equal pay

Image: Messala Ciulla


If we do not urgently change our economic principle of social organization, as Keynes would say, “in the long run we are all dead”

Why has no mode of production hitherto been able to implement a human society based on equality, justice and freedom? We could speculate about this complex and multifaceted question in a number of ways. For example, human nature is diverse and complex, with different interests, values ​​and motivations. The pursuit of power, scarce resources and security often leads to competition and conflict, making it difficult to achieve full equality and justice.

Throughout history, the unequal distribution of resources such as land, capital and access to education has been one of the main sources of inequality. This has created socioeconomic disparities that make it difficult to create a truly equal society. In several societies, dominant groups or classes have exercised power and control over other groups, resulting in social and economic inequalities. Power struggles make it difficult to implement meaningful changes towards equality and justice.

Existing institutions and structures reflect and perpetuate inequalities and injustices. Changing these structures requires significant efforts and faces resistance from those who benefit from the status quo. Different ideologies and belief systems shape people's worldview and influence their actions and decisions. Ideological divergences and conflicts can make it difficult to build consensus in search of a more just and egalitarian society.

The economic system plays an important role in determining the distribution of resources and wealth. Economic interests influence policies and priorities, making it challenging to achieve a more equitable distribution of resources. Finally, history and past events shape the evolution of societies over time. Historical factors such as colonization, slavery and wars had and still have significant impacts on the social structures and inequalities present today.

However, as Marx stated: “the anatomy of civil society must be sought in political economy”. The modern economic system is often associated with the principle of “rational self-interest” or “economic selfishness”. This idea, which has roots in classical economic philosophy, suggests that individuals, when making economic decisions, are primarily motivated by their own interests and personal well-being. The principle of economic egoism is a central concept in liberal economic theories such as classical liberalism and neoliberalism. According to these theories, when individuals seek to maximize their self-interest in making economic decisions, the end result is the efficient allocation of resources and the maximization of social welfare.

This concept was developed by economic thinkers such as Adam Smith, considered the father of modern economics. In his work “The Wealth of Nations” (1776), Smith argued that when individuals seek to satisfy their own selfish needs and interests, this creates an “invisible hand” in the market that leads to a balance between supply and demand and to a greater benefit to society as a whole. The modern economic system is largely based on this perspective of the rational self-interest of individuals. Free competition markets, the search for profit in companies and the incentive to innovation and entrepreneurship reflect this principle.

Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733), a Dutch-British philosopher and writer, known for his controversial ideas on society, economics and morality, in his most famous work “The Fable of the Bees: Or Private Vices, Public Benefits”, published in 1714, already argued that the vices and selfish passions of individuals, such as ambition, greed and luxury, could actually have benefits for society at large.

Mandeville's main argument is illustrated by the bee analogy. He compared human society to a hive of bees, where each individual pursues his own selfish interests. This individualistic quest results in a prosperous and flourishing economy, contributing to collective well-being. Therefore, he argued that the social and economic order emerging from human selfishness is beneficial to society as a whole, even if individual motives are not altruistic. He argued that human nature is inherently selfish, and trying to suppress that nature in favor of virtue could lead to a decline in economic prosperity and social progress.

It can be said without a doubt that "The Fable of the Bees” constituted one of the pillars of Adam Smith's economics, which in his work explored the relationship between human selfishness, the free market and the benefits to society. However, these authors (Mandeville and Smith) just forgot that there is no money and/or accumulation of capital in a beehive. The beehive analogy ignores the complexity of human society, the conscious nature of human beings, and the diversity of interests and values ​​that shape our actions and decisions. Bees are social insects that act based on genetically programmed instincts and behaviors. Their actions are determined by a natural order that seeks the survival of the hive as a whole, regardless of individual intentions.

Hypothetically, if bees introduced money and capital accumulation as the norm of social organization, this would have significant implications for hive structure and dynamics. Of course we understand that bees are insects and do not have the ability to create concepts such as money or capital accumulation, as these notions are characteristic of human society and its economic system.

However, let's explore some of the theoretical implications that could arise if we considered this hypothetical scenario. If bees used the concept of money, this could imply a more formalized exchange system within the hive. Bees could exchange resources such as nectar, pollen and honeycombs through the use of a coin or symbol of value.

Introducing the concept of capital accumulation would mean that bees would seek to accumulate wealth or resources for their individual benefit. This could lead to greater competition for resources and the emergence of bees that seek to accumulate more wealth or power at the expense of others. Thus, the introduction of money and capital accumulation would lead to social inequalities within the hive. Some bees could accumulate more resources than others, which could result in disparities in the distribution of food and care within the hive. The focus on capital accumulation would also lead some bees to prioritize the search for resources and wealth to the detriment of other important activities for the hive's survival, such as nectar and pollen collection.

Ultimately, money and capital accumulation could lead to changes in the division of labor and the well-being of the hive. The introduction of money could lead to changes in the division of labor within the hive, with bees specializing in activities related to resource management and trade. These changes in the economic system and social organization could have impacts on the well-being and dynamics of the hive as a whole, affecting its ability to collect resources, reproduce and even ensure its survival.

