I like numbers. I have always been good with them – their beauty and truth are appealing. Yet, when I asked my high school math teacher what I could do with my math skills, his reply was “There's always statistics” I became an English major instead.
In retrospect, I find it very odd that this man didn't suggest other occupations or that require math-skills, like programming or engineering. As a 38-year-old unemployed administrator on part-time disability, all those A's in my old report cards feel like the “Together forever”s I wrote about my middle-school boyfriend in the margins of notebooks.
Although I wasn't keen on making a career out of them, statistics can be useful and I sometimes put my math skills to good use. I had a look at the largest Scandinavian bank's annual report this week to see if the income gap is as big here in Sweden as it is in the US. In 2009, this bank paid out 10% of its total payroll expenses as bonuses to less than 2% of its employees. These employees had already received another 10% of the payroll expenses in regular wages. The bank's executives could have taken home their 5 million SEK salaries and given 8000 SEK*** in bonuses to all 34,000 of its employees instead. One also might think that the Swedish government, which was the largest owner of the bank's stocks in 2009 (after bailing it out in the early 1990s), could have demanded a larger return on its investment. Just imagine what a few tens of millions of SEK could have done in Swedish schools, for example. But in a greedy, elitist world, that isn't how things work. However, the problem isn't just that executives are greedy, but that politicians are greedy too – greedy and irresponsible.
Traditionally, politicians and teachers were supposed to have equal status and wages in Sweden. In 1990 a politician* made 24% more than a teacher (if one looks at minimum wages). Twenty years later, politicians** make 167% more than teachers. Incidentally, they also make more than two and a half times as much as they did in 1990. Teachers, on the other hand, make a mere 20% more than they did two decades ago, minus inflation. Like I wrote the other day, I would like to get into teaching, but I can't afford to.
It's no secret that my opinions lie far to the left side of the political spectrum, but I am no rabid leftie: I don't mind if some people make more money than others, as long as differences in income somewhat reflect an individual's education, risk, and/or effort, and the income gap is within reason. It is not reasonable for politicians to make a minimum of twice as much as teachers and have their own special pensions as well as health care and benefits that are more than any private citizen can dream of. There are politicians in parliament today that make those enviable salaries while also receiving what corresponds to a teacher's full-time pay as a “pension” from previous work as local politicians. And here I thought a pension was that pittance that will hopefully keep a roof over my head when I retire. Some people get pensions just for switching jobs! Who could even come up with such an absurd idea?
This is the sort of thing that the Occupy movement
is about: a precious few people own the majority of the resources in the world and, even those that we vote for to protect our interests, screw us over to keep it that way. It is painfully obvious that most poltitians have no interest in passing laws that would force companies to clean up their own environmental catastrophes, provide better safety and wages for employees or pay painful fines for not doing so. How bad do things have to get before everyone realizes that there is no “trickle-down” effect, nor a true democracy, just haves and have-nots?
Please, join me and the rest of the 99% in showing how you feel about what the 1% has done to us on Saturday: Occupy a public space. Or you can make a long-term effort to hold your elected officials responsible, decrease the strain on the environment by buying vintage goods and organic food, recycling and using public transportation. Just don't just stay calm and keep shopping. Because then the 1% win. * Government politicians' minimum wages in 1991, teachers' minimum wages in 1990. **Government politicians' minimum wages in 2011, teachers' minimum wages in 2010. ***1000 SEK is about 150 USD