Talent, Work, and Justice

A few weeks ago I wrote a bit about the immense amount of talent that gets wasted or ignored in the world today. I claimed that the problem was based on a winner-take-all morality that has infused Western society. CEO salaries are just the most recent example. I think any argument that can be made against oversize CEO salaries can also be made against celebrity salaries in sports or entertainment.

A few days ago I came across this news item on employers squandering the talents of workers at the Work Foundation.

So far in this recession employers have been reluctant to lose the skills, talents and experience of their workforces. Yet at the same time they seem to be failing to make the most of them. Many people could be doing more, but are denied the chance to do so.

It’s nice to have some data and surveys to back up my intuition.

But it’s not just a matter of squandering talent. There’s also a matter of justice. Income disparities are not only a result of a winner-take-all society they also feedback into the system and cause further problems. Over the last 40 years the rich have gotten richer and have been on the hunt for a place to invest their money. They put it into the financial sector and that sector of the economy was overwhelmed and forced to chase after too many bad investments just to keep up. A point Helena Cobban makes at Just World News.

But the richest people and the hundreds of thousands somewhat less rich, could not invest the money themselves. They needed intermediaries, the financial sector. Overwhelmed with such an amount of funds, and short of good opportunities to invest the capital, as well as enticed by large fees attending each transaction, the financial sector became more and more reckless, basically throwing money at anyone who would take it. Eventually, as we know, the bubble exploded.

Recent research about stress and poverty reaffirms the link between opportunity and wasting talent. Money may not be the only way to intervene but it is important.

So what do we do about all this?

There are a lot of imbalances that we need to work out and they cover a lot of different scales.

  1. At a world level we need to work on the distribution of resources between countries. America cannot be the consumer of last resort. Other countries need to take up the slack.
  2. But replicating Western consumer culture will hurt as much as help. So at the national level we need to prioritize differently. Perhaps a consumption tax or a carbon tax will help America move forward.
  3. At a community level we need to rethink work and corporations. The Work Foundation hints at this when it calls for greater flexibility for knowledge workers. Coworking could also help with this.
  4. At an individual level we need to live humbly. For me this is easy, perhaps too easy, because of my family and my attitude. For now I’ll declare my solidarity with my friends over at Not An Employee

Sources for this post: Jack Vinson

and Jon Husband