Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Is José Bautista greedy?

Of all the questions raised at our most recent Value Crisis Exploration, this one seemed to sum up a good portion of the evening.  I'm sure there is a detailed background that we could go into on this sports story, but I'll stick to the essentials.

José Bautista is a professional baseball player - a right fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays.  His contract is currently up for renewal, and the word is that he is not interesting in negotiating a salary - he simply named one, take it or leave it.  Those in the know are guessing that it is something on the order of $150 million over 5 years.  So the question was posed at our meeting:  Is José Bautista greedy?


I don't think I had a really good answer at our gathering.  Now, with the benefit of some reflection time, I'd like to try and make up for my shortcomings of the moment.  What I should have done was go back to the way the meeting opened in the first place - with a question on the definition of greed.

Defining the term is in fact something that has already been addressed on this blog in an earlier post, and this is what I put there:
  • excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves
  • excessive consumption of or desire for food; gluttony
  • excessive desire, as for wealth or power
  • excessive or rapacious desire, esp. for wealth or possessions; avarice; covetousness
I'm going to go with the first of these, since it is most relevant to the context of our discussion for the evening.

To further fill in the context of the contract negotiations, it might be relevant to some to know that the Toronto Blue Jays team is worth at least $1.4 billion; Rogers Communications, the massive corporation that owns the team, is worth about $25 billion dollars; and credible connections can be argued for a correlation between the team's prospects and Rogers' share price.

The word "greed" has a lot of negative connotations, and that's the first thing that got us into trouble.  The discussion seemed to be heading rapidly towards "Does José Bautista deserve $30 million per year?"  I'm going to avoid that question because I couldn't possibly answer it without (a) a lot more information, and (b) going into a debate deeply mired in number-based value systems.  In other words, anybody with a working brain and 30 minutes of preparation could weave an entirely convincing argument for either side.  That's what it means to argue using numbers.

Another trap that we get into if we start asking what people deserve is that it is suddenly relative to everything else.  You will note that I mentioned how much money Rogers and the whole team was worth.  I could also have mentioned that Bautista is asking for seven times more than the average Major League Baseball player.  We could talk about how he is one of the top offensive players in the league right now, or we could consider that, as a defensive player, he is ranked a pathetic 197 out of 200 players.  See what I mean?

I'd rather bring it back to those essential elements of our chosen chapter for the night: "Motivation" and "Need".  Is Bautista motivated by wealth?  Again - define the terms.  Do you mean "Does he want more money?"  Obviously yes.  Or do you mean "Will he play better with a higher salary?"  That's not clear at all.  Most research on this subject would suggest the answer is no.  For now, the motivation question boils down to the way Bautista himself framed it:  "You either get me or you don't."

What if we ask the question "Does José Bautista need $30 million per year?  On this point, I can confidently state:  No, he does not need $30 million.  He wants $30 million.  Need - want - not the same thing.  Our reference point for this discussion happened to be Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  Everyone seemed to agree that even in our consumer society, basic human needs (food, shelter, healthcare, security) could (on average) be met in North America with a salary of about $75,000 - according to the studies.  For the vast majority of us, everything beyond that is negotiable.  We have other 'needs' that are, in reality, a direct consequence of other wants, or are the result of a societal level 'want' - a standard of living that we have grown accustomed to through affluence and hedonic adaptation.

So is this post suggesting that we should all live like monks in a barren world of bare necessity?  Not at all.  Indeed, even within the stark context of Maslow's pyramid, an individual's impulse for self-actualization will include the needs for respect, achievement, creative expression, morality,  etc.  We don't simply want art, music, recreational pursuits, fine foods, and all those other nice 'extras' - we need them.


However, we have to remember the basic premise of Maslow's theory.  We focus on the lowest level of current needs until they are met, and then we move on to the next level of needs.  Each level has an implicit concept of sufficiency.  Once you can determine sufficiency, you can also determine excess - going beyond what is sufficient.  Which also happens to be a key element of most definitions of greed.

The life of a professional baseball player likely has all kinds of hugely expensive expectations that we mere ballpark patrons could only begin to guess at.  The job has a working-life expectancy that ends when most other careers are really taking off, and physical injuries can cut that even shorter in an instant.  There are all kinds of supply and demand marketplace reasons why players receive phenomenal salaries to play a game.  Furthermore, it cannot be denied that we have created a culture where respect and worth are intimately enmeshed within the single numbers that are our annual paycheque and net worth.

So is José Bautista greedy?  What do you think?

2 comments:

  1. As I listened to the discussion on Tuesday evening and read the above blog, what came to mind were more questions. Ones like is an element of greed predicated on whether the wealth or material goods obtained, came at someone's or the Earth's expense. For example, if a CEO becomes wealthy because he or she outsources their manufacturing to a place where there are few, if any, laws on living wages, is that greedy? If something is obtained for nothing, put into a package and sold for profit while contributing huge amounts of waste to landfill - is that greedy or "clever business"? The themes of these questions are intended to be about common good, economic justice, care for the earth, and "preferential option for the poor" which is about considering a decision (personal, corporate or government) based on its impact on the poor and most vulnerable citizens. So is Jose greedy - if I knew that while he was asking for $150 M for himself, he was also lobbying for a living wage for the custodians, the hot dog seller, the ticket taker etc and buying carbon offsets for all the flying that his team does, I might be OK with it - if not, then yes he is greedy.

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    1. Excellent points Heidi! Thank you so much for posting your comment.

      Your interpretation of "greedy" is yet another option, which seems to be based on ethics - essentially asking "Is José Bautista moral?". So, instead of wondering if remuneration is excessive, relative to need or sufficiency, you ask the question: "Does it do harm to others (or the planet)?"

      This is indeed a useful way of framing the issue if it is up for debate.

      Mind you, I wonder whether it might also open a tiny ethical loophole for people to justify an excessive remuneration on a different basis. For example, If I can craft an occupation whereby I pull in $600 million per year, and can show that it all came from rich people who could easily afford it and did no direct harm to the earth, am I greedy? Again, it's all a matter of definition.

      And yet, here's another way of looking at it: At some point, one might argue that a huge wealth that is kept by one person will, in some way, have a negative impact on others and on the environment: perhaps because it is simply not available to those who need it, or it is spent on 'stuff', or it is invested in harmful industries.

      And if we assume that concentrating significant wealth in one individual must necessarily lead to harm being done somewhere, does it not also suggest that it might be okay to cause such harm, so long as you balance that out with other good deeds in your life? Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates all come to mind. Most people don't really think of them as "greedy" (in the negative sense) any more. Things to ponder indeed! Thanks again for chiming in!

      Oh, and thank you as well for introducing some highly relevant themes, such as common good, economic justice, and care for the earth. These should perhaps come up even more in our discussions.

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