Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Bellegarrique Solution

I suppose I’m lucky that I can look at my job as an adjunct instructor at BYU-Idaho as a supplement to my full-time job income. Certainly – and I don’t even have to pound the numbers on this – if I were dependent on my BYU-Idaho job as my sole source of income, we’d be sunk financially deeper than a sub-muh-reen.

This article, written by Stacey Patton for the Chronicle of Higher Education, spells out the financial trouble of those who rely on their adjunct professorship as their sole income as they seek better jobs and larger income in order to support themselves and their families.

I won’t jump into any argument over whether the people in this article “wasted” their time pursuing post-graduate degrees that others may sniff at as “not useful.” In this economy, usefulness doesn’t necessarily guarantee full-time employment. Where I work, I’ve seen hundreds of useful people laid off not because their education wasn’t up to some standard of usefulness, but simply because the money just isn’t there any more. Those who argue that the “uselessness” of a degree is what put a person in a precarious financial situation miss the point – which is we have less of an emphasis on paying educators well than we do paying entertainers or sports stars well.

There is a solution – however, it ain’t a popular one. And as mightily as I’ve searched for it, I’ve only seen it fully applied in a science fiction setting.

It’s the Bellegarrique Soultion.

In Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted, James Bolivar diGriz ends up on a planet where people aren’t paid in cash, but in wirr, short for work hours. Wirrs do not gain interest. Wirrs do not vary in value from occupation to occupation. Wirrs do not increase or decrease in value. It simply goes that those who work get paid in wirrs, and work that is paid is pretty much every bit of work that’s done, from the hero Stirner working in his hydropower plant to the people serving in restaurants. Hobbyists who write books are paid in wirrs. Those who have doctorates in the Bellegarrique equivalent of mideval history are paid in wirrs. Each has sufficient to live adequately well because the system is set up to ensure that work is compensated, no matter if it’s as an engineer or as a bum who only does enough work go get enough wirrs to pay for the barest necessities.

Bring this idea up in conservative circles and it’s automatically branded as socialist. Brand away. It sure as hell sounds blissful to me.

Yes, there are lazy people in Bellegarrique, as there are in our society. But in that society, emphasis is placed on doing what is necessary so that one and others may live adequately, not on doing what is lucrative so that one may live better than others. Should it really matter that the janitor gets paid an equivalent amount of wirrs for the same amount of work that an engineer gets paid, if both are contributing to the betterment of society and are doing what is their aptitude, what they enjoy, what they want to do, and what allows them the free time they desire to pursue leisure? Not in my book. But then again, I’m not in charge.

Says Patton in her article:

It's difficult to talk about being on aid, says Matthew Williams, cofounder and vice president of the New Faculty Majority, an advocacy group for nontenure-track faculty.

“We regularly hear about adjuncts on food stamps,” says Mr. Williams, who received food stamps and Medicaid himself when he taught at the University of Akron from 2007 to 2009, earning less than $21,000 a year. “This is not hyperbole and it isn't theoretical.”

Some adjuncts make less money than custodians and campus support staff who may not have college degrees. An adjunct's salary can range from $600 to $10,000 per course, according to the Adjunct Project, a crowdsourced database about adjuncts' salaries and working conditions. The national average earnings of adjunct instructors are just under $2,500 per course, according to the American Association of University Professors.
Bellegarrique levels the playing field. It doesn’t matter whether one has a degree or whether one works at a job that those with degrees may sniff at as menial. Everybody who works gets paid enough to survive and thrive and to go on into other pursuits that we might define as “bliss.” And they likely get paid for that, too. It’s Thoreau’s Walden Pond, but on a planet-wide scale.

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