Good enough is not good enough

One of the recurring themes in recent years that concerns both sides of the political divide, as well as the social sector, is increasing disparity and inequality. It’s not just the gap between rich nations and under-developed. Or the disparity between the well paid and the poorly paid. It’s the potential social upheaval expected when the inequality is so massive, that people feel they have no hope. It’s on the West Bank, and in sub-Saharan refugees to Europe. They believe they have no hope, so the potential consequences of actions they take cannot make their lives any worse.

There is ample evidence of the inequality in our own society. And the gap is increasing. But why?

Why is it that one person should be paid fifty times what another is paid?  It has not always been this way. Certainly there have always been  wealthy people, who have made and lost fortunes due to their ideas, endeavor, energy and their propensity for risk. But for employees, historically there has never been such inequality between the well paid and the poorly paid. Whether the poorly paid (i.e. minimum wage) should be better paid is a separate argument. There are many who would suggest that increasing the minimum wage actually stimulates the economy.

The real reasons for the ever increasing inequality of pay come down to quality.

And it’s quality of technology that has made the difference. And the inability of many people to adapt to the concept that to get the real rewards, people need to have skills which enable them to do substantially more than a computer can do. In a matter of a few generations we have gone from a bulldozer putting dozens of men with wheelbarrows out of work, to computers that are capable of reading x-rays as well (if not better) than doctors. With machines (and computers) able to do tasks with more accuracy and speed than a person, and undertake tasks that were previously thought of as unable to be done by other than a real person, it means that the tasks people do must be done even better than a machine could.

In the past, “good enough” was very often sufficient for a person to hold down their job. That is now true less often. Because a machine (or a computer) will always trump “good enough”. Increasingly people (humans) will have to increase their skill levels to even be able to justify minimum wage.

And that is where the massive disparity in pay levels kicks in. Because generally those people who are being paid fifty times the salary, have skills  fifty times the minimum wage earner. Teaching basic skills in quasi-tertiary “academies” isn’t going to solve that problem. Because “basic skills” can always be done better, quicker and cheaper by a machine. As a society we will either have to resign ourselves to an increasing percentage of the workforce earning minimum wage, because they don’t have adequate skills to earn more, or persuading them that the opportunities are present, but they need to possess more skill than a machine to take advantage.

The same “good enough” attitude can be seen all the way up the value chain in people who frequently confuse ambition with ability, or have a fantasized sense of entitlement. The reality is that wherever on the value chain we reside , we all need to enhance our skill levels. Because if we are simply as good as a machine, the machine will always be cheaper. And more accurate. And not take sickies.