Last night, my family and I sat down to relax, sew, work on websites, and other misc while we watched TV. We landed on the Home and Garden Network, a safe bet for all of us. We watched people spend tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours working to fix up their basements, bathrooms, kitchens, and back yards. I love this stuff because I hope to one day have a little farm to do some of it on.
But then we 10 Grand in Your Hand came on, and I learned how much contractors charge for things. $2,500 to “demo” a kitchen, a task that my brother aptly described as fun. $1,800 to hang sheetrock, a sum I would gladly pay if I could since my family and I struggled to do that in my former basement, etc. Then, he said, “You can install kitchen hardware – knobs and pulls – yourself.” (I’d never thought to do differently myself). “A contractor will charge $20 a knob for installation.” What!!! $20 a knob? Holy Moly.
I said, “I think I should be a knob installer. I could do it for the highly discounted price of $10 a knob and pay my rent in a day or less.” My brother recommended I go even further with this idea and become a “Knob Installation Consultant”; then, I could charge more. We got a good laugh out of this until I realized that my “knock-off” price would be about what I get paid an hour to teach and tutor in writing. Suddenly, this didn’t seem so funny. As brother dear wisely (but annoyingly) pointed out, these inequities arise in a free market economy . . . he’s right, but it’s still annoying and deeply telling about our society’s priorities.
I love what I do, and I wouldn’t change what I do simply to make more money – I want to be clear about that. However, I find it quite saddening to learn that someone can make twice as much for installing a cabinet know as I do for an hour of intense, focused, expert tutoring or teaching. (And don’t get me started about what we pay people to write. . . how much is the percentage increase of $20 over $0?) What does this say about our society, that we will pay someone a great deal of cash to do something that we could – in most cases – do for ourselves but will not pay as much for something we need to be taught to do? It doesn’t speak well for us, I think.
This idea extends to lots of things – all teachers are underpaid, with rare exception; home health aides, those folks who keep our loved ones alive and comfortable in their own homes, the people who have to bathe us when we get sick, they are grossly underpaid as well; farmers are underpaid unless they work for major corporations, and we rely on them for one of our most basic needs; and don’t even get me started on all those folks who work in restaurants, getting dirty with grease and food waste, walking all day only to be tipped up to $6.00 an hour.
Yet, we pay professional athletes thousands of dollars a game. We pay CEOs huge bonuses to, sometimes, underpay others. We pay contractors $20 to screw in cabinet knobs. Oh my.
It seems like we are willing to pay far more for the things we don’t need and almost nothing for those we do. Perhaps this is simply part of human nature, but it seems like it should be a part we want to try to modify and improve upon. I’m not sure what “we” can do, but I will certainly be installing all of my own kitchen hardware, without a doubt.