Sunday, February 06, 2005

Some Comments on Incentive and Efficiency

My good bud, Tom, seemed to think in my discussion of parecon with him that my primary concern was efficiency. This surprised me, because while it seems to show that I have learned the arguments against capitalist "efficiency", I think it should be apparent that my primary concern is freedom, freedom, freedom, and I only care about productivity and efficiency insofar as freedom is not unnecessarily squandered to maintain it.

This is the context of a discussion I was going to have on the incentive value of wages. Capitalists seem to think that it is appropriate, even necessary, to reward those who innovate with massive wages. First of all, there's no moral reason to do that, because one's talents are no more under one's control than the quality of one's workplace or one's parents. But it's also not even capitalism, because, as Michael Albert pointed out in parecon, the best innovators never get nearly the value they'd deserve on this scheme.

Albert Einstein made nothing; Bill Gates has as much money as Norway. Yet who innovated more? I think I've made my case. But there's an even more important thing to note: Albert Einstein couldn't do anything else. If he tried to do another job, science would enter his mind and make it impossible. The best innovators and creators, the scientists, writers, musicians, poets, painters, sculptors, etc. do so (and I know this because I am a writer) because it's like a genie bottled up inside their chest, not because they have any choice. Creators like myself are trapped, irrespective of how good we are: we will write and sing and create because we have to, because there is a deep obligation to, because it makes us happy and satisfied.

So what's the point of giving me more money for doing something that I'm going to do anyways? There can be only one effect of this: To make others who don't have that skill want to do the job anyways so they have more consumption potential. People want to be doctors or lawyers or architects far too often not because they have any talent or because they would do so if another job were more highly paid, but because of money. Now notice that this state of affairs is neither just nor efficient.

It's not just or fair because Willy Loman will try to be a travelling salesman even though he wants to garden and work outside. Willy Loman, in an ideal society, would be gardening and carpenting and building and perhaps doing some public relations or mediation work because of his charisma and likeability. In such a society, Willy would have had no need to die; he would have been satisfied. Now, would a parecon let Willy be the equivalent of a salesman if he wanted to, despite his talent being somewhere else? Absolutely. In a parecon, you can be trained as you wish. But first of all, this is true of capitalism as well; second of all, it's far easier to delude supervisors and managers (trust me, I know) than your fellow workers, so these people who make a choice to do something they prefer rather than something they're good at will be held to a high standard; and, third, I imagine that this would be rare. At the least, one would imagine that it would go down drastically because the incentive of doing something you prefer will not have increased, and the dignity and wages of all jobs will have become far more equal, meaning one will not want to be a doctor or lawyer simply because those make more money.

Imagine all those rich kids who are pressured to become a lawyer or a doctor or a professor or a businessman just like Daddy, when all they want to do is write. In a parecon, Daddy would have no need to worry about his children taking care of him; society takes care of those who cannot work. He also would not need to worry that his child being a writer would not be paid properly; his son would be just as well paid in his balanced job complex as anyone else.

The capitalist remuneration ethic also isn't efficient precisely because it encourages people to do things they hate or aren't talented at rather than things they would prefer to do.


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