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Thursday, 30 August 2012

‘Work Hard And You’ll Succeed’; The Biggest Lie?

From www.victorianweb.org/history/ashley.html,...
From www.victorianweb.org/history/ashley.html, a educational site offering free info on the victorian age. Image is a copy of one from an official report of a parliamentary commission done in the mid 18th century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Almost from infancy, we’re brought up to believe this mantra. It follows us through school, reinforced by loving and caring parents, and is ingrained in our very personas through repetition and, often, a form of example. The successful, in the terms of our current society, are held up as models of what hard work will bring us. We will be rewarded with wealth, status, respect, power and all the associated glamour. The prize is, indeed, worth the effort.

It is, of course, a lie.

Okay, so I’ve now lost those of a right wing mind-set. These are people who, research has shown, are not simply unwilling to listen to new ideas but are actually not capable of understanding anything that doesn’t accord with their own view of the world. As a group, they hold enormous sway and disproportionate power, but we will have to continue our journey without them.

Why is it a lie?

I could be philosophical, ingenious, clever; I could employ numerous charts and lots of statistical analysis to illustrate my answer. But it’s simpler than that. I ask only that you open your eyes and look about you at the evidence.

Do you know wealthy miners? I mean the ones who spend 12 hours a day at the coal face, or sweat for 16 hours in the impossible heat and danger of the South African diamond, platinum and gold mines? Are you friendly with the wealthy neighbourhood carer who works 12 hour shifts to minister to the needs of demented pensioners, disabled children, insane wrecks, wiping shitty arses, cleaning up piss, feeding unresponsive faces in exchange for insults and occasional violence? Perhaps the guy who lives at the end of the street and spends his days running the pavements to empty your rubbish bins in record time is really a millionaire? Or, much more likely, the child who spends 18 hours a day clawing through the mixed waste of her neighbours in order to find enough plastic or metal to recycle and pay for her day’s single meal; she, of course, is wealthy beyond our wildest dreams, isn’t she?

Yet all these people can be described as hard workers. So, sorry to labour the point but it’s important you get this, the mantra is demonstrably false. Why, then, is it so universally accepted?

Why do we believe this mantra, this persuasive urge to reward in exchange for hard labour, if it so clearly isn’t true?

You won’t be surprised to learn that I have a theory. Those who know me, either personally or through my work, will know that I don’t have much time for conspiracy theories. That doesn’t, of course, mean that I treat all such ideas with equal scorn; merely that I’m sceptical enough to weigh the probabilities before I decide whether to investigate further.

But, in this case, I’m inclined to the view that there is a sort of conspiracy at work here. Not something formal or defined by a set of rules and conditions. No; this is something far more subtle, and it’s been developing over centuries.

To whose real advantage is the mantra?

Who has most to gain from a work force indoctrinated into believing that their hard labour will bring them rewards? Certainly not those who actually invest their time, energy and skills in those long hours of work. They are generally rewarded with job insecurity, poor working conditions and the wonderful incentive of ‘extra’ pay once they’ve done their prescribed hours.

So, if the actual workers don’t gain, who does?

If a worker gains an extra 10 percent by working harder, that’s his reward. But the person in charge of that worker, the boss, director, owner, creator; however you want to describe the individual or group at the top of the hierarchical pyramid, gains a percentage from each of those individual efforts. The rewards for those at the top are disproportionately increased because of the way our society is structured. If the ‘boss’ has a workforce of 100, for every 10 percent extra each individual worker achieves, the boss will generally gain an equivalent equal to the sum of their efforts: i.e. 10 time 100, which is 1,000 percent. (oversimplification, but it’s a general principle and illustrates the point). I’m not suggesting those at the top don’t work hard, merely that their efforts can never be so much greater than those they employ. So, the mantra results in a real increase of wealth for those who are already rich, but fails to do that for those who actually produce the increase. Clever, eh?

So, what rewards are there for those who accept and apply the mantra?

You’ll have noticed a relatively recent development that has effectively reduced the value of overtime working. Shop workers and the like were once rewarded for working unsocial hours that included weekend working. Certain workers were given better pay for working evening and night shifts (bar staff, hotel, hospital and factory workers, etc.). Some whose work could not be fitted into the normal working day (teachers, middle managers, etc.) were rewarded for continuing to work when they arrived home. But most of these apparent advantages have been eroded over time so that what was once regarded as ‘unsocial’ has become ‘normal’ in our 24/7 society.

Those who make policy will assure you that this is to the advantage of all of us. We must remain competitive in order to sell more goods outside, and inside, our given communities. And, of course, it is heresy to suggest that this may not be the case. Whether we actually need the increase in such goods is a whole new argument and beyond the scope of this short piece.

Examine the facts: the vast majority of economic activity is actually controlled by corporations and companies that operate on a global scale and that have investors from all over the world (or, at least, the parts of the world society where wealth is common). If an organisation is global, it necessarily has the means to determine both global and local economic conditions. It is the multinational corporations that set standards of wealth or poverty within the nations in which they are active. Governments have long been little more than regulatory authorities allowed an illusive power in order to keep both politicians and populations under control. So, the excuse that a British worker must work harder, at a ‘higher’ level of pay, in order to make British goods more competitive than the equivalent Taiwanese products, at a ‘lower’ level of pay, is actually a manipulative device to maintain control of the market place.

This short piece is intended as a post to induce thought and question, so I’m not going to develop my arguments fully here. My intention is merely to invite readers to consider and question what they’ve been told over the years. I’d like to start a discussion of the real merits of this mantra.

My assertion is simple. ‘Work hard and you’ll succeed’ is a lie, which should more properly be expressed as, ‘Work hard and you’ll make those in positions of wealth and power wealthier and more powerful’. I believe the evidence to support that viewpoint is there for all to see, if only they can persuade themselves to take the risk and question accepted dogma.

Of course, there are those who will demonstrate, superficially, that hard work can result in wealth. But the assumption that they can do so unsupported by all the many others in society is patently false. That, however, is a different argument and one I intend to pursue at a later date. For the moment, I ask you to look at the majority result of hard work and accept that, for the vast bulk of participants, simply working hard is not, and never has been, a route to wealth and power for that individual.

I invite your comments, questions and observations. Please, let’s make this a useful and positive discussion. My mind is open; is yours?

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