And if, instead of Mandeville having considered selfishness, in his analogy with bees, he had considered their capacities for cooperation, collective well-being and efficiency in the use of resources, Smith would have formulated another principle of economic organization that not the one based on selfishness (self-interest)? Why not learn these skills from bees? Why not emphasize the importance of cooperation and consideration of collective well-being in building human society? And if individuals acted in line with the collective interest, could there be greater collaboration and solidarity in the pursuit of common well-being? As human beings, could we not understand the world as one big beehive and work together to ensure our survival and well-being? Couldn't we replace selfishness with some more collective principle like the hive?

If we do not urgently change our economic principle of social organization, as Keynes (1883-1946) would say, “in the long run we will all be dead”. Keynes used this expression to emphasize the importance of short-term decision-making and immediate action in the face of economic and social problems. The quote suggests that while we can theorize and plan for the future, the consequences of long-term decisions cannot always be fully predicted or controlled. It is therefore crucial to also address the immediate problems and challenges that affect society and the economy. This can also be interpreted as a criticism of a vision that is excessively focused on the future, technology and economic theory, without considering the present reality and the immediate needs of people and the planet.

Establishing economic, political and social equality is a complex and challenging goal, and there is no single or easy solution. It is an objective that requires coordinated efforts and actions on several fronts. A first step is related to ways of guaranteeing equality of opportunity. This involves affirmative action policies and measures to combat discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity and other factors. Addressing prejudice and discrimination in all its forms is crucial to promoting diversity, tolerance and mutual respect.

Second, to guarantee the political participation of all people, regardless of their origin or socioeconomic status, which has not yet become a reality in capitalist democracy. Third, promoting gender equality is essential to achieving a more equal society. This includes measures to combat gender-based violence, promote equal pay and ensure adequate representation of women in leadership positions.

Another prerequisite would be the implementation of infrastructure and public services, such as transportation, health and housing, which would guarantee equal access to adequate living conditions for all people.

However, for us to truly move in that direction, it becomes necessary to abolish profit and capital accumulation as a principle of social organization. This is a radical approach that proposes a profound transformation in the economic and social structure, but without it we will be condemned as humanity.

The abolition of profit and capital accumulation may not necessarily be associated with socialist economic systems, where the means of production are collective or state property, as established in the XNUMXth century. In this context, the primary objective is to eliminate economic and social inequalities, seeking a more egalitarian and fair system, with freedom and diversity. Without the possibility of accumulating personal wealth, it would be necessary to rethink how to motivate people to work and contribute to society (can we look up to bees?). The shift to an economy without profit and capital (as we know them) also involves political and ideological challenges, as it confronts powerful interests and entrenched beliefs about the role of the market and private property in society.

It has been historically proven that only forms of regulation, reforms and policies to reduce inequalities and promote social justice within the capitalist economic system are not enough. Questioning the issue of the abolition of profit and capital accumulation as a principle of social organization is essential to understand the implications and challenges involved in this proposal.

History has shown that radical approaches to economic equality, such as attempts to implement socialist systems in the XNUMXth century, have faced significant practical challenges and had mixed results. The analysis of past experiences is essential to understand the challenges that a proposal like this would face in practice. However, either we change the economic principle of social organization or we will be driven to extinction as a human race.

The idea of ​​building a more egalitarian, fair and free society, abolishing profit and capital accumulation should be the perspective for thinking about human society in the XNUMXst century. The idea behind this proposal is to create a society in which the means of production have a social function and not the private accumulation of wealth, in which resources are allocated in a planned way and in which social relations are based on principles of cooperation and solidarity, not self-interest and accumulation. Would it be possible to eliminate the exploitation of social work and create an economic system more oriented towards the common good?

Let's imagine a company in which all employees (including the owners) receive equal pay, regardless of their role. This company would be following the principle of equal pay. This would mean that from the leadership positions to the base operational functions, everyone would receive the same salary.

In a company with equal pay, there would not be large pay discrepancies between employees. This would lead to a more horizontal hierarchy, with a more collaborative and less hierarchical organizational culture. Decisions would be made in a more participatory way, with all team members having a voice and influence on issues that affect the company.

Equal pay could also create an environment where employees feel more valued and respected. This could lead to greater motivation and commitment to work, as employees know that their effort is recognized and fairly rewarded. Equal pay could also help break down the rigid hierarchy and status quo in many companies, encouraging employees to focus more on the contributions and impact of their work rather than worrying about promotions and salary benefits. This could lead to a better distribution of talent and skills across the organization, resulting in more efficient and productive functioning. The implementation of equal pay within a company can also contribute to reducing social inequalities. As equal pay is independent of social status or educational background, this can help close the pay gap between different groups of workers and genders.

The existence of companies with equal pay could influence the social perception of the importance of work and the valuation of different functions in society. This could contribute to a cultural shift, where people's worth is not just defined by their income, but by their contributions and abilities to collective well-being. For society as a whole, the dissemination of companies with equal pay can contribute to greater equity and social justice, stimulating a culture of valuing people for their skills and efforts, regardless of their function or status social.

Now let's imagine all companies and institutions (public and private) in all sectors and all over the world as this lush hive. Can we feel glorious for just being human beings, and not strictly for the social work that we can selfishly privatize?

*José Micaelson Lacerda Morais is a professor in the Department of Economics at URCA. Author, among other books, of Economic freedom and civilizing crisis (Authors Club).

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