Everybody Wants to Get Paid for Everything

Everybody Wants to Get Paid for Everything
All photographs courtesy of The Boston Globe

A couple of months ago The Boston Globe ran an article about the Dartmouth College basketball team, which voted to form a union. I imagined the writer trying mightily not to pen the story as satire. Which got me wondering, what is the proper perspective from which to write about a bunch of privileged guys (they go to Dartmouth, after all) wanting to get paid for playing a sport they choose to play, but they’re not all that good at (they go to Dartmouth after all)? This is not a case of a basketball powerhouse taking advantage of hardscrabble yet incredibly tall kids for whom basketball is the key to their future. The NCAA needs to address abuses in that arena. These are guys attending an elite college that does not offer athletic scholarships, but does practice need-blind admission. Back in the day, I benefited from that policy and worked in the college library as part of my work study. It never occurred to me that I should be paid for my ballroom dance prowess, though I’m a damn good dancer.

In the fifty years since my work-in-the-library days, more and more people clamor to be paid for more and more tasks. Most of the claims come from the realm of personal care. Should parents be paid to care for their children? Should spouses get paid to care for incapacitated spouses? Should children get paid to care for elderly parents?

Unlike the Dartmouth basketball players, these requests aren’t frivolous. Parents, spouses, children who care for one another in youth, sickness, and old age provide important societal services, and deflect significant costs we would all have to bear if any government hand was involved. Don’t those folks deserve to get paid?

The answer is: probably. But the question is wrong.

Life is not fair. From beginning to end. It’s not fair that I had two parents who survived into reasonable old age and then died without much need of outside assistance, while Sara, a woman I know, endured five years of her mother battling acute cancer, followed her father descending into dementia for five more. Sara cared for her parents in their homes. It was an awful burden. No one would have blamed Sara for putting her parents in a home. But she chose not to. Thus, she derived the priceless satisfaction of doing what she thought was right. We owe Sara a collective debt of gratitude, and hopefully find inspiration in her service. But do we owe her money?

The answer is: probably. But the question is wrong.

Regardless of which came first, the family unit or the almighty dollar, our culture has traditionally held that dollars apply outside the home, but not within. Farm work was paid; domestic work was not. Industrial work was paid; caregiver work was not. The Industrial Revolution, which greatly increased wage-earning work, also sowed the seeds of family unit decay. Particularly over the last two generations, the line between domestic life and wage-earning life has blurred. More and more people are taking care of others, and getting paid little or nothing for their effort. Shouldn’t everyone caring for someone get paid? Even if they are in your own family?

The answer is: probably. But again, it’s the wrong question.

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If we decide to pay parents to care for their children, or spouses to care for each other, or pay children to care for their parents, where will it stop? We will never find a way to properly value and allocate money to everyone who thinks they deserve it. Before we know it, we’ll be paying Dartmouth College basketball players to do something we used to think they did for enjoyment.

The correct question is not how much we should pay this or that person for this or that service. The correct question is, “What do we need to provide everyone—I mean everyone—the means to live their best possible life?” Realizing not all of us will achieve that, since, as stated above, life is not fair. The answer to that question is, of course, Universal Basic Income. Give everyone the rudimentary amount for daily living and let each individual decide how to allocate their life.

The beauty of UBI is that it could actually reduce the outsized role that money plays in our lives. If everyone had a modest ‘enough,’ we could place more value on other things. Like creativity or spirituality or ethics or caring for those we love, or any of the values that are being completely submerged by the chase of the almighty dollar.

If someone chose to stay home with their children, they might not live as lavishly as an employed worker, but they could make that choice without going hungry. If they preferred to work and send their child to paid care, UBI would give them a leg up on that. Same same for caring for an aging parent.

As the indomitable Dolly Levi said, “Money is like manure. Put is in a big pile and it stinks to high heaven. Spread it around and everything grows better.” Let’s spread it around. Not to this person because their child is deemed sick or that person because their parent is doddering, or that basketball player, just because. Let’s give a bit to everyone so we all have a basic amount, just because we’re human, and we’re here.

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Oh, and those tall boys at Dartmouth? The college refused to acknowledge or negotiate with them. Thank goodness.

Everybody Wants to Get Paid for Everything

About paulefallon

Greetings reader. I am a writer, architect, cyclist and father from Cambridge, MA.

My primary blog, theawkwardpose.com is an archive of all my published writing. The title refers to a sequence of three yoga positions that increase focus and build strength by shifting the body’s center of gravity. The objective is balance without stability. My writing addresses opposing tension in our world, and my attempt to find balance through understanding that opposition.

During 2015-2106 I am cycling through all 48 mainland United States and asking the question “How will we live tomorrow?” That journey is chronicled in a dedicated blog, www.howwillwelivetomorrw.com, that includes personal writing related to my adventure as well as others’ responses to my question.

Thank you for visiting.


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