Friday, December 26, 2008

To Miss With Tough Love

Miss Snuffleupagus has decided that Scrooge may have a point.
However, I have always found myself agreeing with Scrooge in one instance and whenever I say so, the people around me roll their eyes. Bob Cratchit requests Christmas Day off. Or rather, Scrooge says to Cratchit, 'I guess you'll be wanting tomorrow off then,' and Cratchit normally responds with something like 'Well, it's Christmas,' and 'It's only once a year.' Scrooge snaps back, 'That's a poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every 25th of December!' Scrooge then points out that Cratchit simply expects his employer to pay him for a day's work, when he hasn't done any work at all.

And you know, every time I hear Scrooge say this, I tend to think, 'But wait a minute... Isn't he right?' (I can hear my readers' deep sighs at this moment.) I mean, what is Cratchit saying after all? He expects something for nothing. And why? Because 'it is Christmas' and it is 'only one day'.

As a matter of fact, as I watched the Alastair Sim version of Scrooge on Christmas Eve (now, bizarrely, in colour, it seems), I thought much the same thing—we are, in fact, picking our employers' pockets when we have a holiday (not that I take very much).

As Miss Snuffleupagus point out, it may be good business practice to give your employees some paid holiday—"a happy staff will work harder and better. One might simply want to give them time off to be nice. As an employer, one may choose to throw lavish Christmas parties in order to thank everyone for their hard work throughout the year"—but that does not alter the fact that, as an employer, one should be able to choose how one wants to behave towards one's staff.

After all, we all sign on the dotted line, do we not? We all read our contracts very carefully, didn't we? (That's why I have had so much time off over Christmas: I realised that I had nearly a week left to take, and my contract stipulated that I could neither carry them over nor take pay in lieu.)
But, let us not look at Scrooge for a moment, but at Cratchit instead. What I cannot bear about Cratchit in this instance is his sense of entitlement. Interestingly, as the story was written in 1843, Bob only feels entitled to Christmas Day. I wonder what the modern day Cratchit would expect? Well, a 35-hour-week to start and the right not to do much work in the job. I guess a year's maternity leave, a redundancy package perhaps for when one gets 'fired' for being so poor at one's job, oh, and then a flat to house the new family, free healthcare, free education, free school meals, free books and pens, free visits to the theatre and museums, free travel. Have I forgotten anything?

As an employer, I would have given Cratchit a day off: it makes him happy and, since everyone else is likely to be off too, very little work could be done. This is one of the reasons that I like Christmas—it is the only time of year when one can be reasonably certain that one will not have to deal with (corporate) clients and so one can actually relax.

Still, all of this does segue into the debate in the comments on my 48 Hour Week post, in which various people bemoaned their working conditions and whined about how evil employers are and how bad they themselves have it (believe me, my eyes remained entirely dry).

For the record, I do not get paid for overtime—although, at present, I probably work at least 50 hours a week and often more. Why do I do this?

First, I love what I am doing: I want to work on it.

Second, I want my company to be successful: if it does well, then so will I.

Third, and following on from the above, although I do not get directly paid for overtime, my company have made it very clear that they are willing to reward me for my efforts, and have demonstrated that they will make good on that promise (my six month review saw me get a very generous pay rise and a number of other bonuses).

Many of the commenters on the thread were utterly unable to see this point of view: they could only see it in terms of eeeeeeeeeeevil employers exploiting poor, downtrodden employees (thus marking themselves out as people that I would never, ever employ: it is almost the very definition of "having the wrong attitude" as far as your humble Devil is concerned).

Throughout those comments, the theme of "entitlement" runs right through. Here's one Anonymous, for instance...
If you want to work for yourself work all the hours you want, but you shouldn't be able to pressure someone into working longer than 48 hours a week.

These laws ensure that we're entitled to a personal life as well as a work life.

Your argument is equally as valid against the minimum wage, as in, "why should anyone tell me I shouldn't work for under £5.60 and hour etc..." yet that solved the problem of people being paid a pittance.

First, people have to decide whether or not they want the job that they are being offered for the wage that they are being offered: this applies both to the conditions and the wage itself. My contract, for instance, states that I have "no normal hours of work", although it then stipulates what would be considered "office hours".

As for the minimum wage... well... we all know that the minimum wage is great, as long as your labour is worth £5.73 per hour. If it isn't, you cannot get a job. And since you cannot get a job, you cannot increase your human capital to bring your labour up to the required standard. Which is why, of course, we have such high levels of youth unemployment.

But the real kicker is, quite obviously, this line.
These laws ensure that we're entitled to a personal life as well as a work life.

