equal pay for unequal work
Originally written for Everything2
Sun Jun 28 2009 at 7:18:52

(A "remake" of the discussion at July 17, 2008 and August 9, 2008.)


  1. Promote democracy in the workplace - employees are free to vote on a differentiated pay structure, if that’s what they want.
  2. Now that workplace democracy is the norm, start promoting equal pay - this isn‘t to say you‘re forcing it on everyone - instead, it’s kind of like forming a new party in a new democracy, where this new party is promoting the concept of equal pay.
  3. Replace product advertising with job advertising. Again, you‘re not forcing people to no longer advertise their products - you try to convince them instead. Point out the harm (psychological, environmental, etc) to society caused by product advertising versus the increased motivation as a result of job advertising. It’s like teaching gardeners to water their plants - you don‘t force them to water their plants, you‘re just telling them that watering their plants is a better idea than not watering their plants.
So how long will it be between steps 1 and 3? Months, years, decades? It’s hard to predict, but the point is to begin the path.

The main reason I endorse equal pay for unequal work is described here: Demand is not measured in units of people, it is measured in units of money

How would an economy and incentives work without pay differences?

Market Economics without Capitalism

The market came with the dawn of civilization and it is not an invention of capitalism. If it leads to improving the well-being of the people there is no contradiction with socialism. -Mikhail Gorbachev

Was Gorbachev contradicting the basic assumptions of socialism? I don't see a fundamental contradiction.

Consider this: Everyone in the economy gets paid the same monthly salary - regardless of whether you're a child, an engineer, retired, or whatever (yes, people in more difficult jobs may get more "respect" than other jobs, but that's just social conditioning and not related to their salaries). They then spend that money in a market to buy what they want / need. Market pricing still determines prices.

Here's the rub: instead of higher profits going to the producers, the extra money going into those industries just means there is more demand for those products and services. So the money is used to pay new producers in those industries, thus increasing supply - and everyone still has the same monthly salary.

As long as everyone has an equal salary, that is similar to economic democracy. Everyone has an equal amount of "votes" as to what to produce next. The concept of a salary is no longer a "reward" for work, but as just a method used so that everyone can help determine what goods and services are valuable.

The Demotivation of External Rewards

There are plenty of psychological studies that show "rewarding" work results in people liking the work less, and focusing on only the reward as their goal:

There was an experiment documented in Elliot Aronson's The Social Animal - some people were divided into two groups. In one group, the people were paid to do a certain activity. In the other group, the people were not paid to do the activity, but instead the organizers emphasized things like how much fun the activity was. At the end of the experiment, the people who were paid were much less likely to have found the activity enjoyable and would only do it again if they were paid again. The others were more likely to do the activity again of their own accord.

http://www.alfiekohn.org/books/pbr.htm also documents how giving someone a "reward" for work ultimately results in the person liking the job less and only going after the reward.

There is also this from http://bookoutlines.pbwiki.com/Predictably-Irrational

Ariely then ran another experiment. He read from "Leaves of Grass," and then asked his students the following:

Q: What is going to keep you getting out of bed at 6:30 AM other than the idea of bettering yourself and your family?

Depending on the job: the feeling of satisfaction of doing something important, the joy of doing something you've been brainwashed to love, bettering yourself & family by bettering society at the same time.

Q: One could imagine societies developing a social stigma against lazy workers, but it's even easier to imagine organizations without.

There isn't a stigma against not going on a rollercoaster. Well actually, you might get some ribbing from your peers that you're chicken. In any case, how do marketers get you to ride a rollercoaster? It's just one activity among millions of others - why is this one so desirable that you'd actually want to pay to do it, instead of having to be paid to do it? The marketer is basically emphasizing how much fun the activity itself will be - not what result or reward you'd get afterwards.

There is a danger in promoting the process too much though. Let's say you've basically been brainwashed to enjoy churning butter the traditional way. What if a new method comes along that is more efficient? Well, then those who are in charge of "marketing" in the butter industry will have to switch to promoting this new method instead, and leave the old method for you to do in your "leisure" (less important) time.

