ALS Topic 49 -  Are you for rent? What are your terms?

Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, ALS 49
Saturday, December 7, 2019 11 am to 1:30 PM (end time flexible)

Venue: The Rose - 31 East Terrace, Adelaide SA 5000 (Upstairs. Please buy a drink or something))

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.

Focus Questions

1. Simple rental (or hire), by definition, usually implies a) an owner and a renter; b) a limited time frame. However, there are many variations. e.g. You can rent not only possessions, but people's time, skill, even their affections. How many examples can you think of? What transactions like this would you refuse to take part in?

2. What have you sacrificed in the past to gain something for now or in the future? Have you seen that gain as a temporary, 'rented' gain, or as a permanent acquisition? Everything has an opportunity cost. Depending upon what you value, choosing, renting or doing one thing will mean giving up on something else. The most common vectors are time and money. But you might also sacrifice a friendship, or a job, or a hobby ... and so on.

3. What conditions will you put on an employment contract? The idea of a lifetime career in one organization is rapidly becoming extinct. You are very likely to have a range of employers and be employed in range of (not necessarily related) occupations over your working life. Whatever public spin they put on it, your employer is basically renting your time, and hopefully your soul.

4. How important to your self-respect and mental well-being is being 'wanted for hire' in some sense? What kind of people can survive happily (or adequately) as absolute independents? Yourself?

5. "Everyone has a price" is a common theme in literature. It usually implies that everyone is for rent, even against their core values, if the price is right. Is this true? How about yourself? Can you think of counter examples to the idiom?

6. How much loyalty and suppression of self-benefit should you offer to whoever has rented your time (e.g. as an employee)? "Corruption" usually means that someone acts against the rules or values or interests of an institution which has hired them, or the general interests of their country. Is corruption ever justified?

7. Some cultures and countries seem to be more tolerant of corruption than others. Why is this (if it is true)? Is it a pattern which changes over historical time?

8. How reliably can you be just "a gun for hire" without it affecting your personal life and values? For example, British derived law is a system where everyone (at least theoretically) is considered to have the right of legal advice and assistance, even the worst criminals. A side-effect of this is that many lawyers may just see themselves as "guns for hire".

9. Can gender partnership be seen as some kind of reciprocal rental agreement with terms to be agreed upon? What conditions would you put on a partnership agreement (e.g. marriage)? Like lifetime employment, lifetime marriage seems to be becoming a minority experience. Over half of formal marriages officially result in divorce. A much larger percentage are dead by any real assessment of their original hopes. Now widespread, defacto gender partnership (of whatever variety) can indeed be a lifetime experience, but the general expectation seems to be that it will be more of a short to medium term arrangement.

10. Many teens and young adults resent being 'owned' by their parents. Adult-child relationships are supposed to be a long term transaction (aren't they?). Parents sink a huge amount of time, money and (hopefully) love into the exchange. Traditionally they expect reciprocation maybe years later. How are ideas about this kind of generational transaction evolving? What is your own view?


Extra Reading and Links

Mark Manson (October 27, 2016) "The American Dream Is Killing Us - By almost every major statistical measurement, the average American is worse off than they were a generation ago". Pocket Worthy website @

[Thor, comment: this is about America, obviously. However it is well written and has personal lessons for us all - namely that I, you, countless people don't get out of life what they think they are worth. That's no surprise to some, but others never get over the shock of realizing it. Others get rewards they don't deserve by being bastards, and live respectable public lives. e.g. Quote: "Think about this a second. There is a (US) lawyer out there (or team of lawyers), who go down to city hall and look through the registry of people who have been acquitted of major crimes. These lawyers then, without even knowing anything about the people involved, send a letter to the acquitted person, threatening to sue them on the victim’s behalf, hoping that maybe, one out of ten or one out of twenty will be scared enough to pay up some money so that the lawyer will go away". You will find some version of this scam in most countries]

