Why don’t we have a wage cap?

“Don’t drive angry! Never drive angry!” This riff on the Groundhog Day bit somehow became a joke amongst friends of mine when I lived in Washington, DC. It jumped into my head as “Don’t write angry!” when I picked up this article on my twitter timeline (thanks @TheMooreLab).


I had a pretty serious knee-jerk reaction to this article. I wish it was balanced and thoughtful. I wish it was about the execution of the analysis or the validity of the question. But actually, I was just instantly spitting mad that anyone gets paid 4.5 million dollars a year to do anything.

Yes, I know. CEOs of major corporations; Richard Branson; FORTUNE magazine’s billionaire list; etc. A special few people make scads more money than that annually. I don’t think about them because that kind of superfluous wealth has an emetic effect on me. And then it makes me really, really sad.

Admittedly, I am outraged from an out of date stance: an idea that (higher) education should be something -quite frankly- noble: universally accessible, socially mobilizing, a source of discovery and knowledge for public benefit. And yeah, I naively believe the leaders of such institutions should find enough reward in the societal value of the education they manage, that they would be content with a salary within the bounds of (a very good) normal life.

It is completely my fault that I have incorrectly assigned values (and expectations) to a group of people because  of their job sector. But it’s still astonishing and disappointing to me that educated, (theoretically) thoughtful human beings would demand a salary that high, more or less, just because they can.

My primary issues here are parity and what we have decided to value. A university administrator is the face and, to a lesser extent, the name of the university at all times. S/he must raise money, keep the institution continuously relevant, and make operational decisions. A doctor is frequently on call, her/his quality contributes to the reputation of the hospital/practice, and s/he makes lots of decisions. A parent is a university administrator -always accountable, makes decisions, plans for the future, earns the money- with a significantly smaller ‘student body.’ I’m not saying these three roles should be earning the same annual salary, but couldn’t they all at least be judged by the same metric?

Is it time? Okay single parents and the president of a university should both be paid 4.5 million dollars a year for being on call 24/7. Doctors will be paid in proportion to the amount they are on call. And married parents will make 2.25 m/yr each.

Is it the number of people one is responsible for? Doctors will be paid by the number of people they see in a year (same amount for each person regardless of medical complexity); parent paid for each child; university administrators paid for each full-time enrolled student. This isn’t so very far from reality.

For administrators it’s usually how much money they can bring to the institution. This fact makes me cry, but it’s who America chose to be. And if that’s the way it’s going to be then let’s at least do the same for everyone. Pick a standard rate…$0.65 in annual salary for every dollar in revenue brought to the institution? For doctors look at the dollars brought to the practice through services, minus any losses due to malpractice lawsuits, or inappropriate tests/procedures etc. For the first 20 years of the child’s life parents should earn a standard stipend based on the child’s potential future contribution to society. Deductions will only be taken over the age of 16 for children who require legal services or incarceration. After the age of 20 parents get paid based on their child’s actual (monetary) contribution to society…

Okay that last bit is a bridge too far, but I’m angry and sad that parents don’t get paid well to do the job that would make university administrators a lot less necessary. And I’m angry and sad that we are a society that shows no appreciation of, or respect for ‘plenty.’ We don’t teach anyone how to look at their life and realize that they have enough.

I know why we don’t have a wage cap. Because The American Dream. That’s why. Nothing is ever all bad or all good, but The American Dream is looking a bit dirty, dented and bullet-ridden these days. And I think more equality is the fresh air we need.




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