Paper, Scissors, Stone. Tom Wayman

rock scissors stone

An executive’s salary for working with paper
beats the wage in a metal shop operating shears
which beats what a gardener earns arranging stone.

But the pay for a surgeon’s use of scissors
is larger than that of a heavy equipment driver removing stone
which in turn beats a secretary’s cheque for handling paper.

And, a geologist’s hours with stone
nets more than a teacher’s with paper
and definitely beats someone’s time in a garment factory with scissors.

In addition: to manufacture paper
you need stone to extract metal to fabricate scissors
to cut the product to size.
To make scissors you must have paper to write out the specs
and a whetstone to sharpen the new edges.
Creating gravel, you require the scissor-blades of the crusher
and lots of order forms and invoices at the office.

Thus I believe there is a connection
between things
and not at all like the hierarchy of winners
of a child’s game.
When a man starts insisting
he should be paid more than me
because he’s more important to the task at hand,
I keep seeing how the whole process collapses
if almost any one of us is missing.
When a woman claims she deserves more money
because she went to school longer,
I remember the taxes I paid to support her education.
Should she benefit twice?
Then there’s the guy who demands extra
because he has so much seniority
and understands his work so well
he has ceased to care, does as little as possible,
or refuses to master the latest techniques
the new-hires are required to know.
Even if he’s helpful and somehow still curious
after his many years—

Without a machine to precisely measure
how much sweat we each provide
or a contraption hooked up to electrodes in the brain
to record the amount we think,
my getting less than him
and more than her
makes no sense to me.
Surely whatever we do at the job
for our eight hours—as long as it contributes—
has to be worth the same.

And if anyone mentions
this is a nice idea but isn’t possible,
consider what we have now:
everybody dissatisfied, continually grumbling and disputing.
No, I’m afraid it’s the wage system that doesn’t function
except it goes on
and will
until we set to work to stop it

with paper, with scissors, and with stone.

“Paper, Scissors, Stone” by Tom Wayman from The Face of Jack Munro. Buy.

From with Garrison Keillor,


  1. “Everybody dissatisfied”? Not me. I earn more than some, less than others. But I’m self-employed, and though I could make more money if I went to work for a corporation, I’d much rather be my own boss and make less.

    As for the concept of everyone making the same amount regardless of what they do, it ignores the basic principle of supply and demand. Labor is a scarce resource (otherwise why pay people for working at all). Some tasks are in higher demand and there are fewer people to do them.

    If you were going to pay me the same to answer phones as to prepare tax returns, I’d give up my tax return business tomorrow and opt for less responsibility. Given a choice, I bet you’d choose something other than computer programming if it paid the same. You have to pay people for taking more responsibility. Otherwise, if there was no financial downside, we’d all bus tables or work fast food!

  2. Nobody would study tax codes if implementing them paid the same as … well, just about any other job. Nobody.

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