Chelsea Clinton, Income Inequality & the 2016 Election

Politico recently made the stunning revelation that Chelsea’s Clinton’s salary as a novice, part-time news correspondent for NBC News is $600,000. In contrast, entry-level correspondents normally make between $100K and $200K if their name isn’t connected to American political royalty. And most correspondents for a major network only snag such a job after years of tireless coverage of local news.

According to one of Politico’s sources, “That salary figure is going to make other NBC correspondents’ heads spin right off their shoulders.” In other words, we just can’t help it: It bothers us when other people make more than we do, especially if they don’t seem to be working nearly as hard.

Of course, news correspondents sometimes put in hard work and long hours. One of NBC’s correspondents, Tom Costello, has done 413 stories since Chelsea started at the network in 2011. However, during that same period, Chelsea has done just 20 stories, as far as anyone can tell.

NBC has assigned Chelsea a smattering of feel-good stories. Notable among them was her interview of the Geico gecko, asking him such hard-hitting questions as, “Is there a downside to all this fame?”

So why should we care about Chelsea Clinton’s salary or her workload? We shouldn’t, of course. To quote Chelsea’s mom (in an entirely different context), “What difference does it make?!”

But we live in a day when “income inequality” is a big political and cultural issue. “The 1%” are routinely portrayed as greedy, unethical, and often lazy oppressors who make their money on the backs of the 99%. And people are increasingly calling for justice in the workplace: equal pay for equal work.

In Chelsea’s case, there seems to be exorbitant pay for fairly little work. And, I would argue, it’s rather substandard work at that. Chelsea has long way to go before her interviewing skills approach the level of a Barbara Walters.

But I ask again: Why should we care what another person makes, or how hard or how competently they work?

Somehow we can’t help ourselves from caring, and this is illustrated in a story Jesus told in Matthew 20:1-16. Instead of describing equal pay for equal work, Jesus told about a hypothetical case of equal pay for extremely unequal  work. The laborers in a vineyard all got exactly the same pay, whether they worked all day or showed up at 5 p.m.

Clearly unfair, don’t you think? Those who had started working early in the morning certainly thought so when they found out. They understandably complained to the landowner that those who worked only an hour shouldn’t receive the same pay as they did.

But the landowner rebuked these workers for their envy, reminding them that they received exactly the amount he had agreed to pay them. Why should they care if he generously paid others the same amount to do less work?

Hmmm… As Paul points out in 2 Corinthians 10:12, it’s unwise, and often upsetting, to compare ourselves to others. Yet we can’t seem to help ourselves.

Does it make any difference how much Chelsea Clinton earns or how hard she works? Not really. But I predict that things like this will  make a difference if Hillary Clinton decides to run for President in 2016. We just can’t help feeling upset when privilege triumphs over merit.

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