Sunday, September 20, 2009

A new economy

I was having a bit of a think this morning.

An issue with vocations, charity and volunteer work is that monetary reward is rarely satisfying for those involved, it "cheapens" the attempt.  As soon as money is involved, the real motive of the practitioner is questioned. We can see the effect of this currently in newspapers with the media challenging the motives of teachers after recent pay rises.

Pay is not a motivator - and extra $5 per week does not motivate a person to greater performance.  All it does it help pay the mortgage faster.

Yet for those that attempt these activities, motivation and burnout is an issue.  Vocations tend to be poorly paid due to the nature of the people involved - money is not the reason for starting a vocation, if money doesn't motivate them there is no reason to increase wages.  Is it possible to create a new economy better suited to those that find money a poor reward, yet still need some form of recognition such that they know that their efforts are achieving an outcome and are worthwhile?

For many of these people the line between home and work is blurred, they consider their occupation to be part of who they are, part of the enjoyment of life and relationships in society.  I think they have it right too.. after all we spend most of our productive hours in the workplace - not at home! 

To find a suitable reward we could identify their primary motivators and predict future motivating factors.  Possible factors are public recognition of achievement, immediate recognition by peers, measurable improvement in conditions, happiness, more team involvement, socialisation activities, new learnings, leadership opportunities, co-working with family, improvement in public standing or improvement in home conditions.  I'm sure the list is much longer than just pay them more and they will be happy.

Perhaps this new economy could have a currency that is not money - my initial thought is the "contribution point".  Contribution points would recognise those that have achieved something in their field and after achieving a number of contribution points they would be redirected to an activity that would be aimed at recharging their motivation.

An example would be of the social worker, who is burning out caring for their cases, being sent to a resort where those employed know of the way the person earned their contribution points and can relate to the needs of the person.  A psychologist helps them rebuild their confidence, a fitness trainer engages them physically, social functions are designed, so on and so forth.

Is there any reason in today's day and age that we can't identify those that are contributing to society and reward them (and similarly penalise those that aren't contributing!).  The more contribution, the more often the reward.  This removes the commodity of the dollar (the idea of basing a society on gambling on the stock exchange is backward if you think about it) and ties reward closer to actual effort and outcome.

The ways of accruing and spending the points for each person are defined at the start of the year.  Then each year the formula is modified to suit the tasks required by society.  If the outcome is not as expected, yet the task is completed, the goal is re-inspected the following year (and if ineffective may not be re-offered), the points are still accrued by the contributor, the rewards are still obtained.

I look at kids in classes that can't see what their futures are and they are despondent. Jobs that they could once fill are now mechanised, jobs that are available are more demanding - beyond the average student. Many can't recognise opportunity and seem resigned towards unfulfilling lives of poverty.

As a society we are moving towards a point where we will need to question whether we are all needed as workers 40 hours a week. We need to move our society to a stage where mutual happiness is the currency rather than the dollar.  To get to this point, we need to consider whether the dollar as capital is going to be effective and consider needs of the individual instead.

Whoa! I hear you say - what of the cost to set up and maintain all of this?  We maintain a banking sector, stock brokers, financial advisers, superannuation providers, real estate agents and the wealth of people that interact to facilitate swapping of capital.  It's just a new economy with a different driver, one focused on valuing the 'self image' of the person and their achievements rather than their personal net worth.  Larry Niven and Robert Heinlein have written on this issue and their predictions don't seem far off.  We're not short on people - but we are coming to a point where they'll be short on things to do.

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