Monday, October 6, 2008

Income Inequality: Corrected Through Understanding the Concept of Value

(This is the 4th installment in a series of articles about the problems associated with government's attempts to ignore free market principles in a free market world ecomony.)

Misunderstanding the Concept of Value.

What is the real force behind the problem we associate with the inequality of riches? It is, simply, the lack of universal understanding of value. We don't understand what it is, and we don't understand how to create it.

Value is simply, and only, the realization of a greater benefit than the resource expended to secure it. It is the enhanced well being of one realized from the contribution of another.

Value, in economic terms, has the mystical ability to be realized on both sides of a transaction. In fact, in an appropriately negotiated transaction, both parties will gain value, both will be benefitted. A transaction with only one beneficiary is simply theft. To be willing to buy the services of another for a price, I will realize that the benefit I gain is worth more to me than the money I give to secure the service. The service provider will realize that the money he receives is worth more than the time, effort, or material he expends to deliver. Such transactions are accomplished in the free market every day. Give and take. Value given, value realized, value returned.

The Higher the Value Realized, the Higher the Value Given - The More it's Worth, the More you Pay.

Why does Lebron James receive $19MM in endorsements before his 20th birthday? Because the companies making the offer will receive more than $19MM in benefit for what Lebron provides. Does he deserve it? Yes, once you understand the principle of value. If a major league baseball team can earn $50MM in enhanced profitability by obtaining the services of a gifted athlete, why wouldn't it be willing to invest $20MM to get him? Without making that investment, they miss the $30MM differential. To make the decision to not buy the players services would cost the franchise, and be a poor decision. Is the athlete overpaid? Not unless you don't understand value.

The same holds true, even for a commodity. Oil is a commodity. OPEC may control the price of oil, but their controls are only as strong as the value that oil has in the market to which they sell it. Their prices will only stand if someone else is willing to pay what they ask. And, in the case of oil, until the price of the resource exceeds the value produced by using it, the price can rise. It's as simple as that.

Value Has Nothing to do With the Product, the Service, or the Time Itself.

Some would argue that professional athletes are "overpaid." Here's the reason that the issue is an issue at all. We have erroneously determined to quantify the appropriate wage based on the actual task being done, not on the value of the impact of that task upon a particular company in a particular market. We have assessed a wage based on some assigned value of time, not on real value delivered.

After learning that Roger Clemens would be paid $18MM for pitching 1/2 a season, we make activity based value assessments. He might pitch in 20 games. He might throw 100 pitches per outing. That's only 2000 pitches. In activity terms, we might say Roger Clemens would be paid more than $9,000 per pitch.

If this bothers you, you must realize that you don't understand value at all.

Roger Clemens may have pitched, but he isn't paid just to pitch. He is paid to improve the conditions for the franchise willing to pay him. He is paid to be Roger, and to give the team whatever things come from his participation. Roger Clemens fills seats. People come to see Roger pitch. That accounts for something. Roger Clemens helps the team win. He helps less experienced pitchers. He brings a championship mentality to the team culture. These help the team win games. This fills seats, sells beer and hotdogs, advertizing, and on and on. Roger's employment is a value creator for a sports franchise.

It's the same for all professional athletes, for actors, for musicians, for lawyers, for producers, for business builders. Each of these gains substantial financial rewards which are always less than the value they contribute to their employer or the direct customers they serve.

This bears repeating: The financial reward realized, a workers compensation must always be less than the value they contribute to their employer or the direct customers they serve. Always.

Why is Your Compensation so Small? Why is Anyone's?

So what about all the other, little people? What about the "increasing" gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots"? Shouldn't this be adjusted? I won't argue the point. It would be a tremendous benefit to all of us to bring up the individual standard of living for all of us. And, I believe, it can be done. . . but not as long as we continue to misunderstand and misrepresent the concept of value.

We are our own enemy in this effort. We continue to create and maintain the very vehicle which proliferates the problem.

CJ Coolidge is a regular contributor to
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