If the employer-employee relationship is a simple and rational one, why is it that so many employees are so terribly unhappy these days ? Isn't rationality supposed to lead to human happiness? I have worked at several companies of various sizes and it seems that the common denominator I see these days is unhappy employees and ever grouchier employers.
One would think that a "selfish" view of the employer-employee relationship would work pretty well. Employees would bargain for their selfish needs (a wage, good conditions etc.) and the employers would bargain for theirs (great quality of work, long hours and labor peace). They would trade value for value. However something's gone wrong in this equation. From the employer side, over the past few decades, we have seen eroding competitiveness, increasing costs and disengaged employees. From the employee side, there seems to be a sense that one is a replaceable cog and a hopeless sense that since one's work is not all that important (remember you're just a number to the employer) that you might as well not work all that hard. This employee view is reinforced by layoffs, outsourcing and an ever increasing gap between the earnings of employees and managers. When companies fail, their leadership can take home big bonuses while the rank and file get pink slips.
This seems to have led to a stalemate. Employers think short-term and don't care at all about their employees and employees think short-term and don't care at all about their employers. In the old Soviet Union there was a joke that quoted a Soviet worker as saying: "they pretend to pay me, I pretend to work". It is with some trepidation that I see this being descriptive of industrial world today.
It would seem to me that the facile view of employer-employee relationship as a simple value trade has not entirely worked to increase individual happiness. I ask my question because if the unhappiness I have seen with my own eyes and experienced myself keeps increasing, it is the seedbed from which socialism and other forms of angry redistributive policies arise. Is it possible to run an economy where people who work are not alienated and miserable, especially at the lowest rungs of the ladder? How should employers and employees behave with each other to maximize values?
asked Sep 21 '13 at 11:00
This question correctly points out the large disparity today between a rational ethics and the actual political and economic system that exists in America today. But the question seems to assume, very erroneously, that today's system is capitalism and that rational ethics isn't working under capitalism.
Today's political and economic system in America is not laissez-faire capitalism, nor does it consistently protect individual rights, nor does it properly delimit the functions of government. The headline form of the question implicitly acknowledges this in using the term, "appropriate," but the main text of the question proceeds to look at today's system and draw conclusions about the feasibility and/or efficacy of rational ethical principles, as if rational ethical principles are being allowed to operate fully today and that everyone has a choice about what ethical principles to live by. Today's system in America is a mixture of freedom and controls, with a long-standing trend toward ever-increasing controls and continually declining freedom. That, in turn, has huge consequences for the choices that individuals and enterprises make in ethical issues, and for the effects of those choices. One cannot engage in free trade if one isn't free; and individuals everywhere are less likely to choose a rational course if irrationality is what the prevailing system encourages and rewards.
Is it possible to run an economy where people who work are not alienated and miserable...?
Certainly, but "run" by whom? The ideal system is capitalism -- laissez-faire, with complete protection of individual rights, freedom of production and trade, no government subsidies or bail-outs, no governmental protections from economic competition, and, in short, no government role at all in economic affairs (i.e., trading) beyond upholding individual rights. A capitalist system cannot be "run" by any central authority. It has to run itself, or, to be exact, run by everyone who participates in the system. In such a political and economic context, irrationalism of any kind, anywhere in the system, would be self-defeating and self-annihilating over time. The most rational participants in the system would be most likely to succeed and prosper, while less rational participants would suffer the life-diminishing consequences of their own choices, with no one (and no government) to save them from the consequences that reality itself imposes on irrationalism when freedom of production and trade is allowed to function without government intervention.
One would think that a "selfish" view of the employer-employee relationship would work pretty well. Employees would bargain for their selfish needs (a wage, good conditions etc.) and the employers would bargain for theirs (great quality of work, long hours and labor peace). They would trade value for value. However something's gone wrong in this equation.
It would, indeed, work well if permitted to operate freely. What has gone wrong is that for more than a century so far, freedom of production and trade has not been permitted to function freely. The solution is to remove the government controls (and subsidies) and let laissez-faire operate. The resulting burst of human achievement, productiveness, prosperity and happiness would be immense.
The current system today is increasingly characterized by what I call "infrastructure erosion," occurring at an ever-accelerating pace. It is being driven by irrationalism in ethics and in deeper philosophical principles, seeping into politics. Far from scrapping rational ethics because it isn't optimal in an irrational society, it is vital today to apply rationality across the board, and to revise the political system accordingly. As Ayn Rand observed in FNI (bold emphasis added):
Let them both [intellectuals and businessmen] discover the nature, the theory and the actual history of capitalism; both groups are equally ignorant of it. No other subject is hidden by so many distortions, misconceptions, misrepresentations and falsifications. Let them study the historical facts and discover that all the evils popularly ascribed to capitalism were caused, necessitated and made possible only by government controls imposed on the economy.
In VOS, Chap. 1, Ayn Rand asks:
Can man derive any personal benefit from living in a human society? Yes—if it is a human society. The two great values to be gained from social existence are: knowledge and trade....
Rational ethics and rational politics go hand in hand; neither can endure for long without the other.
answered Sep 22 '13 at 12:59
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