Friday, May 27, 2011

Life's Unfair

My parents would tell me this when I whined  about something my brother Curt got that I didn't get.

They were right, of course, as they usually were.  If we think we're always going to get what we "deserve" then we're bound to be disappointed.

Or, maybe, not.  When I reflect on all the things that I have that I really don't deserve, I'm reminded: yeah, life is unfair....and it's mainly been unfair to my great advantage.

Meet Sirish, my "tea boy".  That's what guys like him are called here.  Every morning when I arrive at my office, he brings me coffee, OJ, and a glass of ice water.  (More on this later.)

Sirish is 26, Sri Lankan, and getting married soon.

He makes 1000QR a month.

I'm paid 36 times that amount this month to teach a single class, plus my normal salary.

Oh, my posh three bedroom apartment, where I live alone, is paid for.

Sirish lives with 7 other guys in his apartment, and as far as I can tell they all live in the same room.  (His English is not so good, but it is far better than my Tamil.)

Do I really deserve to be paid that much more?  Well, yeah, in one sense: that's what the "market" says we're each worth, and the market is never wrong.  (Right?) Besides, he's delivering drinks on a tray, and I'm offering highly sophisticated, carefully crafted, enormously skilled guidance to students, and that guidance required years of study and effort to develop.

But, really?  Do I really deserve to be paid that much more?  Is that really fair?  Here's how I see it.

I was reflecting on such matters while lounging on this day bed in the private lounge just outside the Dean's office.  The lounge is off limits to commoners, in this case including me, but I walk in the place as if I own it and no one has seen fit to question me.  Also, the Dean is out of town, so let's keep this a little secret between us, ok?

Here are some reasons why I might deserve to be paid so much more than Sirish.....

It's God's will that I should be so blessed.

If that's true, than God truly does work in mysterious ways, by showering this non-believer with riches while allowing millions of His devout followers to live in misery.  Of course, there might be payback for me in the Great Beyond....

I deserve my wealth because I'm a good person.

Ahem....well....I've tried to do some good works, but I've done a whole lot of sinning, too.  I'd guess I'm about average on the good works scale, maybe.  I'm pretty sure I'm not 36 times gooder than Sirish.

I deserve it because I work hard for it.

This thought came to me while I was sunning myself by the pool.  As Sirish was inside cleaning my apartment at the moment, it didn't seem wise to pursue this idea further.....

Now that I've torched those [what is the gender neutral term for "strawmen"] to the ground, here are the three main reasons I think I'm getting the coffee delivered, and why Sirish is delivering it.

First, I was wise (um, lucky) enough to be born in the US.

Imagine every person in the world, including me, is put into a really big hat, like this one.  Now imagine that God is going to reach into the hat, draw each person out one at a time, and place them in a country based on how many people currently live in that country.  Got it?

There's only a 5 percent chance that any person -- say, you or me -- would be lucky enough to be placed in a country where average incomes are as high as in the US (roughly $47,000 per person).

[Statistical note, which you better read, even though when you saw the phrase Statistical note your first thought might have been "aww, fuck that".  Average incomes are not good measures of typical incomes, but I couldn't find better measures.  Averages are misleading because "the average" income of you, me, The Donald would be maybe $30 million or so, which is not typical of you and me.  Besides, The Donald is kind of a dick, and I don't really want him in my average, anyway.]

It's just as likely that I would have ended up in a country like Uganda (average income: $1200 per person) or one even poorer.

Think about that for a second: as a matter of sheer luck, it's as likely that you and I were each born in a country as rich as the US or as poor as Uganda.  Half of the world's population lives in a country where the average income is $7,500 (like China's) or less, so it's as good as a coin flip that I would be living in one of those countries.

Ka-ching!  Simply by being born in the US, I won the (economic) lottery!  Whoo hoo!  Well done, Mark!

Sirish was born in Sri Lanka: average income, $5200.  Sorry, Sirish.

Next: I chose my parents very, very wisely.

They passed along some pretty good genes.  All right, I got screwed on the height and hair genes, but I'm pretty good at math and words, and I inherited those things, and as it turns out they are pretty helpful at making money.

Oh, one last thing: I lived in a place where I wasn't shot at, I wasn't beaten, I wasn't starving, I wasn't cold, I wasn't humiliated, as if anyone would choose those things.

Life isn't fair.  I won the nation lottery, the parent lottery, and the environment lottery.

Do I really deserve to be paid so much more than Sirish?  No.

I am lucky to be so fortunate.  Life is unfair.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. It is unfortunate that those of us who are so fortunate in the 'life lottery' often don't appreciate our blessings. Living someplace like Doha puts things in perspective as did your post. Thank you.