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What are the incentives to work?

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A participatory economy is designed to maximise the motivating potential of non-material incentives. There is reason to hope jobs designed by workers will be more enjoyable than jobs designed by capitalists. Also, there is reason to believe people will be more willing to carry out tasks they have proposed and agreed to themselves than assignments handed to them by superiors. And finally, there is reason to believe people will be more willing to perform unpleasant duties conscientiously when they know the distribution of those duties as well as the rewards for people’s efforts are equitable.

But this does not mean that there are no material incentives in a participatory economy. People’s efforts at work directly affect their consumption rights. However, any differences in efforts will certainly not lead to the extreme income differentials characteristic of market economies today.

To assume that only conspicuous consumption can motivate people because under capitalism we have strained to make this so is unwarranted. There is plenty of evidence that people can be moved to great sacrifices for reasons other than a desire for personal wealth. And there is good reason to believe that for non-pathological people, wealth is generally coveted only as a means of attaining other ends such as economic security, comfort, social esteem, respect or status.

If economic security is guaranteed, for everyone and for their children, there will be no need to accumulate out of fear for the future. If people participate in making decisions, they will carry out their responsibilities with less recourse to external motivation. If the distribution of burdens and benefits is fair, and seen to be fair, sense of social duty will be a more powerful incentive than it is today.

In sum, if a fair share of effort and personal sacrifice are demanded by work mates who must otherwise pick up the slack, if additional effort is appreciated by one’s companions, recognised by society, and awarded commensurate increases in consumption opportunities, and if people planned and agreed to their tasks themselves, there is no reason to think that incentives will be lacking.