The more you earn, the more you burn

Work is central to any society. Many, certainly in developed nations, question the validity of the notion of work. After all, don’t we dream of an island life, cocktail in hand, footloose and fancy free? How would we fund such a lavish occasion without first having earned the money to pay for it? Work has evolved throughout centuries from forming the basis of an agrarian society to a capitalist one. With a transition from the production of necessities consumed by oneself or production of surplus, consumed by others. Through observing a work deficit, welfare States a changing labour force and a capitalist economy we begin to unravel the complexities of the role of work in modern society.


A work deficit
 

With the global economy at an all time low, families across the world suffered incredibly during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. With people being laid off and not enough work, people’s living standards dropped dramatically with many unable to afford basic necessities. I recall the story of my 95-year-old grandfather, who starving at the time, was caught stealing a few potatoes and running across the rail tracks. Juxtaposed to my current situation where most days include a lavish meal with friends at a trendy establishment. In the developed world unemployment is relatively low with most members of society able to participate actively in the workforce. This in turn increases living standards and the ability to afford to maintain material subsistence.

In developing countries many jump at the opportunity to undertake any form of paid labour (hence increased sex work and slavery), while work opportunities are rare. In Australia there are increasing numbers of internships being taken by students in order to get ahead and get their first break. The sad reality is that many of the popular employers harvesting this unpaid labour can afford it. When you think of slicing a tiny percentage from one person’s bonus that could probably pay an intern for a year it begs the question, are internships fair? How do we as a collective balance too much work with not enough work? These examples illustrate the importance of a stable economy in not only producing excess but simply creating paid employment for people to maintain material subsistence.  


Support from the State

Welfare States across the world are characterised by the measures with which any Government allocates taxes in order to support its citizens. In Sweden we see a society safeguarded on many levels by the lenient tax system affording many Swedes reasonably priced childcare, sickness benefits and retirement fund models. In contrast, Australia is a ‘wage earner welfare state’ based on the stale concept of a nuclear family, with male breadwinner financially supporting his family while women typically care for the home and family. Welfare is distributed when citizens of a society cannot work. Possibly due to illness, misfortune, trouble securing work, retirement or incentives to care for family members and reduce time spent working.

While the age-old debate over ‘lifters vs. learners’ continues, it should be noted that work benefits citizens beyond the financial return. Work brings routine, discipline, respect and drives self-actualisation through interacting with various people and situations outside your normal lifestyle. The concept of valuing what you spend if you have earned it is too beneficial. Studies have shown that those who are employed are less likely to engage in anti social behaviour. This can range from unlawful activity (crime, drugs) to unhealthy pastimes that can lead to a deterioration in healthy both physical and mental, thus causing a raft of direct public health costs. Of course it can be argued that overworking is detrimental to health, on the whole, not working where you are not incapacitated, is more detrimental.


The changing labour force

The reality in the modern world is that women no longer need to rely on men to financially support them, divorce is on the rise and there are same sex marriages, single mothers and even single fathers. It is estimated women will acquire considerably less superannuation than men due to the role they take on as caregiver when they bear children. Is all of the cooking, cleaning, caring for children and potentially partners factored by the State? After all, we do still require a labour force to be produced in order to ensure labour productivity and a stable economy.

Due to WWII and the birth of the baby boomers our population and resources will be skewed toward retirees over the next few years. It will be important for retirees to have access to pensions and sufficient superannuation funds. This a policy masterstroke by the Labour Government ensuring that citizens are forced to save a portion of their salary across their lifetime in order to reduce the pressure on the welfare system come retirement. Technology has certainly created a shift from the industrial economy to a service economy. While many complain that they have lost their jobs e.g. car manufacturers, while being replaced by machines it could be argued many jobs have been created, particularly in the technology sector. If you can’t stop technological progress it appeals the solution is to embrace it.  


The more you earn, the more you burn
 

Its human nature to never be satisfied. I have personally experienced the same ability to enjoy life whether being paid a nominal fee or a competitive full time salary. You seem to find more things you don’t need to purchase with a ‘surplus’. Financial speculation can drastically increase income based on speculation and little labour productivity, which becomes detrimental to income equality. Consider the wealthiest few people earning more than millions of Australians. So is this race to enjoy a high salary really worth it after all? I am another living experiment of work life balance. After having worked many a full time role I fell into a four day work week and boy has it been refreshing. For what has been largely an incremental decrease in salary I find myself able to do the things we as a society enjoy, such as caring for my grandfather, enjoying the fresh air and achieving self-actualisation through more reading and writing.  


Can’t live with it, can’t live without it…

So it would appear that work is a valuable component of any society. Whether it affects social cohesion through a work deficit as seen throughout the Great Depression or whether citizens need to rely on the Welfare state to support material subsistence. It has been proven that work ismore bountiful than simply being a mechanism to earn a living. It unleashes potential, brings order, routine and discipline and can ensure we cherish time off and don’t take our freedom for granted. This of course not always the case when corporations are overworking people. We see a changing role in the labour force that includes the changing role of women, an ageing population and the rise in technology. Respective policies such as Australia’s wage earner welfare state largely founded on the basis of the nuclear family must be revitalised to reflect the changing nature of the labour force.

