Why do we get paid?

Why do we get paid?

Well, you have to do something.

True. Some work has to be done in order to get paid.

Yes, but you could win a lottery too.

Or receive a gift; inherit a fortune perhaps. That’s not quite the same as getting paid though. It’s receiving money by chance, not compensation. So let’s leave aside lotteries and inheritances.

Well then there it is. You do something, and you get paid.

Not quite. I could dig a hole in the middle of nowhere, and I wouldn’t be paid. A lot of effort goes uncompensated.

That’s because it’s useless work. The work has to be useful.

Good point. The work has to have utility. While utility is necessary, as it turns out, it isn’t sufficient for getting paid. A lot of volunteers and interns are unpaid. Sometimes, people devote their time for free to causes they care about. Other times, people would like to be paid, but they work for free anyway hoping that they will gain work experience, add something to their resume, build a good reputation etc. so that they can find work that pays. And all the while, they are working and doing something useful, but not getting paid.

Then what is it? Work experience? A good resume? Trust of others? A brand people recognize? 

It’s simple really. In order to be paid, there has to be someone on the other end who is paying.

So you have to do work that helps someone else.

Yes. When we say “useful work”, it is someone else, effectively a customer or employer of our service, who gets to decide whether the work is worth paying for. It follows that this customer should both have money to pay, and the willingness to pay. Paying customers can be people, businesses, organizations with a budget, governments etc. but they cannot be abstract entities like humanity or society.

But shouldn’t we serve humanity?

Of course we should. A giving nature, a willingness to serve, these are qualities that enrich our lives and the lives of those around us. They also lead to long-term gains in our profession. But one should not expect compensation in the short-term for generously serving abstract entities which don’t have a budget, or for serving those who lack either the means or the willingness to pay for our work. It is vital to understand this.

Okay, so we get paid for work that is useful to someone else who has money and is ready to pay.

Yes, I think that’s the answer to the question: Why do we get paid? This is an important question, one of several important questions whose answers guide us in our search for fulfilment.

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