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May 22, 2006

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» The happiness backlash from New Economist
Conservative leader David Cameron has stirred things up with his speech on Monday at a Google Europe event, calling for more emphasis on well-being and less on GDP. Here's what he said:Too often in politics today, we behave as if the only thing that ma... [Read More]

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Paulie

Chris,

You say....

"I reckon my preference for fulfilling over remunerative work has cost me around a quarter of a million quid over the last 10 years."

Do you think that this is really true? I'd suggest that work that you don't find fulfilling can be a dead-end career-wise. I'd also suggest (and please don't take this personally) that people can PROVE what they earn currently, but have a form of false conciousness about what they COULD be earning.

A 'grass is greener' mirage....

Matt M

"An obvious way to do this is to increase workers' bargaining power - say through a citizens' basic income"

A little OT, but wouldn't a basic income just push up wages (and therefore prices) and lead to companies firing their lowest-paid workers?

In spirit I think it's a great idea, but isn't it hugely impractical?

chris

Paulie - it's a good point generally speaking. But until 10 years ago, I was earning more than I am now, until I changed jobs, so it's not entirely a hypothetical counterfactual.
Matt M - a basic income raises wages only insofar as it reduces the supply of workers, as people choose to live on the basic income alone. Many firms will therefore face the problem of retaining staff, not sacking them. As for those who might lose their jobs as a result of the general profit squeeze, a basic income acts partly as a wage subsidy, and so (in theory) might encourage wage cuts rather than job cuts.

dearieme

Worker shareholdings: punt both your career and your savings in the same company - and perhaps your pension too. Very risky.

Alex

Ummm...most people's occupational pensions are effectively punted in the same company they work for. This is why, if the firm you work for decides to grab any surplus that might be going in order to fund the remuneration consultants' remuneration, you're screwed, and why until the creation of the PPF, if the firm went tits-up without paying all its FRS commitments, you were even more screwed.

There's a strong case that one of the best forms of risk-mitigation is to exert your own supervision and control over management - after all that is what shareholders are meant to do. People taking responsibility for their own future. Popular capitalism. A property-owning, share-owning democracy - dearie, dearie me. That's what conservatives like you are meant to agree with. At least, whenever conservatives reduced the security of the working class in the past, that was their argument.

Well, if you were a conservative in the sense of the word that conservatives like to use, connotating commitment to various intellectual principles. I suspect you're actually just a hypocritical power-worshipper motivated by class prejudice, a species far more common under the flag of conservatism than the "real" Burkean/Smithian thing.

Does anyone think a worker-owned Marconi, say, would have decided to bet the company on the .com boom in 1999? If anything, I suspect the main failing of worker ownership would be...excessive conservatism.

Blimpish

I've got no problem with worker ownership and control (hey, does ok in the professions...) but like everything else it has limits. Excessive conservatism can be one symptom (as Alex points out), because workers like to protect their own situation. Unless your capital income is bigger than your labour earnings, you're always going to be torn when offered the a business opportunity that might adversely effect your employment/earnings position.

Then there's the problems of whether ownership is tied to the job, then (a) loss of job means loss of wealth; and (b) there are all kinds of incentive problems associated with (say) retirement or casual working. If it's not tied to the job, then a company could easily end up being majority-owned by non-employees, limiting the supposed advantages.

So... for all these reasons, as useful worker ownership might be, it ain't no panacea.

Anyway, on the main thing: health and well-being might be aided by diminishing hierarchy and inequality in the workplace, but fulfilment is a different matter. Some of us are quite competitive and thrive in those situations. But even more important, leaving aside Cameron's rhetoric (he's a politician, not a philosopher, after all), I would assume he means that we should give a higher priority to well-being and fulfilment at work, not that they should wholly take the place of more strictly economic measures of performance. And there's no obvious need to throw over the whole system of production to achieve gains here; and piecemeal measures to promote other goods at the expense of established hierarchy have always been part of conservative politics.

Paulie

On the wages front, fair enough Chris. Though I'd say that, when I was 25, I earned loads selling advertising in a high-pressure environment.

But that job took a toll (not least, on the membranes of my inner nose) and I sought something a little more cuddly - something that paid a bit less. I often pretended that I was martyring myself for a more worthy cause, but it wasn't the whole truth.

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