Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is Your Incentive a Fat Bonus or Threat of the Sack?

When industrial changes causing hardships to some workers happen unexpectedly and without the government preparing for retraining, the workers remain conservative about their trades, and dislike innovations, new processes and new methods. When such changes are in the permanent interest of the community, they ought to be carried out without allowing unmerited loss to laborers whose old fashioned work is no longer wanted.

Why should, say, a coal miner suffer when the pits become uneconomic, or coal usage has to be curtailed because of climate change? He has not committed any crime, and the closures are entirely outside his control. Instead of being allowed to starve or suffer humiliating poverty, he must be paid to retrain, be given instruction in whatever other trade is within his grasp and is in demand. Everyone ought to have sufficient pay to ensure a livelihood, whether or not the work they are skilled in is wanted at the moment or not. If it is not wanted, some new trade which is wanted should be taught at the public expense. Is that socialist planning? It is capitalist planning because capitalism depends on public spending. Poverty restricts spending, and suppliers fall on to short time, and bankruptcy. It makes sense to ensure a minimal spending level, even when people are unemployed. Welfare is not a dead loss. It lubricates the economy.

Natural human conservatism tends to hold back progress. But most workers are interested mainly in security, security of employment and security of income. Workers determined to stick with dead end jobs are few and far between—a newspaper editors fantasy. People protect dead end jobs only because they know no, or inadequate, provision has been made for them when the obsolete factories close.

The tyranny of the employer, which robs most people of liberty and initiative, is unavoidable so long as the employer retains the right of dismissal and loss of livelihood. It is a right supposed to be essential for anyone to have an incentive to work properly, but, by some curiosity of human nature bankers and corporate bosses, people supposed to be highly motivated, actually need the opposite incentive—vast bonuses and “golden hellos”—to entice them to work. It needs no massive study to realize that this dichotomy of human nature is nonsense. It is the mentality of the slave master over the slave, propagagated largely by overly rich newspaper editors.

Bertrand Russell said as we get more civilized, incentives based on hope become preferable to those based on fear. Everyone, not just bankers, should be rewarded for working well rather than the right wing dogma of punishment for working badly. The banking instance of it is simply a scam—a way of robbing us all by dubious methods—but the system has always worked properly in the civil service, where anyone is only dismissed for some exceptional degree of vice or virtue, such as murder, or refusal to participate in immoral governments plans.

The civil service is always the first target of reactionary newspaper barons, but they are mainly exemplary workers. New Labour has done its best to destroy the civil service even at the highest level. To restore civil servants’ confidence and the esteem we had in them is another essential of any government that is to replace the odious one of the last decade or so.

No comments: