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Answer to Prof. Wolff on inequality

The loathsome leftist loser Leiter links to (Marxist/museum piece) Robert Paul Wolff critiquing what he takes to be standard lines of justification for income/wealth inequality used by defenders of capitalism.  I've addressed the essential point in this blog fairly recently using the example of Amazon/Bezos, but I elaborate on my argument further below.  First, Wolff:
In order to focus our attention and make the argument concrete, let me take as an example the Columbia University Sociology Department in which I shall again be teaching this fall.  There are upwards of forty members of the department, including many distinguished scholars, and a support staff of four.  Since Columbia, unlike UMass, is a private university, it is of course impossible to find out easily how much each of these folks makes [whereas at UMass this is public knowledge], but I think we can assume that there is a considerable pay gap between the senior professors and the departmental secretaries – maybe three hundred percent or more.  How can this be explained and justified?

The standard answer is that it takes both long preparation and really rare talent to be a Columbia Sociology Professor, and the big bucks are needed to get the right people into those jobs.  I freely grant that being a Columbia Sociology Professor requires long preparation and really rare talent.  But do you need to pay big salaries to get the best people into those jobs.  [Alert:  I am going to ignore the effect of competition among universities in all of this.  I trust it is obvious that that consideration can be bracketed for the purposes of this analysis.  If it isn’t obvious, sit and think about it for a bit before you rush to comment.]

Well, think about it.  Setting to one side the cost of job preparation and the foregone income [see above], suppose we ask Shamus Kahn [currently Department Chair] whether he would prefer to remain as a Professor of Sociology or take over the job of Winston Gordon III [one of the support staff.]  Leave aside being Department Chair, which Shamus, like any sensible academic, could do without [or so he told me.]  As a Professor, he would be expected to be on campus 32 weeks out of the year, two or three days a week.  He would be in class 4 or 5 hours a week, would hold office hours 2 hours a week, would prepare lectures, and [ugh] would grade papers once or twice a semester.  He would also be encouraged [but not required] to do any independent research he wished and every so often to publish the results.  Contrariwise, as a departmental staff member, he would be expected to be on campus 48 weeks a year, five days a week, seven hours a day.  He would answer the phone, file papers, respond to student inquiries, assist professors with secretarial tasks, run errands, and perhaps manage the finances of the department.

In order to explain why it is necessary to pay Shamus three or four time as much as Winston, we must assume that if Shamus were to be offered the same salary as Winston, he would respond, “If it is all the same, I would just as soon do Winston’s job.”  Since the excellence of the Columbia University enterprise really requires that Shamus agree to be a Professor, we may suppose that a negotiation would ensue, with Shamus offered more and more money until finally, he replies, “Weeell, all right, but only if every seventh year you give me six months off from the grind; call it a sabbatical.”

Seriously?  You can do the same thought experiment for a corporate manager and the man who cleans the toilets in the home office.  To get the right people into the right jobs, you need to test them and sort them and sift them.  But do you also have to pay the suits so much more than the shirts?
Now, if you're a leftist/anticapitalist with limited understanding of how (pro-)capitalists think - especially the most intellectually challenging/formidable capitalists - you might find this an impressive counter to the supposed defender of capitalism.  (The loathsome Leiter says it's "sensible commentary.")  Heck, one of the Marxists in Wolff's comments section links to this imbecilic strawman of Rand and capitalist thought at Existential Comics, "making Wolff's very serious, and not silly, point."  (In what cannot be but an irony, the main Achilles Heel of EC is its ignorant anticapitalism.  The same Marxist linking to EC's imbecilic strawman later complains about how Marx is widely, ignorantly caricatured.  Gee, it's like dialectic has broken down, or something.  On a completely unrelated note, why isn't Ferrarin's Hegel and Aristotle all the rage?  And when you do hear from leftists about philosophy you might hear quite a bit about Marx, and then some Hegel, maybe some Nietzsche, Foucault, Deleuze (& Guattari), Frankfurt School . . . but what about the greatest philosopher of all, Aristotle?  I mean, Marx is reacting to Hegel, who is reacting to Aristotle and developing Aristotelian-teleological themes which aren't exactly superseded by anything after Aristotle.  Here I was told the left is really woke and advanced?  And what about philosophy for children/everybody?  How did they manage to miss that one, pray tell?  Misplaced priorities, perhaps?)

Here's my reply to Wolff, reproduced from the comments section and with some links added:
Ultimate Philosopher said... 
I'm not following. I assume you're all familiar with Nozick's example of Wilt Chamberlain, and the $100K salary. Well, today, the top sports stars (think Mike Trout, Tom Brady, LeBron James) make upwards of $40M a year, an even greater cause of disparity compared to what, oh, say, the concessions workers make. 
Concessions workers are readily replaceable. Mike Trout could do concessions work, but there's comparative advantage. The concessions workers can't do what Trout does. 
True, if Trout were offered the same wage or salary as the concessions worker makes for playing baseball, his love of playing baseball would still lead him to prefer the baseball playing. 
Heck, we're talking about people who play a game for a living, and have fun much of the time doing it. Many of the concessions workers are stuck doing whatever their skill set qualifies them for, and they're likely not having much fun much of the time. They have to deal with lots of stupid and crappy customers, for example. They're perhaps acutely aware that they don't have the talents that the customers are coming to pay the most money to see. Etc. 
But Trout is commanding what the market will bear, enjoying a big surplus over what he *would* be willing to play baseball for. (And on top of that, there are performance metrics these days tied to the concept of "Value Above Replacement Player," and Trout is shooting up the career leaders list there at almost astonishing speed. And even a replacement-level player, ready to be knocked down to AAA, has talents that are in-demand enough to make several hundred thousand a year. [We can bracket for now baseball's antitrust exemption, particularly given that the customers prefer to watch as undiluted a talent pool on the field as is consistent with a few dozen big cities, but not many more, having teams.]) 
And so, I ask along with Nozick, where is the injustice exactly? Is commanding what the market will bear unjust, or lacking in justification? (Of course, you should all know Nozick's justification by now: it's what people choose to do with their holdings.) (There's also Robin Hanson's rather mangled attempt to apply leftist reasoning about justice to the market for sexual and/or romantic partners. Guess what: a lot of people are SOL there no matter what they do, while a select few can get "10" partners even if they *would* settle for 7s. [Hanson's "creepy" in-jest proposal to force the more fortunate to have sex/romance with the less fortunate can be toned down to something more like a system of tax incentives/disincentives, something much more to the liking of statists who insist on separating human rights from property rights.] The point being, life isn't fair, but you sure get a lot of selective outrage about that from anticapitalists who, to a lot of procapitalists, appear to be rationalizing envy. A retort along Rawlsian lines is that what is fair is not nature but how we as a society respond to such natural unfairness, e.g., to maximize as much as possible the opportunity set of the least advantaged. Nozick's rebuttal is something to the effect that what's fair is when I dispose of my life as I choose, i.e., that it isn't others' to dispose of [and that otherwise nice-sounding ideas about maximin should be left to people to implement voluntarily {for which a good place to start might be philosophy for children, for which see the SEP entry there}]. Oh wait, that's originally Hospers/Rand....) 
UP/CRC  

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