We discussed two topics, with the whole group participating. The first topic was the issue of respect for low wage workers and it elicited interesting, not always agreeing perspectives. On the one hand, the inability (or unwillingness) of affluent people to treat respectfully people providing a service for them at low wages is reflective of how money morally separates us from the acts being done for our benefit. If a teacher teaches a child to read, a good deed has been done in the world which merits respect; but in a financialized economy, it is not viewed that way. The teacher was paid to engage in the transaction so all moral norms of behavior are suspended. If the affluent person decides to all the same be disrespectful, the teacher has not been paid to avoid that, so all is supposedly good.
On other hand, towards the end of the discussion, a strong sentiment was expressed that too much attention on respect risks making it an excuse for paying people less. Yes, a worker would most like to be paid well and treated respectfully. But as between getting the rich guy’s respect or a good wage for a hard day’s work — there is no question which is going to feed the worker’s family.
In the second session, we discussed the appearance of Richard Fisher, head of the Dallas Fed, on EconTalk. There was considerable enthusiasm for his diagnosis of the Too Big To Fail problem, but not much for his tepid remedy of having banks sign a short public commitment not to ever again take federal money in the form of a bail-out for speculative investing. And if they breach that, what will we then ask from them the next time — to commit that, they “really, really,, cross my heart”, wont take any more? It is all just words, easily forgotten without real penalties (like personal financial liability) that would discourage the conduct that results in the banks being Too Big To Fail.