A Philosopher's Blog

The Income You Deserve

Posted in Business, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on February 25, 2013
I Get Money

I Get Money (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the previous essay, I wrote about the notion of a person having the body he deserves. In response to the original blog post, commentator T.J. Babson inquired about replacing “body” with “income.” As such, the question raised is whether or not a person has the income he deserves.

In the case of whether or not a person has the body he deserves, I argued that this is generally the case. After all, laying aside unfortunate accidents and illnesses, a person has (or is) the body that he has earned by his choices and actions. I also noted that the luck (good or bad) of birth can also be factored out in terms of what a person has earned-after all, a person would still get what he has earned given his circumstances.

Naturally, it can be contended that the same would hold true when it comes to income. After all, if unfortunate accidents are laid aside and the luck of birth is factored out, then a person surely gets the income that he deserves. After all, a person gets the income he has via his choices and actions, just as is the case with getting the body he has (or is). Thus, we all make what we deserve.

Or so it could be argued. However, there is the obvious question of whether the two situations are analogous. That is, whether the matter of deserved income is adequately similar to that of having the body one deserves.

One obvious difference is the nature of the how earning works in regards to the body and income. In the case of the body, getting the body one earns is a purely mechanical, objective and automatic matter. For example, if I choose to take in more calories than I burn, then I will start storing fat, thus altering my body in a way that I have clearly earned. As another example, if I do more speed work on the track, this will alter my body in ways that result in greater speed when running. As a third example, if I do more pushups and pull-ups, the strength of my body will increase. I get these results based entirely on what I do and they correspond perfectly to my actions and choices. As such, these results seem to be exactly what I deserve. After all, what I get stems from what I do.

In the case of income, getting what one earns is a matter of human decisions, is subjective and is not automatic. For example, my income is based largely on what other people who control the funds elect to pay me based on what they think I should be pay. This is presumably based on a subjective assessment of what I should be paid—most likely based on such factors as what they think is the lowest amount that will keep me from accepting another job and what they think it would cost to replace me with someone that could do what I do. My income is also not an automatic matter—I would not get an income just for teaching and so on. There has to be the conscious decision to provide me with the income. In the case of income, what I get might have little or even no connection to what I actually do. Thus a person might not get the income that he deserves.

A second obvious difference is that what a person gets in regards to his body is always perfectly proportional to his choices and actions. If I run X miles per week at an average pace of P, then my endurance will be E. If I spent H hours strength training at intensity I per week, then my strength will be S.  Or, if I pack in E extra calories, then I get F fatter. As such, what I get from my choices and efforts is exactly proportional to the nature of my efforts and choices: what I do and what I receive are in perfect harmony.

In stark contrast, what a person earns in terms of income can (and often is) significantly out of proportion to the nature of her efforts and choices. For example, a professor might devote considerable effort to teaching her students and be very effective at this, thus creating educated citizens who go on to add considerably to society. This teacher might receive a rather low income. As another example, a professor might be clever at making connections and hit an academic fad at the right time and become a star. This star might spend his career pontificating at conferences and on talk shows, yet contribute little of lasting value to society all the while enjoying a rather nice income. As a third example, a person might develop a cunning way to create a financial instrument to hide toxic assets and engage in clever deceits when ranking said instruments, thus making a fortune for herself while contributing to a massive recession. In such cases, these people would not seem to be getting the income they deserve.

It could be countered that a person does get the income he deserves by definition. That is, one earns what one gets, thus it is earned. Being what is earned, it is what a person deserves. This is, obviously enough, what philosophers are often accused of: mere semantic trickery.

Also, to use the obvious analogy, this would be rather like claiming that a prisoner deserves her sentence on the grounds that it is the sentence she was given and it is thus just. Obviously, the mere fact that a person has been sentenced to a certain punishment or has received a certain income is not proof that either is earned.

It could also be argued that employers decide what a person deserves and that a person can decide if he agrees. If he agrees and accepts the income, then he gets what he deserves. While this has a certain appeal, it assumes that the person is not tricked by fraud or compelled to accept the income. To use an analogy, if I agree to give a person something based on a lie or because he points a gun at me, I do not thus get what I deserve when I lose my property.

In some cases, people do get to select their income without any fraud or compulsion and they have many opportunities available to them. In most other cases, people are at a considerable disadvantage relative to those who offer income. For example, a person who works for the state is often subject to the whims of those above them in power. If a newly appointed director decides that he would prefer to relocate his department in a city near his second or third house then the employees have to choose between uprooting their lives (and often families) and losing their jobs. If they lose their jobs, then they need to find another employer and hope that their new job will last.

It might be replied that people get what they deserve even in these cases. After all, if they were smart enough to see through the fraud or capable enough to avoid being compelled, then they would have a better income.

