I’ve just been listening to a radio programme where one of the presenters is interviewing the editor of a large national newspaper. The topic is: Are people prepared to say how much they earn? Apparently this editor once asked the late Princess Diana how much she was worth and her reply said with that glorious smile of hers was: Wouldn’t you like to know! He went on to say that in Norway details of everybody’s income is available on the Internet. He was then asked how much he earned and he replied: Not enough. Are you happy to tell everyone how much you earn?
This expression makes me feel uncomfortable. In fact I don’t think I like it at all! It amounts to saying that you are only worth what you earn or what you have. To me it also evokes other disturbing and disreputable connotations of some kind…
Although some people are inexplicably interested in how much other people earn, it is normally considered quite rude to ask, I believe. It just isn’t done. Still, I would prefer to be asked that than how much I am worth (even though it means the same thing)!
Alan, as usual you have started a great thread, thanks for that. As I see it there are two question we are talking about here - one is whether or not somone should mention who much they earn and the other one is if How much are you worth? is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ phrase.
The first time I heard this phrase was on a tape by Kevin Trudeau where he is talking about an interview Larry King took with Bill Gates. Larry asked Bill what it takes to become a billionaire and he said something along the lines “Bill, you are worth more than a billion dollars (that was in the mid 90ies), tell us what is the secrect?”
Of course you cannot measure the value of person in dollars and I agree the phrase does imply that all that counts is money. But then again, doesn’t the amount of your material riches relate to the amount of intangible value your create? Which leads us to the question, how do you define ‘value’ anyway?
Curious to hear your thoughts,
I feel perfectly free to blab to my relatives and close friends exactly how much I earn. I feel very uncomfortable telling that to anyone else, except in cases where I’m trying to keep them from getting cheated by an employer or client. Then I feel perfectly okay about telling them how much I’m paid and how much they should ask for.
I also have a habit of talking about my present month’s income as if that were all the money I had. People get the impression that I’m living from paycheck to paycheck, which is completely untrue. I just put savings in another mental compartment and pretend I don’t have them.
As for the expression “how much are you worth?”, don’t forget that we have other ones that show we measure people’s value in many ways. You often hear, “Is he really worth all the money he’s making?” or, “Is she worth what we’re paying her?” When we talk about “the worth of an individual” or “the worth of human life”, we’re usually talking about non-material things.
Hi Jamie, to add another expression that contains the word worth - you can be worth your salt. So I suppose the question How much are you worth? is not that ‘bad’ at all - it looks as has a long history.[YSaerTTEW443543]
It might also be worth your while to remember a famous cosmetic giant’s slogan: “Because I’m worth it”. Is such an advert supposed to make you feel that you are not totally worthless or that you are spending money to a worthy cause – in other words, that your skin is worth all that money? Let’s hope that those who made the cosmetic in question were aware of the fact that if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
Be it as it may, and since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, thousands of women and at least a few dozen men will be running for all they are worth (and like docile sheep) to the next cosmetic shop to get the miraculous cream, thinking that it is well worth the effort and money, i.e. that they are getting their money’s worth, and that the game is worth the candle (personally, I think it’s more trouble than it’s worth). Anyway, a bird in the hand, I mean, a cream on the face is worth two in the shop. After being bombarded with mountains of cosmetic adverts that are not worth the paper they are printed on, that is, not worth a fig – or a dime, or a hill of beans, if you prefer, they just know that this anti-wrinkle cream will work and, what’s more, will give them a sense of self-worth, as the advert promises.
Aldi, a German based family business is running job adverts on all of their country web sites. However, only their Irish and UK ads include information about the salaries - the German, Austrian, US and other job descriptions don’t contain those details.
Also, I think talking about how much you earn makes sense only if the other party has a enough information to compare your income against. For example, if a civil engineer in an East European country earns the equivalent of $1000 dollars per month, they might be able to afford a decent life style while this type of salary is way below the ‘poverty line’ in most western countries. Another factor you should consider is time. What might be considered a good income today will not be worth much in a couple of years from now…[YSaerTTEW443543]
You’re right about those things, Torsten. At the time I was in Eastern Europe, I made a salary of just under $2,000 a YEAR, and in those days I lived rather well, a long as I didn’t go west of the Elbe.
Failure to acknowledge the ordinary local wage and the local cost of living can cause all kinds of political problems. Sometimes you’ll see various activist groups in the West claim that some company has built a factory in a Third World country and is paying its workers an appallingly low wage, but they don’t bother to mention that the local people want those jobs because they pay two or three times what the usual local wage is. Sometimes those jobs actually rescue families from real tragedy.
Here is a good article on the subject by a famous economist:
Personally, I wish my father hadn’t kept his salary such a secret. If he hadn’t, I’d have grown up with a much more realistic idea of how much money is needed to live how well. Life turned out to be cheaper than I expected, and I would have made different choices when I was younger if I had known this.
Yes, there are some sound arguments in that article, it is true that we often confuse facts with opinions. You can hear discussions in Germany about German companies who are creating jobs abroad rather than employing local workers. I think it is important to try and look at all the factors that trigger such a decision. It’s not only the lower wages in Eastern European countries. There are a number of other reasons that make German companies invest abroad.
Jamie, why are you saying that your turned out to be ‘cheaper’ than you expected? Do you mean that your partents taught to you to work hard and invest wisely? How would your life have been different if you had known that would be ‘cheaper’? Do you refer to material standards or ‘intantibles’ as well?
The other thing the people who complain about “exporting jobs” don’t talk about is the overall balance of jobs coming into the country from abroad, compared to the number that are being moved out. In the US, when journalists, politicians and labor leaders complain about jobs being outsourced, they don’t mention that in the US the number of jobs coming and going creates a net surplus, and not a net deficit. In other words, more jobs are being imported to the United States than are being exported. And the jobs coming in usually pay much more than the jobs going out. This international movement of jobs actually benefits the US, although some individuals may be hurt temporarily. I’ll bet the same thing is true of Germany.
Another thing people don’t pay attention to is the cost of labor. That doesn’t mean the salary, but salary and productivity considered together. Wages are much lower in India than they are in the US, but average productivity in India is even lower. That means that right now a company that tried to move US automotive manufacturing jobs to India would lose money, because American automotive workers are 15 times more productive than those in India. The low wages in that industry don’t make up for the lack of productivity (for now). Again, the same thing is probably true for Germany.
Thirdly, making other countries more prosperous makes the developed countries more prosperous. American workers complain about jobs moving to Mexico, but we’ve got nearly full employment anyway, and Mexicans buy more things from us than we buy from them. If more Mexicans have higher wages in their pockets, they buy more from us.
I’ll bet that German corporations export far more jobs to other high-wage countries than to low-wage countries. I can’t remember the exact figures, but US companies export far more jobs to Western Europe than they send to the developing world.
What it’s really about was that they never told me how much they made or how much various things cost, but complained a lot about how expensive things were. Since other people around me didn’t talk about those things either, and similarly complained about how much things cost, I grew up thinking that the average cost of living was much higher than it really was.