It’s that time of year

It’s that time of year. The time when dioceses issue updated clergy compensation guidelines in time for parishes writing their budgets for the coming year.

So why do clergy tend to be paid so much less than accountants? Is the answer that we value mammon over God? The economist Robert Whaples answers the question for his students:

[L]abor is special in some important ways — e.g. workers care about how they are used, but products rarely do. … Ironically, the compensating wage differential argument turns [mammon over God] answer on its head — the clergy are compensating by social prestige, the sense of doing something important, knowledge that they’re working for a good cause, etc. — thus they get paid less BECAUSE we collectively care more about God than money.

Read it all here. The link comes from Alex Tabarrok in a post with several God and mammon links including one on C.S. Lewis.

Category : The Lead
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5 Comments
  1. Of somewhat more immediate interest to me is why lay people who work for the church received half the pension that clergy do. And with apologies to John, is the answer that we value M. Divs over other sorts of expertise?

  2. John B. Chilton

    By the theory of compensating differentials if his or hers plan the lay person’s salary would fall by amount equal to the present value of the additional pension, Jim. Just as well off in the end. That’s all in theory of course.

  3. Matthew Buterbaugh+

    I think the differentiation has less to do with gifts they bring, and more to do with how clergy are so tied into the church. Lay people can come and go a lot easier, and are less subject to the hierarchy. They can also have a variety of careers to choose from and from which to build 401k’s, whereas clergy have one option. Those along with many other ways clergy are so tied to the church is probably why the pension structure is better.

    As for gifts lay people bring, we’d be foolish to suggest that lay people’s gifts are less valuable. I don’t think this is what anyone is, or at least should be suggesting.

  4. John B. Chilton

    Matthew’s point is related to another one. There was a time when clergy did not have pensions. The expectation was that the community would take cake of them when they were too old to work — they’d given themselves to the church and it was payback time. At least apocryphally one story about the development of the modern pension for clergy (and, similarly, for retired faculty of colleges and universities) was that this expectation created an adverse incentive. Counting on the ability to create guilt they failed to save for their old age. In this telling the pension was invented not to protect clergy but to protect us from the clergy.

    Lay employees of the church did not create the same obligation.

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