Posted 3 years ago on March 12, 2012, 12:45 p.m. EST by flip
This content is user submitted and not an official statement
There’s kind of a conception of work that underlies this. There are different conceptions of what work is. This comes right out of the debates during the Enlightenment. One conception is that work is something that you have to be driven to do. You wouldn’t do it unless you were forced by starvation. It’s something you hate but you have to do because you can’t live otherwise. That’s basically the capitalist conception of work.
There’s another conception that says that work is an ideal of life. Free, creative work under your own control is exactly what any human being would choose if they could. There are places where that ideal is practiced. Like if you walk down the halls here at M.I.T., you’ll find people working maybe 80 hours a week. They could make a lot more money in the stock market. But they’re doing it because they love it. You have things you like to do. I know carpenters that are the same way. In their spare time, they go out in the shed and make interesting things, that’s what they like to do. That’s a different conception of work.
Now if under the second conception, basically the Enlightenment conception, there’s no reason why pay should relate to the amount of work you do. It has nothing to do with it, you do the work even if you’re not being paid. If the work is under your own control, under your own choice, I mean. A kind of graphic Enlightenment image of this by one of the founders of classical liberalism, Wilhelm von Humboldt, was that if an artisan produces a beautiful object on command, we admire what he did but we despise what he is, namely a tool in the hands of others. On the other hand, if he creates it under his own will and choice, out of his own concerns and interests, we admire what he did and who he is.
Actually, Adam Smith said pretty similar things. These are traditional, conservative ideas, if the word conservative has any meaning. But the capitalist conception is quite different: you work only under a lash. Therefore those who allegedly work harder – actually they don’t – they should get the multimillion dollar stock options. These are extremely different conceptions, and they lead to all sorts of different ideas of how a society ought to be organized.