The Spirit of Work

Economics as if Values Mattered: Last in a three-part series redefining land, capital, and labor.

Of all the economic challenges confronting us, none is more complex and contentious than the problem of employment. The character and culture of labor are changing, even more than that of land or capital. From the definition of meaningful work to salary scales, corporate structures, and strategies for job creation, less consensus exists in this sector about values, goals, and the means of achieving them.

Work and Wages

When the public learned that the president of the United Way of America received nearly a half-million dollars in annual compensation, all hell broke loose. Contributions dropped off, the president was forced to resign, and, for a few months in 1992, a flurry of investigative reporting about salary scales in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors of corporate America filled the airwaves.

The Chronicle on Philanthropy surveyed CEO salaries among major non-profit institutions, discovering that three-quarters of the CEOs received more than $100,000 a year and nearly a third more than $200,000. A study by City Limits focused on the low wages paid to rank-and-file service workers by some of the same organizations. And when President Bush traveled to Japan with an entourage of American auto executives, the national media pointed out that the ratio of highest-to-lowest paid in the average Japanese corporation is only 15-to-1, while in the United States it is nearly 100-to-1.

In the midst of this debate, the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour assembled a panel of experts to discuss appropriate standards for charitable organizations. One argued that non-profit executives should be paid according to conventional business norms because the leaders of charities also have substantial responsibilities and have to socialize with

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Sojourners Magazine February-March 1994
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