Thinking beyond our May Day mendacity
WHEN the great philosopher and forefather of economics, Adam Smith wrote his landmark book, ‘The Wealth of Nations,’ in 1776 modernity has not yet berthed in the global West let alone the developing world.
There was no faculty dubbed economics which he gave vent to in later books. But Smith, therein explained how labour and productivity intermingle to yield development and buoyance to states and organisations. I have not read anybody who defined labour better over three centuries after.
Smith appraised labour as not just an activity in an enterprise but one that can be positive or negative in the ultimate mission of the venture. He put labor in two broad categories, productive and unproductive labour.
The latter type of labour, he described as any work in which the value is either worthless or not long-lasting as it is consumed as soon as it was executed. By Smith’s definition, productive labour, refers to work which gives yields tangible result.
He equally distinguished the role of labourers in a workplace such as a manufacturing plant with that of servants in unproductive work. Discourses on what Smith meant by result-oriented work or labour that is targeted at tangible results still give birth to many essays and books.
Some experts argue that it is possible to create intangible work whose value are not immediately consumed hence Smith’s view on unproductive labour should not be deemed any work that its value was consumed as soon as it was created as there are cases where reasonable labour that would bring good yield are not immediately rewarding.
Also there are arguments that the fact that in Smith’s era, the 18th and 19th century human slavery was still an accepted practice, and as such, some human beings were considered goods to be traded on or used in factories, farms and homes would have rubbed off heavily in the sage’s intellectual faculty.
Hence to him, as it would to even other great thinkers of his era, a healthy human being was more useful and thus worth more than an unhealthy one. Therefore activities of more healthy labourers would be considered very productive.
The end product of a healthy slave worker, in an 18th century farm, for example, was more valuable than the end product of a sickly, weak servant just like a new machine of contemporary time would outperform a rickety one.
Not being an economist, I dare not dabble into the thesis and anti-thesis of economics researchers. Not on such a prime topic as Adam Smith. I no know book o! I no get that kain head to argue such Baba matta.
Of great concern to me is the fact that the Adam Smith thesis which idealises that only efforts that yield tangible outcome in their ventures should count as productive work while those that do not are unproductive has been around for such a long while.
This is intriguing to me, particularly when viewed against the background of tangible results the workforce of many states and corporate organisations are very opaque and lack lustre. It is such that productivity is almost extinct or remotely considered when discoursing labour in most developing economies, including Nigeria.
Worst factor about this matter is that in the economies that need more productivity in their, labour has been turned to a form of welfare platform or a handle to deriving some entitlement or social benefits from state or some organisations. Workforce productivity, refers to the returns, in terms of goods and services that a worker produces in a given amount of time. Not many public services in say Africa, can boast of output that culminates to profits or breaking even in their state’s economies.
These days discussions on labour and work in most countries dwell largely on wages, workers’ welfare, employment and entitlements. All these are vexed issues that deserve clear treatment. But productivity and profitability are seldom-mentioned companions of the discourse. Else the treatments of the developments will not be wholistic.
If a venture is not productive it will not be profitable. It is only a profitable enterprise that can pay good wages and avoid collapsing. It is such an endeavour that can afford to employ and give its workforce decent entitlements.
The more we escape the truth, the more the devil lurks at nearbye dark corner to wait for us. Arguing that states have endless purses makes good airtime on radio and television. Such a vibrantly popular stance equally help newspapers to increase printrun and sell them off.
But it has never helped a populace at long run because no matter how forcefully it is pleaded, the truth is that there is nowhere the state has an endless purse. It is through labour productivity that the wealth of nations grow.
Even countries that dwell heavily on natural resources, like our Nigeria rely on how productive their workforce is to get the best economic margin from the endowment.
This is why labour productivity is defined as the real gross domestic product (GDP) per hour worked of a state. Without a good mark on a state’s labour output which is the total hours worked by all persons involved the workforce the economy will remain on her knees.
Yesterday was May 1, the day ecognised globally for labour and workers’ issues. There were rallies everywhere. Speeches and calls on the current major issue that concerns labour in Nigeria – new minimum wage of N30,000 – took the frontline. I cast my ballot for the payment of the new minimum wage which sadly, is not enough even for a frugal worker’s upkeep let alone for the one with family.
The shock of yesterday was that not much was mentioned of workforce productivity. This strikes me as a dangerous escapism – one that will dog us soon.
It seems that I am not the only one so worried. In his May Day commemoration, the very politically savy Pentecostal cleric, Rev. Chris Okotie urged Nigerian workers to be more productive and efficient even as he supports Nigerian workers in their quest for a decent wage but warned that such demand must be matched with high productivity and efficiency on the part of the workers.
“A productive work force deserves decent pay; employers should also respect labour rights so as to avert disruptive strikes which often harm the economy,” he said, adding that, “Nigeria needs industrial stability to grow the economy.”
A nation where wages, remunerations and career rise are not hinged on profitability and productivity cannot have a good economy. Such a land cannot grow even if her people are given to daily dreams of paradise.
Nonchallant approach to work; indifference to losses; perennial labour strikes; frivolous leaves and more interest in activism and chanting “aluta continua!” than productive work has never helped any nation even during the Russian and French revolutions and Arab Uprising. It will surely not help Nigeria.
President of the Senate, Dr. Olubukola Saraki, in his felicitation with workers notes: “The public sector should work to ensure that the country realises her potentials. It should eliminate tardiness, increase the level of discipline and strive to provide an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive with the resultant broadening of the scope of national prosperity.”
Let’s remember national prosperity while celebrating May Day.
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