A Follow-up to “Location-Based Pay”

Where do we go from here?

My previous post, on the subject of “location-based pay”, hit the front page of Hacker News, where it’s received over 700 comments. I’d like to respond to some feedback.

But first, an anecdote:

When I was a kid, there was this cleaner at my school who was from Brazil. This is stupid, but I can remember thinking “why would you move all the way here from the other side of the world just to work as a cleaner?” When I verbalised that ignorant thought (thankfully not to Carina herself), I remember being surprised at the explanation: that even a “bad” job in Britain can feel like a great opportunity to a lot of people worldwide. This obvious fact about global economic inequity wasn’t obvious to me at 14 - and if I didn’t learn it then, I definitely learnt it twelve years later when I lived for six months in São Paulo. There are many great reasons to visit Brazil, but no-one moves there from England just to clean toilets.

My point is that we often don’t appreciate how good we have it. And really that’s all I was trying to say in my previous post. For software engineers in the West to complain about the injustice of “location-based pay” betrays a certain level of hypocrisy, because we’ve been living under such an arrangement for a long time already. Few were complaining when the shoe was on the other foot.

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Some have accused my previous post of advocating such hypocrisy. I shrugged about how things can be made better, therefore I don’t care about improving anything and merely want to preserve the status quo for my own selfish benefit. I suppose I can see how my words could be read that way - the sentence “maybe we should be careful what we wish for” was regrettable - but that’s not what I think! I said I don’t know what the solutions are because I genuinely don’t know, but the least I can do is draw attention to the problem.

If you want a smart, data-driven set of prescriptions as to how we in the rich world can help the less fortunate, read Doing Good Better, a book which profoundly changed my own spending habits. In the meantime, all I can say is that these issues are immensely complicated, and I’m just some random guy who studied computer science, not international development. I consume cheap products produced in poor countries because it’s the default option and I don’t have the time or energy to do a full background check on everything I buy, but I’m more conscious of these things than I used to be, and I’m trying to shop better.

Of course it’s a luxury to be having this conversation at all. Many in Britain and elsewhere have got more pressing questions than third-world wage rates; questions like “where am I going to find my next meal?” When you’re struggling to afford clothes at all, you don’t care where they were manufactured.

So let’s zoom out a little from our myopic debate about developer compensation - a concern that looks more narrow-minded than ever in the face of a global pandemic that’s destroyed countless livelihoods but left our own industry relatively unscathed. One HN commenter suggests I should have concluded like this:

As workers united in the goal for international solidarity we should reject the notion of Location-Based Pay, not only because it devalues our own work, but primarily because this practice is causing mass poverty and underpay among our fellow workers in the poorer regions in the world.

I can’t argue with that.

Here's to a fairer future. 🥂

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Image credit: Jordan Opel on Unsplash