Last week at Druid Camp, Green MEP Molly Scott Cato came and gave a talk about the nature of money. Molly isn’t a Druid, it should be noted, but is open to talking to any group of people who want to listen. Druid Camp is about finding ways to engage with the world as a Druid as well as retreating into a shared community space.
In Molly’s talk, she reflected on how people equate pay with value, where more pay seems to indicate that a person has more innate worth to those paying them. It’s a seductive way of thinking that traps us into putting a price tag on everything, and then not valuing those people and naturally occurring things that do not merit a high price.
We should pay fairly for time and skills, but the pressure in a capitalist system is to extract as much profit as possible, often meaning we will pay the less powerful less than they are worth to us. Unions were a way of countering this, but they have been restricted repeatedly by politicians. When we make hierarchies of worth, assumptions creep into the mix. Traditionally feminine areas are often considered less valuable than traditional masculine employment, for example. Hard physical labour is not valued as highly as desk jobs (unless there’s also a gender issue). Producing the product is deemed less important than managing the people who produce the product. And on the strange flip side of all of this, get high enough up the ladder and you can lose money for your company and still expect to be paid a vast salary and a hefty bonus. How we deploy wages could certainly stand some thought.
The value of a person is not their earning ability, and we should not be valuing each other in terms of cash flow. It’s horribly reductive, undermines self esteem and leaves us all vulnerable. What value do you have if you fall sick, retire, or your company folds, if you take time out to raise children or care for a sick relative, to campaign, study or the like? We are not our paychecks.
This only holds up though when you postulate that people are earning enough to maintain a decent standard of living. If you do not earn a living wage, and must work two jobs just to survive, or sell your possessions, or do without many otherwise normal things, you will feel keenly that you are not worth much as a person. It will be there every time you desperately need to say ‘no’ but can’t afford to. Loss of economic power is also loss of self, when it means you have to work any hours offered at no notice, or when it means you resort to selling your body, through pornography or prostitution. The person who cannot afford to eat properly doesn’t get to make so many ethical choices about what their employer asks of them. Undervalue a person economically, and you take away their rights to function as a person in your society.
Only when everyone has enough to maintain a decent standard of living, can we sit back and feel confident that the size of a paycheck is not the value we place on a person.