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You and your coal mining friends


There’s nothing like listening to a higher ed administrator with a multi-million dollar salary complaining about the burdens of his full working day to bring out my inner Maoist:

I have a little theory which is mine called the Value Theory of Labor.

The VTL states:

“In contemporary America, the compensation for a job is inversely correlated with that job’s social value.”

I find that this theory works almost perfectly in academia, where the most useless jobs on campus — president, manager of the university endowment, etc. — are the highest paying. Meanwhile, the most essential jobs, such as teaching — most university teaching is now done by contingent laborers who are paid far less than the legal minimum wage — food preparation, basic sanitation services and so forth are done by workers who receive compensation that is generally around 1% or less of what Mark Emmert received last year to perform what might well be the very Platonic ideal of what the late David Graeber famously characterized as a “bullshit job.”

There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

Now I suspect that even if you got Emmert really drunk he would never say anything like that, because he seems like exactly the kind of profoundly stupid self-satisfied git who thinks that President of the National Collegiate Association of Athletics is just an immeasurably important job, of essentially infinite social value. (I’m somehow reminded of a passage in C.S. Lewis’s autobiography, when he recalls that, on the very rare occasions when his tutor was driven to irony, he would unburden himself of a statement such as “The Master of Balliol is one of the most important beings in the universe.”)

In fact the entire organization that Emmert is currently paid three million dollars per year to helm, as they say in Variety, has no justification for existing at all, since its only raison d’etre is to extract billions of dollars of revenue every year from fans of sports — college football and men’s basketball — that also should not exist, at least not in anything resembling their traditional form.

In other words, what we have here is a perfect illustration of the Value Theory of Labor.

*I have an article I’m trying to place at the moment, which puts the salary explosion among college football coaches — several have signed contracts worth $100 million or more in the last few weeks — in historical context. It also explains how these obscene compensation packages have the extra added benefit of making it seem less than insane for the most worthless people on and around university campuses — presidents, endowment managers, Mark Emmert — to be paid seven figure salaries to do jobs that in a rational — let alone minimally just — world would not even exist.

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