We’ve all complained about life and screamed, for parents
and spouses to hear, that life just isn’t fair.
More than two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the
Declaration of Independence that men are "endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these
are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Jefferson wasn’t an idiot.
He never guaranteed happiness, only the pursuit of
it; and as all of us know who’ve gone after the prettiest
girls in high school or the biggest spending potential
clients, pursuit of something hardly guarantees you’ll
actually get it.
Some of us are born rich, some poor.
Some of us are born in so-called free countries,
others in dictatorships.
Some in seemingly good health, some with congenital
heart defects, and others as Siammese twins connected on the
my father sent me a video link of an Australian man with no
arms or legs
This man learned how to 'walk’ and swim and become a
Inspirational, sure, but fair?
There’s an old adage that if life gives you lemons, make
a great philosophy if life gives you high quality lemons and
ample sugar. How
do you deal with life giving you rotten lemons and no
adage is silent on that one.
I considered writing an article on fairness because of all
the press I was reading lately about a television show I
haven’t ever seen.
Two And A Half Men has been on the air eight
years and is a tremendous success for producer Chuck Lorre
and the CBS television network.
In the show’s eighth season, its then star, Charlie
Sheen, had gone on to earn between $1.2-2 million an
episode, depending upon whether you take his back-end profit
participation into account.
Sheen was television’s highest paid star during the
Via Sheen, we come to our first test of fairness.
Is it fair that someone appearing in a 22 minute
episode of television can earn between $55,000-91,000 per
minute of televised performance?
The predictable response is obvious.
It’s not fair.
The work isn’t all that tough, a lot of qualified
people could do it, and based on supply and demand for
acting roles, a salary of $55,000 per minute – more than
most people on the planet earn annually – is way too much
for doing way too little.
Do Charlie Sheen’s performances in Two And A Half
Men improve societal welfare to an extent that Sheen’s
salary is justified? Few
of us would argue that a medical researcher concocting an
inexpensive bona fide cure to cancer should be recompensed
generously (even though, in reality, he wouldn’t be).
The saving of human lives, especially on grand
scales, justifies a higher salary to most of us than
prancing about on a soundstage.
An economist would answer differently and look at the bottom
much does Two And A Half Men generate in revenue and
profits now and in expected future syndication income for
the producers and the network?
If the amount they pay Sheen still leaves ample
profits on the table for them, why shouldn’t they pay what
seems at first blush to be an obscene and undeserved amount.
This, of course, presupposes that Sheen is
indispensible to the show’s success; if he were not, why pay
him out the 7-figure paydays every week?
The network’s attitude of halting production to
accommodate Sheen’s drug rehab schedule and readjusting the
set furniture’s location to support him, literally, when he
couldn’t stand upright after a cocaine binge shows that all
organizers concerned must’ve considered Sheen’s involvement
tantamount to the show’s stellar ratings.
And yet the network and producers soon backpedaled on this
logic when Sheen launched a tirade of insults against
showrunner Chuck Lorre.
Now Sheen was completely replaceable.
Sheen was fired and an expensive settlement paid to
him, at least by normal reality standards, and cuddly stud
and Twitter guru Ashton Kutcher was hired to fill his shoes.
Here’s where we encounter our second stab at fairness.
From the network’s point of view, relative to Sheen,
Kutcher was being hired for a "steal."
His official salary was reported as $700,000/episode
or about $32,000/minute.
This payday was called into doubt by many a Hollywood
insider, who consider Kutcher’s real payout to be more like
There was enough skepticism about the reported salary
that news organizations were just stating that Kutcher was
being hired for "less than a million dollars an episode."
In addition to the lucrative pay, Kutcher gets the
use of an exclusive and spacious double decker trailer/disco
valued at $2m. All
more than fair . . .
if you’re Kutcher.
Two And A Half Men
is the story of two brothers.
The younger brother gets divorced and taken for a
ride on his divorce settlement, so he and his young son (=
half a man) move in with the older brother, played by Sheen.
Even if you’ve never seen the show, the very title
tells you the show’s stories are about the interactions of
the brothers and the young boy living with them.
Sheen’s 'brother’ on the show is played by Jon Cryer, and
his 'nephew’ by Angus Jones.