No. These laws, once again, take away the responsibility that you have to ensure that you have a personal life as well as a work life, and makes it the gift of the government instead. And the point is that it is another one size fits all solution: I couldn't really give a shit about my personal life, and I like working; others do feel differently; what I regard as a decent work/life balance is probably different from yours but, as has been said so many times, the law is a blunt instrument.

If you want a personal life, then might I suggest that you read the contract that you are signing and ensure that it allows for this? Might I suggest, in fact, that you take responsibility for your own life and stop applauding laws that screw up mine?

But all too many people simply cannot see this at all—their sense of entitlement blinds them. And now, of course, they are so used to responsibility for their lives being handled by the state that they cannot even conceive of how they should do it themselves.

Via The Englishman, this Hugo Rifkind article puts the point quite succinctly, in fact.
Have you noticed how you don't really hear the phrase “nanny state” any more? It seems to have fallen out of fashion. This could be mainly due to a very deliberate shift in Tory cultural linguistics (Dave and Sam, of course, would only ever talk about au pairs) but I fear that there is something altogether more insidious going on. We don't talk about the nanny state because the nanny state has won. It has seeped in.
...

In years to come, I reckon, historians will look at the first decade of the new Labour government, and marvel at the extent to which petty legislation actually managed to change the national character. I doubt they meant it to happen. They just wanted to be responsible for everything. Basically, and to bring my degree in philosophy into play, they didn't think that we could be entrusted with duties. They had to turn them all into rights.

Once you stop resenting nanny, you start to rely on her. If nanny tells you to stop smoking in pubs, you probably stop smoking in pubs. But, in time, you also stop thinking about whether you ought to smoke in pubs or not. And worse, if somebody else lights up next to you, you expect nanny to do something about it. It's not your business or even really his. It's just nanny's business. You've both become morons.

A sense of entitlement leads to people looking for someone to give that entitlement; and, since it has a monopoly on force, that "someone" is usually the state. And once the state has handed you one entitlement—why!—it may as well hand you some more. And it may as well make those eeeeeevil employers pay for it, eh? After all, every employer would be a Scrooge if they could be, would they not?

(Well, they would be if labour conditions were not subject, like everything else, to the laws of supply and demand. Which, of course, they are although all of these employment laws (as well as HMRC strictures on "benefits in kind") are making the scope for movement far less wide.)

What we libertarians would like to see is people understanding that if they want to have a personal life then they must make sacrifices elsewhere; and not to demand it as some kind of entitlement. It is not an entitlement: it is not some kind of natural right.

But as everyone clamours for their own special interest, and looks to the state to grant their "entitlements", they simply put themselves further in hock to the state. There is no such thing as a free lunch and even the state wants something in return.

People with half a brain have always understood this; the last ten years have made the slightly less agile-minded comprehend this; unfortunately, the morons—who are in the majority—are still shrieking for their entitlements, and they will damn us all.

16 comments:

Alan Douglas said...

If the state really were so committed to the minimum wage for the poor downtrodden workers, would they be stealing a huge percentage of it in income tax, and NI, a tax by another name ?

I ca't help wondering if there might be some other motivation at the heart of this.

Btw, Miss Snufflepagus is a genius !

Alan Douglas

Cicero said...

This will draw the ire of libertarians no doubt, but having Christmas Day as a near-obligatory holiday is a way of society (not necessarily just the state) ensuring that age-old traditions survive. For example, abolition of the Sunday trading laws freed up commerce wonderfully, but equally sounded the death knell for church services. Ask yourself honestly what sort of society you want to live in.

Mitch said...

As far as I am concerned as long as you can chose to work or walk its your choice.
The minimum wage is a step back towards slavery as you have no control over increasing it and as the government will gradually claw more of it off you each year your screwed.Watch all the jobs between min wage and £10 an hour disappear, the stepping stones will go and this will be the socialists legacy 90% of the country on poverty wage and our leaders on expense accounts.

Curmudgeon said...

On this point you fail to take into account the vast disparity in contractual power between the individual employee and the corporation. A corporation is not a libertarian institution, it is more in the nature of a small totalitarian state. Therefore, until libertarianism has ripped corporations to shreds and turned work relationships into contractual arrangements freely entered into by parties of roughly equal bargaining power, there is a need to some extent for the State to protect individuals from the excesses of corporations.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Curmudgeon,

On this point, you fail to take account of the fact that something like 70% of the UK is economy is made up of small businesses: if they want you, then you can negotiate your contract (as I did, over my blogging).

Yes, big multinational corporations are difficult to negotiate with, but you have the ability to walk away if you don't like the contract.

You can then go to a smaller company, who will probably not be able to pay you the same wage but then that's the price that you pay for getting the conditions that you want. Do you see?

DK

Anonny Mouse said...

Cicero - For example, abolition of the Sunday trading laws freed up commerce wonderfully, but equally sounded the death knell for church services. Ask yourself honestly what sort of society you want to live in.

