Posts Tagged ‘Equity’


Jobs and Work

 

What do you do? Where do you work? What’s your job? How do you earn a living? These are some of the ways we ask each other about our livelihoods. We tend to overlook the significant difference between a “job” and “work”.

 

The difference between a job and work by a loose analogy is the difference between duty and passion. A job is something you have in order to do other things that you like to do. You don’t have to like what you do on a job, you just have to perform in order to be paid, preferably fairly with money which you can use to buy the stuff you want to have and live a life, outside of the job, that you prefer to live. Typically, when you have a job, you celebrate TGIF on Fridays and Groan when the alarm goes off on Monday.

 

In contrast, having work you love to do is stimulating, affirming, pleasurable, rewarding with or without a fair compensation. Typically, with work you love, Monday mornings are energizing and having to quit work on a Friday is hard to do. Work gives us self-value. Work has a sense of contribution to the world, to be a worthwhile way to spend your time. Others need not benefit from our work, but we are rewarded when our work is appreciated and adds value to the lives of others.

 

Too many people think they will be satisfied to have a job that pays them enough, no, more than enough to live life outside of the job. Some people realize that satisfaction with life comes from having the right kind of work to do as opposed to having stuff or lots of money. Sadly, some people only discover this after they retire and discover that work that they freely chose to do is more rewarding and life affirming than the job or jobs they had for the past 40 years.

 

If you are one of those lucky ones that has work to do that you love to do with an added benefit that it supplies your needs in life, rejoice. If not, reconsider how you spend your time chasing money in a life-sucking job in order to have the stuff and a life once the job hours are over.


As I grow older, it occurs to me that I have been a drain on the world. I have consumed its resources. The food I have eaten might have been available to others who hunger had I not be around to consume them. The way I spent the money I had might have gone to some other purpose or possibly not have been needed at all because I did not need to be a consumer of things. I never worried about that before, but now in my waning years, I think about it. Was I a Sink or a Source.

A Sink is something that consumes. A Source is something that creates. At least that is the way I mean to use these words. By living, we are all sinks of a sort. The question is whether or not we are any sort of source. More specifically, what is our net value; Sink or Source.

As I grow older, I think more about this. I think in the past, I was mainly a sink. If that is how I am to be in the future, it might be better that I not be at all. I think I need, even as my years move toward that ultimate end, I think I need to be more of a source. I need to be more conscious of my net worth. I don’t mean my net worth in money, but my net worth to the world in which I live.

I guess I should not be surprised that aspiring to positive net worth, to being a better source than sink is energizing, inspiring. There is a lot of work to be done.


Slavery, Women’s Rights, and Employment Contracts

     Slavery represented a contract of sorts. The slave owner provided for food, shelter, and clothing for his slaves and in turn, they worked for him. The social structure treated this relationship between the owner and the slave as a form of a contract. The slave was a form of property whose work product belonged not to the slave, but to the owner who invested his capital in the slave, either by the purchase of an able bodied worker or the nurturing of a new born slave until he or she could provide productive value to the owner. Society recognized this form of contract which prevented the slave from being able to seek either a termination or fulfillment of the contract so as to gain the ability to be the owner of his or her own productive labor. The contract was one-sided in this respect.

     Today, it is almost universally true that slavery violates the laws and traditions of the various cultures and societies throughout the world with few exceptions. So much has this been outlawed that one who might seek to sell themselves into slavery for any of a number of reasons may not do so, even as a limited indenture contract. Of course, there is still illegal slavery in the form of human trafficking. There is also a form of slavery in the fee for sex industry.

     In a similar way, at least most of written history, marriage represented a similar kind of contract. A woman was considered property, her labor owned by the contract of marriage. While today, in many Western cultures, secular law recognizes a woman’s right to her own person, her own rights to make decisions independently from her husband. Still, a number of religious institutions advocate for the subjugation of a woman to her husband. In other parts of the world, the contractual rights of a husband to the “ownership” of the wife or wives still reigns. Honor culture forms a kind of contract in some societies so effectively as to give men life and death rights over wives as well as female children. For the world, there is still some progress to be made in a woman’s right to be an agent in all aspects of their life affairs, to be able to make decisions independently of, even in contradiction to. the will of their spouses.

     As in the case of slavery, the world has made and continues to make progress in eliminating this concept that one person can own any aspect of another person. In Western society, recognition of property rights allows people to claim ownership of themselves and to be considered their own agent with regard to the sale and trade of their property or work effort. Yet, there is still a frontier of one person owning another person’s work that society has not addressed. The problematic nature of this ownership issue is complicated by the treatment of corporations as though there were a person with regard to their ability to own living peoples work products. This is imbedded in the nature of the actual and implied employment contracts.

     What we have is an instance where a “thing” (organized capital, usually in the form of a corporation) can own the “work product” of a person visa via an employment contract that both enter into supposedly freely. However, the contract is one sided. A worker rarely owns the results of their work, that is share in both the risks and rewards of the enterprise in which they are employed. The risks they encounter involve the obligation to obey instructions, directions which take the form of the same kinds of commands given to a slave. They must endure the treatment of “superiors” or be insubordinate. Their risk is the loss of employment, loss of wages, of the ability to survive. In many cases, they are not “hired” to think, but to do as their “master” demands.

