Monday, 14 March 2011

Work - a systems approach

In my previous post I cited the defence that someone who has worked hard to get something should not have it taken from them. On the face of it, that seems fair, but let's analyse a bit further.

If we could enumerate all work on a standard scale of standard units, we could perhaps consider a system in which the reward was commensurate with the work. Even if we could work out a single scale for all work, there are problems with this arrangement. Would we want people competing to do more and more work for more and more reward? Or would we say that reward would be commensurate with the proportion of work done.

To know what proportion of work someone has done, we need to know what the total work done is, but either way, we have to face the question of what work we want done. You don't want someone to break your window so that it needs to be fixed. These two pieces of work cancel out, ideally. We seem to have no problem with this concept in our homes, where we work together and conserve our resources, or in our organisations, so why is it different at a planetary level? Perhaps it was because we couldn't organise ourselves on a planetary level, but with the internet this is clearly becoming something we can do, if it has not actually become so.

Returning to our homes and the broken window analogy, we would presumably want a society where no-one had an incentive to break your window deliberately, and your window would be designed and constructed in such a way that the possibility of it being accidentally broken was minimised. That makes perfect sense at the level of your home, but of you are a glazier you might quite like the idea that windows get broken as it's work for you.

So, again, logic seems to dictate that we should minimise the total amount of work that needs doing, at a planetary level and this requires co-operation in not deliberately making work for ourselves or others. The reward being commensurate with the proportion of work done seems workable and fair - so far.

A big problem seems to be that at the moment we reward more work, in most cases. More windows fixed = more money to the glazier. How are we going to reward people according to the proportion of work that they do? Is this as impractical as having a unified scale of work so that it can be all be equated? What if we arranged it so that no work needed doing? What if there were people who couldn't do any of the work that needed doing either ever, or at a particular period of their life (too young or too old)? Rather than deal with these complexities, why not just let people have at least the means to survival without the need for them to have "banked" (or to have the potential to bank) any work?

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