Philosophy of Everyday Life

On this page we discuss such things as education, careers, jobs, personal finances, personal relationships and strategies for coping and succeeding in life from my own personal view and admitted bias.

Careers vs Jobs

The educational system in the US is intent on turning out docile employees and compliant consumers - grist for the corporate mill - instead of self-employed contractors. From my point of view, every employee is in an inferior position compared to his employer who always holds the upper hand. This has led unions to bargain for “benefits” such as health care putting employers into a paternalistic relationship with their employees. I am for health care, but not as provided by employers. There should be a society wide guarantee of health care as in Europe, not an industry by industry provision. This would give workers, self-employed as well as other-employed, more options without having to worry about “losing their health care.”

All an employee has to do is tell his boss off once in order to lose his job, or, if you’re a woman, complain about sexual harassment, for instance. Then the employee is let go, laid off or fired. Most employment is “at will.” That means that your employer doesn’t really need to have a reason to get rid of you. He can get rid of you “at whim.” On the other hand, if one is a contractor or self-employed business man dealing with a large clientele or customer base, a dispute with any one particular customer would result in losing only that customer, who can be replaced, and not your entire income. For this and many other reasons, I believe that everyone should be a contractor, whether one works in a large corporation or whether one has a business which serves a clientele. One can contract for a certain amount of work in return for a certain amount of money with a corporation. It’s done every day. But corporations prefer to have employees. It’s not hard to see why. In a contractual relationship, both parties are on an equal footing. In an employer-employee relationship, the employer has the upper hand.

As far as education is concerned, one should aim at a field that at least allows one a fall back position of self-employment so that it’s not the end of the world if one loses his or her job. A good education and credentialing process should allow one the flexibility of working for others or working for one’s self, whichever is the most advantageous. Why spend years of college and graduate school only to have the option of working in a large corporation? What if your job is out-sourced? What if you don’t get along with your fellow employees? What if there is some one in your office that bugs the hell out of you? What if you don’t like the “corporate culture”? Unfortunately, for many employees, they just have to put up with it. Why? Because losing their job means losing their livelihood. For certain professions, however, this is not the case. A lawyer, working for a large corporation, can quit, be fired, whatever, hang out his shingle, and the next day be in the position of accepting clients. A doctor can, by and large, do the same. So can a plumber or electrician. What about an engineer?

Unfortunately, most engineers - especially those of the high tech variety such as electrical, electronics, aerospace, computer scientists etc.- are not in the position of having a professional self-employment back-up situation. For this reason, I don’t consider them true professionals. A true professional, according to my definition, is someone who can hang out his own shingle and have a viable business. Well, you might say, if a computer scientist got laid off, he could open his own business as a computer consultant or he could go into the computer service and repair business. Well there are a couple of problems with this. First of all, the requisite hands-on experience is something that most engineers are not given at the college level. Hands-on is considered beneath them. They are given a strict diet of paper work, solving theoretical problems etc. In my experience as an engineer from 1965 to 1976, engineers did mostly paper work (although not of the very demanding variety) and technicians, who were definitely of a lower corporate class, did the hands-on stuff such as soldering, running tests using oscilloscopes etc. Engineers were salaried employees and technicians punched a time clock. There were definite advantages to being an hourly employee. I remember traveling on a Sunday from San Diego to Cape Canaveral with a technician. He was getting paid double time. I was getting paid nothing because I was “salaried.”

So we must ask the question, “How viable are the self-employment opportunities of a particular field?” Unfortunately, self-employment as a computer consultant or service person is not that viable. Some people do well at it. However, one doesn’t need a degree or professional credentials to do this work. Therefore, having a degree is a waste. On the other hand, one cannot practice law or be an electrician without the proper credentials. That’s what makes it a viable self-employment option.

In considering a profession, one also needs to consider what I call the “sideways serendipities” of the field. For instance, a journalist has an inside track for writing and getting a book published. Benjamin Franklin, who was a printer, also had the option of printing and publishing his own as well as others’ works. An architect can also get his contractor’s license and become a builder. A carpenter can buy, fix up and resell houses at a profit. A car mechanic can do the same with cars. These are things that can be done “on the side” in addition to a regular job or they can become the regular job if one gets laid off. In general, anything having to do with houses or cars is a good field to be in because these are fundamental human needs and aren’t as subject to the ups and downs of the global market place. These are local needs as opposed to national or global needs.

