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Opinion

Opinion: Do wealthy people work less?

Working harder to earn more is a fabricated lie designed to make working class Americans bear the brunt of the work.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/edwinbai/" target="_self">Edwin Bai</a>

Edwin Bai

October 11, 2022

You may have heard over and over again, “the more you work, the more you earn.” We’ve heard this statement so many times that we’ve just accepted it as natural law. What most Americans don’t realize, however, is that this statement is a complete farce, utilized for manipulative purposes, and designed to maintain an obedient working class society.

As more and more people begin to heed the struggles of the American labor class, this lie surrounding capitalism is further scrutinized by the public. Quickly, this myth becomes unveiled when people start examining the lives and behaviors of the upper classes and compare them to those of the working class.

On January 3rd, 2022, Elon Musk saw the biggest one-day jump in wealth with an added $33.8 billion to his fortune. If one was working at the highest paying jobs in Tesla, firmware engineer, one would have to work almost 150,000 years to earn what Musk did in a single day.

Despite Tesla employees doing almost all the work cultivating Tesla’s success, they get paid a fraction of a fraction of what Musk gains, even though he has very little to no influence in the making and design of his products.

Here, we begin to see a paradox occur; Musk, being the richest person in the world, works less than the majority of his underpaid, overworked employees. With this being the case, how could the notion that “the more you work, the more you get paid” possibly be upheld in modern day capitalism? 

Moreover, this pattern extends to other magnates and their employees. Whilst Mark Zuckerberg earns around $26 million a year from “special compensations” according to The Sun, his workers, who work at an average of 8 hours a day, only average a yearly salary of $140,000.

Those same workers who program Meta’s apps and keep the company thriving are hardly earning their deserved pay, while Zuckerberg earns over 185 times his employees’ wage despite doing none of the programming, coding, or production work for Meta. Again, through Zuckerberg, we are faced with the reality that one’s work doesn’t always correlate with one’s earnings. In fact, when looking at billionaires in the US, it almost appears as if the phrase is in complete reverse: “the more you earn, the less you work.” 

It could be argued that these rich founders or top executives have put in their time and thus are reaping the benefits of many hours of hard work from before, and though this argument may be sound if one was explaining how the wealthy attained their riches, it does not address the central idea of this essay.

Sure, these CEOs may have worked long, arduous hours during the early years of their career and deserve their wealth from those times, but when considering the present relationship between work and wealth, the argument falls flat. It is well known that Elon Musk was a genius computer programmer, having taught himself at the age of nine according to Tech Times, and his involvement in PayPal is no understatement.

Yet today, Musk hardly does any of the coding himself, instead leaving it to his 200 software engineers to do the work for him-while reaping a majority of the benefits that stemmed from their labor. According to the electric vehicles magazine Charged, Musk doesn’t code the software himself, rather he simply meets once a week with the directors who supervise the coding team, inferring that Musk doesn’t even supervise the teams himself.

So how can it be fair that Musk, who doesn’t work on the hardware or software aspects of Tesla, makes the most amount of money out of all his workers who work 12 hour shifts?

When considering the social aspects surrounding income, the reality of this statement becomes more and more genuine. Sources of income, such as renting out houses, the stock market, and other forms of passive income, are a trademark of the upper class. The significance of passive income is that it allows those with money to gain even more money without having to put in any physical labor.

The wealthier one gets, the more likely they are to employ these tactics in order to accumulate wealth, since these strategies often do require large sums of money to begin with, specifically landlording and trading within the stock market. With the rise of cryptocurrency, this pattern is further developed through middle class members looking to make a quick buck with minimal effort. 

In fact, through cryptocurrency, it’s possible to make $100 a day without any physical labor, according to this article on Geek Culture, which would translate to an annual salary of $36,500 through passive income alone without any labor intensive work, assuming there aren’t any losses.

Now that the popularity of crypto is at its all time high, with one in five adults having invested in cryptocurrency according to CNBC, more and more people are incentivized to work less with this form of workless, passive income. With these examples in mind, it further proves the point that the wealthier you get, the more likely you are to work less. 

Another prime example of wealthy people working less is the act of landlording, more specifically how wealthy landlords manage their properties. Whilst this job appeals mostly to older people, the idea is the same: buy property, rent it out to others for a profit, and raise revenue from said property with minimal effort.

Most of the time, should an issue occur with rental housing, landlords pay other people to solve the issue, rarely doing repairs and troubleshooting themselves. The idea that being a landlord is only affordable by the wealthy is reinforced by this article from the LA Times, stating that landlords are among the wealthiest, further giving weight to the notion that wealthier people work less.

In fact, less than half of landlords manage their own property, according to Son-Rise Property Management, and a whole 44% hire other people to manage property for them. These 44% can be considered to be the wealthier portion of landlords. 

As if being a landlord could be any less labor intensive, those 44% take it to a whole new level by paying other people to do their minimal work for them while those landlords continue to rake in profits from doing nothing. This form of passive income is much more effective and stable than the previous example; in fact individual landlords average an annual salary of $69,000 as stated by ZipRecruiter, quite a sum when compared to the minimal labor they put into landlording.

Another popular form of passive income is the stock market. Due to its risks, it’s known as the “rich people’s playground”, its moniker attributed to the fact that the labor class is unable to consistently participate in the stock market. Similar to cryptocurrency, investors simply put their money into the stock market in hopes that they will gain a positive return on their investment.

As such, the work behind trading stocks is minimal, oftentimes nothing more than clicking a few buttons on the screen, yet compared to most labor intensive jobs such as carpentry, the stock market has the capacity to earn more for far less. Even more incredulous, those who are wealthy enough are able to hire stock brokers and investment bankers to do the work for them, generating substantial passive income while hardly putting in any of their own work.