Sandra Wu (Jan 1 2017) "The Secrets To German Efficiency - Germans have the most powerful economy in the EU, but they work fewer hours than nearly any other nation. It's not a mystery, and we'll tell you all about it." Blinklist website @

[Thor, comment: If you are going to rent out your time, that time should be used in the most efficient way possible. Some cultures are better at this than others. In some countries, including some famous industrial economies like USA, Japan, South Korea, China etc (as well as many poor countries), people work ridiculously long hours, yet per head produce less than Germans]

Farnam Street (n.d.) "The Pygmalion Effect: Proving Them Right - The Pygmalion effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein high expectations lead to improved performance in a given area. ... The flipside is the Golem effect, wherein low expectations lead to decreased performance. Both effects come under the category of self-fulfilling prophecies. Whether the expectation comes from us or others, the effect manifests in the same way." FS blog @

=> [Thor, comment: HIgh & low expectations affect outcomes in many ways. When you sell your time and labour for 'rent' you are putting a price on those expectations. So is your employer. When you think you have a career, the 'rent' includes promises of better things to come, and that affects expectations too. It is hard to persuade a CEO with million dollar bonuses that he is incompetent. It is equally hard to persuade power holders that the office lady is brilliant. Nationalism works in the same way. Individuals from rich, successful countries are apt to think that they are personally superior to any individual from a poor, struggling country].

Emmy Ley (12 May 2018) "Sex work and ‘sugaring'". The Saturday Paper @
[Quote: "I’m sure that linking money and self-worth is a fundamentally flawed concept, but the fact remains that becoming a sugar baby has given me permission to think of my time and myself as being weightier in value. This has been important for me. .. After a year of sugaring, I’m still waiting for my fantasy sugar daddy to appear. But I know he’s out there: that wealthy, smouldering astrophysicist, patiently sipping his 100-year-old Scotch in a leather armchair. I suppose I’d consider a doctor. Or a banker. Or a brickie. But the 100-year-old Scotch, well, that’s non-negotiable. I’ll wait, because I’m playing the long game here".]

=> [Thor, comment: In The Saturday Paper you get to read one article free a week. Ah, the topic: I thought the oldest profession might be uncomplicated about renting, but it seems not .. And there are many half-way-houses. Another article cites thousands of young ladies, Australian university students, having Sugar Daddies pay their university tuition in exchange for company. Not only Australia of course.]

Chris Leitch (3 May 2017) "Mercenaries: What They Do and How to Become One". Careeradict website @

[Quote: "mercenaries are professional soldiers hired to serve in a foreign army and are primarily motivated by personal gain. .. More recently, they have come to be known as private military contractors (PMCs) or private security contractors (PSCs) ... The United Nations technically outlawed the recruitment, training, use and financing of mercenaries with the UN Mercenary Convention in 2001, which has so far been ratified by 35 states. But countries like Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – countries with large militaries – have not ratified the convention"]

=> Thor, comment: What price do you put on your own likely death? Over half of the "United States forces" in America's endless Middle Eastern wars have been mercenaries. Many other countries also used them extensively. It is easy for the employers of mercenaries to deny responsibility for their actions, or even deny that they exist (as with Russian mercenaries in the Ukrain). Nobody cares if they are killed].

Juliana Piskorz (30 Dec 2018) "Me and my quarter-life crisis: a millennial asks what went wrong". The Guardian @

Nathan Heller (June 7, 2018) "The Bullshit-Job Boom
For more and more people, work appears to serve no purpose. Is there any good left in the grind?".

