Response to “Faith, Reason, And Economic Understanding”

The “Faith, Reason, and Economic Justice” article written by Ryan Klein, Kit Apostolacus, and Bri Cicero in your December 2, 2015 edition of The Waltonian has started a discussion that is long overdue here at Eastern University. It is wonderful that Finance and Operations provided the data that Klein, Apostolacus, and Cicero used. It is great that James Rogers responded to the article in your January 31, 2016 issue. In his response, Rogers does not question the analysis. I do not have access to the raw data used in the analysis. Thus, like Rogers, I do not question the analysis.

Whereas Rogers does not raise any concerns with the analysis, he is very much concerned about its conclusions. A fundamental matter Klein, Apostolacus, and Cicero raise in their conclusion is whether the jobs of the 34 staff and 11 professors could have been saved through salary cuts from the highest paid folks at Eastern. In response, Rogers notes that this reasoning “demonstrated a lack of knowledge about why people are compensated at the levels they are.” Rogers then proceeds to explain why people are compensated differently. A number of statements he makes are worth citing directly:

“The marketplace—that dynamic, highly complex culmination of everyone’s desires expressed through purchases and demands—decides who earns how much based on the application of skill, talent, strength, endurance, effort, brains, judgment, and all the other factors that go into creating or measuring economic value.”

“Why is a president, or, to a lesser degree, a vice president worth more economically than a professor? Presidents and vice presidents are more scarce than professors. Generally speaking, managerial, professional, and leadership skills in administrative areas are in greater demand than those of professors.”

Rogers’ response, to start with, has a market fundamentalist tone. Labor here is a commodity and the market determines the value of one’s labor. Following Rogers’ logic, the labor provided by presidents and vice presidents is more valuable and must thus be paid more than that of a professor. Joseph D. Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winning economist, argues that markets often don’t work very well (see his “Moving Beyond Market Fundamentalism to a More Balanced Economy” published in the 2009 Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics). In sociology, Rogers’ response has a functionalist tone. According to functionalism, presidents and vice presidents earn more because they are performing key and more important tasks or functions that demand more pay. Their tasks, functionalists would argue and Rogers would agree, are more important and require more pay than, say, the professor’s.

Both market fundamentalism and functionalism tend to blame the victim for his or her demise. Thus a female assistant professor at Eastern earns 80 cents for every dollar a male assistant professor earns because these female assistant professors do not bring the qualifications that the market demands. Yet comparable worth research has shown that women with similar qualifications occupying the same position as men end up earning less than their male counterparts just because they are women; women thus end up being locked into the feminization of inequality. Presidents and vice presidents earn more because there is some social justification (we have convinced ourselves in society) that they should earn more. Let me be more specific: why should David Bradstreet, a professor who has achieved much in astronomy and whose work has put Eastern University on the list of institutions engaging in advanced astronomy research, earn less than a senior administrator? Under market fundamentalism, Bradstreet should be at a university or research institution that would pay him much more. I believe Bradstreet has chosen to stay at Eastern not for pay but because he loves Eastern and its mission. There are many such professors at this university. Politically incorrect as it may be, any senior administrator who loves Eastern may also choose to stay at Eastern with a salary cut because of his or her love for this university.

There is no doubt that hard work pays. However, there are what we in sociology term “social forces” that feed into people occupying different class positions and earning different amounts. The job market itself is at the mercy of these social forces. After all, the market comprises self-interested and, I dare say, sinful actors engaging in what Desmond Tutu, South African Anglican Archbishop, has termed “cutthroat competition” to make as much money for themselves as possible. Love may be a slippery goal for these actors.

Social forces are major factors in economic progress. One growing up in a poor and crime-ridden neighborhood with bad schools does not have the same chances and opportunities as one growing up in a rich and safe neighborhood with good schools. It is thus not surprising that most of the presidents, CEOs, and senior administrators of companies and institutions in the U. S. come from upper social classes or have had Good Samaritans in their lives who have helped them to attain a higher social status. As members of a Christian university and for the sake of our love for Eastern, we ought to be reminded that the values that define us as a community—faith, reason, justice—are not market-determined.

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