Capitalism: The Gap Between Employer Expectations and the Terms of Employment

In workplaces it is common for employees to be asked to work additional hours over and above the terms of their employment, without additional compensation, in order that the firm can meet its goals. Often when asked to do this, employees will say yes because even though they are not being adequately compensated for their work, they do not want their coworkers to have to bear an unbearable burden of the work that needs to be done, and they know that if they do not work additional hours one of their colleagues will have to do even more of the work. In this situation capitalism makes use of the laudable desire of workers to support their colleagues and prevent them from bearing an undue burden in order to exploit those very workers by drafting terms of employment that do not reflect their actual expectations of their employees.

In most jobs within the context of capitalist societies the terms of employment for a position explicitly reflect the notion that the employee will work X hours at the rate of pay Y dollars/hour. Yet, as has been noted above, at the same time, it is often expected that employee will work additional hours over and above the legally expressed terms of employment in order to meet certain goals that the firm has without additional financial compensation. That this is an expectation that employers have is clear from the way in which they praise workers who go above and beyond and work additional hours without compensation, and condemn those who just put in the hours that are expressed in their terms of employment, as if the good worker was the one who ensures that the firms meets all of its goals, and the bad worker is the one who just puts in his time without concern that the firm meets it goals.   Workers typically go along with this expectation for the reasons that they do not want to put an undue burden on their colleagues as was noted above and they do not want to be condemned as a bad worker for not doing their part to help the company grow. In this way, the commendable desire of the employee to avoid putting an undue burden on his or her fellow employees is turned against the employees themselves, and used to further the efficiency and growth of the firm.

This rendering of commendable desires into tools for the purposes of efficiency and growth is particularly exploitative in this context, because the terms of employment that the employee formally agrees with do not express the expectation of the firm. In this way the business employs people under the pretense that they will have to work X hours a week at a rate of Y dollars/hour while recognizing that the hours expressed in the terms of employment will not be sufficient for the person to complete their work.  The impetus to take this kind of approach often results from budgetary and other constraints and does not suggest that employers are evil people, but it is exploitative because in order to respect someone you must be completely forthright and honest in making legal agreements with them. Otherwise, you are merely trying to manipulate the other person, and turn them into an instrument for your own purposes, a mere means, so to speak. Yet in this case the legal agreement laying out the terms of employment does not reflect the expectations of the employer, but instead only something that the employer thinks that the employee will agree to, and thus in this instance the employer manipulates or exploits the employee.

It might be argued that in many contexts overtime is used to compensate people for the hours they work over and above those stated in their terms of employment. In response I would say that while this is true, there are many contexts where claiming overtime is not condoned because of budgetary restraints, and in which people are still expected and asked to work additional hours without compensation.  So in this context my point holds in its entirety.

In addition, someone might argue that employees are not really exploited because even though their terms of employment do not express the expectations of their employer, employees usually know that they are expected to work more hours than expressed in their terms of employment to meet the firm’s goals. So, it is not as if the employees are being fooled or duped.

Whether it is true that employees understand that the terms of employment do not reflect the employer’s expectations is an open question that could only be answered through empirical research, but it seems unlikely that this objection holds water. If all employees understand that the terms of employment they agree to do not reflect the actual expectations of their employer than there is little reason for employers to not explicitly express their expectations in the terms of employment. A defender of this objection would have to answer the question of why employers do not express their expectations in the terms of employment if this is not to try to manipulate people and make employment at their firm seem more enticing than it actually is.

One question that the preceding discussion raises is whether this form of exploitation is a necessary part of capitalism that is brought on by the economic imperatives that it unleashes, or whether these exploitative practises could be eliminated while preserving capitalism. One’s ultimate position on this issue will determine where one stands on the future of capitalism, but whatever position one takes one must recognize the affront to human decency that is represented by the forms of exploitation that were discussed above. Unfortunately, the practise of disguising expectations behind more enticing terms of employment has become so commonplace that we have forgotten that it is fundamentally exploitative.

Freedom or freedoms?

References to the concept of freedom are ubiquitous throughout contemporary political discourse, and given the way people speak it seems that everyone is in favour of freedom, and yet people disagree deeply about the nature of this concept. Following Isaiah Berlin I think there is more than one concept of freedom, or liberty, but in distinction from Berlin and others who follow him I want to suggest that different concepts of freedom often relate to distinctive subject matters. Such that just as we can speak of freedom of choice, we so too can speak to a free character or freedom as a status of a citizen. These multiple concepts of freedom are not necessarily in competition, but rather represent the way in which a single word can come to have multiple meanings that while related concern different subject matters or areas of life. To further illuminate the proceeding I will examine the concept of freedom as it pertains to choice, character and status.

