star_tourmalineover at her other blog was
musing on the leaked report on suggestions that unfair dismissal should be made legal.
It prompted this response in me.
One of the many things I deplore most about politics Modern (and probably Ancient) is that it appears to be the business of telling people they were right all along and not explaining to people where they are wrong or asking them what they actually want and what a sensible way of achieving that goal might be if we start with the assumption that most people are people, a bit like you.
People appear to favour simple and simplistic responses to problems. They appear to reason badly from their own experience. They appear to have a nasty streak*.
This leads I think to a series of initiatives that have the word “tough” in them. Tough on crime, tough on bankers, tough on people on benefits, tough on Terror, tough on single mothers and so on and so forth. Tough on people who don’t want to be unfairly dismissed. The world is tough place and we must be tougher to prosper. A good thrashing never did me any harm…
There’s a certain self-satisfaction about a response that is heavy on toughness.
I am reminded of my brother who was a martial artist in his youth. I once watched with him a film about a young martial artist who wanted to train with a great teacher. Some of the training involved having coconuts thrown at his midriff until he was tough enough to withstand a coconut falling from the top of a palm tree. Vital once you remember that more Australians are killed by falling coconuts than by sharks. Not especially useful for anything that didn’t involve having cannonballs fired at him.
Few problems are solved by toughness alone. The ability to toughen up is probably useful if you are living through a siege but unless the Germans finally run out of patience and decide that the only way to sort out Europe is if everyone does what they are told we’re unlikely to be living in a country that is being constantly bombed and starved of food in the near future. If we’re not constantly at war, why the need for the Spartan agony?
Much as there is to admire about the Spartans do we really want to live our whole lives being tougher? Yet, toughness is often offered up as a panacea for all our ills. As it is here with unfair dismissal. I think the initiative on unfair dismissal is one of those being tough initiatives.
The other word that gets thrown around a lot in these circumstances is freedom. We need to free the hand of the entrepreneur, teacher, doctor, patient, parent, social worker, policeman, judge.
Currently not on the list for the miracle cure of freedom enhancement are bankers and accountants who have both been very naughty and instead more toughness is indicated. Anyone who doesn’t think Sarbannes – Oxley compliance isn’t tough is going to be repeatedly kicked in the nuts whilst being made to fill in forms about the which forms they have just filled in whilst working in an environment where my brother hurls coconuts and abuse at you. If that doesn’t sort out Enron and Bear Stearns nothing will.
Everyone else needs more freedom. Freedom to do what? Apparently to do whatever it seems politicians think we think they should be doing more of. Including being tough.
Now, I’m all in favour of freedom but it’s what you do with it that counts. Freedom doesn’t magically make a decision a right or wrong. It makes it more local. It makes it more devolved. It makes it more personal. It might mean it is taken with more care and better information but it might also make it capricious and arbitrary. What freedom does is shift the responsibility for the way things turn out from someone else to you. This may be a good thing, if you are the right person to be making that decision and if other people are happy with you making decisions on their behalf now that you have the freedom to do so.
This being the key thing about freedom, that your freedom very quickly rubs against my freedom, or my security, or my property, or my right or my duty. That your increased freedom to unfairly dismiss me from employment conflicts with my right not to be arbitrarily sacked from a job that pays my mortgage.
We have a problem with economic growth. We need entrepreneurs to create wealth and they need the freedom to do so, including the freedom to be tough with under-performing workers. So goes the rhetoric. Freedom and toughness. But it’s not toughness that is needed here but wisdom.
People see Alan Sugar in his boardroom and see him being “tough” with contestants in the Apprentice. What they don’t see is the man’s genius for working out what people are prepared to pay for and then selling it to them. If he sees that more clearly than others and has difficulty explaining how to have that vision I’m sure he finds that frustrating. I’m sure he becomes gruff. It’s not the gruffness that made him rich. That vision, and the ability to get other people to see it too, is what made him a multi-millionaire, not shouting at people and sacking them.
So much harder to explain to people that running a business or creating an entrepreneurial organisation is difficult and fraught with risks. That most entrepreneurial organisations are founded and lead by teams who must work together and have respectful conversations with each other over a long time.
In reality what this measure does is shift the risk for making a mediocre hire from the owner or manager of the business to the employee and give managers the freedom to be mediocre.
I’d be more impressed with a slogan that ran “Clever on crime, cleverer about the causes of crime”.
(I remembered as I was writing this that I am formally a specialist in Entrepreneurship and the creation of value.)
*Nasty if they are right wing. Self-righteous if they are left wing.