What determines heroes, villains and fools?

Obama’s recent State of the Union speech tried to address, among other things, the problem of wealth inequality in America.* Charles Blow’s New York Times column** the day before Obama’s speech  described how hard (and expensive) it is to be poor.
While much of the reaction to Obama’s proposals focused on wealth-transfers, other redistribution efforts,  and increased government regulation, some of it dealt with more abstract notions of how people are compensated in various ways in society. Because these notions dovetail with how heroes, villains, and fools are determined (and rewarded or punished), I’m featuring the thoughts of a new  acquaintance of mine, Kent Reinker, in today’s blog. This guest blog comes by way of a retired army doctor who happens also to write novels.  
Older man with greying hair and mustache posed before palm leaves.

Kent Reinker, M.D






Physicists, BB players, teachers—heroes all?

“The value of a person’s effort and talent is, de facto, determined monetarily by the marketplace, but the marketplace is fickle and often unfair. Certain professions are clearly  undervalued. For example, the brightest physicist in the world will never make as much money as the best basketball player.  Nevertheless, I believe that intelligent people value the work of scientific geniuses quite highly. That said, their pay is still poor. Teachers are certainly valued, and good teachers are a rare commodity. However, teachers are certainly underpaid.
One fundamental question is whether money is really a  good indicator of value to begin with. I’ve always valued the job itself more than the money. Otherwise, I would have gone into private practice instead of staying in the army for 20 years. 
Many people value recognition more than money. Others (e.g., some movie stars who scoff at the Oscars) seem to have no regard for recognition. Stephen Hawking, for example, turned down a knighthood. 
Many people value power more than money. In Samoa, a man is considered rich if he has resources that he can give to his friends.
History changes our perceptions. What is valuable today becomes worthless tomorrow. Will people still think the Apple iWatch is cool 20 years from now?
Idea  people oft miss out being Heroes.
Who is entitled to the proceeds of a person’s effort and talent? Again, the marketplace determines the monetary value, but everyone who’s ever worked in a creative enterprise know that development of anything new takes a team. The “idea man” who has the brilliant idea to begin with tends to be short-changed in practice. The one(s) who make the money are the merchandiser and the salesman and the owner(s) of the company. The author would not be successful without a good editor, his mentors, his honest critics, and his agent.
Polio virology heroes?
When Jonas Salk received recognition for his work on polio, he was soundly criticized for never mentioning his creative team in his acceptance speech. It’s also interesting that neither Salk nor Sabin ever received the Nobel Prize, despite the adulation of the public. That went to Fred Robbins and others, who worked out the scientific methods that Salk and Sabin used. Despite his Nobel prize, most people have never heard of Fred Robbins. Who should receive the recognition, the money, the fame, the power, and the other proceeds for the Polio vaccine? Have these proceeds, in their various forms, been shared fairly?
Unsung heroes.
I’ve always thought that it was particularly nice that James Michener turned down a White House dinner in order to attend a retirement dinner honoring his first grade teacher. I’m sure his presence meant a lot to her. Her teaching obviously meant a lot to him, and he chose to give her the proceeds that were her due.
I think  that people’s contributions should be awarded to them, and once received, should be their property, pure and simple. That seems fair to me. But the world’s not fair, and people are not always just. Some are greedy and want more for themselves than they are entitled to. Some are generous, with their praise as well as their money. My own thinking is that the greedy probably accumulate more, but the generous are probably happier. I’m all for generosity, and I’m all for giving those who contribute highly to society more to be generous with. Gifts benefit both the giver and the receiver, in my view.
On the other hand, forced redistribution of wealth robs the donor and demeans the receiver. So I am against arbitrary redistribution of wealth.”

  • Enact tax cuts for middle-class families.
  • Make child care more available and affordable, including a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child per year.
  • Help states enact paid leave laws and guarantee Americans the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.
  • Pass a law to ensure women are paid the same as men for the same work.
  • Raise the minimum wage.
  • Strengthen unions.
  • Make community college free for two years for many students, and help cut monthly payments on existing student debt.
  • Close loopholes that allow companies to shield profits overseas and raise taxes for the wealthy.
** Dr. Reinker’s reaction to Blow provides more insight into his thinking: “I read his column and liked it a lot. He makes a lot of great points. In my view, everyone should be poor at some time in their life. The popular notion is that those on the lower rungs of society have a mutual support society. What I experienced was exactly the opposite. During my hungry days, I was ripped off by everyone I met, because they knew I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. Eric Clapton put it succinctly in his song: Nobody loves you when you’re down and out.
I have immense respect for those who work hard and make little, including all the Hispanic immigrants that formed the bulk of patients that I cared for in Texas. I also have confidence that in America, their plight is temporary…. People do break out of poverty and become middle class or even upper class on a regular basis. We should be careful to preserve the institutions that make this possible. At the same time, I do think we should remove as many impediments as possible for upward mobility. ” 
To learn about CLEFT HEART: Chasing Normal, click the Amazon or Barnes & Noble buttons in the margins. Or click the image of the book cover. My coming-of-age memoir has intertwining love stories, mystery, tragedy, and triumph.

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