The Death of Incentive

We’re working really hard to let ourselves be lulled into a blithe, numb, government-dependent complacency. What’s that? I’m exaggerating? Before I plead guilty to that, please help me understand some things.

Let’s start here: I found a piece from LinkedIn News (the very idea of that cracks me up) entitled, “Power shifts in tight jobs market”. It said this, presumably with a straight face and with no apparent appreciation whatsoever for cause and effect:

Employers eager to fill positions are offering more to attract talent — and they aren’t just upping pay or showing more flexibility — they’re also training workers and taking more chances on people who don’t meet traditional qualifications.

Gee. I wonder why that is. Do we think it could be from the protracted unemployment benefits (do we have a definition of benefit any farther-sighted than a politician’s promise?) that compelled millions of people to stay home rather than going out to … oh, I don’t know … earn a living? The restaurant owners around here who can’t get enough line cooks — or who can’t open their outdoor dining areas because they can’t get enough help on their wait staffs to cover those areas — might beg to differ. And I suspect the landscaping company that used to send eight men to care for the lawns in our community — but now has only four, including the owner and his 71-year-old father, because the help they’d otherwise have is getting paid to not work — would have a bone to pick with you.

And that, of course, isn’t injurious enough. So, now we have some states adding insult to that injury by doubling down on the dependence and the stupidity. For example, right here in the Nutmeg State (emphasis on nut), there’s this: “Governor Lamont Announces Back to Work CT Program, Giving Long-Term Unemployed Residents $1,000 Payments for Obtaining New Jobs Following Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic”. As you’ll see from his statement, Uncle Ned’s economic acuity is matched only by his linguistic facility:

This is the latest too [sic] in our toolbox to maximize our state’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. We have already proposed millions of new investment [sic] in programs aimed at supporting our residents when it comes to workforce development, one of the largest expansions in affordable childcare in our state’s history, and investment in our urban centers aimed at providing more opportunity that will lead to stronger communities.

Nope. No ambition-sapping to see here. Let’s move one. And whatever we do, let’s not question the sources of Uncle Ned’s investment capital, shall we? (Hello, taxpayers.)

If you don’t think Big Brother’s bludgeoning is all that bad yet, here’s some really good news for you and that new business you want to start: ”Most Americans Can Be Fired for No Reason at Any Time, But a New Law in New York Could Change That”:

A national just-cause standard, or even a majority just-cause U.S. workforce, would usher in an [sic] historic shift of negotiating power away from bosses to employees. Strong enforcement would empower workers to organize with far less fear of reprisals and stands to make the employer-employee relationship feel a bit more like a contract and a bit less like feudal serfdom.

Got that? If you’re a private citizen who decides to create a privately owned company, you’ll have to justify your employment decisions to the government. And please don’t miss the deck-stacking language of this particular employer-bad, employee-good narrative: Feudal serfdom. I’ll bet a week’s worth of the feudal pittance Josh Eidelson, the author of this propaganda, no doubt accepts from Bloomberg Business that he doesn’t know what feudal serfdom means. And he doesn’t care. But he does know it sounds ominous in the context he’s created.

In case you’re slightly more curious than our pal, Josh, serfdom, according to New World Encyclopedia, means this:

Serfdom is the socio-economic status of unfree peasants under feudalism … the enforced labor of serfs on the fields of landowners … It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery … Serfs were laborers who were bound to the land; they formed the lowest social class of the feudal society.

And not for nothin’, Josh, but when you sign an employment agreement to work for an at-will employer, in exchange for the compensation you’ve agreed to accept from that employer, that is a contract. I think the term you’re searching for is likely loophole or gotcha, rather than contract.

Should privately held, non-union companies exercise fairness and compassion in their HR policies? Yes. Should they aim to preserve the dignity and the integrity of the people they employ? Yes. In the United States of America does the government have the Constitutional right to determine employment policies of its private citizens doing business in the private sector? No. (Thank you to Yvonne Jones, Maribel Cardez, and Tom Dietzler for this paragraph.)

All of this boils down to two questions:

  1. If the government, using money it’s taken from working taxpayers, will pay me for not working, what’s my incentive for working?
  2. If the government will regulate my employee relations, forcing me to keep people who don’t share my vision, my purpose, my brand attributes, and my culture on the payroll at all — let alone until they’ve bankrupted me with litigation — what’s my incentive for starting a business?

To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, the problem with the little-guy narrative is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.

Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.

–Thomas Sowell



Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. I completely understand why this gets your hackles up, Mark. Some of the retention policies enacted in some countries have produced many unintended consequences and odd self-defeating work-arounds.

    At the same time, I know that some of these pesky social-democratic countries with employee protection laws and what not are rated among the most start up friendly and are hailed by American venture funds to be where the American Dream has gone to flourish.

    Perhaps because people are more creative and productive when they are not afraid of getting fired at will?

    Since I am here and not there, naturally I can’t speak with certainty to what has happened to our and their startup scenes, respectively. I am also fully aware of the complexities arising from being a big and very diverse country and not small, relatively homogeneous populations.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that it is not just one way or the other and not all change needs to be for worse. It is easier to counter what is with the worst version of an alternative rather than “grabbling with the gray”.
    What else could be true?