A few weeks ago, New York Mayor Eric Adams was asked at a press conference whether increasing the hourly wage of the city’s lifeguards might help to mitigate the shortage of guards and open some of the dozens of pools that had been closed because of the lack of staff. Adams responded with a firm “no.” He explained that paying people more wouldn’t matter, because people don’t do the work for money.
“They do it because of the love of the swimming. They do it because of the love of protecting people. ... It’s not about dollars and cents. It’s about having people that enjoy being lifeguards. Like I do this job because I love it.”
What in the world?
I showed the story to my oldest daughter, who completed her lifeguard certification training a few weeks ago. She rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on,” she said.
Even as a girl who loves swimming, there was no way she was going to spend her summer afternoons sitting in a chair telling small children to stop running and trying to stave off boredom for the sheer joy of lifeguarding. Maybe Adams would still be mayor if no one was paying him. But let’s just say the number of people who love their jobs that much and who are in a financial position to not care about a salary is relatively small.
Not surprisingly, Adams raised the lifeguards’ salary last week by $3 an hour, making the rate more competitive with what the state and the YMCAs were paying. Did Adams genuinely think anyone was going to buy his first answer? You don’t need an economics degree or even to have graduated from sixth grade to understand what was going on.
A recent Gallup poll found that Americans’ trust in our institutions has fallen significantly. Even in the past year, there was a decline in trust for almost all of the 16 institutions surveyed. Trust in the presidency declined to 15% from 23% a year ago. It is hard to pinpoint any one thing, but the way that our political leaders talk to the public — as if we are idiots —cannot be helping.
Earlier this month President Joe Biden scolded energy companies for high gas prices: “My message to the companies running gas stations and setting prices at the pump is simple: This is a time of war and global peril. Bring down the price you are charging at the pump to reflect the cost you’re paying for the product. And do it now.”
To quote my daughter, “Oh, come on.”
Does the president really believe that all the gas companies and gas stations in America are just raising their prices because they feel like it? And why are they all doing it at the same time? Has it not occurred to BP that the company could lower its prices by a few cents and get all of Shell’s business? As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos responded, the president’s remarks are “either straight ahead misdirection or a deep misunderstanding of basic market dynamics.”
I’m pretty sure it’s the former and just a reflection of how little respect Biden and his advisers have for the American people; they think we don’t understand how gas stations decide what to charge for gas. If gas companies could charge whatever they wanted, one wonders why they haven’t been charging $5 a gallon all along.
You don’t need to be the founder of a multibillion-dollar company to figure this out. A reasonably attentive 10-year-old knows the basics of supply and demand. But for the past couple of years the American public has been rolling our eyes at the experts. The nonsensical COVID-19 protocols are too many to name. But again, what small child would not have wondered why you need to wear a mask in the airport lounge but not in the airport restaurant 5 feet away? Why can some schools be open for in-person learning but others cannot? Why are we still sanitizing surfaces when we know COVID-19 doesn’t spread that way?
Peggy Noonan once wrote about this tendency to dumb down the American voter: “... they forget we’ve all had at least some education and a number of us read on our own and read certain classics in junior high and high school. The guy at the gas station read ‘The Call of the Wild’ when he was 14, and sometimes thinks about it. Moreover, he has imagination. Politicians forget. They go in lowest common denominator — like a newscaster.”
The lack of respect that our political leaders and other experts seem to have for the American public is likely to have long-term implications. When we don’t think that our health experts treat us like grown-ups, we stop following their advice — even when it’s correct. When we feel like politicians aren’t respecting our intelligence, we throw them out of office.
No matter how much they love their jobs.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Deseret News contributor and the author of “No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives,” among other books.