30 April 2020

Work Does Not Pay
We are the result of our actions!

 When we consider the facts, not everyone on Earth came near a Coronavirs or infected by the virus. And in the context of national populations more people were not affected by the COVID-19 than those who were with or without the syndromes. And much more than those who were taken ill or hospitalized. Indeed the major issues with the Coronavirus are its contagiousness and by inundating the healthcare system when serious infections in people are rising exponentially. 

But everyone and everything on Earth has been economically affected by the pandemic.  The most important effect of all is the loss of jobs and employment by millions of people. And this is the connection between our two topics.  

“Work does not pay” or “not always pays” for many reasons but chief amongst them is being exploited and human rights abused. Being cheated from one’s labour rights and remuneration rights is of course a dastardly thing to do to people. Unfortunately no one is exempt from this cursed fate even though some are better off than the rest of the world. In other words it does not matter what political ideology one subscribes to the present lot of “isms” cannot have or do not have the right mindset to fight against labour exploitation. This does not mean that all ideologies are evil, only some are evil, while other “isms” mean well but do not solve the problem maybe because they try to solve the wrong problem.

A second reason why work does not pay is when those whose duty it is to manage work decide to exploit others somewhere else because the return on investment would be higher. Besides the new people being exploited, they have have no sense of labour rights and they have no voice to argue their case for reasonable remuneration. And when some try they are swiftly put in prison. For every person who lost their job because their job is now being done by someone else with fewer rights and remuneration, implies that two people are now being exploited and not just one: there are now two people whose work does not pay. 

Today there is a very sophisticated third form that makes work not worth the effort. The consumer society means that we cannot just give up any work we have because it does not pay. Sure many people get into excessive debt because they buy frivolous things, but my concern is not with buying frivolous things. I mean a consumer society where whatever we need for life involves debt and banking services. Banking charges, including credit card charges, are an additional cost of living. 

I totally agree that credit creates wealth and innovation and most important off all employment, but this is not the issue; and I’m not even going to discuss tax havens. The issue about credit and debt is when our remuneration is not on par with the cost of survival and living and we are forced to borrow money beyond our means. Today the average worker does not earn enough to buy a house from their pay without borrowing money. The second issue is that  many companies are motivated to increase profits, maybe because of the false doctrine of Quarterly profits, and have no choice but to move to countries with cheaper labour costs and even more lax regulations. 

When work does not pay it is not always because we are being exploited but because someone else is being exploited more than us. This brings me to the second question.

The main issue with statements like “we are the result of our actions” is that firstly we ask the question in hindsight and secondly we don’t always have full access on how the future will turn out. It is statements like “we are responsible for our actions” that should give us the foresight or at least the rational prudence of what to do or how we act. “We are the result of our actions” is not a universal or empirical law for the very reasons that we couldn’t and cannot have access to all the relevant information at the time of action. There are many factors that influence who we are today that have nothing to do with how we acted in the past: one of them is, of course, being born, but let’s not split hairs. 

We must also separate legal actions based on intention and action or omission to act and moral or ration action. The statements “we are the result of our action” or “we are responsible for our action” cannot be moral or rational universal statements if we acted in good faith. An example will illustrate this point: if I order an ice cream and I’m sick because the cream had been contaminated with something I can hardly be accused of being the product of my action for ordering the ice cream. However, if I order an ice cream knowing that I am intolerant to dairy products then this wouldn’t be acting in good faith.

In the context of work above, we can make some mistakes but not all mistakes determine how we are today. There is always the matter that the way we act might lead to a situation really better than what we imagined or things turned out badly when we had good reasons to believe that things will be better for us. How many people have lost a fortune because of the pandemic or a promotion or pay rise? Some people might limit their actions and play safe and conservative, whilst others might take more risks in their life. It would be inappropriate and ridiculous to condemn Galileo for his house arrest simply because he stuck to his observational and empirical knowledge about astronomical bodies. 

David Hume and more recently Nassim Taleb have warned us about the big issues of induction. I would argue that when we act we act on pure inductive reasoning for the simple reason that inductive reasoning is based on facts whereas the future is just an idea. Of course, today we are better equipped to act successfully for certain types of future. The French scholar Pierre-Simon Laplace was one of the first to develop the Bayesian interpretation of probability, Newton and Leibniz developed the calculus, the masters of Quantum Mechanics, and more recently, Data mining. Even still the future for most people is very limited. Hence, judging our past bona fide actions by our present is certainly unfair. And although many experts did indeed predict a pandemic during this period I am convinced that none were able to predict how the Coronavirus pandemic would develop and evolve. 

Unfortunately politicians and big business are not as innocent as scientists because of the limits in predicting the future. At the very least the scientists failed on the details but were spot on the magnitude and timing of the pandemic. Politicians and business, especially big business, are not so lucky because as the French mathematician, Didier Sornette, successfully demonstrated through his  Dragon King Theory (check Wikipedia and may other documents and videos) that “…events are generated by distinct mechanisms that intermittently amplify extreme events, leading to the generation of runaway disasters….or extraordinary opportunities….” (Wikipedia: Didier Sornette). An interpretation of the theory is that systems or organisations have in-built failure points by virtue of the design of the organisation. For example, the way the economy to set up today we know that at some point in the future there will be an economic collapse: companies cannot base their objectives on quarterly profits ad infinitum.  All of a sudden the Coronavirus has destroyed billion Euro businesses and created massive opportunities with matching profits for humble businesses like high quality face masks or gloves. The issue now is how can those who did not prepare for the big event act in a prudent way for the future.

It seems to me that work does not pay when others are motivated by profits rather than equitable and fair employment conditions. And our bona fide actions are many times thwarted by the bad judgement of others. 

Best and take care

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