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  • A fundamental belief of the modern world, which explains a lot of our anxiety around failure, is that we are what we earn.

  • When we say this, we mean something very particular:

  • not just that it’s nice to have a lot of money but that our income is the source of information, crucial, decisive information, about our character, our intelligence, our moral fiber.

  • In short, money is the key indicator of our worth in human and not just financial terms.

  • The more money we make, the more we deserve to exist.

  • By extension, it feels impossible to imagine ourselves as good, decentand still poor.

  • But can all this really be true?

  • Must we hate and deem ourselves despicable beings because our salary is not elevated?

  • For an answer, we must look to economics and in particular, to the technical way that salary is determined.

  • Here we find something striking: wages are not decided by the extent of someone’s human worth or social contribution per se.

  • Wages are simply the result of the intensity with which certain people want a job done relative to the number of people who happen to be able to do it.

  • If many people can complete a task, however humanly important it might be, holding a hand on a cancer ward for example, little money will be offered for it.

  • And if there are very few people able to do it, however trivial it might be (kicking a ball 60 metres into a goal), if there’s intense demand, salaries will be elevated.

  • Money is in fact no accurate measure of the human worth of the work in question; the determinant of wages is just the strength of demand in relation to supply.

  • We may not be able easily to change how much people earn, but we can change how we judge earnings.

  • This isn’t an issue of politics; it’s an issue of appreciation.

  • We can change how we assess what a modest wage means.

  • We can use our imaginations to remember and hold in mind all that is not quantified in a salaryin our lives and in those of others

  • all the degrees of intelligence, care, dedication, empathy and creativity that may be present, undetected by the blunt aggregated marker of a wage.

  • However tempting it might be to settle the question of the value of human beings in stark financial terms, the truth remains beautifully and redemptively more complicated.

  • As we must realise, as soon as weve spent some time around a person at work and got to know what sides of their character their labours will call on through an average day,

  • well then have no option but to reach a dauntingly complex conclusion: we are not what we earn.

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A fundamental belief of the modern world, which explains a lot of our anxiety around failure, is that we are what we earn.

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