Here’s a Don Boudreaux letter to a first-time correspondent:
Ms. Katie MontgomeryMs. Montgomery:I regret that you’re offended by my claim that “Only by thinking at the margin can we correctly understand why the wages of life-saving first-responders are lower than are the wages of NFL players and of Hollywood starlets and why this fact is a good thing for society.” You allege that “Real people know it’s wrong and dangerous that men playing games get paid so much more than men and women who save lives and educate our children.”I agree that most people are troubled that the likes of Tom Brady and Jennifer Lawrence earn far higher pay than does any firefighter or school teacher. But this reality reflects not people’s correct understanding of a failing economy but people’s incorrect understanding of a successful economy. It reflects also a failure of economists to better teach basic economics to the general public. So let me ask: would you prefer to live in a world in which the number of people who can skillfully fight fires and teach children is large but the number of people who can skillfully play sports and act is very tiny, or in a world in which the number of people who can skillfully fight fires and teach children is very tiny but the number of people who can skillfully play sports and act is large?I’m sure that you’d much prefer to live in a world in which skills at fighting fires and teaching children are more abundant than are skills at playing sports and acting. Precisely because saving lives and teaching children are indeed far more important on the whole than is entertainment, we are extraordinarily fortunate that the numbers of our fellow human beings who possess the skills and willingness to save lives and to teach children are much greater than are the numbers who can skillfully play sports and act.The lower pay of fire fighters and school teachers simply reflects the happy reality that we’re blessed with a much larger supply of superb first-responders and educators than we are of superb jocks and thespians. Were it the other way around, then while we’d be better entertained with more top-flight sporting events and movies, all but the richest amongst us would suffer significantly greater risks of being unable to educate our children and of dying in house fires and from other mishaps.Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
The above originally appeared at Cafe Hayek.
RW note: This could change in the future for school teachers if technology develops to such a degree that great teachers can teach vast numbers of students via new technology all at the same time. If such advanced technology teaching, where superior teachers can reach vast numbers of students simultaneously, those superior teachers will earn superstar salaries,
At such time. perhaps, young students would only require something akin to monitors and babysitters to ensure that a program is up and running properly on a laptop computer---and no monitor for older students.
This is probably not that far away. Great work is being done in this direction now by Gary North and Tom Woods for example.
Markets change as circumstances change--including the changing circumstances caused by the advancement of technologies.
This is what ultimately needs to be understood: Markets operate to deliver the most efficient product given the environment.
Up until recently, teaching was pretty much a one-to a small group affair. Sports, where via television the large masses can watch the greats, has been operating on a different formula for some time. The greats get paid large salaries because they perform for huge masses.
With on-demand courses via the internet, something along these lines is developing in education. instead of "one-to a small group" it will be "great teachers to many."
And the cost of employing these great teachers will likely bemuch less on a per student basis than the current "one-to a small group" model.