Hard work pays (in blisters, not money)

A friend and I have been following the French presidential elections and their effects, and finding a story regarding President Sarkozy’s policy, I was of course interested. The story was run in The New York Times, but wasn’t anything especially interesting.

I pretty much knew what to expect, from his policy to the way it is portrayed, but something in the way I read the story made me double-take and consider writing a column.

The article reported that Sarkozy made a statement, probably in a discussion about his economic policy, that, in France, the people who work the hardest should be allowed to enjoy their wealth.

Now if this sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you come from America where such an attitude is the status quo. And so, today, I wish to address this belief.

The American ideology is one that is highly founded on personal responsibility. One person, given sufficient motivation, can make or break himself in America. All you need is the desire to succeed, and sweat on your brow to become a millionaire. Or so they would have you believe.

It seems to be a natural extension of this attitude, therefore, that when someone works hard to earn a comfortable place in the world, other people should keep their hands to themselves.

This attitude is so fundamental to the American lifestyle that most of our economic and governmental structures reflect it. In America, we enjoy lower taxes and greater wealth than anyone in the developed world.

It is precisely this that the French would now like to change. Under the leadership of Sarkozy, the French are straying away from their normally social lifestyle, to one of the American variety.

And so it stands that two great nations are exemplifying ideologies rooted in personal responsibility. What bothers me, however, is the extent to which America confuses individual accomplishments with group accomplishments.

Notice, poverty is always the fault of the individual. It is the poor’s own fault if they’re not wealthy because, as we know, you only have to work hard to make it big. The poor simply just don’t work hard.

Similarly, the only thing that is required to make it big is hard work. To be rich, you’ve got to work hard. That’s what they all tell us.

And that is why, of course, you see farmers living in mansions, and pencil pushers like those working on Wall Street living in crummy apartments: because pay is directly proportional to amount of hard work.

The only problem is, they never tell you what kind of work it is that should be rewarded with riches. The hours in the twilight, working the fields and mowing the hay seems like exhausting, back breaking work to me, shouldn’t farmers count as some of the hardest working individuals?

Surely there are any number of hard working individuals in the blue collar tier of society. Teachers, factory workers, professors, garbage collectors, all of these people, in my opinion, tend to reside in the category of hard working individuals, yet all of them represent the tier of low paying jobs.

There is one industry, however, which tends to out perform all others when it comes to pay. Yes indeed, business. Business jobs pay so well, in fact, that the average CEO make 431 times as much money as its average production worker, according to CNN in 2004.

Personally, that number doesn’t sink in quite yet. I think that maybe I need to spell it out. The average ratio of pay for a CEO to production workers is four hundred thirty one to one.

The only way for such a statistic to be true, while still going along with the old American cliché is to suggest that business is the hardest work that exists in America. That is to say that business executives, on a scale of hard work, outwork factory works by 431 percent. Nevermind the exertion you’ve ever seen on Dirty Jobs, that’s nothing compared to a CEO’s round of golf in Hawaii, having flown there on his own private jet, the day after his skiing trip in the Alps.

And so it seems, whenever those in charge want to protect hard working individuals, aka the rich, that we are only protecting those who have gone into a business career. Parents, stop deluding your children, teachers, what are you thinking? Hard work is not what gets you ahead, it’s business skills.