     Inventions (or any creative products, are fundamentally the creation of human ingenuity but the ownership of the invention by a person working under an actual or implied work contract belongs to the “thing” that paid the person. It goes so far as to imply that if a person makes an invention at home, in their garage, off of the hours they are employed to work, that too can be claimed by the company. The ownership belongs to the owner of the capital invested in the company, not in the work that was invested by the worker. The worker is sold short, but the culture surrounding employment contracts offers few alternatives.

     This modern form of “slave labor” is well rooted in tradition and culture and is not even recognized by people who see their productive capacity as something to sell in the form of a “job.” Work is devalued while those capable of accumulating and investing capital are rewarded with the immediate and ongoing profit from the work paid for only once. Capital, a thing, becomes the slave holder taking care of the worker in return for the work product in perpetuity, accepted as a kind of interest on the capital investment.

     An alternative to this situation is a reformulation of the corporation. First, it must become its rightful non-person. The corporation must become a cooperative association of people who are not external stock holders, but whose capital is both the financial support of the people who work in the corporation as well as the work products of the people who work in the corporation. The workers will be the ones who take the risks of their capital and work as well as the rewards of the same. The only role of external capital in the corporation should be that of loans made to individual workers in the corporation, not even to the corporation as an entity. These worker-owners of their own productive structure take the risk of its success as well as benefit from the rewards of its success. Using this model and expanding it so that these multiples of cooperative formulated corporations can work together stands as the greatest hope of addressing this third form of slavery, the employment contract between a “corporation as person” and a living person for a wage. Instead, people join together to protect their own creative capacity and its rewards.


What Does God Want?

In the Christian tradition in which I was raised, there is frequent reference to God’s will. What does God want for the human race? Throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptural cannon, we read of prophets who proclaimed God’s dissatisfaction with ‘His’ people who strayed from his covenant, his will for them. Today, we approach what the world should be by reference to God’s commandments and his revealed will. Unfortunately, we speak to a world what does not share our view of God, much less place value in “God’s Will” for us.

It is instructive to consider what Gods Will is in areas that this question is not usually asked. For example, what is God’s Will with regard to the population of the world? Is God happy at our world population approaching 9 billion? Is God sad that we have allowed uncontrolled growth of human kind? Or, is God pleased to see so many people made in his image? Is the more the merrier in this regard? If 9 billion is good, is 50 billion better? Maybe God is not pleased to see human kind expand to the point that many suffer from lack of basic needs?

What is God’s Will with regard to space exploration? Does God want the human race to be limited to the earth or would God prefer we travel to the far reaches of the universe, mastering other planets, mining the asteroids, plundering other living species so that God’s people can expand and master the whole of the reachable universe? Is this God’s solution to a growing population, an accepted need for continual growth? Or, since God accepts the death of individual humans, is God equally OK with the death of the human race, seeing it as just a natural outcome of birth, and life, something we see in all of God’s nature?

What is God’s will with regard to eggs? Is it acceptable to God that as humans we eat the eggs of other species, preventing them from being fertilized, preventing them from becoming new life? Is it God’s Will that all eggs created by nature be fertilized and give rise to a new birth, human or non-human alike? Does God prefer that all human families birth as many children as a woman has eggs or a man has sperm? Does God judge celibacy as fundamentally sinful, denying the opportunity for a human being with a soul from existing? Does God see this as equivalent to murder?

What is God’s Will with regard to medical technology? Was God more pleased when we allowed natural death to occur or is God more pleased to see us extend life as far as possible using enormous resources to extend life a few days, months or years, even when that life lacks quality and even if it results in great poverty for others and at great cost to society as a whole? What does God think about mammograms, CT machines, MRI machines, acupuncture, miracle medicines that make some people rich and others poor?

The point of these questions for me is this. To base our decisions on what we perceive to be God’s Will does not solve the fundamental problems we collectively share in the world today. In the past, when there was so much of nature that remained a mystery, it was useful to have a concept of God’s Will to guide us. Yet, fundamentally, what historically was called God’s Will was in fact a collection of understandings of what it meant to live in relationship with other people, what served the common good, how to live out a life with harmony, love, wholesome pleasure. And, I suggest this is precisely how we should be approaching the problems and issues of the day. It seems archaic to base the “should be’s” on the external reference to a God which is becoming more and more distant to more and more of the people alive today.

The best reasons for what is right and what is wrong is how it impacts the common good, maintains or builds equity and fairness, avoids unnecessary suffering, relies on what can best be demonstrated to be true. If there is a God, it is surely God’s desire for a sustainable future, one beyond our own limited existence, a sacrificial living for the good of all and of those not yet alive. And this is complex enough that we don’t need to draw on our inadequate understanding of the “God’s Will.”

Cecil Denney

Why Organize?

