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We, many Americans live in a society that potentially offers us a life of extreme material comfort. It is there for the taking if we decide it should be ours and we take the right measures to acheive it.
Knowing it is out there, versus knowing that life's comfort level has a limited height adds a level of expectation to our lives. Its not simply a matter of being comfortable. Now we feel that success is not simply a matter of reaching a moderate level of material excess, its about reaching an obscene level of material excess. Because once you reach a level of financial security it no longer matters whether you have "enough"; because you do. You have enough when you no longer have to worry about losing your job, or getting sick, or fretting about car repairs.
Think about this..
People "get by" very well in some parts of this country on $50,000. Depending on where you live, or the number of people in your family, etc.. it might be lean or it might be living pretty good. A single person living in a place like Oklahoma does well on 50K per year.
But let's just say that we make $100,000/yr, which is decent professional salary. If you wanted to live off 100K per year for 60 years then you'd need a total of $6,000,000 total. That seems like lots of money to me, until I realize that some people get paid nearly this much for one year.
H. Lee Scott of Wal-Mart recieved a total of $5,392,308 in salary and bonuses for 2004.
So yeah, he could spend $100,000 a year for the next 53 years if he did nothing else to make another dime.
But instead of making this a post about obscene executive pay I want to take a second, not to think about whether that person deserves that much money, but instead to ask what value that much excess money can really have. At some point the amount of money you have ceases to have a connection to the material comfort it can provide. One person can only use and experience so much in one lifetime.
Alternatively, money represents how valuable a person has become. The CEO wants a larger salary from company B because it means that he is stepping up from company A. If company C offers more money they must value that person more. A large salary means that person is more valuable to that company than other people.
But that could be done with gold stars as well.
In the real world, where money has material consequences, that extra million or two a company gives out to stroke a CEO's ego means a decrease in quality of life to someone who might have received that money instead. It might have meant a small raise to several employees instead.
For people still in the rising slope of comfort a few more dollars a month has real value beyond the recognition of one's value. I find this a little disturbing, because in one land, money is used as a measuring stick of one's perceived worth to society, and in another it might be used to keep a loved one alive, or to provide a child with a good education.
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