Currently many countries are passing anti-discrimination laws for the employment sector. It is increasingly considered morally wrong to pay someone less based on their genetically or environmentally determined traits, such as race, gender, age and certain mental or physical disabilities. However there is one trait that is universally left out of this anti-discrimination trend and that is intelligence; An intelligence based salary system remains completely acceptable despite the fact that we have little more control over our level of intelligence than our gender.
Here it is worth pointing out that when referring to intelligence I refer to it in its most narrow sense. That is the type of intelligence that flourishes in the conventional work environment and the traditional educative system (i.e linguistic, logical-mathematical and interpersonal), although, once through the educative system, the logic followed is equally applicable to other types of intelligence. I will also highlight the fact that for many, intelligence is at least partially hindered or facilitated by the education system they have access to. There are many not so intelligent kids out there who, either for geographical or financial reasons, are lucky enough to receive an excellent education and as a result have a massive head start in the employment race, and equally, there are many extremely intelligent kids who for the very same reasons never even get their foot on the first rung of the education and therefore employment ladder.
Nevertheless, the majority of people in the developed and semi-developed world have access to a public education system, and this educative system is by nature extremely intelligence based. In every school there are the naturally more intelligent and less intelligent children and in every school that I went to and have heard of (with the exception of the very rare alternative education schools) pupils are extremely aware of their position in this intelligence hierarchy. A child’s hierarchical intelligence placement will initially be reflected by his/her grades; High grades often mean more attention from the teacher and may well determine which “ability set” the child is streamed into later in their school career, which in turn accentuate grade differences even further. This very early focus on a child’s grades has an unprecedented effect on their later life, as it dictates the child´s likelihood of staying in school, of attending and completing higher education and the quality of that education and finally, as a result of the aforementioned, their success in the employment sector.
The result being that a few lucky ones, who are deemed intelligent enough to make it through this unnecessarily hierarchical educative system, get a chance to enter the job market of the intermediate to well educated. Meanwhile those who barely receive a pass mark in their exams, or are pushed out of the system altogether shortly after entering adolescence, are doomed to a life time of menial employment. The lucky ones who fall into the former category will on the whole receive much higher salaries than those who fall into the latter category. However this salary is not certain; The educated employment sector is extremely competitive and how well you do relies largely on your ability to do the job better than others, which in turn depends on intelligence and to a lesser extent on effort applied. In other words, it is widely considered that the more efficient secretary, or productive engineer, deserves a higher salary than the less efficient secretary, or less productive engineer.
This system, which blatantly discriminates against the less intelligent right from an early age into adulthood, is widely justified as being a necessary component of the competitive capitalist and industrial market that we are all part of. That is, without such salary based discrimination the employment sector would collapse as there would be no incentive for those of above average intelligence to use that intelligence in an economically productive manner. The main scientific basis for this assumption is that workers respond positively, in terms of productivity, to incentives of bonuses. However, there is little evidence to show that the quantity of a fixed annual salary has a significant effect on employer productivity; Instead many studies cite job satisfaction as the major driving force behind productivity and job satisfaction has a very low correlation with salary and a very high correlation with managerial practices such as recognition and facilitation of accomplishments.
Further evidence that the employment system would not suffer if all secretaries had equal salaries or the wages of a laborer in a menial job were the same as those of a scientist is circumstantial. Anyone who has worked as a laborer on a building site or in a factory line as well as in a more intellectually challenging job will tell you that no financial incentive is needed to strive for a position in the more intellectually challenging job. Menial work is considered dangerously dull by the majority of people, as humans are an innovative species who naturally strive to learn. Moreover, humans naturally take pride in what they do and no one goes to work to deliberately do a bad job.
The few businesses, such as Alvarado Street Bakery, which have taken this data and put the notion into a working business model have not suffered as a result. The employees of Alvarado Street Bakery earn on average between $65,000 and $70,000, which is a wage that most corporations would consider economically unfeasible, yet the bakery has been open for 35 years. The tightly woven integration between management and staff as well as the worker cooperative model under which it is run contribute to high levels of job satisfaction and productivity, which are reflected in long term employees (15yrs on average) and high product turnover, respectively.
An inequity of salaries based on intelligence driven performance or job complexity is therefore not the way to boost a country’s employer productivity. Instead a focus on enhanced managerial methods would do the trick equally well or even better. In the end there is no valid reason to continue with an employment system that discriminates against the less intelligent or educationally unfortunate.
Do you think that a less intelligence based education and employment sector would work and be widely beneficial?
Mieke Dale-Harris is working as an intern at the Institute of Advanced Development Studies (INESAD), La Paz, Bolivia. She is a psychology graduate from Goldsmiths University of London
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For your reference:
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