Food Table Decisions

Tuesday, May 1st 2012

There is a problem with tying survival to work.

I'm not saying there isn't a link. Of course there is.

Historically it has been an absolute link. The farmer in days of yore grew the crops he ate. If he didn't work he starved.

Hence the classic phrase:

I have to put food on the table.

But there is a problem with that link.

As the system of production and distribution becomes more sophisticated and abstract, the link between work and the food on the table becomes increasingly circuitous. Through the fungibility of money, the direct link between what you do and what you get is broken.

Once production is undertaken by machines, a great deal of porduction occurs without human intervention. Or a great deal less of it.

A great deal of human activity becomes less about working to produce things, and more about deciding what to do with the things machines produce.

A bureaucracy evolves around that decision-making process.

But the notion of "gotta put food on the table" remains as a moral, atavistic and philosophical imperative.

Despite the enormous benefit of increasing automation, the atavistic stress of putting "food on the table" - raw survival - remains part of peoples' mentality.

It makes much of what people do all day an inherently risk-averse activity. Who wants to risk depriving their nearest and dearest of food! The righteous indignation of those who subscribe to the work ethic is filled with fear.

But there is nothing particularly clever about linking survival and decision making when you don't have to.

Compelling people to do things usually takes two forms. The direct form - "do it or I'll hurt you!". Or the indirect form - "do it or find a new job". All these are food-table decisions.

People make better decisions when only their discretionary spending is at stake. They take risks. They feel like they can afford to help others. They stop doing things they think are stupid.

They stop being stupid for a pay cheque.

The same applies to businesses.

Basic income, for instance, is like health insurance for businesses.

If you're sacking a person you're just telling them : "you lose your self-worth and discretionary income"

Not: "You lose everything"

Same with universal health care.

Businesses shouldn't have to worry about people's health or their employee's basic financial needs being met.

Citizens shouldn't have to worry about food on the table.

People, and conglomerations of people operating as businesses would operate much more rationally under those circumstances.

(Thanks to Emlyn for inspiring this one)