The assumption of employment is all around us. I’m not knocking employment. Quite the contrary:
Rule of Work: Your work is not the venue. Whether your work is best conducted as an employee, contractor, entrepreneur, or volunteer, pursue the venue where you can derive from your work all the meaning you are intended to have.
But it’s sort of like my friend who has a Doctorate of Philosophy in Patristics from Oxford. He used to get asked, as a professor, by prospective employers in the U.S. for his transcript. He was typically met with blank, inflexible stares when he informed them that Oxford is an 800-year old university – it doesn’t issue transcripts. 75% of the doctoral candidates fail – if you make it, at all, that is the transcript. The assumption was that education is everywhere and always has been mass education, and rather than having to write books to graduate, you need to prove yourself by appealing to grades. Oxford is pass fail – for the degree, not for classes. For those interested in this topic, you don’t even have to attend lectures (classes) at Oxford. You can sit under a tree all week and read, if you like, or just stay drunk all the time. What they require is that you read everything in your field, and take a final exam at the end that lasts about a week and is 100% written (essay form), and that you defend your thesis (which is what your book is arguing – your dissertation). That’s it. Read everything, write for a solid week intelligently discussing everything, and defend your own original idea expressed as a book which takes into account your knowledge of everything, and you get your degree. No transcript. Is it accredited? No, it’s 800 years old… etc. It’s like pulling teeth getting past assumptions.
The assumption of employment, though, is similar. It’s already been elsewhere observed that employees can get a home loan lickety split with two paychecks under their belts, or one paycheck and a letter from their employer. A self-employed person has to show a history of substantial profits on past years’ tax returns. That’s how the mortgage system assumes employment as the standard. Conversely, the tax system rewards self-employed people only if they show the least possible profit and claim the maximum possible deductions. That conflicts with the mortgage industry assumption and leaves lots of self-employed people without access to a mortgage, while showing up for a job for a month results in a home loan. The system is geared toward assuming employment is the norm. What do all the forms say – government forms, bank forms, even forms at the gym? Employer. What do employment applications ask for? Past employer. Sure, you write in your own company, but most people don’t seem to be aware that the relationship you have to your own company, as an entrepreneur might actually not be that of employee. Corporate structures are varied, and you might get shares, not paychecks. You might contract for your company, etc. You might be a “member”, a “partner”, and so on.
A pronounced example I encountered was when the market ate half of my 401K, because I foolishly listened to the “stay the course” crowd (i.e. Vanguard and the traditional investor braniacs who couldn’t acknowledge reality, only throw out doctrine, and tell the rest of us not to be “immature” investors who pull out our funds too soon and don’t stay in for the long haul. In other words – the people who told us it’s better to go broke than to question the received wisdom.) Honestly, the amateur hour stuff was not smelling the brimstone in the Judgment Day that was coming down all around them. Little devils kept saying, “Nah, this is just a “fluctuation” in the economic climate. Let’s say I had $9000 invested, and I lost half, so $4500. My employer had matched at least half of my contribution, so someone actually said to me, “Well then you didn’t lose $4500. You basically lost nothing, because you still have what you put into it.” Now THAT, my friends, is a blind, dogmatic assumption of employment as the norm. But wait, it’s worse than that. A person who sees his services as valuable, something he ‘sells’ an employer, at best, knows that the matching contribution is part of his COMPENSATION. It’s part of the package of remuneration for his work.
In other words, if your employer cuts health care, you’re getting a pay cut. If your employer assigns you added responsibilities without added pay, you’re getting a pay cut (or at least getting snowed). I like that phrase they foist off on people young enough and inexperienced enough to believe it (or just craven enough to pretend they do) – “you’re investing in your marketability in the company” . Ha. The only thing you’re investing in is your reputation for price cutting – selling premium quantities and qualities of work for the lowest possible compensation. You’re the Walmart of employees. Or there’s the similar one, “because you care about the company”. Hey, caring is a two-way street – it’s like a marriage. Would you ask your spouse to do 100% of the housework and keep a full time job, because the spouse “cares about the family”? Not bloody likely.
