politics

Rand Paul Is A Classist, But Worse, He Can’t Do Math

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.

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2 thoughts on “Rand Paul Is A Classist, But Worse, He Can’t Do Math

  1. I’ve always found arguments such as the ones presented by Mr. Paul to be as ostentatious as they are callous, almost criminally so.

    I have often found – listening to debates in my parental home and their social circle – that those are exactly the arguments and perceptions of people who are so far away from any of those issues that these issues have become mostly abstract constructs to them.

    Some of those discussions have made me sick to my stomach, even as a child and teenager, and on those extremely rare occasions when I have dealings with my family and their associates they still do, even more so.

    As you know I myself am financially secure – you’ve even jokingly (I assume) have “accused” my of sometimes expressing the demeanor and views of someone coming from a priviliged family. So I tend to be very reluctant to get into any such debates because at some point someone will always play the “money card” and tell me how I can’t have any idea what I’m taking about anyway.

    I’m afraid people like Mr. Paul don’t really disprove those kind of perceptions.

    Still … I can’t let stuff like that stand and just keep my mouth shut simply because I’m not directly affected myself. Says who by the way? Who knows my whole life story, experiences, friends, etc.?

    And there we go. No person, just as no group of people, is just one aspect. You can’t boil down even person so a single attribute so it’s utterly impossible to pass judgment on an entire body of people and stick them with a universal label they all have in common.

    Next come the questions of things like “effort” or “worth” or “product” or “gain” or “deserve” or … whatever.

    Of course Germany – as does most of Europe – does suffer from any such debates as well. And like everywhere (I assume) at some point people will try to quantify the work a person does in some way to reasonably explain away why they should earn more or less.

    Like I like to say to my lawyer: If you guys went on strike for a month most people wouldn’t even notice but if the garbage men, mail men, kindergartners, nurses, plummers, mechanics, or a lot of other professions went on strike for a month …

    Of course academics will defend their higher income by mentioning the time and effort they had to put into getting their degree. But does a long time spent studying really automatically translate into an “important” job that has “value” for society and thus deserves higher pay?

    Others will point out their responsibilities. They have to make decisions that mayinfluence countless people, millions of Euros (or Dollars), have to make life-or-death decisions. They’ll name the stress, the responsibilities, the effort, far-sightedness and calculation necessary to make these decisions. But does that automatically translate into something that “helps” our society, that “improves” life?

    I really hate it when people try to somehow show a rationalised formula that equals the poor deserving to be poor, that makes it their fault. Nobody is denying that there are slackers. Those exist on every level of edcation, income, etc. But to insinuate that nobody can be poor or at least underpaid if they just make an effort is as arrogant and insulting as it is simply stupid.

    Now, I’ll agree to some degree that some professions should be paid differently than others. And of course I’ll have my own personal view on why that should be as well. But that’s the problem: That assessment would by a personal one, one that could never stand against all the reasons others would find for different opinions.

    But whatever those classifications might look like … I don’t think anything justifies a wage gap of 5 or 6 digits a months and certainly nothing justifies having people work hard without paying them enough to make a secure living for themselves and their families.

    • arekexcelsior says:

      Thank you as always for the comment!

      As other folks have pointed out, people like Rand Paul get to talk about poverty a lot more than actually poor people do, because being poor makes it difficult to spend time writing about much of anything, poverty included.

      To me, just being aware that a) you are from that background and it does color your history and perceptions (nothing wrong with that) and b) that the arguments that are put forward by others have no merit shows that you are capable of thinking about these issues. I really do think that, when it comes to basic ideas of injustice, they’re mostly universally accessible. Data and sociology can bridge gaps there more than other gaps we’ve discussed.

      The whole “deserve” argument may usually be offensive, circular (as in it is rigged to confirm what the person already believes), myopic and stupid, but at least it is an ARGUMENT. Rand Paul opened his mouth and made a statement that was by its own logic self-defeating. He made really clear that he was talking ONLY about effort, not about the value of that effort or efficiency or anything else.

      The idea of the time spent into the degree is a complicated one, I’ll agree. But there’s usually a bunch of points that are obvious that don’t even make it in:

      1) Education itself can be exciting and fun, preferable to a lot of workplaces. A lot of academics and professionals with advanced degrees went that direction because they enjoyed their field, even if they had monetary gain in mind as well. A lot of working class schmoes would jump at the chance to spend the time to get a degree.
      2) People who go through education can often get access, even during the educational period, to internships or TA positions or RA positions or what not that pay relatively well and are often empowering.
      3) Everyone has risks at their workplace. A guy who spends twenty years working as an auto worker can be just as screwed a person who spent time earning a useless degree from the perspective of wealth accumulation if the technology changes to make it so that his skillset doesn’t matter anymore.

      I’m actually writing an argument about the whole “responsibilities” angle. Suffice it to say that the literature is pretty clear that leadership and opportunities to have those “responsibilities” can actually be very good for the people in those positions, reducing their stress vis-a-vis their subordinates. After all, the subordinates in question are often practically just as invested in the success of the organization, they’re just more helpless to actually guide that success.

      And, of course, yes, it comes down to the sociological insight that individuals can be lazy or stupid but groups as a whole really just aren’t. When you see a whole group of people with diverse personalities and backgrounds sharing some problem, you better look at the opportunity structure tout de suite.

      It also comes even more deeply down to the fact that we don’t want a race where the losers are shot or starve to death, no matter how fair that race is. (When the race is in fact grossly unfair, the injustice multiplies).

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