Money Money Money Money Money Money Money
As the comments to recent reports of associate year-end bonuses attest (see the Wall Street Journal Law Blog) it's the comparison of economic rewards rather than amount of income itself that makes workers unhappy with their lot. .
The research cited below doesn't explain this behavioral tic but it does normalize it.
Liza, Cabaret, singing Money
This is the Capuchin monkey, many of whom have been trained to work for "money" by researchers. (where's PETA when you need them?)
What does the capuchin consider "unequal?"
Apparently the capuchin will more or less happily "work" for another "CEO" monkey until the CEO begins to "earn" five times as much food as the "worker" does for the employee's labor.
When that critical inequity is reached, the laborer rebels and refuses to work, leaving both monkeys without "income."
It's not just quantity that triggers the primate response to the provision of unequal rewards. The capuchin also digs his heels in and refuses to go to the office if a co-worker is seen to be receiving better quality compensation.
After training the monkeys to trade pebbles for slices of cucumber, the capuchin happily played the game. Once one was given a more desireable grape while the other continued to receive only cucumbers, the cucumber recipient became agitated, threw his pebbles out of his cage and eventually refused to perform any further tasks for the researchers whatsoever.
The obvious take away?
People are less concerned about absolute levels of wages or standards of living, compared with how they are doing relative to others. Rewards in a market economy [must be shared, but] the essential flaw in systems like communism [is that] people are expected to share resources without regard to how much work they do. If you cooperate, you have to watch what the other person is getting," say the scientists. You need to have some level of reciprocity.