Economists hate to admit this, but most of us work in self-defence, negotiating our way through life so we get the biggest bang for our buck. We exist on the junction where minimum effort meets maximum benefit, and are happy to do so. We believe with the power of self-delusion that there will be enough people motivated to discover new planets, invent new gadgets, construct better bridges and even attempt to build better mousetraps so the rest of us can enjoy the fruits of their labour and their motivation.
An Einstein would have worked on his equations whether you paid him or not; a Picasso would have painted, an Edison would have invented. However, I do not belong to any of these categories. I did once evolve an equation: D squared equals Q plus A. It sounded so plausible, but it didn’t catch on because I didn’t know what those letters stood for.
When I was younger, I did paint an eye with a face around it, which contained knees and fingers, but I was either ahead of my time or too far behind for anyone to take notice. No one ever accused me of being Picasso. Unlike Edison who got the electric bulb to light up, my speciality as a child was the opposite – to get lit bulbs to smash to the ground with a well aimed throw of the ball.
Years ago, when we built our house in Bengaluru, I’d sometimes ask my wife: ‘What if someone offers us a crazy sum for this place, say, 1,000 times what we paid? At what price would we take the cash and leave our house and everything in it?’ Just walk away with the shirt on our backs. It was what we call Sunday conversation.
Another version: What if someone were to give us $5,000 (Dh18,365) a month for the rest of our lives with no strings attached? Would we take it? That seems to be an easy one, but the good citizens of Switzerland didn’t think so. Only about a quarter of the country said it was a good idea – to have a portion of your income taken care of while you worked (or didn’t).
The state proposed $2,500 per month per citizen old and young, rich and poor, in sickness and in health.
It was a brave attempt to sever the connection between effort and reward. It was a wonderful philosophy: you work, you earn; you don’t work, you still earn.
Had I been a Swiss citizen, you know which way I’d have voted. Like many sportsmen, I love to get paid more than people think I deserve. But alas!