… they are not all in money, and diversity is better
Fourth in a Series on 21st Century Economics, how men can liberate ourselves thereby,
… and the need and hopes for Social Efficiency
(c) 2013, Davd
The first rough draft of this [post] was titled “Job vs. Non-Job Income”; and as i began looking for a more inclusive word than “income” for the title, i saw in three “thesauri”2, that “English usage” has been badly contaminated with excess attention to and representation in, money. Money does not deserve so much respect—as the Euro-currency crises and predicaments reported this year and last, demonstrate (and as Christianity and Islam also teach). My decision to use “earnings” was made after reading in an “encyclopedic dictionary” that “earn” derives from Germanic words for harvest via the Anglo-Saxon side of “English”. A harvest represents the combination of human labour and natural growth; thus, “earnings” acknowledges that what we get for our labour is not all our doing (but as any farmer knows, does depend greatly on our skill in frustrating natural diseases, pests and processes that attack our crops.)
– – – – –
“Getting a job” ties one far too tightly to money. Working for a diversity of earnings is more prudent, more efficient, more liberating. If we seldom think much about “diversity of earnings”, that may be an accident of recent history; and to a significant extent, an artifact of the convenience of money measures for writing and talking about economics.
In the third quarter of the 20th Century, millions of Canadian, European, and “American” workers “got by just fine” living mostly through spending the money income from jobs (and in most jurisdictions, paying lower taxes than they3 pay today.) Attitudes and outlooks formed in those “fabulous Fifties” and the decade-plus that followed, largely replaced the more cautious—indeed, wary—attitudes and outlooks that previous generations had learned between the World Wars.
We would be wise to learn what we can about money’s limitations and weaknesses from history, rather than by painful experience such as theirs was. The “bank job offshoring” scandal which CBC Radio began featuring on the first weekend in April, and has continued to pursue, is one of many indications that many present-day workers are already learning some lessons about the 21st Century by painful experience.
The scandal began when some 45 Royal Bank employees complained that they had lost their jobs and were being required to train Indian nationals to replace them4. (CBC Radio The Current, April 9; cf. CBC Radio News, April 7, “World Report” 0800 and 0900) On The Current, interviewees were a Ryerson University faculty member whose name i wrote down as Ron Babbin, and a woman with a long name which i could not transcribe from AMT’s pronunciation5, from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (and who probably addresses these subjects often, since she “used a lot of well-turned sound bites.”) Both agreed that the chief objective motivating job replacement is lower labour costs—in a phrase neither of them used but others have, “a race for the bottom [wage].” I cite this because it is a clear statement that wages are being forced down and that for-profit capitalist employers will pay less-and-less, not more-and-more. To the extent that work is paid for in job-wages, expect the rates of pay to go down.
One thing wrong with money as compensation for work, then, is that wages are being driven down in these times—if money’s your reward, expect less. It is not the only thing wrong with money.
Economists tend to name as money’s virtues, currency6 and storage. Currency refers to the fact that anything fit to call money, can be exchanged for any commodity or product on the market7. If you have apples in surplus and want a hand-knit toque, it’s fairly likely that you can find someone with whom to make the swap; but if you want a tempered steel band (or circular blade) for your sawmill, it may be necessary to resort to money; and if you want to rent a car to drive on a Florida vacation, money may be the only way to rent one.
Storage refers to the pseudo-fact that money can be held for a long time without losing its value. There have been such times—times when money put aside for a decade lost little of its “purchasing power”—but there have also been many times in history when money’s value deteriorated rapidly. In 1923, Germany’s Deutschmark lost over 99.9% of its value—yes, in one single year (Wells, H. G. 1961: The Outline of History [Book Club edition] p. 905. Is it any wonder Germany is demanding strict and even drastic actions by financially weak Euro-currency states?)
History teaches, and bad financial news from Europe implies, that money’s “storage” advantage is a sometime thing—and this may not be that kind of sometime. By the time we know for sure, it will be too late to take precautions if this is a time when one should “get one’s wealth into some form other than money.” So while it makes good sense to have some savings in money—the amount you expect to spend in the next few months, or perhaps 1-3 years if you are retired—the general prudence of diversity teaches us that one’s wealth should be held mostly in forms other than money.
The best forms in which to hold wealth, then, are stable and productive forms. Farms are a good example, for those who can farm. More generally, the tools of a trade whose skilled work you can do, including commercial kitchens in some locations, fishing boats, sawmills, and welding shops, are more valuable than the money price they represent.7
What is less apparent to people today, but follows logically from wage decline, financial predicaments, and price instability, is that one’s earnings should best be received in a diversity of forms.
In the “Dirty Thirties”, people who had farms had enough to eat. Even big gardens helped immensely. Some families resorted to making their own clothing again. Men who cut their own firewood, and their families,
kept warm. Financial chaos did not much disrupt direct subsistence.