Q: Most of us ride a rollercoaster once in a while, but (most of us) would be bored if we did it all the time.

Yet people do things like read / argue on the internet day in and day out, or play a MMORPG day in and day out. You could argue that these activities are different in that they involve something different every day. Yet jobs could be tailored in the same way. Just apply the same product / marketing principles to the job itself. If you write software, you may be satisfied solving the same problems every day, simply because it makes you feel good to be the expert in your area. However, if that bores you, then you could branch out into other areas, or help out a peer who is swamped. If you work on an assembly line, you could easily move around to other parts of the assembly line if the learning curve isn't steep. You could even spend days outside of your "normal" job – maybe planting trees in a park or whatever the job advertisers are promoting that week.

There was a movie director that stated all great films are about either death or sex. Another director replied that he had to add money to his list. The first director responded that money is only used to avoid the first and get the second. I would add another thing to the use of money: to get pride – whether it's to buy status symbols, or simply to hold and be able to say you have a large amount of it. The thing with death and sex is that they are fairly absolute – death is death and sex is sex in every culture. Pride on the other hand is much more malleable. Different cultures (and subcultures) are proud of different things. Humans can take an active role in changing culture in any direction (which is basically what advertising and marketing is).

In today's system, you convince people to work by offering them money. You convince them to want money by advertising goods they can buy. Without product advertising, would people still want those goods (or money) as much? What then is the purpose of it all? To create a "desire" that wouldn't have existed otherwise, so you can fill that desire – it seems to me to just be a system of creating unnecessary work. Now before you make the argument that advertising isn't all that effective in getting people to buy what they don't want, consider this: why spend so much effort on advertising? It supports all of network television – million dollar salaries for the cast of Friends. Companies wouldn't spend so much if it didn't work. If advertising is just informative, then why spend all that money on slick ads? Why not just a simple, boring blurb about your product? The answer, of course, is that "boring" doesn't sell.

Replacing Product Advertising

So let's turn this around. Instead of trying to convince people to want things they don't want, instead convince them to want to do things that actually need doing. Seems like a much more direct method to me and a much better use of the skills of our great advertisers.

Instead of running ads that say, "I want this product" - they could be ads that say, "I want to work on a version of this product that will go down in history" - or "I want to work with some of the most exciting people in this field" - or "I want to learn the intricacies and possibilities of this product design."

What makes me think this kind of advertising would work?

As long as the advertising is controlled democratically, then the electorate already knows how important these jobs are. Thus, they already have the motivation to get these things done. The only real question is, are they able to make these activities sound enjoyable. To that end, they just need to employ the same psychological tools that product advertisers have been honing for years.

I would imagine different people would give their support to many different organizations. Each of these organizations would be supporting advertising for different activities. The more people supporting one organization, the more advertising you'd see for the jobs supported by that organization.

If you're "lazy" and don't feel like doing anything, nobody forces you to work. You are free to stay at home and watch TV or surf the internet all day. However, instead of being constantly bombarded with ads trying to get you to want more stuff, you are instead bombarded with ads trying to get you to want to go out and do stuff that society thinks needs doing.

As long as people see value in doing something, they are free to support advertising for that kind of activity. Sports, for example, are good for people's health, and, in cases like swimming, can save lives. However, if some other activity could not only provide exercise, but also help out other people at the same time (for example, building a wheelchair accessible trail along a scenic mountain path), then I could easily see more people gravitating toward promoting that other activity.


