Column: Skills of negotiation necessary for wages

Farm Forum

As one of the nation’s low-wage states, South Dakota likely will begin to get more pressure to increase wages. This raises the question of what should be the basis for compensation for occupational contribution?

We can see clear evidence that some people are paid much more than others. What makes one occupational contribution worth more than another?

Should it be education? Education might be a measure of what one knows, but how connected is knowledge to high pay? Though we can see that people who have a good education generally make more money that those with poor or no education, do we see that the million plus per year earners are the highest educated? How many history and English majors can make millions with that knowledge? Knowledge might give us the potential to do something, but how useful is that knowledge unattached to action?

Should it be skill? Should a person’s occupational worth be connected more to what they know or what they do? Do we find that those who have the most skills are the ones who make what top executives make? What skills are those?

Should the undesirability of a job be the basis for how much one is paid? Should we pay people based on how dirty, dangerous and difficult a job is? Why? Why not?

Some occupations, such as doctors and nurses, seem to be compensated based on supply and demand. By limiting the number of people able to enter the profession, they can demand more money. While licensure creates the potential for higher quality of services from professions, it also creates scarcity in supply and subsequent higher compensation. Can you name any high wage professions that do not have some kind of mechanism that limits the number of people who can provide that service?

What do top executives do that make them worth thousands of times more than those with the knowledge and/or skills to make the products or provide the services their company provides?

How about the ability to negotiate? Can you point to any occupation that earns more than a million dollars per year that does not involve skilled negotiations? Sports and entertainment figures who earn big bucks need negotiators who position them to get those big bucks. Union members earn more because they have skilled people who negotiate for them.

It seems that the most important skill a person can acquire is the skill to negotiate. Whether it is getting paid or getting what you want out of life, most things seem to pivot on your ability to negotiate.

A right to work state must also be a right to get paid state. If there is no union to negotiate for employees, then employees need to be as skilled as employers in negotiating.

Where can we learn how to negotiate? Who has the responsibility to teach us negotiating skills? Should negotiating be taught in schools?

If not negotiating, what do you think should be the basis for compensating people fairly?

Lawrence Diggs, Roslyn, is an author and professional public speaker. Write him at