Compensation for work is wrong

NOTE HXA7241 2013-01-06T10:19Z

Compensation is a faulty notion; it does not actually happen, and indeed cannot happen. It is misguided as a basic concept of economic systems.

The idea of being rewarded or compensated for work is seemingly basic. If you wanted to think about any kind of economic system, from any kind of philosophical or political position, it likely might be taken for granted as a starting point at least. It seems to have a fundamental moral solidity.

But that is wrong. Ask: what is work? What is compensation?


When you put effort and resource into doing something those efforts and resources are gone. They cannot be compensated: it is simply physically impossible. It is not like pouring some water out of a bottle to give to someone else, and they can later give back another cup-full to fill the gap again. The ideas of money and trade have instilled a notion of symmetry/reciprocity of exchange: but it is actually a fiction – nothing more than a metaphor. In reality, there is in general not symmetry/reciprocity/exchange: effort/resources are one-way.


Neither is compensation what actually happens. You might walk 10Km to find a mushroom, but go only 10m to pick an apple. Does the mushroom compensate the long walk? or the apple the short walk? No: you perform the activities, and they are what you happen to get. The result is not produced solely by the deliberate action but also by what the world makes available.


When someone defends exceptional riches by saying it is justified by some basic idea of compensation they must be wrong. If compensation cannot even exist, it cannot be a justification for anything.

Compensation and exchange and their symmetrical, reciprocal form are not basic, they are not moral or physical truths, and they are not to be taken for granted as starting points. They are merely particular mechanisms or implementations that have some practical or rational merits. Any grounding purpose or justification must be elsewhere. They work in some way, but they are not the real intention.