Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dangers of Gratuitous Unalienability

Suppose there was a bill passed tomorrow, creating a law that made the minimum hourly pay rate for engineers in the US $10,000/hr. As of tomorrow, paying a US engineer anything less than that minimum rate would become illegal.

Would you care?

Well, if you're a US engineer, I hope your answer is, "Hell, yes I'd care. What a stupid law". And, contrariwise, if you're an engineer anywhere else, you could be forgiven for rubbing your hands in glee at the thought of all that formerly US work coming your way.

But suppose, now, that the same law was created, but with an "Only If You Want To" exception. In other words, suppose the law said that your clients could pay you no less than $10,000/hr, unless you and your client made a prior arrangement for a lower rate. Let's call that prior arrangement an ... oh, I dunno ... how about "a contract".

Now would you care?

In this case, I imagine the answer is a puzzled, "But surely that's no different from no law at all?" And you'd be correct. By allowing you to give away, or abandon the "right" to a $10,000/hr rate, the damage created (in the form of making you unemployable) of the original law is undone. In other words, the damage created by the original law arose out of the fact that the original law took a simple pre-existing right to a $10,000/hr rate (hey, I'm free to quote that to you today if I want) and forced it onto you and your intended clients or employers in the form of an obligation. The damage arose because laws tend to make some rights unalienable - that is, you cannot choose not to have the right in the question.

Ah but if only this was just a wee story. And of course, it's not. As well as operations in Austin, TX; Bristol, England; and Edinburgh, Scotland; Verilab also has an office in Munich. And the German bureaucrats are very, very good at this kind of thing. Take, for example, the recently announced German "Nursing Care Leave Act" (Pflegezeitgesetz “PflegeZG”) which came into force earlier this month and which my friendly neighbourhood legal advisors in DLA Piper sent my way. Germany regularly comes up with little gems like this, adding more and more "rights" to employees. As a result, the poor Germans, saddled as they are with an increasing burden of unalienability, find themselves increasingly uncompetitive in the world market.

Of course, work goes on in Germany. Verilab has had an office there for over five years now, and we're looking to hire, as always, superb engineers. But we, and everyone else, would be hiring even more superb engineers if the burden of gratuitous unalienability was lightened. nicht die Spur einer Chance.

No comments:

Post a Comment