15A001 By the Hour, or By the Job by Jim Davies, 1/1/2015    


The Left is obsessed with "corporate" evil. Whatever the problem, to them the culprit is a business. I disposed of this nonsense last May, but they seem hard wired to repeat it, and recently I heard on an NPR talk show that even the CIA torture program was really the doing of "contractors"! Seems they will blame anyone but government, the actual culprit. But the incident got me thinking: what is the essential difference between a soldier in uniform and a civilian, when each is under contract to the DoD?

The details of the contract differ, of course. The uniformed torturer must obey orders, 24/7, and is not free to resign his job until his term of service is up; whereas the worker with a firm like Halliburton or Blackwater (the actual torture contractor's name is hard to find) can quit on, presumably, a week's or a month's notice if he finds the work tiresome. But the whole responsibility in each case rests with the DoD which prepared and signed the contract and specified what manner of interrogation was to be performed.

It's said that companies are not "subject to international law" with respect to torture, as governments allegedly are, but that is irrelevant. A contractor is just that: he is carrying out the terms of a contract, the other party to which is the government. The DoD retains 100% of the responsibility for what he is ordered to do, for the agreed fee.

To their credit, Cheney and others who have responded to the recent Feinstein Report have not shuffled off responsibility to contractors. Had it been even slightly true, they might have said "We hired some psychologists to do the interrogations and told them not to torture, but gosh, darn! - they ignored that restriction." Not at all, they accepted that the buck stops with them, and furthermore defended their actions as legal and even productive. Cheney said that if the post-911 circumstances were repeated, he'd do the same again.

That ought to wrap the subject up, regarding prisoner torture (though this ZGBlog examined the nature of torture itself), so let's widen the subject and consider its application in the coming zero government society.

A person or company hired under contract to perform a job is motivated to do it well and on time and at or under the agreed price, so as to enhance his marketplace reputation, and if possible to finish early. The sooner he completes it, the sooner he can move on to the next contract. If I order a deck constructed in a month, it will be in the craftsman's interest to complete the job in three weeks, even if it means working long hours.

In contrast someone hired on a time basis ($40,000 a year for 2,000 hours' work) he has the quite different motivation - to take it easy, to spin out the work "to fill the time available for its completion", in C Northcote Parkinson's priceless phrase. If he finishes too soon, the employer might wonder if he's employing too many people, and let some go. So at first sight, it seems always to be preferable to hire people on a "job" basis; perform this work, for this fee, in that time or less at your option, then we're done.

It doesn't work quite that way, because many business have an ongoing need for staff; the job is never "done" in that sense. A store needs help all the time, and indeed values the experience staff gain over the years; so does a restaurant and hospital and skilled fabricator and very many other kinds of establishment. One-off jobs are not all that common.

As government makes it ever less attractive to employ time-based employees, with its minimum wage laws and its OHSA regulations and health insurance requirements, naturally employers are finding ways to stay profitable by working around them. Part time positions are a popular fix, for some of the onerous burdens kick in only if the employee is working more than so many hours a week. Naturally, that hits the hiree, for health care has been made so expensive that insurance is needed and very costly. But it's what happens, when a non-involved third party like government changes the rules of the game; statistics of "unemployment" look better, so favoring the party in power, but at the expense of working mothers who must waste time traveling from one part-time job to another.

The other fix is so to design operations that the company's work can be done by outside contractors, without regard for the government's cumbersome employment laws.

When all government has vanished for want of anyone to work for it, those artificial distortions will happily have disappeared with it - but still, in that new era, I anticipate that the trend towards a contractor basis will continue. The preference is already plain; who would wish to commute every day to work, for at least one hour in traffic, when there is the alternative of working at home and on-line? Retail is shifting fast away from physical to virtual stores, and now even manufacturing promises to become distributed, through the use of 3D printers. As Gary North recently noted, Skype has broken the government's anti immigration bias with its Translator, meaning contractors can now offer services across the world, not just across town, but even across the language barrier.

One major work activity at home will for sure be teaching; educating one's own children, with some of the proliferating on-line resources to help. That work will be rewarded not with money (so the needed division of labor will form a stronger bond to hold couples together) but with the sheer pleasure of helping one's offspring grow up with a well rounded understanding of knowledge and ethical human interaction. The 200 year long campaign to "socialize" children in the political sense will be over.



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