Neither Cryer nor Jones ever reaped payouts of
Cryer, in the eighth season, was being paid
$550,000/episode, and Jones, $350,000, making him the
highest paid child actor on television.
Cryer and Jones were seen to be of some major value
to the show to warrant these salaries.
But clearly not as much value as Ashton Kutcher.
If unofficial salary estimates are correct, Kutcher
is making the equivalent of Cryer’s and Jones’ salaries
and Jones have put in a combined 16 years into the show.
If you want to give Sheen the lion’s share of credit
for success of the show, fine, but Cryer and Jones surely
deserve some portion as well, and whatever their share of
the show’s success is estimated at, that share has to be
greater than Ashton Kutcher’s, who until two weeks ago had
never appeared in a single episode.
Is this fair?
This is not the same situation where an upper-level manager
earning six figures is working for a multinational for a
decade, and then the company goes out and hires a CEO from
outside the operation for a multimillion dollar salary plus
There is a huge difference in power and responsibility
between an upper-level manager and a CEO.
As far as I can see, Cryer’s and Sheen’s
responsibilities as actors – maybe not Jones’, who has less
screen time than the others – are nearly equivalent.
They must both show up for the same number of
rehearsals and stick around for filming the same number of
hours. Okay, one
could argue that had a different actor been cast instead of
Cryer and played opposite Sheen, the show would still have
enjoyed massive success. Cryer
wasn’t that essential.
Why not then also argue that another actor playing
opposite Sheen wouldn’t stand in the way of the ratings
either? In fact,
that’s exactly what happened with Kutcher replacing Sheen,
and Kutcher’s debut brought in the show’s highest ratings
Most of us would be tempted to say this isn’t fair.
Kutcher is being paid a lot more and handed more
perks on his first day on the job than Jones and Cryer enjoy
after eight years.
The simple fact of the matter is that life isn’t
fair, and I've used a (melo)dramatic
example to illustrate. Kutcher’s
the bigger brand name.
Brand names in whatever industry are always priced
in some cases, the quality of a recognized brand is lower
than a lesser known brand.
People will always pay more for the famous brand.
Is it truly any kind of revelation to say life isn’t fair?
When I went traveling in Bangladesh back in the
mid-1990’s and witnessed widespread poverty firsthand, that
the average American sitting on his behind watching cable TV
and eating takeout KFC lived a better life than 99% of
assbusting Bangladeshis, the stench of inequality was too
overpowering to ignore.
Where one is born tilts the playing field
Who one knows really is more important than what you know.
For many in careers where talent is no guarantee for
widespread mainstream success (i.e. writing, acting,
singing, painting), having a few well placed connections
assist increases the chances one will eventually encounter
that big break.
Alison Eastwood has some kind of acting career because of
her father Clint’s success as an actor and director.
James Murdoch is chief executive of News Corporation
Europe and Asia because he’s the son of billionaire tycoon
Haliburton received a $7bn Iraqi oil infrastructure contract
because of former CEO Dick Cheney’s position at the time as
Vice President of the United States.
Is this fair, equality seekers?
We all like to operate under the façade that each of us
enjoys the same opportunities and privileges as everyone
else. At least
that’s what I learned back in grade school.
We were told we could grow up to do and be anything
we wanted to be, even President of the United States.
I won’t go into all of the political shenanigans and
corporate backing required to run for the U.S. Presidency,
but I will comment that before Obama became
Commander-in-Chief in 2008, all prior U.S. Presidents were
white Christian males with ancestral roots going back to the
Despite Obama’s successful election, if you’re hell bent on
running for the next one and winning it, make sure you’re
not a female or a Jew or of Asian descent.
Your chances for securing an already
difficult-to-obtain position will become virtually
The system isn’t about fairness.
It’s about exploiting what gives you an edge so you
can win more competitions in the marketplace.
Is your edge who you know, what you know, tremendous
talent, great looks, being in the right place at the right
time, or some other trick up the sleeve?
Sorry to point it out to you, not all of us possess a
unique edge that sets us apart. Until we recognize and fully
embrace the concept that life isn’t fair, we have no hope of
adjusting our behavior to succeed in a world that was never
as we wished it to be.