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As my regular readers know, I often venture into the realm of being removed from polite society because of some of the beliefs I hold, and some of the ideas that bounce around my head.

Perhaps the strongest of these ideas is that I cannot understand why soldiers, police officers and fire fighters are deserving of any more respect, compensation, worship, etc. (given what they already agreed to do) as compared to the craftsman who put up my crown molding, the guys who cut down and remove dead trees, etc. Simply mentioning that this thought has ever crossed your mind makes you a disrespectful commie who is anti-American and has no idea what “sacrifice” the soldiers (and others) have engaged in.

No reason to engage that thought really. There’s no way to “prove” to anyone that I quite respect the military (I once toyed with joining, my brother was a Ranger too) but not in any way more than I respect anyone else. Why that is should be clear, but I think Megan McArdle’s fantastic post says it nicely. Her post also is germane to those of you who think I am some sort of special person because I gave up Investment Banking to get a professor’s job, and that I gave up a tenure-tracked position to take a non-permanent position. I suppose in that regard I “win” because of societal biases, but the reality needs to be cleared up. Here are some excerpts, but the whole thing is well worth a read.

You know how much credit I deserve for giving up highly paid professional work in order to spend my days boring the hell out of you all with my breezy explanations of present value calculations?  None.  Am I performing a public service?  I hope so.  I take my profession seriously, and like to think that I am adding something to the public understanding.  But that was my choice.  I knew what I was giving up when I made it, and I also knew what I was getting.  Which is to say, a job that I absolutely love more than anything I’ve ever done, a chance to speak to interesting people and see amazing things all the time.

Getting to do those things involved a tradeoff.  I don’t get to spend my vacations at charming Provencal cottages or swank Caribbean resorts.  I don’t get to buy the $1.1 million dollar mansion in LeDroit Park that I daydream about.  (Hey, the owner could be my long-lost great uncle . . . )  I have to watch the food budget, and I can’t buy the designer clothes I’d really like to wear.

I took the job because I think this is a great tradeoff.  My classmates who went to banks and consultancies mortgaged their late twenties and early thirties doing work I would have found much less rewarding; they are enjoying the payoff now–at least the ones who didn’t simply lose everything when Lehman and Bear went down.  I don’t want to say they “deserve” it, because almost anyone in that sort of position has had an enormous amount of luck along with their hard work, starting with being born to the right family.  But I don’t begrudge it to them.  I think I got the better end of the deal.

And so do the folks who took jobs in government or academia or the non-profit sector.  Maybe a few of them really “made a sacrifice” for some obscure reason involving widowed mothers and villanous landlords with a penchant for late-night visits to the railroad tracks, but most of them took the job because they thought they’d like it better.  The kind of people who are actually willing to make the sacrifice of doing something they hate in the name of the greater good tend to join monestaries or the army, not the Political Science department at Penn State.

And she finishes with this:

I’m not saying that everyone who gave up better-paying jobs thinks they’re entitled to some sort of public applause, but one does run into this every now and again.  One especially runs into the feeling that salaries are not fairly distributed–that it’s not fair that the work they love is so badly paid.  But that is the essence of fair; they get money, and you get to do the work you love.  Gains from trade!

I’d also like to take a secondary swipe at the notion that graduates from Ivy League schools are “our best and brightest”.  The Ivy League may represent the cream of a very small segment of incredibly affluent Americans.  But there’s a lot more cream out there, and it’s a pity that American institutional structures seem so apt to exclude it from the mix.

I’ve attended the elite schools and taught at the elites and “lesser” places. She’s right and she’s wrong about this. There certainly is a lot more cream out there but when I was at Amherst, virtually the whole place was a rich, caloric heavy, cream – notwithstanding us athletes who got in because we could return punts and not because we otherwise were, for lack of a better word, creamy.

One Response to “Patting Ourselves on the Back”

  1. Harry says:

    Once again, professor Wintercow raises enough questions to preoccupy an ethics class for a whole semester, perhaps a 400-level course that might have challenged Howard Dean or Hillary Clinton.

    When I went to college, much of the arts curriculum was geared to making us philosopher-kings. Economics 101 dwelled on monopolistic competition and the success the Soviet Union was having with its assorted Gosplans. But I will give them credit for encouraging academic excellence at every turn. We had zero political-correctness dogma stuffed in our face.
    By the way, I agree police and firemen, and even combat soldiers, should not be given idolatrous positions.
    Perhaps part of the problem is the guilt we yuppies have from the way some of our generation treated them (and still treat them–cf Oliver Stone) back when.

    Our local firemen deserve the highest esteem, but then they are volunteers. This fact raises a whole host of additional ethical and ontological questions for another full-semester course.

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