Work other than “jobs” has three earnings advantages at least:
The earnings include more direct subsistence;
They often can be taken in different forms and at different times at your—the worker’s—initiative;
.. and surprisingly, they are often larger in dollar amount.
Long, long ago there were no jobs, but men have always worked; and “back before civilization,” nearly all our work was done directly to produce food, clothing, and-or shelter: We hunted, fished, and foraged for food, and later-on, gardened and then farmed. It was enjoyable work, too: Notice that men today hunt, fish, even forage [clams, oysters, mussels, berries, mushrooms and wild plants mostly] as sport. (Nobody i know works on an assembly-line or does paperwork for the fun of it!) Gardening is a popular hobby with both sexes and all ages. Farms are popular vacation destinations; offices and factories are not.
Hunting “brought home” skins which men and their families used for clothing and shelter, and as humanity dispersed from our tropical places of origin to occupy most of the earth, we learned to make an impressive variety of clothing and shelters: Cedar-bark capes, robes and hats [and elsewhere, similar garments of wool, mohair, cotton, and linen]; igloos, longhouses, stone houses, thatched huts, and tipis; mukluks, sandals, leather and wooden shoes… all made by the people who lived in them. Generally, the men and big boys did the heavier, large-muscle work and the women and older girls did the quieter, small-muscle work: Because women went through pregnancies and cared for infants, they were less mobile; while men, with our greater mobility and specialization in the large-muscle skills, could do heavier tasks more easily.
When we worked for direct subsistence—and when we do so today, from planting a few vegetables and some fruit trees in the yard to mending our clothing and re-roofing the house rather than hiring it done8—the work is all there is to it. No fussing around finding someone to hire; no comparing estimates and reading contract drafts for “weasel words” and deceptive phrasing—and no need to have a job nor drive to it nor pay taxes on the income from it, to get a fraction of those wages to pay the contractor.
I know that a farmer can grow vegetables more cheaply than i can, in hours-of-work terms, by using his farm machinery; but when they are grown i have to go to that farm and get them; and i have to work for money to pay the farmer, plus money to pay taxes on the wages before Her Majesty9 will let me spend the remainder … you get the idea.
So yes: Direct subsistence is advantageous.
(Income Taxes, in Canada, are so organized that the lower your taxable money income, the lower the percentage of that income you must pay to Her Majesty. Yes, it’s legal to work for direct subsistence and not pay taxes on the food you grow for yourself, nor the value of darning your socks, nor the labour you did building that woodshed to hold the firewood—nor the firewood itself, if you cut it on your land or “on a permit” rather than buy it. You can even give some food and some firewood to a friend.10)
I listed flexibility as an advantage of self-employment; but perhaps it is easier to read about the disadvantages of job rigidity: If you work in a conventional job, the hours you put in and the pay you receive are usually prescribed in advance, and rigidly: You must be at “the place of employment” for specified hours on specified days, whatever the weather, whether or not your car broke down or your children or your grandparents are sick, etc. The pay is likewise rigidly prescribed, whether or not you need that much, or maybe need more. You can’t make rational, sensible, humane day-to-day trade-offs of time for money if you have fixed hours of work and rates of pay. You can’t pick when you work nor how long, in response to the peculiarities of the day or the week … and only the fact that it’s become habit since World War II, for most men to work in the form of “jobs”, keeps many of us from recognizing just how foolish, how inefficient in human terms, that is.
If you are “self-employed” or a member of a worker co-operative [business owned and bossed by the workers], you can usually arrange much more humane and efficient hours of work—so your work takes less out of you and the people closest to you… and it might well pay you better in money, on top of all that.11
Yes, perhaps surprisingly, in addition to having more flexibility, non-job income is often larger in dollar amount: Lorne Logan, a sociology student from Nova Scotia, compared the incomes of workers at the Michelin tire factory near Halifax with workers living “traditionally” with good but unpredictable amounts of pay from farm work, fishing, logging, tourism, and one-time “projects”. He found that traditional workers earned more over a span of a few years, but that their earnings were not steady nor predictable. Men who needed predictable, steady income to make regular payments, wound up working for Michelin at lower overall pay than those traditional workers who were able to manage without needing to commit themselves to time-payments (Logan, 1975).
So why do so many men do so much of their work “in jobs”? Living on borrowed money is one reason; but i believe most men can discipline ourselves to live on what we already have. We were taught to live from “jobs” by growing up in families whose “breadwinners” had jobs, because “getting a job” is a multiple-choice exercise rather than a more substantial design and planning task; and because “the economic news” refers to jobs and employment measured in jobs vs. a “labour force” defined as the sum of the number of people holding jobs and the number of people seeking jobs. People developing self-employment aren’t counted; people declaring self-employment are sometimes treated as “really” unemployed but making a few bucks somehow in the meantime (CBC Radio News [Moncton], April 5th, 11AM).
Maybe, just maybe, one reason people without jobs earn more in subsistence and often even in money, is because gradually, the job holding population is being self-selected for “lazy minds?”