Comments from thisisby.us

by grantlawnm
on Jul. 21, 2008 at 07:10pm
1 Vote

I really like your Gorbachev quote and I know that he was working on setting up a system in the Soviet Union with a Nordic style socialism. People think of socialism and they confuse that with fascism (government/corporate interlocking system) and they confuse that with communinism/totalitarianism. But they don't realize, and what I have tried to point out, is that much of the humaneness and benefits of living in a society have come out of socialist programs like public education (which outperforms charter-private schools), libraries, universities, parks, roads, water and sanitation systems, social security, medicare, medicaid, food stamps, etc.
Now they are in the process of privatizing a lot of this and all it does is increase the cost of the services and make a very few rich. I think your idea has merit but in order for people to go with it then they would have to quit being greedy. So they want to have inequlity as long as they are not at the bottom. But now everyone is almost at the bottom and only a few are at the top so maybe they might become more open to it.
At any rate, we need at least "capitalism with a human face" but I am a socialist and I wasn't for most of my life. But I am in good company since Einstein, Seeya, and so many others have seen the value of a humane society.


by mudgeon
on Jul. 21, 2008 at 08:59pm
0 Votes

Who administers the sameness of salaries? And just what powers does this person or entity have? And why would I have any interest in playing his or it's game?
I suspect it would work out like the Soviet Union or Cuba: the real economy operating under the radar of the "official" economy. Stunted, burdened, and crippled by the nonsense of it.


by seeya
on Jul. 23, 2008 at 03:08pm
1 Vote

"Who administers the sameness of salaries?"

That is a great question in fact. I am in fact more of an anarchist than a "big government" socialist. So how would a society of anarchists ensure the sameness of salaries?

The short answer is that with anarchism, completely identical salaries will not be completely achievable, although relatively equal salaries would be.

"How?" you ask.

There is an anarchist concept that those most affected by a decision should have the most say in a decision. This means if a person is about to starve, he has more say in whether he gets to eat that piece of bread than anybody else. Anarchists would protect this right for everyone.

Taking a piece of bread, however, is not the long-term solution to poverty and scarcity. The real answer is taking productive resources. If some people, in whatever industry, have gotten extremely rich, while others have fallen behind, then anarchists would support the poor if they choose to take over resources used to produce things in the wealthy industry.

Obviously, if everyone had this right of workplace occupation, it would be in the interest of everyone in the economy to provide adequate job training to the new people starting on their new jobs.


unlimited wants and limited resources
Originally written for knol
Jun 19, 2009 11:51

This idea goes by many names. Some of the others include:

unlimited wants and scarce resources
infinite wants and finite resources
fundamental economic problem

For more about the definition, see Wikipedia's entry: Economic problem.

Wants are fairly subjective. You might like one thing and your partner might want something completely different - and thus begins the arguments that strain relationships. (But that's another story.)

Anyway, I submit that it isn't really logical to assume wants / needs are infinite. I would say wants / needs are often determined by advertising, which often preys on the "irrational" aspects of human behavior, just as Buddhism may "prey" on the same aspects in order to dispel a person's wants / needs.

One of the problems is that once capitalism had set property ownership in stone, then other people are forced to produce more and more useless things in order to make a living.

For example, say some agribusiness owns vast amounts of farmland and is already producing more than enough food for everybody. Maybe there isn't enough farmland left for anybody else to use, or maybe the agribusiness can simply outcompete any other small-scale farmer trying to enter the market. What's left?

Well, there is no other recourse than to find a non-farming related occupation. Maybe it's entering a factory producing plastic toys for people's dashboards. However, as you can see, this job is really pretty useless - nobody really needs plastic toys on their dashboards. So how is the entire sector of useless industries sustained? Advertising. The goal is to convince the people in the agribusiness to trade you their stuff for your plastic toys.

So you've got overworked plastic toy makers and you've got overworked agribusiness employees. This is measured as an increased GDP and considered "increasing prosperity" by some idiots.

So after the bubble pops, of course, the plastic toy makers would be among the first to go - it's much easier to cut back on spending for toys than on spending for food. Maybe the remaining plastic toy makers would redouble their efforts at advertising, trying to convince the food producers that they should buy more toys.

The food producers meanwhile think, "why should I help you unemployed toy makers? I have to work for my living, so you should too." So they go back to working their 80 hour weeks, while the unemployed go back to "working" their 0 hour weeks. "Brilliant", eh?

As I see it, either there are industries that still need people working in them, in which case the economy should train as many of the unemployed that it can to fill those industries... or there aren't any more industries that still need people working in them, in which case the economy should let the people take a f**king break.


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