I want to live in a free state. I want to live in a state with zero compulsion. On reflection, I consider that this would not be optimal - some community regulation is necessary. However, a law banning me from trading during 1/7th of my life is not. Some traditions are worth keeping, and may very well be kept. 5th November has no regulation, nor do birthdays, nor does Hallowe'en. If a tradition is kept purely because a lawmaker supports it, then it is not worth keeping.

david brough (sophisticated gentleman) said...

This is why the LPUK jokers will never get any kind of support. Imagine going to Glenrothes or Glasgow East and expecting anyone to accept this bollocks? No wonder you didn't even dare run a candidate.

Devil's Kitchen said...

david brough (smug git),

"No wonder you didn't even dare run a candidate."

Ironically, Glasgow East was one of the two by-elections we tried for. Indeed, we got the required signatures but... well... I can't be arsed to explain it, but there was a Catch-22 style administrative problem that stopped our candidate from running.

Anyway, our (native Glaswegian) candidate was eager to run and we were quite happy to take our message to people.

We don't expect to be successful in Scotland, but then no one with any kind of decent policies is ever going to be.

DK

Michael said...

@david brough:

As someone who lives in the neighbouring constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath I can tell you the only bollocks comes from the Party and mouth of the MP for my area...

assegai mike said...

Having recently hit 50, I'm no longer inclined to work long hours although I reckon I regularly hit 48 hours (easy-peasy). I do fondly remember working 60-70 hours a week (and more) in my early-late 20's. With overtime and shift pay, I and my colleagues earned shed-loads, way more than our managers. Through "shift-swapping" and other means, we'd then go on fab holidays to Thailand, Rio, Australia etc. For single twenty-somethings we had perfect work-life balances thank you very much and would have been mightily fucked off if the government had screwed up our arrangements.

Dick Puddlecote said...

I have to admit to being an eeeevil employer. In April this year, I eeeevily asked an employee to work. She decided she didn't want to. I eeevily insisted after her sitting on her arse for 2 weeks that she did. She refused, so I sacked her.

She took me to an employment tribunal and we had to settle for £3k ... because we hadn't sacked her the right way.

In the words of the ACAS arbitrator "Yes, she may well be working cash in hand in her other business and using her obligations there so as not work for you, and defrauding housing benefit into the bargain. But the tribunal don't care. They say you didn't follow the three-step process. She will win, so best to settle."

How eeevil I am to expect someone to actually work for their money.

Martin said...

Puddlecote,

Boo Hoo! You had your pocket picked by those eeeeeevil lawyers at the employment tribunal! Bwaaaa!

Serves you bloody right for either

a. Not talking to one before you decide to undertake a course of action that had the potential to cost you your own livelihood; or

b. If you did talk to one, not spending your money on a better one.

Instead of doing that, you did an Alan Sugar; and as a result, not only did you probably have to pay a lawyer at that point, you ended up three grand out of pocket to an employee you had justification to fire.

You're really shrewd.

Miss Snuffleupagus said...

Exactly... Again DK, you are my hero! And it would seem one of the few people in this world who sees things straight! It is so easy to understand. Why people don't get the point - that they are damming and contradicting themselves and that they are completely brainwashed - is baffling.

Bishop Brennan said...

I fear that Mr Puddlecote's story is all too typical of all forms of the judiciary in this country.

Until the judiciary refuse to actually reward bad behaviour, I will no longer accept that they have the right to enforce punishments on my behalf.

And those caught claiming benefits fraudulently should be banned from claiming all benefits in future - 'no ifs, no buts', as they say. No doubt, however, nothing happened to the woman in question... And if anyone says, 'But what about the chiiiiiiiiildren'..... arrrgghhhhhhh! :-(

TDK said...

I'm not sure that holiday pay is picking the pocket of the employer so much as picking your own pocket.

When I work out recharges I take an employee and their costs (including benefits, NI etc) and divide that by the available hours per annum. That gives me a recovery rate per hour of work. [Available hours are are arrived at by deducting holidays, estimated sickness and training from the total annual hours]. The hourly rate is then uprated to cover notional downtime, overhead recovery and profit.

If that notional hourly rate is too high, the employee cannot be deployed profitably. Market forces apply. The effect of holiday pay is much like the minimum wage. Low value employees tend to be priced out of work.

In a way, this is the wrong argument. The social engineers imagine that all changes such as longer holidays, higher pay etc result from government intervention or failing that, union agitation. The underlying assumption being that Marx was right and that but for government intervention, his historical predictions for the immiseration of the working class by a shrinking number of capitalists would have occurred. They assume that the unfettered free market would produce less holidays and lower pay in a vicious cycle to increase profits.

That's the base assumption that Libertarians have to disprove.

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