(SCENE: Mitch BERG sits down at a small Vietnamese cafe on University Avenue. He unwraps a Bahn Mi Dac Biet and is sitting down to read the newspaper when Avery LIBRELLE sits down in Mitch’s booth).
LIBRELLE: Hah, Merg! The President sure pwn3d you wingnuts at his State of the Union the other night!
BERG: Huh. You thought so? I thought it was a lot of pretty vapor.
LIBRELLE: Hah! He showed you wingnuts what was what! Especially on issues of equality! How women still make 77 cents to a man’s dollar…
BERG: …yeah, that was bullshirt 20 years ago, when it was a matter of women taking more years off from their careers to have kids than men did. And it still is. Women with equal experience and records and credentials make about the same as men – within the bounds of statistical noise.
LIBRELLE: Oh, he sure beat you up on the subject of the minimum wage! Costco and Punch Pizza both start workers at $10 an hour! If they can do it, anyone can!
BERG: We talked about that yesterday. Neither Costco nor Punch are representative of all, or even many, small businesses that employ low-skill workers…
LIBRELLE: Stop right there,you one percenter! There is no such thing as a “low skill worker”! Every worker’s skills have value, and every worker’s hard work is vital – indeed, more vital than the bosses!
BERG: Um, what now?
LIBRELLE: That’s right! Mitt Romney was frequently not at his desk at Bain Capital – but the janitors had to be there picking up the trash! No janitors, no major deals!
BERG: And, uh, we’ve been through that before too. You think that if a janitor just started picking up stuff at random out on the street, it’d generate value?
LIBRELLE: Don’t you value clean streets?
BERG: Er, I already pay a bunch of public union workers with better pensions and insurance than I’ll ever have to do exactly that. But let’s make sure we’re clear on this – all work is equally valuable? So if a receptionist and a bunch of janitors sit down outside the bus station and start answering calls and cleaning things, a multi-billion dollar venture capital firm will spontaneously form around it? Drawing billions in capital and the people who know how to negotiate its use?
LIBRELLE: Happens all the time!
BERG: Right. But let’s look at the other half of your statement – the idea that all skills are useful, provided one works hard.
LIBRELLE: They are! All hard work must be rewarded!
BERG: All hard work?
LIBRELLE: Yep. The harder the work, the more valuable it is!
BERG: So someone who works sixty hour weeks for six months and spends half of his life on the road closing the financing for a deal that opens a factory that provides hundreds of jobs is worth the same as someone who, hypothetically, hammers rocks into smaller rocks as a form of artistic statement for sixty hours a week?
LIBRELLE: Same? The rock-breaker should make more! He…
BERG: …or she…
LIBRELLE: …of course, works very hard! Have you ever operated a hammer?
BERG: Sure I have. Have you?
LIBRELLE: The union would break my knees if I did – and I may file a grievance against you, for that matter – but I know the basic theory. It’s hard work. Much harder than computing spreadsheets and talking with banksters and sitting on airplanes.
BERG: But it generates no value!
LIBRELLE: Says you!
BERG: Er, yeah. Sez me! The act of breaking rocks into smaller rocks for twelve hours a day is of no value to anyone! It’s even a terribly inefficient way to make gravel!
LIBRELLE: Perhaps to your bougeouis, one-percenter sensibilities!
BERG: Any rational person’s sensibilities! I mean, here’s a test for you: How much are you willing to pay, from your own pocket, for someone to break rocks into smaller rocks as a form of artistic statement?
LIBRELLE: Well, Merg, that just shows how ignorant you are about economics!
BERG: You don’t have an answer, then?
LIBRELLE: The real question is this: how long do you really think girls should sit in jail for having an abortion?
(Dish of pho arrives at table)
LIBRELLE: Excuse me – I ordered pho. What is this? You charge $5 for a bowl of noodles with crud in it?