Thursday, June 25, 2009

We get paid because work is unpleasant?

Someone posted "We get paid for work because it is unpleasant .. get used to it" in a thread about the majority of IT workers being unhappy.

These are some of my thoughts on the matter ...

There is no reason why work should be unpleasant, inherently.

Just consider that we were marooned on a desert island. There are things to do -- gather food, build shelter, etc. Are any of these unpleasant? Not necessarily -- pretty similar to camping/fishing/hunting, all of which people do for recreation.

Now, suppose there was some issue about people doing their share. We might keep track of how much time each person puts in in terms of work. We might keep these in "credits" since some people might be doing more dangerous/skilled work.

To make sure that people do their share, we might require a certain number of "credits" for them to eat, or sleep in the shelter, and deduct this from their credits.

In a nutshell, this is our country and economy. Jobs are about doing what society needs done, and the system we have for trying to allocate that work efficiently is the free market capitalist system. People are incentivized to contribute by paying them, and encouraged not to overuse resources by requiring them to pay for them.

However, if everyone was good at figuring out how to contribute, and did their share, and weren't greedy about taking too much, then we wouldn't need any of this at all. The work would still need to be done, and hopefully everyone would be good and efficient about doing what was needed.

But strictly speaking, the work is neither inherently pleasant or unpleasant -- it just needs to be done. It would need to be done regardless of whether someone was paid for it or not -- or we were just mature about doing our share. One could be happy about contributing to the group and survival, without any pay, even if the job was not pleasant.

The current monetary system exists because we live in a large, complex society where the kind of interpersonal incentives that worked within a small group of people (i.e. a family or tribe) don't work in a mass society where no one will notice or care about our contribution, except for someone who now gets the motivation to pay you to do something for them.

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