While this has a certain appeal when it comes to economic matters and matches the ideal of the rugged individual making her fortune, this would require accepting that a person who is deceived by another is responsible for his failure to detect the deceit and that anyone who is compelled deserves the results of that compulsion. To use an unpleasant analogy, this would be rather like blaming the victim of a date rape for being raped. After all, if she had been smart enough to see through his deceit to his true intentions or strong enough to protect herself, then she would not have been raped. As such, if she is raped, then she would have gotten exactly what she deserved. Likewise, if someone was smart enough to avoid deceit or strong enough to avoid being compelled economically, then she would not have a low income.  After all, she should have been able to command a better income or start her own company. As such, if she does have a low income, she must be getting exactly what she deserves.

As such, while each person generally has the body he deserves, the same does not hold for income.

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8 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on February 25, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Both come down to the matter of individual choice: to exercise or not, to have one career as opposed to another. And, for income, I would add:choices concerning where one lives.

    The body we are born with can be ectomorphic, mesomorphic, or endomorphic, and we have no choice regarding this. Likewise, our aptitude and employment possibilities are also limited to what we are born with, and we have no choice regarding this.

    Some people are smart, some are not; some mechanically inclined, some not; etc.

    With proper education and employment for our aptitude and abilities we are able to make choice as to where and for whom we will gain income via employment, and this is where income does relate to the body.

    A woman with an endomorph body will never be a size zero, but she can be lean and fit if she exercises. Likewise, a women with an ectomorph body can eat whatever she wants and remain a size zero forever, with little-to-no exercise.

    A person with the right aptitude can be a mechanic or a professor, and make a nice income, if they make the right career choices. Someone with mechanical aptitude who goes to college hoping to become a philosophy professor may end up unemployed by auto repair shops and universities.

    A person who make good education and career choices that related to her aptitude will find themselves employed somewhere people with that aptitude and education and earn a good income for doing so.

    In general, it comes down to choices, and the mechanical relationship between the cause and effect concerning the choice of exercising the body one has is not as complicated as exercising the choices we have regarding education and employment.

    After all, one may have the aptitude to be a professor and be born in the slums of a third world country where becoming a professor is impossible.

    A person with a PhD from a third word country may come to the US and end up driving a taxi, which is certainly not what a PhD deserves.

  2. biomass2 said, on February 25, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Where there’s a choice, there’s a chance.
    Making a great choice is not a 100% guarantee that one will succeed. Chances may be—emphasis on the words ”may be”— influenced by the individual making the choice. Or the chance happenings may be totally unexpected . The events may be of the sort where one smacks the heel of his hand against his forehead and exclaims “I knew this would happen” (when , indeed, his experiences and the best available information at the time led to high expectations going in *#) . Or they may be more of the sort where the choice-maker can only bewail his bad fortune and attempt to move on.

    *# Were all of those who were earning a decent living just before the financial crisis getting the income they deserved? If they subsequently accepted employment at a much lower salary were they no longer getting the salary they deserved?

  3. T. J. Babson said, on February 25, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    As the concept of “justice” is deeply problematic, it makes no sense to say anyone “deserves” this or that.

    • ajmacdonaldjr said, on February 25, 2013 at 11:27 pm

      You say “the concept of justice is deeply problematic.”

      What do you think of police, Miranda rights, arrests, jails, courts, judges, lawyers, trials, prisons, probation, parole, restitution, fines, court costs, protection orders, criminal charges?

      Do you think “it makes no sense to say anyone deserves” police, Miranda rights, arrests, jails, courts, judges, lawyers, trials, prisons, probation, parole, restitution, fines, court costs, protection orders, criminal charges?

      • T.J. Babson said, on February 26, 2013 at 12:44 am

        “Do you think “it makes no sense to say anyone deserves” police, Miranda rights, arrests, jails, courts, judges, lawyers, trials, prisons, probation, parole, restitution, fines, court costs, protection orders, criminal charges?”

        Yes. Makes no sense to say that anyone “deserves” any of those things because the concept of “justice” is as vague as the concept of “God.” Nobody can know what another person “deserves.”

        • ajmacdonaldjr said, on February 26, 2013 at 9:45 am

          “Yes. Makes no sense to say that anyone “deserves” any of those things because the concept of “justice” is as vague as the concept of “God.” Nobody can know what another person “deserves.”

          Okay Mr. Sophist, any other concepts, besides “justice” and “God” that make no sense to you?

          Perhaps “know” and “knowledge”? Since you’re using these concepts in order to invalidate the concepts of “justice” and “God” when you say “No one can know what another person deserves”?

          Can we “know” anything?


          How about the concept “person”? You used it. Do you have a problem with it?

          How about the concept “deserve”? You used it. Do you have a problem with it?

          Remember the cannibal attack in Miami? Where the guy was eating another guy’s face off?

          The police shot him, because he wouldn’t stop, and growled at police, with bloody meat hanging from his mouth, when he was ordered to stop.

          Should the police have shot him in order to stop him from killing? In other words: Did he deserve to be shot?

          I can hear you in court now, as a judge:

          “No one is guilty of anything, because we can’t know what people deserve or don’t deserve. There is no such thing as justice. Everyone can leave. Court is adjourned, now and forever. Have a nice day.

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