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Organizing
Tags: , ,

Most of us are familiar with the Tug of War game played with a big rope. Two teams are set at either end. A flag on the rope between them and either a line on the ground or perhaps a body of water or mud puddle below the flag, in the middle. Can you picture that in your mind? Have you ever played in this game? Lots of fun and a good metaphor to understand why we organize.

So imagine life as a kind of multiple Tug of War games. On one side are all of the market forces pulling on the other end of the rope. The referee is the government who establishes the rules, what is allowed, how it is enforced, and who declares the winner of each game. And why do you play the game at all? Because the market provides you with messages and goods you want and need, you have no choice but to play.

Here is the problem. The market players are giants. They have no moral compass that wants to play fare. The market forces are principally interested in profit, something necessary to keep them providing us with the things we want and need. They have no reservations in getting the rules of the game set up to favor their objective of pulling you and your resources to meet their need for profit. The more the better. They are big. You are just one person. If it is you against them, you have little chance of winning the game.

However, there are more people than there are marketers. The only way to achieve a balance in this game is to enlist more people to pull on your end. Since you can vote, but the market can’t, you can change the rule makers to make the game more balanced. But you can do this only if you are part of a organized effort to have organizations you belong helping to pull and educate people about fairness. The pulling in this metaphor represents the constant tension that exists between your organized efforts and those of the market. You don’t have a chance alone. You don’t have a chance with drop-in and drop-out partners. Your only chance is with continuing organized effort.


I was fortunate the other day to join a discussion by several workers in the home energy renovation business — the workers, not their bosses or business owners.  It had not occurred to me that because of their level of pay, they were renters.  I have been a home owner for many years, so I guess I never thought deeply about who is not going to be able to own their own home and has to rent.

The house my wife and I bought in Oregon was built in the late 90’s. It has insulation in the floors, walls, and water pipes.  It has several large windows, but they are all double pane and insulate pretty well.  My energy cost, even in cold weather is reasonable.  I think about energy cost when I get my bills for gas and electricity, but not that much between bills.

Landlords who own property to rent generally are expecting to make money on their investment.  They have to keep the property up enough to sustain the level of rent they want to earn.  But one of the hidden costs not included in the rent is the cost to hear and cool an apartment.  If you plan to rent an apartment, you definitely know ahead of time the price of the rent.  However, you don’t know the energy cost.

The energy workers were frustrated.  They were retrofitting peoples homes, but since they had to rent, there was not that much they could do to their own living arrangements.  And, they claimed they were living in high energy cost dwellings.  That’s frustrating.  But, they had an idea.  What if to be listed in the multiple listing service, a rental property had to report not just the rent, but an energy rating so apartments could be compared not only on rent, but the cost of heating and cooling.

I realized that when I have bought and sold homes as I moved, I had asked for that information in the form of the last year’s energy bills.  But it would be better if the multiple listing contained an energy rating.  You know, if that were true, market forces would suddenly come to play in favor of retrofits to save energy.  Instead of ignoring the damage that inefficient use of energy was doing to our environment, people would suddenly see the economic advantage of conservation.

So, how about it.  Do you agree?  Lets start an effort to get energy ratings on rental property and home sales, just like you get Energy Star ratings on appliances!


I read a recent report on Finland’s education success.  It reinforced my own beliefs about how to improve public education.  Finland’s emphasis is not on excellence, but equity.  Yet  this emphasis on equity has rendered them one of the most outstanding educational systems in the world today.  You see, Finland has NO PRIVATE SCHOOLS.

If we outlawed private schools, there would be a sudden national interest in making our public schools excellent.  It is just a simple application of what some call “Market Forces” that all the people who show interest in education, sending their kids to private schools to get a superior education would suddenly be interested in making our public schools excellent and that would include spending a lot more money on education — just like those who are willing to pay big bucks for private schools know needs to be done.

In the public school settings, funds frequently run short.  When that happens, decision makers THINK they are making wise use of funds by cutting programs like chorus, band, and physical education.  What they accomplish is cutting the programs that emphasize cooperative behavior.  That is not learned in the classroom where each student is graded as an individual in competition with other students.  Then, when people enter the working world, they can become individual greedy people, not caring about society as a whole,  because they have not learned the importance of cooperation and fairness.

I was once a manager of a computer center in a small college.  I had a lot of student aides that helped other students in the computer lab.  I also had some students who were working on computer programming problems.  Once, I had a student come to me that had scored a perfect score on the SAT test, said he was good at math and computer programming.  I asked him if he had ever been assigned a task that he could not accomplish.  He said no.  So I assigned him one.  He had to develop a computer program as team leader of a group of other students and he was not allowed to write or suggest a single line of code to address the assigned problem.  He failed.  He had never learned the skill of cooperative behavior, working with a team, being a supportive person.  It may have been the only failure he ever experiences, but demonstrated to him that he could not be successful unless he learned more about cooperation.  Our proponents of private schools also need to learn more about cooperative behavior and societal responsibility.

So, I say, do away with PRIVATE SCHOOLS and let the “market forces” of all those who are using them help us make ALL schools become examples of excellence for all children and youth and help us emphasize the importance of equity in making our society a better place to live.