I pay your wage through my taxes

Private sector work and public sector work are both work, and they both produce wealth.

It is completely reasonable to imagine a world in which food is distributed by the public sector. In such a world, you would go to the government run grocery store and purchase food at a checkout manned by a public sector worker, much in the way public liquor stores have operated.

I bring this up because as a public school teacher, I hear often the short-sighted missive, “I pay your salary through my tax dollars.” This is the favourite argument presented by people who would like to ensure that my wage falls further and further behind the cost of living. It’s as if the fact that I’m paid by the government somehow entitles the taxpayer to view my work simply as a tax burden that adds no value to his life. The same person would never think to say to a banker, “I pay your salary through my banking fees” or to a grocery clerk, “I pay your salary through my purchase of rice.”

Nor do I write this to disparage the hard work of people in the private sector or the flack they put up with. I completely understand that the world is rife with thoughtless self-centred jerks who feel entitled to belittle anyone who provides service to them. These are likely the same jerks who rip into a restaurant server when their water glass is empty for two minutes.

My point is  that public sector workers deserve the same wages and benefits as anyone. They work just as hard as anyone, and their work is just as valuable to society as the work of anyone in the private sector. The problem is that their work can not be quantified in the same way we can quantify a loaf of bread or a mortgage. The value of teachers in particular, is hidden.

The wealth generated by education has to be measured in such things as the overall success of a well-educated society, the daycare savings of people who can work while their kids are in school, the police savings when the school system ensures that kids are off the streets, the physical and mental health savings gained by schools’  provision of healthy lifestyle activities and lessons, and the value of the educational experience itself, enjoyed by the child.

When people devalue the work of teachers, they forget about these benefits.

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