Albert-László Barabási (Dec 11, 2018) "What can we learn from people who succeed later in life?" TED Ideas @

Danny Vinik (January/February 2018) "The Real Future of Work - Forget automation. The workplace is already cracking up in profound ways ..Over the past two decades, the U.S. labor market has undergone a quiet transformation, as companies increasingly forgo full-time employees". Politico Magazine @

[Quote: "about a quarter of construction workers were contingent workers in 1995, a share that has stayed roughly constant over the past 20 years. But in many other industries, they found the curves had begun to bend sharply upward. Among “transportation and material moving workers,” a category that includes everything from taxi drivers to flight attendants, the share of contingent workers had doubled: In 2005, it was 9 percent; it was 18.2 percent by 2015. Among health care support workers like Diana Borland, it nearly doubled, from 9.5 percent to 17.9 percent. The share of food preparation workers in contingent work had quadrupled. And this trend wasn’t limited to blue-collar jobs: The rise in contingent work was as large for people with a bachelor’s degree as it was for those without a high school diploma."]

Thor May (2014) "The Problem of Work and the Rise of the Precariat". The Passionate Skeptic website @

[Quote: " Work, as a life experience, has evolved greatly over historical time. For most ordinary people, their job is not something that they enjoy much. However, without formal work many lose focus, may become dependent on welfare, and certainly become socially stigmatized. It seems that increasing numbers of people will never be able to have secure employment. They have joined a new social class now called the precariat. What are the consequences of that? How have we reached this point? What is a practical, long term solution to “the problem of work” for ordinary people?"]

Rmp (April 24, 2019) "Do all employees owe their employers a duty of loyalty?" RM Partners-in-law @

[Thor, comment: note that this is legal advice from the state of Illinois in USA. Hmm, the land of the free as they say. By law in Illinios employees can be fired at any time for any reason and for no reason given. Ah, but legally they have a duty of loyalty there. Good luck with that. Australia is a bit more civilized, but the loyalty question is still moot]

Scot Herrick (August 1, 2018) "Why we owe companies our work – but not our loyalty" Cube Rules website @

[Quote: "In my interview the other day on Vocate, the first question I was asked was “What are the most important lessons you’ve had to learn in your professional life on finding and thriving in a job? My first bullet point, of many, was this one: We owe a company our work, but not our loyalty because corporate loyalty does not exist ... Good jobs used to be ones with a good salary, benefits, location, hours, boss, co-workers, and a clear path towards promotion. Now, a good job is one that prepares you for your next job, almost always with another company."]

Candice (November 10, 2019) "You are not a gun for hire". Legalbrew website @

[Quote (on legal ethics): "Some lawyers genuinely think of their shower time as a legitimate billable activity if they are “contemplating a case” while attending to their nether regions. Let’s say that this takes multi-tasking to a whole new level".]

David Maister (October 25, 2006) "Guns for Hire" David Maister blog @

Quote: I have discussed this a thousand times with professional providers, but very, very few think they are "allowed"ť by their firms to walk away from a paying customer because they didn’t like what he or she was doing. I like to make a sort of game of it:

* Would your firm walk away if you didn’t like the client?
* What if he or she was trying to do something you didn’t believe in?
* What if he or she was doing something unethical?
* Socially irresponsible?
* Illegal?

The answers are close to uniform: most individuals inside most firms feel an overwhelming pressure to ignore all these considerations but the last – and many will play games with “I didn’t know what was going on” on that one too."]

Thor May (2008) "Corruption and Other Distortions as Variables in Language Education". TESOL Law Journal, Vol.2 March 2008; also online @

[Abstract : This paper examines some of the ways in which foreign language education has been affected by corrupt practices and various other distortions of best teaching practice. Particular attention is paid to South Korea. The nature of corruption and its social origins are identified. Pressures affecting students, teachers and institutions are all seen to play a part. It is noted that mass education is a simulation which leaves space for fraud, whereas actual live language performance is its own test. Perhaps as a consequence, the gradual insertion of a new language code like English into a speech community might succeed over the long term even where immediate educational practices suggest failure].

Transparency International (n.d.) "HOW DO YOU DEFINE CORRUPTION?" @

[Quote: "Generally speaking as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. Corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.
Grand corruption consists of acts committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good. Petty corruption refers to everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- and mid-level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies. Political corruption is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth. See animated definitions of many corruption terms in our Anti-corruption Glossary".]

