Is your value tied to others?

A friend of mine who authors Economics For Morons posed this scenario:

Your boss hands out Christmas bonuses. You take yours home and are ecstatic when you realize you’ve received $10,000. This is more than you’ve ever received. You contemplate all the things you have needed and are now able to afford. But… on Monday you learn that you’re the only one who received $10,000. Everyone else received $20,000. Some questions:

1. If this revelation has upset you, what changed about your own situation?
2. Is it good for a boss to give ANY of his employees a bonus?
3. Would you be happy for the other employees?

What do you think?


I also have one of my own.

Presume your yearly salary.  Also presume you are put in charge of the employees raises and no one at the company but you and the owner are aware you are the one who chose the amount of the raises.  Further presume you must choose one of these two options:

  • You receive a $25,000 raise, but every other employee receives $50,000, or
  • Everyone receives a $10,000 raise?

Which option do you choose and why?


  1. I’d take the $25K and not worry about the others.

  2. Glenn, isn’t it amazing how people would spite themselves 15,000 a year just so others wont have more than them?

  3. In the first example there is not enough information to make a choice. Was I paid less of a bonus because of a valid difference in performance or seniority? I would still be ecstatic about my good fortune if there was no good reason (or worse still a bad reason) but I would also be upset that my boss chose to do something seemingly unfair. I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive. One is monetary (happiness) and the other is interpersonal (disappointment).
    For example, what if I were the only Christian in the company and all the atheists got the double bonus? I would feel both slighted and grateful. I think that is natural- since money is not the only thing of importance to people. One could say the same thing about a boss that consistently capitulates to needy employees- I’m grateful to have a job but disappointed that I need to do act like a child to get special treatment.
    So to answer the questions- I would go from ecstatic to ecstatic and upset (given no good/ a bad reason for the discrepancy), it is good for a boss to give employees a bonus when circumstances allow, and yes I would be happy for my fellow employees.
    Oh, and I wouldn’t bring my grievance to my boss- because I’m, you know, grateful.

  4. The second question is much easier. I would give everyone but myself the 50k. The two people who answered the other way are literally retarded. If you want to pay 15K so that everyone else gets 40K less than they could possibly get, you would have to be a Republican.

  5. I’m not sure where that link came from in my first comment- delete it- it appears to be spam.

  6. Q1: No, it would not bother me about the other employees getting more.

    Q2: I’d give the other employees the $50k and me the $25k. Why wouldn’t I?

    Of course, there’s not much info provided, but given the little info provided (and assuming no astounding additional info – the company can afford it, everyone’s working relatively normally, etc), those would be my answers. Easily.

    [Comment edited by Administrator: Violation of comment policy, Rule 2: Stay on topic. If for example, the post is about abortion, don’t make it about capital punishment. A minor tangent that serves to make a larger point is reasonable, but if there is no connection, take it to the Discussion page. All other departures are taken on a case by case basis.]

    • You know what Dan

      You always wonder what pisses me off about you, well your comment here is a glimmering example. You turned a good natured thought experiment into an opportunity to opine about things unrelated to this post.

  7. Like I said, Dan- you would have to be a Republican…

  8. I fail to see the connection, George. Why do you think a Republican would choose the equal raise option over the less than everyone else raise that is higher? As a conservative, I don’t see that as the logical choice for me. Obviously, you have no idea what a Republican is really like.

    For my part, yes I would choose the 25K. However, I see no problem with asking the boss why I am to receive the lesser amount. It suggests the boss has an issue with my ability or work ethic of which I was unaware but might be able to correct. Wage level is sometimes a gauge of such things.

  9. For Dan,

    Your off topic scenario, based on what you think is actually the case (and it may be—I’ve never researched the issue), finishes with a completely ugly-ass slight on conservatives who don’t agree with spending the money. It isn’t spite, you spiteful person. It’s justice. As I’ve said in past discussions where you brought this up, the cons have already gotten their free public education. Now, when they have wasted their opportunity and found themselves paying for their bad choices, you want the people to provide yet another free education as reward for their bad choices. Better would be to garnish their wages after release until that money spent to further educate them is repaid.

    The problem is that there is no reason why the taxpayers should be footing the bill in the first place. While we may have to provide for prison space to house those who break the law, there is no reason we can’t make them pay for it, either by their labor while in prison, doing something that can lessen the need for tax dollars, or to demand some payment upon release. Like all on the left who favor abdication of responsibility, you think it is up to the law abiding to support bad behavior once again.

    Or how about this, Dan? Educate those who claim they want a new start upon release, but if they break the law again, they get life for whatever crime they committed for having wasted the second education for which we paid.

    Again, you have no problem with the spending of tax dollars when you purposely choose a life that does not result in be taxed very much. Very big of you.

  10. For the hammer, every problem is a nail.

  11. My apologies, John. I meant no harm. I answered your good-natured questions in a good-natured manner and offered what seemed to me to be a similar good-natured question. I’m sorry if I offended.

    • You didn’t offend me, you just tried (like always) to steer the discussion toward some facet of liberal social justice. You habitually do it. I left the portion of your comment which actually had to do with the post at hand, as you can see. That’s where you should have restrained yourself. But thank you for the apology.

  12. And that, for the record, is a good-natured apology in response to your offense, I hope it is received in that manner.

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