Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Keep Jobs, Cut Pay

Suppose that a company or agency had to cut costs. The budget was shrinking, the sales were down. And suppose the entity responded by lowering the pay of every employee but keeping everybody on the job. Consider it for a moment. Suppose this had developed as our traditional way of dealing with economic swings, up or down. Going in the other direction, everyone would also benefit. The atmospherics of economic life would be quite different. We’d all suffer, benefit equally. Our sense of belonging to a community would be much higher. We’d think of economics as a human enterprise—not as a jungle out there.

Our current system rests on power. First laid-off are the weakest, last the most powerful. Human collectives are a kind of primitive organism. When we are hungry, thirsty, out of breath—the whole body suffers. We don’t lay off our kidneys or livers—or shrink them because there isn’t food enough. Nothing to eat? Let’s lay off our teeth and tongue. No. But when a school system is short of funds, librarians must go. Why the librarians? Why not coaches?

Here and there, rather rarely—in fact I can only think of one case immediately, and cannot find it now, on the web—some enlightened CEO thinks of this solution and implements it. In the case that I recall, it was a privately held firm, somewhere in Ohio, a steel maker, I think, and no doubt those that take hold of this solution are always privately governed. It takes an original sort of person with high gifts of empathy to do what seems to me an obvious and equitable way of going about the business of downward adjustment.

Well, perhaps humanity has not advanced yet, far enough, to take another road—which doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.

Now for one or two more notes. There isn’t work enough to keep everybody busy. This may happen in corporate settings—certainly not in schools or police departments. Very well, give people time off; cut the work-week, preferably by whole days. Concerning pay: should cuts be proportional, thus the same percentage at all levels? That would be equitable but may hurt those at the lowest levels most. Therefore a progressive pay-cut system might be best, one in which those at the top sacrifice more—rather than, as in our system now, not at all.

A third note. If the cause of the economic decline is malfeasance, as in the current recession (which seems to refuse to go away), causing everyone to feel the pain—and it should, indeed, be extended to those on Social Security—would also cause interesting political consequence leading to a much more rapid, decisive, indeed discernible correction of those who brought the event about.

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