But this isn’t even a pay cut. My example is one of robbery. The abject, and outright robbery of the system by (well you know who is responsible, if you’re paying attention – sure it’s AIG, but it’s more widespread than that – it’s an entire sector of society stealing from the other sector) – robbery that resulted in a LOT of us losing half or more of our retirement funds. Losing all of it, for those who left their money in until it hit zero. What they stole is the same as if they stole my paycheck. That money wasn’t legitimately lost to the “fluctuations of the market” – it was robbed by the looting and devastation and plundering and pillaging of the market. I know pretty much where it is. It’s driving around the Eastern seaboard with European leather and a blonde trophy wife in the passenger seat. It’s stopping to refuel on the way to a resort and spa where I can’t afford to eat the moisturizing cream it took a bushel of rain forest plants and a dozen children making a penny a day to produce for 3000% markup and some penthouse-dweller’s name on it. And on top of that, someone has the audacity to say, “but it wasn’t really your money.” “You didn’t really lose anything.” “Your employer *contributed* it to you. Like a gift. You can’t get upset over a stolen gift, now can you?
Well, it’s not a freaking gift. It’s one of the types of paychecks. It’s part of the compensation, part of the deal. Keep in mind, it’s taxable. Now or later, but it’s taxable.
The assumption is so strong that employment is the norm, that one easily forgets that the lingo you hear around the office isn’t real. A contribution isn’t really a gift. Caring isn’t really caring, it’s working for free. Marketability means gullibility. And ‘market fluctuations’, if you happen to work in the financial services sector, means causing a blackout, then coming to your house and stealing your TV set, then kicking you out of your house and taking that too (we don’t have an ARM, don’t worry), selling your home, and then offering you a credit card with a mafia-like interest rate so you can “rebuild” your “good standing” with the financial services industry. Oh, and lastly, telling you that none of what you lost was ever really yours in the first place. Equity meets late fees and cost of foreclosure. Finally, you blame it on an act of God, vibrations, hiccups, tremors, and “fluctuations” that no one could have prevented. So now you can’t even go to Church and pray about it without looking at your priest suspiciously, and he’s thinking “What did I do?” Good thing he lost his house too, but you’re all going to be moving into his apartment because you just lost your job, and your 401K is so devastated that pulling it out should just about cover the government “penalty” for pulling it out. Prison is starting to look good, but your Priest doesn’t like that idea, and they just told prisoners they have to pay for their own healthcare. You take your unemployment check to the bank, but they won’t open an account anymore without pulling your credit, and you know where that leads, so you give a chunk of that to the check cashing place, fill up with gas at double the price when this started, and drive home to watch TV shows about people living “successful” lives (as though nothing happened in the TV universe), and you figure all those guys work for AIG or had stock in munitions. And you fall asleep hoping you’ll get that temp job you applied for, where they “try on” employees, one after another, without having to give you healthcare or retirement benefits. And your only hope is starting your own Youtube reality show, except that everyone else is in the same boat and what, ordinarily might be fascinating, is now just banal and taken for granted.
Ahem. Yes. Well, the point is this:
Rule of Work: Nothing is true if it confuses an exchange of value for value with a gift given to either party. See Ayn Rand. Corollary rule: If you got something as a result of honest work, taking it away from you without a fair exchange is always theft – calling it something else turns wages into slavery.
Yes, the assumption of employment as the normative form of work relationship prevails, but some of what comes with that assumption isn’t employment, it’s at best what the old South used to call “wage slavery” and, at worst, is just plain robbery, snake oil, machination, and exploitation. There’s nothing wrong with employment, if it’s honest, if both parties are exchanging fair value for fair value with their eyes open, in a transparent environment. But treating employment as a privilege, as though one should aspire to it independently of compensation, accept it as normal without reference to the entitlements governing every other form of trade (rhetoric venerating “the market” aside), is an additional set of assumptions that amounts to drinking the sacrificial Koolaid.
It’s bad enough to assume that life, ‘legitimate’ life, revolves around punching a timeclock or getting a salary, in contrast with the work itself. It’s unacceptable, though, to swallow down the notion that it’s really all about the love, and what’s in the contract is just Christmas gravy. Dunno about you, but I can get a turkey anywhere – I’m up for the gravy.