It is better to be in a profession or business or trade that serves a local need. Why? 1) One can do it anywhere. 2) One doesn’t have to leave one’s roots in order to do it. And 3) One doesn’t have to be a job hopper hopping around the country or the world in order to relocate to the vicinity of some corporation who happens to have the major contracts at the time. If Boeing gets a huge new contract, then aerospace engineers have to flock to Boeing. If McDonnell Douglas gets the contract, then they have to flock to McDonnell Douglas uprooting themselves and their families in order to hop to where the jobs are. And if their job is outsourced? Forget about it. I’ve never heard of an aerospace engineer hanging out his own shingle and going into business for himself.

Therefore, before one expends his or her time and energy getting a degree and perhaps going into major debt with student loans, it’s important to consider: is this worth it? Can I be laid off at my employer’s whims? Can my job be out-sourced? Am I going to be told to retire at a certain age when I might choose to continue working? Is my ability to get rehired, if I should lose my job, after a certain age near to impossible. Am I going to work on my own terms and conditions or are those going to be set (dictated) by my employer? Am I going to gain equity in the business or is only the corporation going to gain equity? And what about the pension? A self-employed person such as a doctor or lawyer will make investments. Over the course of a lifetime these investments will pay off whether in terms of dividends, interest or rents, your basic unearned income. This will be the basis then of that individual’s retirement income. In fact the sooner these investments start paying off, the sooner the individual will be in a position to retire. Notice I didn’t say he will retire, but that he will be in a position to retire. The decision to stop working, if he’s self-employed, will be entirely up to him, not his employer. Now an employer, on the other hand, will have fixed rules about the age he can retire, what his retirement income will be, and his retirement income will stop when he dies whether it’s a month later or 30 years later. All his contributions into the pension plan will revert to the corporation, not to his own family. The self-employed individual with investments, on the other hand, will have the satisfaction of knowing that, when he or she dies, those investments (from which he was making his retirement income) will go to his heirs and not to some corporation. In this way his money does live on after his death contributing to the wealth and welfare of his family or to whomever and whatever else he so desires.

An employee is in a personally subservient relationship to his boss. He has to bite his tongue, consider the appropriateness in the corporate context of everything he says, not exercise his freedom of speech for fear of offending the corporate higher-ups, not be a whistle blower etc. etc. Why? For fear of losing his job. He has to put up with obnoxious fellow employees, obnoxious bosses, unfair decisions, nauseous office politics and other mind-numbing and demeaning situations. His time is not his own at least for 8 hours a day. He has to adhere to corporate culture even if he hates it, display the proper demeanor, wear the proper clothes and in general act as if he is the incarnation of the ideal company man.

For all these reasons, 1) I believe everyone should be a contractor; 2) I believe everyone should be in the position of having control over his own work life; 3) I believe everyone should have a fall back position of self-employment especially those who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on college educations not to mention all the work and effort that goes into it that might be better spent accumulating assets; 4)I believe that one should consider the “sideways serendipities” that would allow one to branch out from ones main job into other more lucrative or more satisfying related fields; 5) I believe everyone should have the independence to express his opinion in any situation (as an employee, you will lose your job; as an independent contractor, the worse you’ll do is lose a customer); 6) I believe workers should reject corporate paternalism and be in charge of their own accumulation of assets, retirement, health care, “benefits” etc.; 7) It should be up to the individual when he or she retires and not up to the corporation; 8) I believe that any “benefit” worth having should be guaranteed by the society at large, namely the central government.

The position advocated above fits nicely into a society where jobs, assets and material goods are allocated according to the mechanisms discussed on this web site: namely, social choice or Social Integration by Ranking of Individual Preferences (SIRIP). In such a society everyone would basically be an independent contractor who contracts with the institution that allocates jobs and goods bundles according to the SIRIP algorithm. This could be the central government or it could be an agency of more minor scope.

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