Arguably the most common way of talking about freedom, especially in North America, is in the context of saying that someone is free if they are able to make choices without coercive interference from another.  For this concept of freedom, the dominant subject matter of freedom is choice, as we are free in so far as external forces do not prohibit us from making certain choices. This concept of freedom is negative in that it concerns an absence of something, which is in this case is the absence of interference.

Another concept of freedom relates to character. On this account, freedom is part of the character of a person. For example, we might say that a person always strives to excel over others in all competitions, but never finds themselves satisfied is unfree because they are enslaved by their desire to win, when they would be happier and more fulfilled if their character led them to recognize that what truly matters to their happiness is not winning every possible competition, but something else entirely. Consequently what makes this person unfree is not that they make certain choices, but rather that their character is dominated by a desire that should not dominate their character. Thus, this concept of freedom relates to character. Furthermore, unlike the first concept of freedom this concept is positive, as a free person will be one who has a psyche that is properly ordered, so freedom on this concept is not about an absence, but about a presence of order in the psyche. This way of speaking has become marginalized, and may strike us as antiquated, but we see it arise when people talk about the way in which people’s desires can render them unfree. Furthermore, there does seem to be something about it that resonates with us, because when we think of a free person, we don’t just think of someone who is able to choose freely in absence of external interference, but rather of a person whose psyche is ordered.

An additional concept of freedom and the most overtly political conception relates freedom to a status. To be free, on this account, one must not be subject to arbitrary power by the state or other individuals. Consequently, on this conception of freedom, freedom relates to a status, because one’s status as a citizen of a free state is what provides you with protection from being subject to arbitrary power, and consequently your status as a citizen constitutes your freedom.  Within an academic context this type of approach has been taken up by republican theorists with a particularly Neo – Roman bent such as Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit, but it is not merely an academic concept as many people will refer to the way in which groups like gays, women and ethnic minorities are not free, and by this they do not just mean that these individuals are not allowed to make certain choices. Rather, what renders these groups of individuals unfree is that their current formal status as citizens does not adequately protect them from the arbitrary power of others.  Like the first concept of freedom this is a negative concept of freedom as it concerns the absence of something, rather than the presence of something.

These three concepts of freedom show that the distinction between concepts of freedom is perhaps wider than we might think. It is not as if we have multiple concepts of freedom that all have a different interpretation of what constitutes a free choice, instead these concepts of freedom are distinct in that they relate to different areas of life or subject matters. As a result there is no reason to necessarily see these conceptions of freedom as opposed to one another. In fact, I find myself attracted to all three concepts of freedom, and it seems to me we have significant reason to see these concepts as complementary rather than opposed, as they all seem to involve something we deeply esteem.  We deeply admire the person who is not enslaved to certain desires, we value our ability to make choices for ourselves in our own lives, and we value being protected from arbitrary coercion by our equal status as a citizen. It should be noted that none of this suggests that there is no conflict between differing concepts of freedom, but rather that differing concepts of freedom that pertain to differing areas of life are not necessarily inherently incompatible with one another.

It could be objected that there is an inherent conflict between these differing concepts of freedom as the person who is free according to the free choice conception need not be the same person who is free on the free character conception. But while this critique is accurate in one sense it misses the point of the argument I am making. Yes, according to the free choice conception a person is free if they are not interfered with in their choices, which is different from the conception of a free person according to the free character conception, but it can be responded that there is no single definitive sense in which we could speak of somebody as a free person, but rather there are different senses in which we can be free that do not necessarily exclude one another, such that we could be free in one sense, while being unfree in another. Unless we hanker after a single definitive sense of the concept of freedom, there is no reason to think that differing concepts of freedom that pertain to differing areas of life are fundamentally incompatible.

In addition, one other thing that we might take away from this subject is the political difficulty that is created by the concept of freedom. Given that there are so many various sense of the term freedom that are used it would seem that in any political discussion when the concept of freedom is invoked we are liable to confusion, misunderstanding and talking past one another. As a result we ought to be careful in invoking a concept of freedom when we engage in dialogue to ensure that our interlocutors understand what we mean by freedom, and that we are not merely talking past them.

Lilly and James

Lilly was horrified by the state of the Canada. She thought to herself “it is 2013 and we still are dealing with poverty, homelessness, violence against women and damage to the environment.” It was clear to her that anyone who was sane and had a conscience would realize that it was necessary to devote time and energy to the task of ending these social evils. This is why she spent nearly all of her time outside of her job as a corporate lawyer working with various organizations to end these evils.

Lilly herself had never known poverty, homelessness or violence. She came from an affluent family and had been educated at Princeton. But her lack of experience with these evils did not render her anymore unfit to fight for these causes than anyone else. She saw the evil in the world, and she was merely responding to it.

