Friday, December 22, 2006

The Education of a Wondering Man: Chapter 2 -- Limited Liability

Over at the knitted garden, Beth told us a tale of hard work and the people that shirk it. But her post also posits the question of how did we get this way?

Along my travels, I've had to consider this question quite a bit, and it becomes necessary to really examine the roots of it all.

Some may say that it's a result of greed, or a trickle down from management, and they wouldn't be incorrect, but they're seeing another symptom rather than the root cause.

I didn't start this blog to be educational, so the rest of you will just have to take the bad with the good. =P

At its very simplest, a society falls into one of two categories, those that practice strict liability, and those that practice some form of limited liability. Strict liability societies are ones in which the individual is solely responsible for his or her own actions. Limited liability societies are ones where the individual may avoid responsibility for his or her own actions by participating in some type of state sanctioned program.

When this country was established, it was based on what we were familiar with, that being the English Common Law. And if you trace the roots of the common law, you'll find that it is basically derived from the Mosaic law found in the old testament of the bible.

Now the mosaic law is one of strict liability. The individual cannot avoid the liabilities associated with violations of the law, and is strictly responsible for his own survival. There are no safety nets. If you do not provide for your old age, you die of starvation. If you build a house out of straw and it blows down, you become homeless. If you overuse your ground and it becomes barren, you will suffer the result. The advantage of this system is that you reap your successes, and you suffer for your failings. No one picks up the slack.

What this does is create a system wherein the individual has a built in check and balance against everything he does. You must practice good husbandry of the land, or you will starve. You must practice fiscal responsibility for your old age, or you will starve. You follow the law because if you don't, you pay the penalty.

The problem is that it's a cold, merciless system, and most people cannot bear to step over the bodies of those that were too foolish. We operated as a strict liability society for a very long time, but then we started practicing fiscal irresponsibility and the great depression occurred. There was much suffering and gnashing of teeth. So we as a nation decided, as one of my mentors is fond of saying, that God made a mistake, so we fixed it.

We started to provide people with a way to limit their liabilities. Insurance was offered, and most people gladly came on board. Social safety nets were created, and people gladly came on board. The rules for creating corporations were relaxed, and people created corporations ad nauseum to insulate them from liability.

The unfortunate side effect of limited liability is that a Bart Simpson mentality takes over. Ididn'tdoitnobodysawmedoityoucan'tproveanything. People stopped taking responsibility for themselves and their actions. They started looking for ways "out".

I know several people that insure the crap out of their snowmobiles and then ride them with reckless abandon. They don't care if they wreck it, "Meh... it's insured, I'm not out anything."

And that's what leads us to Beth's post. Over time, people have become so accustomed to the fact that others will provide for their basic needs, that they've lost the drive to work. I'm here to tell you, if there was no such thing as a "retirement benefit" or "social security", you'd have no trouble finding motivated workers. Young people would be working as much as possible, and so would everyone else. There would be no slacking, because there would always be someone else willing to take their place.

Most immigrants come from strict liability societies and so when they get to America, it carries forth. They know when they go home, nobody is going to bail them out, so they work their tail off while they can to provide for the time when they can no longer work. No sick days, no hangovers, no shirking.

And that pretty well tells you what I've learned and accepted over the past few years. Next time, I might even go into more detail... =P


Today's Mystery Lyric:

You pretend you're high
you pretend you're bored
you pretend you're anything
just to be adored


Blogger trinamick said...

We were talking about this yesterday. Kids today have every toy available to them. If they break something, their parents just buy them a new one. Even my nephew is careless because he knows that his dad will just fix whatever he breaks.

I think growing up with less teaches you a greater appreciation for the things you do have. If we broke something, we were just SOL. Won't do that again, will ya? We didn't have allowances - if we wanted money, we had to work for it.

My boss's stepkids are still expecting him to support them because their mother has always coddled them - they are 32 and 34 and still "finding themselves". Gimme a break.

12/26/2006 10:40 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Wow, two blog posts about "shirk ethic." I'm surprised, but I knew it was going to strike a chord -- for better or worse.

My husband was once fired from a job where he doubled production, never called off, and worked more hours than everyone else. The reason? His immediate superior didn't like him, plain and simple.

He started out in skin mills (leather mills) and he said working in backbreaking work taught him that anything else just isn't that hard. He can't stand grown men and women who take days off from cake jobs or even those on an assembly line. He also learned the lesson of no one is guaranteed a position. One week before he was fired, the company's owner told John how proud he was of him, how this, how that ... and BAM, it ended just like that.

I've never had to be the bread winner in this relationship, but I imagine it's a hard row to hoe.

I also think the quality of the work you do says a lot about your character. Even if your job is a stay-at-home wife and mom.

12/26/2006 3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this limited liability post and I've lamented over it for years. I'm coming to the conclusion now that I can't be idealistic anymore and hope to change the cattle that has become the driven herd that practices the irresponsibility. I'm hoping the proverbial "reap what you sew"/karma/whatever will kick in and wipe them out. But more than likely it won't. But I like the post.


1/13/2007 6:24 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Oh man, this is gold, LL. You are a true philosopher. I don't disagree with a single thing you said.

1/16/2007 1:41 PM  

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