That’s a question that was discussed in our regional newspaper a few months ago. How much should doctors make? There was no firm answer. But I was intrigued by the question.
Some people might read this and think that I’m whining or being defensive. I’m really not. I mean, I make a comfortable living and I’m happy with it. That being said, more money is always nice, and I wouldn’t be disappointed if I suddenly was paid for all of the people I see. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
What I want to know is, how much money should anyone make? And then, I want to know who decides. There’s a fair amount of talk among political progressives/liberals about trying to make the economic system more fair, more equitable. When I hear that, I always figure that it means trying to even things out and lower the top, raise the bottom. So, I’m wondering what’s too much money?
My sense is that the people who make too much money are generally those who make more than we do. I mean, for everyone. If someone makes more than a given individual, that individual frequently feels that the person making more makes too much.
However, we tolerate it in certain spheres. We don’t begrudge rappers their millions, or athletes theirs. We don’t complain, usually, about expensive attorneys if they’re on our side and doing a good job. We seldom complain about building contractors, since we know up front if we can afford their work, or the house they’re building for us.
No one bats an eye about the rising price of paying senators or congressmen, and we seem to stand in awe of the high prices commanded by former politicians just to speak at dinners. The salaries and benefits of tenured college professors seem to elicit a yawn in general conversation, even though the price of college is rising and college educations can be difficult for some kids to afford. ‘Oh well, he’s a professor. He’s earned a good living!’
We may moan about the fees of plumbers or heating and air guys (or gals), but we know we have to have them and so, we pony up the money and write the check. (And plenty of them make as much as physicians!) Then we kind of smile, knowing that those folks often have no college education and are really smoking the European Literature or Psychology degree holders when it comes to money earned.
On to medicine. Doctors just make too much money, right? I don’t know. Maybe, because medicine is something people need, rather than want, we think physicians get paid too much. Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. But I think there’s an inherent danger in the very question.
The idea of America has always been, not equal success, but equal opportunity to try and succeed. We have fallen down a lot, denying equal opportunity many times in the past. But we keep getting better.
I hope that we remember that. I hope that we don’t decide that someone, read ‘government’ is going to start deciding who makes how much. Because it won’t stop with medicine. It will go on and on until the control of compensation is far removed from the person doing the work, and barely influenced by the amount of effort or drive one puts into education and work itself.
I see a lot of working poor, and I admire them. We don’t, to my knowledge, initiate collections lawsuits against them. But we also see a lot of folks who simply won’t work. Young, healthy, capable and lazy as red-clay dirt. They may think we doctors make too much money. And the folks who want their votes may say so.
But who should really decide? Me, you, the federal government?
A tough question, but one that bears watching. By everyone, no matter how much or little they make.