Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Joseph Stiglitz notes that the recent stock market turmoil may be most important for its effect in highlighting far more important economic weaknesses. And Richard McCormack discusses the link between stock buybacks, inequality and economic stagnation - meaning that a plan to eliminate loopholes for stock options may also have positive spillover effects for the economy as a whole.

- Barry Schwartz writes about the meaning of work, while noting that a focus on theoretical efficiency by eliminating all satisfaction from a work day may be leading to worse results for employers and employees alike:
(W)hen given the chance to make their work meaningful and engaging, employees jump at it, even if it means that they have to work harder. Such cases should serve to remind us there is a human cost to routinizing and depersonalizing work. Too often, instead of being able to take pride in what they do, and derive satisfaction from doing it well, workers have little to show for their efforts aside from their pay.
In the face of longstanding evidence that routinization and an overemphasis on pay lead to worse performance in the workplace, why have we continued to tolerate and even embrace that approach to work?

The answer, I think, is that the ideas of Adam Smith have become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: They gave rise to a world of work in which his gloomy assumptions about human beings became true. When you take all opportunities for meaning and engagement out of the work that people do, why would they work, except for the wage? What Smith and his descendants failed to realize is that rather than exploiting a fact about human nature, they were creating a fact about human nature.

The transformation I have in mind goes something like this: You enter an occupation with a variety of aspirations aside from receiving your pay. But then you discover that your work is structured so that most of those aspirations will be unmet. Maybe you’re a call center employee who wants to help customers solve their problems — but you find out that all that matters is how quickly you terminate each call. Or you’re a teacher who wants to educate kids — but you discover that only their test scores matter. Or you’re a corporate lawyer who wants to serve his client with care and professionalism — but you learn that racking up billable hours is all that really counts.

Pretty soon, you lose your lofty aspirations. And over time, later generations don’t even develop the lofty aspirations in the first place. Compensation becomes the measure of all that is possible from work. When employees negotiate, they negotiate for improved compensation, since nothing else is on the table. And when this goes on long enough, we become just the kind of creatures that Adam Smith thought we always were.
To be sure, people should be adequately compensated for their work. Recent efforts across the country to achieve a significant increase in the minimum wage represent real social progress. But in securing such victories for working people, we should not lose sight of the aspiration to make work the kind of activity people embrace, rather than the kind of activity they shun.
- Tana Ganeva exposes how some of the lucky few most insulated from homelessness and poverty demean the people who struggle to face those obstacles every day. And Jeffrey Simpson theorizes that our politics are lacking for big ideas and generosity.

- Edward Keenan writes that the most disturbing aspect of the G20 police abuses was the eagerness with which the people responsible for maintaining social order abandoned any attempt to preserve democratic rights.

- Finally, Aaron Wherry discusses the "snowflake" organizational model which is developing as the alternative to top-down messaging. And that model may make for an interesting contrast against the Cons' most limited broadcasting structure yet, as candidates are being told not to engage with media, public debates or any other format which could possibly deviate from central messaging.

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