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Whoever loves money never has enough;
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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Jacoby Ellsbury And The Fast Food Workers' Plight

Does Jacoby Ellsbury even have a clue? Does he know that he is a role model? And does he know for whom he is a role model?

Not too long ago, Jacoby Elssbury became an ex-Red Sox by signing on with the evil empire during MLB's third season--the third season is what I call the time of signing free agents. Ellsbury signed a 7 year contract for over $150 million dollars where he will earn just over $21 million per year. In other words, Ellsbury's contract negotiations were intended for him to grab as much as he could. 

Ellsbury getting as much as he could is celebrated by the Free Market. But the problem that exists is when everybody tries to do the same. The end result is not just that some will get what they want while others will not, some may not even get what they need. And the deprivation of this last group hardly raises an eyebrow in society. Certainly, that is not the problem with those playing in the Major Leagues, but is the problem in real life.

So Ellsbury has become a role model for those who grab for everything with no regrets. And he is such a role model first for those who are at the top of their game regardless of the occupation. Business executives, especially CEOs, who negotiate for deals where they can get as much as they can out of the company in exchange for the promise of a positive performance follow Ellsbury's example. He becomes a role model for shareholders who demand that, as owners of a business, they should receive as much as they can from their businesses. And this goes so on down the line until what we see are laborers, who actually create the wealth with their work, are rewarded the least because of what is left of the pie. Of course there are those who are worst off than the laborers, these are the unemployed who are most destitute.

The fast-food workers I marched with on December 5th, for example, find that the only slice of the pie that is left for them is minimally mandated by law, it is $7.25/hr. This is regardless of the fact that the demographics of the employees show that we are dealing with much more than teenagers. And there are many conservatives who not only oppose the workers' demands, they oppose the minimum wage in principle and are thus are willing for the workers to get even a smaller piece of the pie than they do now.

We should note that workers's demands for good pay and just conditions have been opposed before. In fact, some conservatives blame the demise of some of America's past industries on unions and their ability to get for their members what they could. Likewise, some conservatives now blame the fast food workers' demand for higher pay on today's 'entitlement culture' and this is despite the fact that the raise these workers are asking for is not a handout for do nothing but a recognition for work being done. So with some, grabbing all one can get for oneself is celebrated while, for others, it is scorned. That means that grabbing whatever one can for oneself is a privilege reserved for those who are closer to the top and a stigma for the rest.

So we see two problems here. First, when those at the top try to grab as much as they can, they tend not to leave enough for everybody else. Second, we see a double standard in play. And the acceptability of grabbing for everything one can is inversely related to one's need.

But Ellsbury is not just a role model for those at the top who embrace greed, he is one of many role models for those who want to be at the top but are currently not there. His example has given them something to shoot for. But this causes a dilemma because until a person is counted as privileged, grabbing as much as one can for oneself brings shame.

The more people there are who grab for everything they can for themselves, the more self-destructive society becomes. And as we become self-destructive, the most vulnerable of us are the first to go. And as more of us are engulfed in this grabbing ethic, we become dead to the suffering of those below us. We might toss a few coins to the most vulnerable for the sake of conscience or self-image, but we won't join them in their struggle. We won't do that because we are too preoccupied to feel their pain. We are too preoccupied with either supporting the status quo or with being too busy doing our own grabbing in a dog-eat-dog world.

The question we have to ask about this ethic of our grabbing for everything we can is this, if it is right for one person to do it, then why isn't it right for everybody? The answer, of course, is if all of us do it, we will destroy others first and then ourselves. So why should we celebrate when even one person practices this ethic?

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