Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart recently made headlines for saying rather than envying the rich, the poor should drink less and work more. The problem is in the real world there is no correlation between hard work and material rewards. I plan to be rich someday, but not through any kind of mental or physical exertion. Getting ahead has as much to do with hard work as the price of oil has to do with whether or not you trim your pubic hair. Seriously, though, buy some clippers. The Saudis are getting nervous. Doing your best is as likely to result in poverty as prosperity, and putting down the bottle and throwing yourself into your job won’t change the odds. Nobody ever became teacher of the year by staying sober. Yes, some people who work hard become rich. Some people who work hard also get mauled to death by roving packs of abandoned gerbils. In both cases, one doesn’t necessarily cause the other. Rather than being the pathway to wealth, working hard is simply an indication you made the critical mistake of not being born rich. Better luck next time.
|Correlation does not equal causation, but sometimes it looks pretty suspicious anyway.|
Generally, the poorer you are, the harder you have to work. If you roof houses for a living, people are going to notice if you slack off all day watching YouTube clips of a pudgy Eskimo woman folding paper cranes with her feet. First of all, the house you’re working on won’t have any shingles, and secondly you’ll have a really noticeable erection. Your pay will be adjusted accordingly. For a middleclass cubicle dweller, however, slacking off is virtually undetectable. Nobody is quite sure what your job actually is. As long as you show up and refrain from headbutting any coworkers, everyone will leave you undisturbed while you download origami fetish videos. If you maintain this level of effort for the entire year, you’ll likely get a satisfactory performance review and a 3 percent raise. If, on the other hand, you work three times harder and browse one third as much porn, your raise will be 3.001 percent instead. Your performance is linked to your pay increase about as strongly as gospel music is linked to intestinal cancer. Your modest salary bump isn’t much of a reward, but it’s better than what you get if you’re stuck at the bottom of the totem pole. If you’re in the lower class, all working harder gets you is a herniated disc and a trip to the glue factory. The health plan is the same for poor people and horses.
|Poverty is a sticky situation.|
Once you make it to the executive level, however, the relationship between hard work and compensation becomes clear: They’re inversely proportional. If you’re a landscaper and instead of reseeding someone’s yard you kill their dog and burn down their house, you will likely be paid less than the agreed-upon rate. But if you’re a CEO and instead of increasing the stock price you drive a multibillion-dollar conglomerate into bankruptcy, you can expect a sizeable bonus. Ruining companies takes skill, and corporations are willing to pay a premium to retain it. Compensation committees agree to these payouts because every member of them wants to be a CEO someday. Besides, the CEO in question only tanked the business because he wasn’t properly motivated. If he received the $50 million he deserved, he would have done a great job, but for the paltry $45 million he was paid, he spent all day watching origami fetish videos instead. Clearly, the incentive system is broken at the highest level. To fix it, the risk needs to equal the reward. If you’re a CEO and the stock price goes up, you should receive a massive bonus, but if it goes down, your entire family should be fed to feral gerbils. Without those metal wheels to distract them, the only way rodents exercise is by eating human flesh.
The CEO of a tech company makes about 10,000 percent more than the typical blue-collar worker, but it’s hard to believe there’s a 10,000 percent difference in effort between the two. There are only 168 hours in a week. Even if a corporate executive puts in a rigorous 100 hours while a coal miner coasts for a breezy 40, it’s impossible to argue the pay gap is in line with how much harder one works than the other. Clearly, what you do is much more important than how much effort you put in to doing it. The hardest working social worker in the world still makes less than the laziest barista. Doctors and lawyers earn even more than coffee shop employees, but even among their prestigious ranks effort seldom leads to rewards. Exhausted emergency room doctors make considerably less than specialists who only treat anal warts on left-handed albino pygmies, of whom there are exactly six in the world. There were seven, but the gerbils got to one of them. Similarly, lawyers who spend 80 hours a week handling adoptions and family wills earn much less than the ones who make two 30-second TV commercials a month and then sit back like slumlords while shantytowns full of paralegals do the real work. Among the professional class, working hard is a sure sign that you’re somehow doing it wrong.
Hard work also goes unrewarded among the self-employed. Nobody sets out to put in ungodly hours to achieve little more than financial ruin, but that is exactly how most small business owners end up. It takes more to succeed than working more and drinking less. Your business plan, market conditions, and luck all play a role. If you open a bistro specializing in artisanal cheese and high-end whores, even the best work ethic won’t save you if the next two businesses to open on your block are Hookers with Swiss and Cheddar Ho. Similarly, your brilliant idea could be ruined by circumstances beyond your control like a nationwide Viagra shortage or a sudden surge in lactose intolerance. Even established billionaires are vulnerable to these types of changes. If you run a coal empire and natural gas suddenly becomes cheaper than air, you’ll have to spend a lot of money to convince Congress natural gas should be illegal. A lot of factors determine whether or not you business will succeed, but how hard you work is the least among them.
|String cheese tastes best with a side of copulation.|
The idea that hard work somehow leads to tangible rewards is a twisted fairy tale, just like Snow White and the Seven Deadly Sins. She found her prince, but only after she opened the box. Deep down, even Gina Rinehart knows this. She didn’t work hard for her money. She got most of her wealth the honest way: by waiting for her mining tycoon father to die. She was smart enough to be born rich. If she can do it, we can, too.