Rand Paul is making a grotesquely classist argument here. (It’s also racist, and sexist, and homophobic, as I’ll get to). He and other conservatives will then have the audacity to pretend that the only people waging class war are political progressives.
His idea, that effort is the differential that explains outcomes, isn’t just sociologically stupid. It doesn’t stand up to a moment of mathematical scrutiny.
Let’s imagine that we have a good society where people are paid by how hard they work. Lazy Jim wants to work 20 hours a week, at a really easy job. Let’s say that that job has a .3 effort multiplier. Workaholic Amy loves her job and she wants to work 100 hours a week at a really tough job. We’ll say that her job has a 1.0 effort multiplier.
Even these extremely different people, with really different levels of commitment and effort, should only be separated by a rate of 6 to 100. Lazy Jim should make 6% of what Amy does.
Not 1/100th. Not 1/1000th.
In the real world, nurses who work 24 hour shifts, coal miners, crab fishers, social workers with case loads triple what would be remotely manageable, and construction workers make far less than people who don’t work a single day in a year because they let their wealth make more wealth. People are born into wealth equivalent to what others spend a lifetime earning.
It takes a myopically classist, racist, sexist and homophobic person to imagine that a CEO’s effort really must be ten thousand times that of a cashier, courtesy clerk, or factory worker. Rand Paul and people like him literally think that it’s so much harder to sit down in meetings than swing a sledgehammer that the guy in the meetings should be paid a yearly salary that he could retire on. (And it’s much, much more likely to be “he” than she sitting in those boardrooms. And it’s much, more likely that that guy will be named Jim than Jamal).
The idea that people should be paid for effort is a great one. It’s a leftist idea, and yet people so often use it intuitively to try to shore up a defense for systems that are not at all based on this norm. The reason why it is a leftist idea is because, if you really think about it, there is no justification, collectively or individually, from a perspective of justice or from a perspective of incentive management, to pay two people who work just as hard at just at difficult of jobs different amounts. That means that the most inequality anyone could ever justify would be less than a hundred-fold difference (except, of course, for those who are unemployed, which also should be virtually non-existent in a good society).
There’s no need to get into how Rand Paul is ignoring how geography, structural unemployment, differences in education access and quality, differences in discrimination, the vagaries of real estate markets and predatory lending, and other cyclical aspects of poverty make it so that some people can’t even get the hours to prove that they can work hard. His own justification is so ignorant that it can only be accepted by millions of people uncritically because of the spiritual and mental poison of classism.
There is, however, a need to note that Rand Paul is pretending that women just work 24% less hard than men (and that there’s no good reason for that like the fact that they are usually also the people doing the bulk of the domestic work in their home), and that black folks really should have wealth that is a tiny fraction of white folks because obviously slavery wasn’t that hard of work so that the descendants of slaves shouldn’t have a ton of wealth, and that Asians and Hispanics must work less hard too given their difficulties with poverty and discrimination, and that the discrimination gay folks face in the workplace must be because they work less hard, so that he is being sexist, racist, homophobic, a chauvinistic jingoist, and above all an idiot.
Every single one of the Republican candidates who did not call him out on this demonstrated that they are incapable of being the President of a diverse country. Make of that what you will.