A society organized against you

Monday I posted “Making work may replace the careers we’ve known” here. Today I’d like to extend that, by taking up the comments made on Google+ by Daniel Lemire.

Lemire noted that while he agreed with every point made in the article, he saw a few inhibitors out there: schools “best the initiative out of students”, while governments discriminate “against the non-salaried”.

I concur with his assessment. Schooling — elementary, secondary, tertiary — detests the student who breaks the “stay with your group, cooperate with the process” model around which curriculum is built. It’s not new to say this, either: watch and listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” or his RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) talk on “Changing Paradigms” in Schools.

For all that, breaking the mould isn’t wrong. Yes, education is far too often merely proof of Zitsfleisch — you could sit through it. But it doesn’t have to be.

Of course, if what you want is an education system that “proves” it’s working by running standardized tests every few grades, or has “job ready” programs, you’ll get what you’re paying for.

British Columbia, for instance, has a mandatory course called Career and Personal Planning. In many years of “suffering through” CAPP, students never are taught anything about organizing their own work. The whole thing, from a career point of view, is about getting a job, and climbing the ladder.

Unsurprising that, and Lemire’s second comment hits on it perfectly. Governments like employees. They dislike people out charting their own course.

Employees, for instance, have their taxes deducted at source. The government gets the money (generally, monthly). They have the use of it for upwards of a year. The self-employed may have to file quarterly, but the government doesn’t get cash from them right away.

Which no doubt explains why the government will assess your self-employment income based on previous years’ income, and expect you to remit taxes based on that, not your actual income.

I remember, as an entrepreneur in BC, being sent “assessments” by WorkSafe BC that estimated how many employees I “ought” to have (pay now, fight later). One-person firms don’t have to take part in workers’ compensation (the owner-operator can’t collect it) but two-person or more must, hence the focus on “how many employees you ought to have grown to by now”.

From the doubling of Canada Pension and Employment Insurance onward, the self-employed are looked upon with suspicion. I’ve seen friends audited every year for a decade or more, overbilled by bureaucracies, refused business licences (they work from home, need a business licence, but can’t be “licensed” for a residential area), and many more bits of bureaucracy imposed on their lives.

(Let’s not forget the harder road for the self-employed with their bank, their insurance companies, their car dealer, and a host of other situations. It gets tiresome after a while constantly letting other people paw through your income tax returns simply to do business that the employed do by filling in a short form and that’s it.)

Regulations for businesses also assume size, the size that comes with almost all of us being employees somewhere. (This isn’t to say the regulations are bad; they just come at a cost.) Innumerable “proofs” must be provided that you comply with this, that or the other, that are “some department’s job” in a large organization and your Sunday afternoon when you work for yourself.

For all that, we need to remember that society’s systems — education, taxation, you name it — are all children of the twentieth century, not the twenty-first.

In the twentieth century, scale was not only the norm, increasing scale mattered. If I take a walk along my local shopping street I pass century-old buildings that have tile or stone advertising now-departed firms. Where, today, is Home Bank of Canada, Tamblyn’s Pharmacies, the Molson Bank of Canada? (Molson’s still exists, in its post-merger MolsonCoors form, but it no longer runs a bank.) All through the twentieth century, consolidation was the order of the day.

In the twenty-first century, localization will be the norm. A plethora of small-scale operations is emerging. Partly this is because the number of spots on the career ladder has shrunk mightily under the weight of all that consolidation; partly it’s because all the standardization that it brought in its wake has created opportunities galore.

Society’s systems lag, however, just as they were lagging the emergence of the twentieth century trend (even in the early 1940s, “official” Ottawa numbered a few thousand civil servants, not the 400,000 of today, and schools were still locally controlled, with only a few universities for tertiary education).

Getting on the trend line of the future inevitably means bucking the system that exists. Fighting schooling for an age that’s gone, and systems for scales that we don’t operate at, are part of the price tag.

Don’t let it deter you from looking after your own — and your children’s — best interests.

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