Rationalized Irrationality

Recently, there’s been a fair amount of resentment expressed in the media and elsewhere, if in a scattered manner, about the “bonuses” still being paid to the already high-paid and most likely overpaid senior executives in the financial industry. Here in Utah, one state agency dealing with trust lands paid bonuses to senior personnel early, just in order to avoid the legislature’s pending ban on such bonuses. I not only understand, but also share, a certain amount of the public outrage at monies above and beyond salaries going to those who have created the financial catastrophe the world is trying to muddle through, as well as at all sorts of maneuvers to keep such extravagant pseudo-compensation.

But… very few of those professing the outrage are looking beyond the obvious sins of the financial, real estate, and other malefactors to the even larger underlying problem. Exactly how rational is a society that pays — or allows to be paid — tens and hundreds of billions of dollars to a relative handful of people who manipulate paper, while underpaying and laying off those who are the backbone of a functioning society?

Everyone professes that education is essential to an information/high tech society. So why are legislators and their constituents allowing teacher layoffs, salary freezes for educators on all levels at a time when school enrollments are growing — particularly college enrollments? Again, here in Utah, college enrollments increased almost ten percent this year, and the higher education budget was cut something like 15%. Next year, enrollments are projected to increase another 15%, and more budget cuts are already before the legislature, while faculty numbers are declining, and, as a result, because many students cannot get into already overcrowded required classes, some may take as long as six or seven years to graduate. Some faculty are so overloaded that they literally have neither time nor space to take on more classes and students. This problem isn’t confined to Utah. Similar problems face other localities, including states like Virginia and California.

Order and law are also another support of society, and more than a few police forces have laid off personnel or stopped hiring and let attrition reduce their numbers. Prisons are so overcrowded in state after state that even dangerous felons are being released early.

Over the past several decades, governments on the federal, state, and local level have neglected infrastructure maintenance, to the point that we’ve had bridges and highways collapse. While a few of these problems are being addressed, most are not… and, by the way, such maintenance problems resulted in the closure of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco for nearly a week — because five thousand pounds of metal dropped out of the bridge and onto the roadway.

On the other hand, the federal government can hand out billions so that Americans can buy new cars — another bailout for the incompetent automakers.

As the retired senior corporate vice president of a large high tech firm once put it, “You can tell how people are valued by what they’re paid.”

So… why, exactly, are we as a society continuing to pay excessive millions to those who’ve already endangered us while underpaying and laying off those who support our society? By what logic do we rationalize the irrational?

3 thoughts on “Rationalized Irrationality”

  1. Derek says:

    Though I've little experience with working the government, it seems to me that a majority of the issues with anything that is government funded, from education to welfare programs themselves, a majority of the money gets caught up in bureaucracy and far away from the problems/work itself.

    If from what I've seen in my service with the Army is any reflection on other federally funded organizations then I am worried…

  2. Brian says:

    Value is created by perception of scarcity and perception of benefit.

    We remove scarcity by guaranteeing the right of every child to an education and almost guaranteeing it to those of college age.

    We remove the perception of benefit by asserting that anyone can succeed if they just truly believe (see any popular movie or TV show for reference). None of these is required for success: work*, talent, discipline, or extraordinary opportunity.

    Work is shown in many movies/TV shows, but it seems that six weeks of "work" can create world-renowned skill from any disaffected youth with an attractive but undiscovered visage.

    I don't see our culture moving to solve either of these. It seems to view the problem as a simple lack of free access, as all problems must be the result of "The Man" puttin' ya down.

  3. David says:

    The premier rationalizer of this particular form of irrationality was Ayn Rand.

    Money is a symbol, a token of entitlement for energy or for the right to acquire items created by the use of energy. Energy, whether in the form of food calories, or flashlight batteries, or house current, or else products previously constructed by energy, are what gives money its value.

    When most of the energy man uses comes from food, burned in his body, or from animals which eat hay or grain that man causes to be grown, there is a direct connection between the quality of the man and the degree to which he is entitled to direct the use of energy and to own the products thereby made.

    But when most of the energy man uses comes from geological deposits of fossil fuels, then the tie between human quality and energy entitlements can be, and usually soon is, broken. Once wealth becomes based on exosomatic energy, the measure of man moves from his genes to his bank accounts, from his blood to his wallet, from what he is to what he owns. The real basis of human worth, biology, is supplanted by a fictitious basis, a social construct: ownership and the laws thereunto pertaining.

    Rich men begin to pretend that work done by fossil energy, burned in engines, counts as an ability intrinsic to themselves as men. The owner of a bulldozer can imagine that he is stronger than any hundred lumberjacks because his bulldozer can knock down trees faster than 100 lumberjacks can fell them with axes. He can imagine so, at least, until there is no more gasoline to put in the bulldozer.

    The process of exosomatizing worth snowballs. Money has a way of gravitating to those who already have a great deal of it. And each dollar in a rich man's hand buys just as much energy, cause just as much work to be done, as the dollar in a poor man's hand can. It isn't long before the possession of money becomes the supreme survival trait, easy overmatching strength, dexterity, agility, stamina, beauty, and even intelligence. No one without money-privileged access to fossil energy can compete with those who do have such privilege.

    Rich people have special interests, and those interests don't really include making sure that everyone gets a good education or even that everyone has enough food to eat. And democracy is not a good mechanism for controlling the influence of rich people. Equal rights we might have, but those rights mean nothing when it becomes illegal to fight for your life versus starvation, illness, or homelessness because the means to cure those perils belongs to those who can bid for them higher than you can.

Comments are closed.