Wikipedia (2019) "Corruption" @

[Thor, comment: This is a very comprehensive Wikipedia article, very relevant to this topic of 'Are You For Rent"]

Ben Steverman (October 5, 2017) "Rich men with extreme politics have the happiest marriages" Brisbane Times @

Joe Pinsker (September 25, 2018) "The Not-So-Great Reason Why Divorce Rates Are Declining - What’s changed isn’t marriage, but the types of people who are likeliest to get married". The Atlantic @

Mandy Len Catron (July 2, 2019) "What You Lose When You Gain a Spouse - What if marriage is not the social good that so many believe and want it to be?" The Atlantic @

Ben Butler (2 December 2019) "Culture of impunity: how Australia dropped the ball on policing the banks - The Westpac scandal highlights the problems Australian institutions have with detecting and reporting dodgy transactions", The Guardian @

[Thor, comment: In their private behaviour individuals may (or may not) have high standards of personal honesty and decency. Once they rent themselves to an organization, these standards are largely put aside. A company (or government) is a "legal person", but regardless of regulations, it has none of the inner moral values that an individual might have. We see endless illustrations of the consequences in companies, governments, armies, of employees surrendering responsibility for their own actions to an impersonal organization. Quote from the article: "Westpac’s money laundering and child exploitation crisis has rocked the bank and thrown harsh light on the behaviour of the rest of the financial services sector. It’s also raised questions about why Australia lags in enforcing rules about monitoring potentially dodgy transactions. According to allegations by Austrac, Australia’s financial intelligence agency, Westpac broke the law more than 23 million times in transactions worth more than $11bn. ... "“Misconduct in our financial industry is a result of a significant deterioration in culture precipitated – for in excess of a decade – by a relentless drive for record profits, year after year,” says Andy Schlumow, a regulatory consultant and law lecturer at the University of Wollongong. ... At a higher level still, despite a review process that has been under way for more than a decade, the Australian government has stalled the process of bringing the nation’s laws up to international standards ... There is no sign the Morrison government will take action any time soon ..."

Joyce Fung (1 December 2019) "Chinese students paid to rort Australian universities as government tackles cheating". ABC @

[Thor, comment: Nowhere are amoral guns for hire more common than in mass education institutions. Corruption in education is worldwide, begins in primary schooling and extends to doctorates. Knowledge is an intangible commodity. Education is a simulation of life. Both knowledge and the simulation are easy to fake. The institutional managers, the ghost writers and the students all have motivations to cheat. The outcome is a contempt for learning, ignorant graduates, and national loss. Some countries are worse than others. Australian formal education has become deeply corrupted. My opinion is not casual. I have 40 years of experience in 7 countries, have written articles on educational corruption, and wrote a PhD dissertation partly on this topic].

=> Thor, further comment: It is actually not so difficult for a language specialist (linguist) such as myself to identify ghost written material, especially from English as a second language speakers. The process is called forensic linguistics. It is used by linguists, for example, in court cases where the police claim an aboriginal suspect has signed a written statement that the suspect could not possibly have written. The problem in universities is often not in identifying the fraud but getting deans and administrators to acknowledge the evidence. They fear losing students (fees) and having thousands of court cases on their hands. A lecturer who persists in pursuing fraud is unlikely to have his contract renewed. A possible solution is to have standardized assessment done in a different (preferably statutory), non-corrupt organization from the teaching. However, that penalises students who are creative, original thinkers.

Thor May (2014) "Fakes, liars, cheats, deceivers, animals in the forest - It’s all around us. From face lifts to luxury cars on hire purchase, from inflated CVs to exaggerated job titles, from company publicity material to the spin that governments put on their failures and deceptions. At what point does fakery become fraud? Would the world be a duller place without it?" The Passionate Skeptic website @ 

Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


Are you for rent? What are your terms? (c) Thor May 2019 return to Ddiscussion