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David Sirota
David Sirota
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Embracing ‘Enough'

Comment

Of all the no-no's in contemporary America — and there are many — none has proven more taboo than the ancient doctrine of dayenu. Translated from the original Hebrew, the word roughly means "It would have been enough." The principle is that a certain amount of a finite resource should satisfy even the gluttons among us.

I know, I know — to even mention that notion is jarring in a nation whose consumer, epicurean and economic cultures have been respectively defined by the megastore, the Big Mac and the worship of the billionaire. Considering that, it's amazing the word "enough" still exists in the American vernacular at all. But exist it does, and more than that — the term's morality is actually starting to suffuse the highest-profile debates in the public square.

After the financial meltdown, for example, Congress witnessed an unexpectedly spirited fight over enacting pay caps at bailed-out financial institutions. Beneath the overheated rhetoric, the brawl revolved around determining how much is enough to compensate Wall Street's government-subsidized scam artists.

Today, that conflict has metastasized into a battle over taxes. Marked by mind-numbing arguments over Mitt Romney's IRS returns and esoteric catchphrases like "Buffet Rule," the skirmish is really just a proxy war over how much individual income we are going to collectively deem "enough" before the next dollar of income is subjected to a less preferential levy.

Even at the state level, "enough" has gone mainstream, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) just signed an executive order barring state contracts from going to firms that pay executives more than $199,000 a year. Again, the idea is that such a salary is more than enough to attract skilled workers to taxpayer-funded firms.

Academia, by contrast, is playing host to the flip side of this long-overdue discussion, as tuition and athletic controversies highlight the absurdity of the "not enough" argument.

At the University of Colorado, for instance, oilman-turned-president Bruce Benson recently floated the "not enough" rationale in defending a $49,000 raise given to an administrator already being paid $340,000 a year.

"I've got to pay for good people," he said, implying that such a huge salary boost, paid for by massive tuition increases, was barely enough to keep the university competitive.

Similarly, USA Today recently reported that new college football coaches now make an average of $1.5 million a year — a 35 percent year-over-year increase from their immediate predecessors' average of $1.1 million. Though Republicans regularly claim public employees such as teachers, police officers and firefighters are paid exorbitant salaries, the GOP almost never notes that coaches tend now to be, by far, states' highest-paid public employees. Coaches retain that status in the face of budget pressures because school administrators constantly insist that they never have enough coaching-salary money to retain the best talent.

In all of these conflagrations, the forbidden six-letter word — enough — is the omnipresent ghost raising necessary-but-uncomfortable queries such as: Is a million dollars enough before one faces slightly higher taxes? Is $199,000 a year enough for a government contractor? Is $350,000 a year enough to attract a "good" university administrator? Is $1.1 million a year enough for a college coach?

It's a shame such self-answering questions even need to be asked. But with Gallup's latest poll showing most Americans believe a $150,000 annual salary makes one "rich," it's clear most of us would probably respond with an emphatic "yes" to all of them. That's because most of us know what "enough" is. Now it's just a matter of openly embracing it and finally replacing the era's ethos of greed with a much-needed spirit of dayenu.

David Sirota is best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. Email him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at DavidSirota.com.

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Comments

5 Comments | Post Comment
so, David:
Who determines what's enough?

Some Gallup poll?
Pundits like yourself?
Our elected representatives?
Supply & demand in a free marketplace?

You see, I would choose the latter.
Sad to think you probably wouldn't agree.
Comment: #1
Posted by: oddsox
Sat Feb 11, 2012 8:15 AM
"At the University of Colorado, for instance, oilman-turned-president Bruce Benson recently floated the "not enough" rationale in defending a $49,000 raise given to an administrator already being paid $340,000 a year.
"I've got to pay for good people," he said, implying that such a huge salary boost, paid for by massive tuition increases, was barely enough to keep the university competitive."
Hmmmh. But Mr. Benson, I thought the goal was to educate, not to pay for good people. I was under the belief that if less of a student's tuition was put in an administrator's pocket we could lower the cost of tuition. My mistake.
In response to comment #1: Good for you! Your choice is how we currently do determine what's 'enough' in our "free marketplace"! That's why the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Every time I hear a politician, or conservative, or anyone affiliated with the GOP, they're always talking about what's 'enough'. So I don't understand why you're picking on David.
Usually though, they're talking about what's 'enough' for the student,'enough' for the poor, or what's enough for the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the seniors, the vets and their families, and no one gets really upset. After all it's supply and demand in a free marketplace and there's just not 'enough' for the students, the poor, the seniors, the unemployed, the vets, and on and on. That's odd, considering there's always 'enough' for them. Odder still, is when they take umbrage if others want to discuss what's 'enough' for them.
Go figure, huh?
Comment: #2
Posted by: demecra zydeem
Sun Feb 12, 2012 9:47 AM
Who gives you the right to decide what is enough? Thank God people like you are in the minority. If you don't like this country, then leave !! It's communist little shits like you that are a negative byproduct of freedom. We as conservatives hate how you are and we will fight scum like you to the bitter end.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Earnest Trent
Sun Feb 12, 2012 12:42 PM
Who gives you the right to decide what is enough? Thank God people like you are in the minority. If you don't like this country, then leave !! It's communist little shits like you that are a negative byproduct of freedom. We as conservatives hate how you are and we will fight scum like you to the bitter end.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Earnest Trent
Sun Feb 12, 2012 12:43 PM
Looks like you hit a nerve Mr. Sirota! You woke up the haters and potty-mouths!

But in reality, as demecra points out, Republicans already love to decide what is enough and for whom it is enough -- as long as it helps (or doesn't interfere with) their own self-enrichment and power grabbing schemes! They also like to create straw-man arguments like saying that we are going to turn our lives over to pundits and pollsters. But that's not what Mr. Sirota is talking about, as he even points out in his last paragraph: "most Americans" should decide. We live in a supposed democracy. Most of us know that the rich already have too much. We elect representatives that are SUPPOSED to make tough decisions for ALL Americans. But they have captured our government and now only decide what is best for the rich and powerful -- screw the poor and middle-class.

Also, Republicans like to talk about the magic of the so-called "free market", but in reality there is no such thing. The system is rigged so the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. What say does anyone have in how much a university admin makes except another rich university executive? What average worker gets to set the pay of a corporate CEO? It's always the rich deciding how much to pay other rich folks. How is that a "free market"? Then they create virtual monopolies so consumers can't use what little power they have to boycott bad actors in the corporate world. All you can choose is one bad company or another. There is no such thing as a "free market". Don't buy into their myth. The game is rigged. There are always some rules and regulations that help some and hurt others.
Comment: #5
Posted by: A Smith
Mon Feb 13, 2012 12:54 PM
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