Lazy mindedness is not all the cause of today’s “job disadvantage”. For-profit employers are driving wages down by “outsourcing” and by hard negotiation. Even government departments are “hard nosed bargainers” these days. The rich resource stocks that facilitated mass-production industrialism, are largely gone, the human population is beyond the carrying capacity of renewable resources unless we can manage impressive efficiencies. Governments are taking more from the money economy in taxes, especially as the retired population grows relative to the total.
Perhaps most important among the reasons that self-employment offers advantages over job employment, is efficiency: More of the self-employed man’s work produces earnings, less goes to waste. Flexibility is more
efficient than rigidity; working at or near home is more efficient than commuting; working to grow or make what you need is more efficient than working for money and then doing more work in the form of shopping. In coming “posts”, i expect to look at these and probably one or two more aspects of efficiency.
Life after jobs can be good, substantially because it need not be so wasteful.
CBC Radio, 2013. Radio News [Moncton], April 5th, 11AM; “World Report”, April 7 0800 and 0900. The Current, April 9
Logan, Lorne D. 1975. “Transition in occupational choice: A case study of traditionalism and influence in a Maritime community.” Paper read, Canadian Sociology-Anthropology Association, Learned Societies,
Wells, H. G. 1961: The Outline of History Book Club edition, vol, 2. Garden City, NY.
1. Specifically, the thesaurus functionality of LibreOffice word processor, Roget’s College Thesaurus, and The Merriam-Webser Thesaurus. Each is differently arranged than the others, so they constitute a diversity of thesauri.
2. .. or their descendents ..
3. Let’s keep two considerations distinct, here: The workers may be reassigned to new jobs and thus, not unemployed; if so, the jobs are still lost. Statements by the Bank that the employees will be found new jobs, are not statements that no jobs have been lost.
4. This need not be read to fault Ms. Tremonti; most people speak faster than i can type, and the longer the name, the less likely i will recall it exactly.
5. The Current takes its name from a present-time meaning of the word; while currency refers to a generality of exchange value. Unfortunately, both usages belong to others and i cannot legitimately change one of them for fluency.
6. General usage of the words commodity and product imply that all commodities and products are “on the market”—that is, for sale to the public: My boots and the oats i ate this morning for breakfast were a product and a commodity when i bought them; now my boots are distinctively mine from being worn on my feet for years, and the oats are indistinguishable from the other foods i ate with them.
7. I don’t recommend luxury trades, in which i would include fancy hair-dressing and much retail sales. In a world where money is not sure to be stable and pay levels are in decline, the customer base for such enterprises is likely to shrink.
8. As i emphasize elsewhere, shopping is a costly activity. In my own case, most of the vegetables i plant come from saved seed [so i need not shop for seeds] and lately, many of the fruit trees i grow were propagated right here. This is how such things were done a century ago and earlier; and i would forecast that it is how they will increasingly be done as this century proceeds. With mending, there are a few supplies to buy [sewing thread, for instance]; and when re-roofing, you’ll probably have to buy the surfacing material and some nails; but purchasing these can usually be combined with a trip that does other work.
(In earlier times, roofing shingles were usually split from cedar, oak, or other woods; and as forestry regains its humanity [probably by the name ecoforestry] this will be possible—and affordable—again. Making nails and sewing thread is, i believe, possible on a local scale—near enough home that one can bicycle to where they are made and get some—but whether this becomes efficient, i won’t try to estimate yet.)
9. Non-Canadian readers may not realize that while most laws are made by the Canadian Federal Parliament and Provincial Legislatures, they are made in the name of Her Majesty Elizabeth II Windsor—who is most often known outside the former British Empire, as “The Queen of England.” The current Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, and his Government, have made much more emphasis on the Monarchy and demanded much more subservience thereto, than the Liberal-Party-led governments that preceded it. (Pierre Trudeau, in particular, was “not much of a Monarchist.”) I use “Her Majesty” to refer to Government exercise of coercive power, first because it is Ritually Correct; second because it connotes a class-society character which seems to me to be increasing in Canada this century at the expense of egalitarianism; and third, very conveniently, because it saves me from going into detail whether a particular law be Federal or Provincial.
10. You can thus “do charity” with direct-subsistence, without having to fuss over tax credit paperwork—and without the recipient having to fuss much more, over qualifying to issue “charitable receipts.” (If you give money to charity, a tax credit may result; but if you give something which isn’t subject to tax, the gift, understandably, is not subject to tax credit.) More generally, using money brings-in costs in “paperwork” that reduce the efficiency of the whole thing.
11. I haven’t discussed the time and money cost of commuting to work in this “post”, because i expect to write another on commuting specifically. I did choose to list flexibility of working hours as a positive aspect of non-job income rather than listing rigidity of working hours as a negative aspect of having a typical job, because of social inertia from “the glory days of the job” and because flexibility of working hours is interwoven with flexibility in “form of income”.