Considering the question of whether wealthy people work less, we can find plenty of examples of wealthy people making money off of very little work. 

In fact, the national average income from the stock market is $53,356 as recorded by ZipRecruiter, a massive sum when compared to the work put into it. On the other hand, carpenting, a much more labor intensive and work heavy job, barely makes more than the stock market, at a whole $57,619, a year according to salary.

The difference between the labor and money made between the two illustrates the difference between the wealthy and the working class; wealthier people are able to earn more while working less, while poor are forced to work far more for far less. Through these examples, we are able to demonstrate how the further up the social class you go, the less you need to work, and the more you are able to earn. Paradoxically, the labor class is forced to work far more for far less, completely contradicting the notion that “the harder you work the more you earn”.

In fact, this hypocrisy extends further when examining the average American work hours of a 9-5 job. Typically, this type of work requires 8 hours of work a day, 5 days a week, totaling to 40 hours a week, although the actual work hours may vary between 35-48 hours. This type of job is reportedly tedious, labor intensive, and low paying, especially since wages are dropping recently, as illustrated by Peterson Institute for International Economics.

So despite the fact that members of the working class may work upwards of 40 hours a week, they still earn far less than someone who barely puts in anywork into landlording. Indeed, according to the US Department of Labor, the median weekly earnings of full time wage workers in the US was $1,037 in 2022, which would translate to a little under $56,000 a year, barely above what one would get through passive income within the stock market and far below the salary of a landlord. How could this possibly be fair when one considers the amount of tedious, strenuous work one puts into a 9-5 job? 

Furthermore, an increasing number of people are beginning to take on multiple jobs, as stated by Reuters. In fact, around 7.8% of American workers had more than 1 job in 2018. Yet despite working multiple jobs, it’s been reported that they earned less than people with only 1 job on average.

The paradox continues in this example: how could someone who’s working harder earn less? Not only does the working class work more and earn less than the wealthy, but those within the working class who are working multiple jobs are earning even less despite working more. So clearly, effort doesn’t have much of a correlation with payment in the higher echelons of society.

But shouldn’t harder jobs be paid more even if one works less? Sure, this sentiment is completely valid when we take into consideration high skill labor such as surgery and lawyering that requires years of education. It is reasonable that such difficult jobs should pay more than low skilled labor, even if they work marginally less because it upholds the idea that the harder you work, the more you earn.

However, this sentiment isn’t universal, and there are a number of ways to earn income that are simpler and less taxing than 9-5 jobs, yet pay more, such as the previously mentioned forms of passive income. We can further examine Elon Musk’s source of income to better understand how the rich work less labor intensive jobs yet earn more money.

One of Elon Musk’s most prized corporations is the car manufacturer Tesla, designing futuristic, state of the art cars that employ only the most modern technology known to man, supposedly. A large sum of Musk’s wealth comes from Tesla, but how exactly does he and his company make money?

When taking a closer look at Tesla’s growth, it’s honestly surprising that the car company is at the size it is today. In 2017, Tesla sold a little over 4,000 cars, giving it a record high market share of 0.26% as documented by Wolf Street. Compared to General Motors, which had sold over 250,000 cars that year, Tesla sold only 1/63th of what GM did. In fact, Tesla lost $2.9 billion in its first 10 years of existence, so how does Tesla, and Musk, earn their money? 

Here, we begin to understand how Musk makes his money. According to a Linkedin, in an article authored by a process and manufacturing engineer at Crystal Fountains, Tesla gains its revenue by hyping up the company to attract investors who are driven by the allure of futuristic Tesla products. Musk plays a large part in this role.

By portraying himself as a technological genius with high minded goals and sights set on space and the future, Musk is able to entice wealthy investors with his ideas of colonizing Mars or creating the car of the future. This leads to Tesla’s stocks rising, of which Musk owns 17% as the largest shareholder of the company. Weinberg further elaborates on the allure of Musk and Tesla. When Tesla introduced autopilot, the media and the market became obsessed with it, not because it was autopilot, but because it was Tesla autopilot. This hype revolving around Tesla products leads to a growth in investors, which leads to a rise in Tesla’s stock, which then leads to profits in Musk’s wallet, culminating in his massive sums of wealth. 

This pattern isn’t only related to Tesla, it’s also related to Musk’s other corporations; SpaceX, Neuralink, and The Boring Company all follow this pattern of lackluster products alleviated by lofty minded investors who raise Tesla’s stock. When combining the profits of all his companies, it becomes clear how Musk made $33.8 billion in a day, through his ever-so-often “comedic” tweets and big words, he’s able to swoon a large portion of his audiences into believing what he’s doing is revolutionizing the world.

As a result, he’s able to make billions of dollars in a day through investors, without that much work either. And through Musk, the idea that the wealthy work less yet earn more than the poor is reinforced. Not only does he work less strenuously, he also works less, with enough time in his work hours to tweet every couple hours or so. Clearly, Musk isn’t working very hard, but he still gets a lot of money.

By examining the income of billionaires, popular sources of passive income, working hours of the working class, and Musk’s “job”, we can only come to one conclusion: the notion that working harder makes you more money is completely and utterly a fabricated lie designed to make working class Americans labor more for less so their bosses make more. When the wealthy are making millions of dollars in a single week, sometimes from the comfort of their home, and the working class are working long hours across multiple jobs, dedicating sweat, blood, and tears to their labor with hardly any sizable reward, it’s time to ask: does your hard work really matter?