Pastor Walter Mitty received a text from his nephew Brian on Wednesday morning. The text read, “Uncle Walt, everybody is talking about strikes up here. Mom isn’t interested in politics much, so I thought I’d ask you if you would explain what’s going on.”
“Hey Brian,” he answered. “The way I understand it is that in the late 1800s our country went through what they call the Industrial Revolution when men with the capital, like Rockefeller and Carnegie, bought expensive machinery and built big factories which produced unimaginable wealth for the owners, but these rich guys paid low wages to the workers who were producing the wealth and the workers were creating that wealth for them in really bad conditions.”
“So the workers joined together and formed unions in order to get enough power to make the fat cats share the wealth, right?” Brian texted.
Mitty laughed and replied, “You already have it down, Brian, so why are you asking me about it?”
“What I want to know is, are the industrial owners bad people and the workers good people, or is it more complicated than that?”
Uncle Walt didn’t text his nephew back right away because he decided to get some facts first. He Googled the earnings of the workers’ bosses and found:
GM CEO Mary Bara, $28.9 million per year
Ford CEO Jim Farley, $20.9 million per year
Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares, $24.8 million per year
He also learned that Tavares’ earnings were 365 times larger than that of an average worker employed in one his plants, and that GM workers’ salaries range from approximately $60,000 per year for Line Technician to $154,604 per year for Software Engineering Manager.
Five minutes after sending the information to Brian, his nephew texted back, “What are GM workers complaining about? Starting at $60,000! I’m making minimum wage at McDonald’s which is $7.25 per hour. I did the math. I’d have to work 8,275 hours at Micky Dee’s to get to $60,000!”
“Number one law in economics,” Mitty texted Brian, “supply and demand.”
“I get it, Uncle Walt, but what I want to know is, ‘Is it fair?’”
Pastor Mitty pondered his nephew’s statement implying that it isn’t fair and asked Michael what he thought about the UAW strike when they touched base with each other the next morning.
“I guess Yom Kippur is on my mind more than the strike,” Michael began. “Let me see if I can connect the dots between the holiest day of the year and the strike.”
While Michael was gathering his thoughts, Mitty said, “It’s also called the Day of Atonement, right? I mean, it sounds kind of like what we do on Ash Wednesday.”
“Yeah, sort of,” Michael replied. “It’s a day for private introspection, but it’s not really a sad day because the focus is on the fact that we are facing our shortcomings more than feeling sorry for them. We don’t hang on to our sins. We atone for them. We wipe the slate clean and start over.”
“Yeah, I get that, Michael, and to me it’s very powerful, but you said that you would try to connect the dots.”
“OK, let me see. I guess one way of looking at it is to start with the fact of the wealth gap in this country. Our latest temple newsletter pointed out that 69% of the wealth in this country is owned by the top 10%, and the lowest 50% own only 2.5% of the wealth.”
“But Michael, my nephew implied that workers who make $60,000 a year should stop whining and be thankful that they are citizens in a country where they can make that much rather than comparing themselves to those who make even more.”
Michael paused and said, “Walt, I thought of an analogy. Say you have the most powerful stock car in the race, but if you don’t have a great driver you won’t win.”
Mitty liked the analogy and said, “So the best drivers demand the highest remuneration. Like NFL quarterbacks!”
Michael laughed. “We won’t name names, right?”
“Right, so the owner of the car pays the hot-shot driver ten times as much as he pays the guys in the pit crew.”
Pastor Mitty felt like he understood capitalism better that evening, but Brian’s question still bothered him. Is it fair?
When he compared what UAW workers were making compared to what their CEOs were getting, he felt simmering moral outrage, but when he compared $60,000 a year to the $2,000 a worker in Afghanistan makes in a year, he felt like he was living in a land of abundance. Sure, millions of people here live in food deserts, but you hardly ever hear of someone dying of hunger.
The cool air coming through his open bedroom window made him glad to crawl under the covers that night, but he still had not answered his nephew’s question.