The Ecphorizer


Issue #32 (April 1984)

Dear Editor:

Just finished issue 31 and enjoyed it, as usual. JoAnn Malina's article, "What am I bid?" was thought-provoking, and I would like to comment on one area of it in particular.

JoAnn questions the validity and ultimate good of a system whose recurring message seems to be that our own worth is defined solely by pecuniary returns, and I concur with her criticism. In no way do I want to dismiss her point or diminish its impact; but I must address her sentence that reads, "If rock stars and football players make $10 million for doing what they do, then that must be the most worthwhile thing to do."

Much as I find to fault about our system and its insensitivity to what I call "the human condition," I must point out in its favor that not since the days before Adam Smith has capitalism pretended its rewards were based on any kind of implicit statement about the inherent value of something or someone. Smith noted that such essential items as air and water were "free," while others, such as food, were not. Then again, luxury items like diamonds commanded a high price despite their virtual uselessness for survival. The explanation is that an item's value (price) as a commodity is based, not on its benefit to survival or any other factor of satisfaction arising from consumption (what the economists like to call "utility"), but on its relative "scarcity," tempered by demand. Thus, rock stars and football players earn exorbitant money because the ones who have whatever it takes to give the public what it wants (which may or may not be talent) are in short supply.

The real problem is not what rock stars earn but that we are conditioned in this society to regard human values as subservient to monetary or material ones. And I believe this is what JoAnn had in mind in her criticism.

Finally, oh esteemed editor, I cannot seem to write you a letter without having to admonish your use of a dangling modifier (cf. issue 30)! This time, the error has infiltrated to Burt Schmitz's artwork on p. 13 although I assume that the text is yours. The humorous "letter" from you to George Towner begins, "As past editor of THE ECPHORIZER, I am sure you must be aware ...." Goodness, John, I didn't realize you had resigned!

Very truly yours
Willard D. Ross

Burt Schmitz replies:

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