Thursday, January 14, 2016

Priceless Labour

Business is personal. Value is personal. Relationships are personal. Price is not. Price is a clearing mechanism. If lots of people want something that is scarce, the only things that matter in a free market are how much there is (supply) and who wants it (demand). Price cuts against the grain because we feel value deeply. We want price to reflect value - particularly if that price is the price of our labour. Our salary. Our salary becomes the bottom line measure of our value. That is nonsense. We know that. But it is tough to feel that.

For me the core idea of Capitalism is the capacity to free ourselves from this idea. We are tied to our Labour. Labour requires our energy, our time, our passion and all the messy stuff that makes life awesome. Labour is the heart of personal.

Labour can become an art form. Kung Fu. Even sweeping can become a deeply meditative practice that calms the mind. Something you do for its own sake. The mastery of a task can become a fulfilling part of how you define yourself. The foundation of your identity. Labour can be the gift of time to people you love. Labour can wind deeply into your story, going well beyond the facts of life and into the beauty.

Capital is more closely related to price. It is cold. It is happy to compare any two things with a number, and no attachment. Effort, intent, intelligence, cost, belief and other factors may influence how we value things, but price cuts it down to the bones. How much is there? Who wants it? This is a brutally efficient way of getting things done and directs resources to where they can get the highest price. An efficient market directs assets where to where they are most productive. But the main factors there is growth. The fuzzy, emotional stuff that knits a society together once it has enough is not part of an efficient market's mandate.

Markets rankle because the price is almost never exactly where our value is. Where our values are. Some things make us feel good. Some things make us feel bad. Price ends up having an emotional content, but that content is our contribution. Capitalism allows you to strip yourself away from this mess. 

If you can get to a position where you are not consuming everything your labour produces, you can convert this to Capital. That is what saving and investing is. You are hiring your money to deal with the cold stuff. To be the breadwinner so you can be the lifemaker. Slowly, you can work to the point where your money does all the work and free's up your time to focus on what you value.

Price is not value. Labour should be priceless.
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