While Lilly did not have many friends because of the time she invested in her job and activism, she was still very close with a girl she had gone to high school with named Marie. Marie had been trying to set her up on a date with an acquaintance of hers that Marie thought would be compatible with Lilly. At first Lilly was very hesitant to go on this date, as she was preoccupied with working with her causes. But after Marie had put forward the offer several times Lilly began to relent and reluctantly agreed to go.

The man Marie had set her up with was a project manager for a telecommunications company who was apparently quite charming. His name was James.

Lilly spoke on the phone with James and he seemed nice enough, so they decided to meet at Starbucks to have a coffee on Saturday afternoon.

Lilly arrived at the Starbucks a good fifteen minutes before they had been set to meet. So she began to sit down and think about what she was going to get to drink. She really wanted a Caramel Macchiato, but she also was interested in having a non-fat vanilla latte with an extra shot. As she saw the sign that said Starbucks uses fair trade coffee beans she found herself wishing that other stores would be like Starbucks and try to use their wealth to change the world.

When James arrived he introduced himself to Lilly, and stood awkwardly beside Lilly in the line. Within a few minutes they were able to put their order in. James ordered a Venti Chai Latte and Lilly ordered a Venti Caramel Macchiato. James offered to pay for Lilly`s drink; she was okay with this, but made it clear that he did not have to pay.

After they had received their drinks hey then sat down at a quaint table in the corner and began to chat.

The conversation began in a quite facile fashion as James and Lilly discussed their families and occupations. But when the subject turned to personal interests Lilly went on in great deal about all of the organizations she worked with and gave money to, and why this was so important to her. After this Lilly asked James what his interests were outside of work.

“Umm, I like to play video games, watch TV, and watch sports with friends. I don`t seem to be as serious as you about how I spend my spare time.”

Lilly then asked “Do you have any desire to assist with some cause or organization in your spare time? I know I would feel like my existence was hollow if I did not volunteer.”

James responded “I have no problem with people who volunteer and have a deep passion to help change the world, but I have no interest in it. I get way more fulfillment from watching sports and playing video games, then I would from volunteering.”

At this point Lilly knew that she had no future with James. While he seemed to be nice and intelligent how could she date someone who clearly was so apathetic, vapid and without empathy?

With a look of indignation on her face Lilly stated “how can you live with yourselves when you do not spend any time helping to protect those who are most vulnerable? There are people suffering out there while you waste your life playing video games.”

At this point James became furious. “I may not help the needy, but at least I am not a hypocrite. You are a corporate lawyer, the epitome of establishment values, and yet you act as if you were merely a pious soldier fighting against the evils of our social order. More than that, you carry around a Coach purse, wear Dolce & Gabbana glasses and your dress is made by Versace.”

Lilly replied “I don`t see how my job and what I wear makes me a hypocrite. I am entitled to nice things, but I just want everyone else to be able to have them as well because I have empathy and compassion for others. There is no tension between my clothes and job and my activism.”

James snidely remarked “your lack of self-awareness runs so deep you cannot even recognize it when confronted. You clearly don`t want to see an evil person like me again, so I am going leave.”

Lilly exclaimed “you accuse me of lack self-awareness when you are wasting your life on pointless activities but cannot seem to see it? Leave if you want, as you are clearly disgusted by me.”

A young woman named Rebecca was sitting at the table adjacent to James and Lilly. She was wearing a hoodie and some tattered jeans, and had a weathered copy of Beloved in her hands. She felt guilty, as she had been listening to James and Lilly`s entire conversation. But it was just too fascinating, and she could not stop herself from listening.

It was a bizarre, but all too common situation in Rebecca`s mind. James clearly was right about Lilly as Lilly could not see how her job and taste in fashion represented the values that reinforced the very social evils that she seemed to want to eliminate. But Lilly was clearly right about James. He was clearly vacuous, and superficial, as he honestly claimed that watching TV and playing video games brought him great fulfillment. It seemed that both were able to see towards the core of the others, but neither could see themselves.

For Rebecca this reinforced how illusive self-knowledge was. But she also realized how difficult it was to participate in this society while maintaining a genuine commitment to self reflection.

Rescuing Aristotle

An interesting piece on the denigration of Aristotle by modern philosophers and scientists.

Scientia Salon

image002by Robin Herbert

Perhaps you are familiar with the following passage from Bertrand Russell:

“Observation versus Authority: To modern educated people, it seems obvious that matters of fact are to be ascertained by observation, not by consulting ancient authorities. But this is an entirely modern conception, which hardly existed before the seventeenth century. Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives’ mouths.” [1]

This criticism of Aristotle is often repeated and unreflectively accepted due to the reputation of Bertrand Russell. Edward de Bono embroidered upon this theme:

“Finally there was Aristotle, with his word-based inclusion/exclusion logic. Aristotle believed that men had more teeth than did women. Although he was married twice, he never actually counted the teeth of either wife. He did not need to. With horses, the stallion had more…

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