It’s a cynical old saying that we all have our price. It is not one we care to use about ourselves though. Yet we do have our price because that’s partly why millions of crap jobs exist. The industrial revolution was built on some exceedingly crap jobs, on people with a price low enough for dark satanic mills to be profitable.
Perhaps there is also a variant of the Peter Principle where people aim to rise through an organisation until they reach their perceived value to the great wide world. The incompetence arises when a chap’s notion of personal value is rather higher than it should be.
In the public sector a decent salary, good working conditions and an index-linked pension have bought a significant degree of mildly cantankerous but essentially solid loyalty from millions. I saw it and was part of it.
A complicating factor is that people seem to have widely different notions of how much is enough for a satisfactory lifestyle. These notions do not seem to be strongly correlated with ability either. During my career I came across and heard about a number of able people who appeared to be quite happy with less than I’d be happy with, or less than I’d be happy with if I’d had their ability.
A good example of this was a guy my father told me about. He worked for Rolls Royce in the sixties, a heavily-bearded computer whizz who came to work on an old motorcycle and sidecar and ambled around the corporate corridors wearing sandals and no socks. All he did was solve computer problems but that was enough.
Rolls Royce was smart enough to make him into a one man department but never paid him anywhere what they would have given if he’d ever demanded it. Sublimely content with what he had, he just solved problems and took his family for jaunts in the motorbike and sidecar.
Modern bureaucracies seem to prefer a kind of grudging loyalty to unconventional talents. They buy it with money and security and certainly don’t want talented beardies with no socks wandering around the place. The closest they come to innovation is through their PR people – who also have their price.