tHog

Employment and efficiency

What is 'work' anyway?

Apart from basic needs such as sleep and nutrition, a healthy person is usually doing something at least 12 hours each day. What part of this is called 'work' is somewhat arbitrarily defined — usually by getting paid for it.

The perverse appreciation of paid work

Paid work is naturally appreciated — by the employer, in a monetary form. What I find strange is how other people appreciate you due to your paid work. If two people are doing the same thing, and one is getting paid to do it, which one do you appreciate more?

Consider a full-time housewife, raising her children. She is not doing any paid work. Do you think what she does is worthwhile? Perhaps even more so than paid work?

(There is obviously a business case for the housewife: she is raising future workers and taxpayers. After all, isn't that the true value of human beings.)

Efficiency: the enemy of employment

The current Finnish government seems to have two simultaneous goals that are apparently mutually exclusive:

However, these two might as well be combined: If we can get everyone to work, and everyone is super efficient, we'll have a topic for the next section:

Economic growth

This planet has 5.98E24 kg of stuff, and it isn't getting any bigger by some miracle of economics.

Why is full employment desired?

I think efficiency in general is a great thing. If you have several ways in which to achieve the same goal, surely it is best to use the least wasteful one. Most businesses want to do just this, and they are spending a lot of resources to improve efficiency. For one thing, an efficient process should be environmentally better, with less depletion of natural resources, and less pollution.

So, if you can keep the world going with fewer resources/employees, why is that suddenly a bad thing?

It is hardly obvious why full employment would be a sensible goal in itself. There are probably some hidden agendas behind that simplistic facade.

Fairness

In a 'welfare society' like Finland, the unemployed are far from dire straits, as they can get money for nothing. That is obviously unfair to the working ones who provide the money. However:

Protestant work ethic

In this world view, work is a form of prayer that ensures salvation in your next life. If there is one.

The modern, secular version is that you need to work now, so that some day you can enjoy retirement. If you happen to live long and healthy enough.

Of course, it would be completely unpossible to try and enjoy your precious, fleeting life right now.

Storage function and citizensheep

Keep them off the streets. Keep their thoughts on the work, rather than on revolutionary schemes.

Solutions

Shortened work week, or job rotation

A notable proportion of workers are struggling under long, stressful workdays, while others are without work. Wouldn't it be great to divide work more evenly? It is certainly not always possible or easy, but perhaps worth a try.

One general challenge is that a single employee usually comes with certain fixed costs, so it is more efficient to keep fewer workers doing longer days. Shift work makes this less of a problem, since e.g. the same office space and workstations can be used by several people in succession.

In Finland, this is generally possible in a limited way, in the form of part-time retirement. It is a step in a good direction, but it should be equally useful for younger people struggling with family life and other social needs.

Basic income...

...as the road to utopia

In my kind of an ideal world, all work would be voluntary (see also: hacker ethic and virtue ethics). There would be no money, so basic income would not be needed, nor it would be possible to provide. Therefore, I view basic income as a temporary solution. In a money-based world, basic income is needed to keep a 'bubble' of voluntary work from collapsing under outside pressure.

...as a better alternative to social benefits

Current alternatives such as unemployment benefits fulfil this role to some extent. The problem with these is that they are meant to diminish the bubble of freedom, to get the person back into the world of money. Thus their goal is completely the opposite.

The bureaucracy and "social care" required to receive unemployment benefits is unnecessary humiliation, especially as the person is already burdened by unemployment. An unconditional basic income would instead empower the person, let them control their own life again.

...as an enabler of work division

In a more realistic scenario compared to the utopia, working for money would coexist with basic income. This would in fact help with the problem of job rotation, since wages could be lowered below minimum living standards, while keeping a person's total income sensible.

...as a compensation for voluntary work

My beginning statement was that a healthy person is constantly doing something, which is likely beneficial to others. It would be fair to give them compensation.

Further resources


Risto A. Paju