We must support policy instruments such as superannuation to eventually support retirement. Finally we must adapt and embrace with the birth of new technologies and their effects on the labour force and work. Society should analyse the effects of a capitalist ideal and consider the collectivist notion that includes spending more time caring for friends and family (and oneself) and less time supporting the pursuit of profit. Working is ideal to ensure a stable standard of living and of the formulation of oneself, however, it’s when the balance begins to erode the sense of self and supporting others that we should really question our approach to work.

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Gross World Product vs. Gross National Happiness

I have always argued that corporations and their pursuit of profit is largely damaging to society socially and environmentally. Particularly in light of the recent community support against sledge dumping in the Great Barrier Reef. However without Mark Zuckerberg’s ingenious corporation Facebook would we indeed have been able to galvanise such support as effectively? These three academics discuss their view on the pursuit of economic growth.

  • Dr Chris Dey, Senior Researcher (Physics) at the University of Sydney believes the world’s fundamental physical limits come before economic limits with economic growth ‘the strongest doctorate in society, more so than religion’.
  • Dr Vandana Shiva is an Indian environmental activist that focuses on ‘Gross National Happiness’ as opposed to ‘Gross World Product’.  Dr Shiva questions the popularity of the term GDP and believes it to be more reflective of ‘an abstract number that can destroy everything that is real that sustains us socially and ecologically and it measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile’. Dr Shiva discusses how debt in India is pushing farmers to commit suicide with ‘annihilation of life the consequence of growth…the multiplication of money to mobilise others and not all’.
  • Durkheim argues that contemporary work societies, otherwise now known as market societies focus on organic forms of solidarity which ‘foster a sense of disconnection and alienation’ associated with higher rates of suicide.

However, when you begin to unravel the complexities of the economy you can deduce that corporations do also increase social capital.  It sounds outlandish I know, even for me…

  • Ross Gittins, Senior Economics Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald discussed how reduced consumption can also reduce employment and this in itself creates a dysfunctional society at a recent Sustainability forum.  Obama asks major corporates in the US to create jobs to curb their unemployment rate.
  • For centuries work has been vital in organising millions of people and minimising the impact of anti-social behaviour.  Unilever alone has created jobs for over 200,000 people worldwide.
  • Through creating favourable policies for transnational corporations Singapore was able to increase real income and employment with an increase in public revenues resulting in increased expenditure on health, housing and education (Hobson & Ramesh 2010).  Singaporeans saw the stable global economy that had been constructed critical to increased social capital and the State was favoured by most (Hobson & Ramesh 2010).
  • Galbraith discusses the positive attributes of consumption with many products enabling good health, happiness, social achievement or improved community standing (Galbraith 1972).  Over 95% of households in the UK, Canada, Indonesia and Vietnam use Unilever products each year (Roach 2005).

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Interestingly, at the recent Sustainability Forum by Collaborate Lab on Collaborative Consumption, Air BNB and Garage Sale Trail propose their sustainable business models around reuse and recycling.   It is evident though that the two Managing Directors of both organisations are happy to use the commercial acumen and sound profit making business models acquired from those corporations with which they condemn!

The World Trade Organisation is responsible for determining the rules governing international trade but is renowned for its ‘free trade committment’ (Stilwell 2012).  The State can impose tighter regulations on the market but often its the State that relies on the market in achieving a fully functioning society.  For example, the NSW Government’s re brand to ‘NSW Now, the new State of Business’ with the aim to attract international investment to build the infrastructure required to sustain employment.

The solution could be to impose tighter restrictions on trade  but what about the rules the State places on society like the new 1:30am lock out rule to reduce alcohol fuelled violence? When do we ever follow all the rules imposed on us anyway! Should corporates be expected to as well?

An example of the market overthrowing Government policy was the mining tax proposed in 2010 to curb ‘super profits’, which mining companies retaliated through political advertising resulting in the tax becoming only a modest reform.  In contrast, in 2012, Australia’s Health Minister announced the plain packaging policy to reduce tobacco related issues (SMH 2014).  Large global tobacco companies invested heavily in advertising and other tactics but were unsuccessful in overturning this policy, demonstrating the resilience required by policy makers in serving the best interests of citizens as oppose to corporations.

The challenge is to ‘engineer a new balance between market and society, one that will continue to unleash the creative energies of private entrepreneurship without eroding the social basis of cooperation’ (Guillen 2001). From the detrimental health impacts tobacco firms perpetuate to the life saving medicines developed by pharmaceutical firms,  society has faced challenges for centuries and it seems there is valid place in society for corporations after all.

http://clivehamilton.com/books/growth-fetish/

Does money buy us happiness? My first foray into why we…

About a decade ago I had to complete a major work (Personal Interest Project) for Society & Culture in High School, where we could pick any social issue to research and discuss.

I knew straight away that I wanted to understand whether money buys us happiness? At the ripe old age of 16 I knew that perhaps I wouldn’t find any research on the topic I had invented… However a trip to the NSW State Library soon revealed there were many models that were relevant to my research such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the law of diminished marginal utility and the fact that its human nature to never be satisfied.

After designing a questionnaire and asking relatives things like ‘If you won a million dollars what would you spend it on?’ and researching the topic further it was evident that money doesn’t buy us happiness.  The consumerist culture of the modern era largely drives individuals to think they will achieve self gratification the more they buy.

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