The Price of Fair Change

Warren Buffett recently stated the following on CNBC: “Distribution magnifies the value of content.” This quotation succinctly describes our attitude towards money and who receives it. The value we place on products and services depends less on their quality and more on the number of people they affect. An example of this phenomenon is the disparity of pay between a teacher and, say, a professional athlete. The Athlete services millions of fans, while the teacher, though providing an ultimately more valuable service, finds their salary constrained by the few students they teach. Yet, as Mr. Palfrey mentioned at the last All School Meeting, this disparity does alarm our consciences. If we all agree that the value of quality education far outweighs three-point shots, why then does this discrepancy exist? Despite the unease we may face, in the end we tend to discard economic equality in favor of economic hierarchy; if we prescribe to economic reasoning, the pay of teachers should indeed be low. Are we willing to accept complete equality at the expense of monetary comfort? The main force at work behind economic inequality in the U.S. is technology. The internet, mobile industry, and globalization all boost distribution of products. Instagram utilized Apple’s App Store to gain approximately 100 million users in two years. Connection with so many consumers in a short period was impossible just a decade ago, and explains why Instagram was sold to Facebook for $1 billion. In response to these types of cases, we often find ourselves believing in two opposing ideologies. On one hand, we enjoy the benefits of a thriving technological economy. However, the valuation this system places on companies like Instagram screams against our common sense. This dilemma exposes a contradiction in our beliefs. The salaries of athletes, or the concept of 100 million users, may seem absurd, but as long as the cost per person remains low, no gripes transform into legitimate protests. Teachers are shortchanged, yet no one is willing to accept higher tuition or taxes. We have been taught philosophies of how the world should work, but reasoning dependent on money often wins. This pattern extends into social issues as well. I find myself frustrated with the perpetuation of racism, sexism and the like. We explain these issues with the notion that people are reluctant to change. But it has been nearly half a century since the Civil Rights movement; racist white people aren’t the main problem anymore. The Equal Pay Act for women occurred just as long ago; something else is at play here. Deeper deficiencies exist in our society and can often be traced back to money. I am not denying that discrimination exists, yet it is not always due to the sexism we hear groups rant against. Women are more likely to drop out of work after having children. Thus, aren’t women riskier employees? No one wants to defend unequal pay because it is morally wrong, yet the problem persists since many believe it’s economically right. To further complicate the issue, money can be associated with other moral obligations. Is standing up for a cause more important than paying your children’s tuition? To be clear, I am not advocating for unequal pay. My goal is to demonstrate that social issues can linger for many financial reasons, and that our attempts to address these issues while ignoring the money is an inappropriate strategy for those serious about change. For example, men pay more for car insurance than women. The cause is not sexist; men are just statistically more dangerous drivers. Not all issues are solely about the economics, yet money seems to have its hand in a lot of places. Americans believe that all are created equal, and that we deserve the fruits of our individual labour. Unfortunately, these two creeds conflict. In a system that rewards some more than others, how can inequality be avoided? Our nation has catered to both of these beliefs, resulting in a capitalist society that chooses to promote political equality over economic equality. We’re fine with airlines segregating us by who pays more, colleges accepting applicants by the finances of their parents, and better lawyers made available to the biggest checkbooks—as long as everyone gets only one vote. That’s the true extent of equality in America. The structure of our society explains why such money reasoning keeps occurring, and also why social change continues to be inhibited. My goal is not to make us feel bad about ourselves. In a world where “distribution magnifies the value of content”, or where we believe one should keep the fruits of his or her labor, the social reasoning we focus on has become muddled. We as Andover students promote equality of race, gender etc., but we do so while sitting under expensive chandeliers. In the face of contradictions, we have applied compromises to avoid the inherent flaws in our reasoning. But actions predicated on awareness to all the points of view will be far more successful in the long run. Carter Page is a two-year Lower from Northbrook, IL.