September 26, 2003

Those old tenured playboys

Posted by Curt at 04:45 PM in Economics | TrackBack

Just one two final thoughts for today, but my brother is doling out such irresistable topics, and I couldn't contain this in a little comment post. For one thing, the preposterousness of the acclaim accorded to celebrities is not confined to athletes nor to the present day. Leave Hollywood aside for the moment; just think of Descartes, most trenchantly described by one of his biographers as a "parasite on his family." One could probably make a universal claim about the inversion of our values in according fame and prestige, but that doesn't interest me all that much. Much more interesting and amusing to me is that people who spout off that old saw about teachers and athletes rarely mention that only a miniscule proportion of athletes are millionaires, probably only those competing in less than 20 leagues in various sports worldwide. One way of re-imagining the teacher-athlete dichotomy, in fact, would be to note that the worst teacher makes far more than the worst professional athlete. Aside from those privilaged few in the MLB, NFL, NASCAR, et al., professional athletes in general would probably be hard-pressed to match even a grade-school teacher's wage, let alone that of a tenured professor. Of course, the principal difference lies in the fact that sports leagues have a substantially differentiated pay-scale based on achievement, which stands in stark contrast to the educational system, except insofar as being a member of a teacher's union constitutes an achievement. But oh wait, I was forgetting about those tenured professors. Colleges engage in bidding-wars for celebrity professors just as fierce as those of squabbling European soccer clubs. In fact, I would be willing to bet that Stephen Hawking, Cornell West, Stephen Jay Gould, etc. have a higher income than all but a handful of professional athletes, but interestingly I have never heard a hew-and-cry against Harvard for paying West, who probably teaches only one class a year, if that, six times the salary of an elementary school teacher in D.C. working 50-hour weeks.