter works in an entire year. You can’t argue that five hours of his labor is worth about the same as an entire year of a general surgeon’s.
Some argue that giving basic-level handouts to the poor creates a disincentive to work. But doesn’t allowing someone to make $100,000,000 in a single year have a similar effect? If you could work 1 year and make more than a New York City surgeon would make in 389 years, or a minimum wage worker would make in 6,733 years, what’s to stop you from just retiring? I thought these people were valuable, and that’s why we pay them more. Why create such a huge incentive for them to work for such a short time?
We’re so worried about whether or not someone will quit the menial, pointless job almost anyone else could do just because they could get welfare food for free, but we see nothing wrong with giving someone we consider extremely valuable all the money they could ever want in a single year’s paycheck. If it’s disincentives you care about, you might want to try looking upward sometimes, too.
The fact is, nobody is worth that much. Imagine if Stephen J. Hemsley gave a press release that said “my contribution to the world this year was worth more than 1,700 Lieutenant Colonels in the Army.” Imagine the audacity! Yet, that’s what quite a number of conservatives will argue: that this guy works that hard, and that his work is that much more valuable than theirs, so he deserves to make as much as 1,700 of them.
I certainly don’t think so.