The destructiveness of “hard work”


Shawn Gude

Shawn Gude is a writer, graduate student, activist, and assistant contributor at Jacobin. His intellectual influences include Chantal Mouffe, Michael Harrington, and Ella Baker. Contact him at or on Twitter @shawngude.

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  1. I understand the desire to help those that work either through paying them more or, where we can, making their work more tolerable. Helping people (outside of comparatively narrow circumstances) opt out of work altogether? I consider that more problematic. I consider “Don’t criticize us for being lazy when we’re protesting for jobs!” to be one of the more powerful arguments of OWS.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

      I believe in America. I believe our INCENTIVES work. I don’t think that monetary payment is necessary for someone to Do Something with their life — then again, I’m in the creative class.

      You give most people enough money to sit on their duff the whole day? A month later, they’re doing Something! Be it geneological research, writing a book, gardening/farming. Something Big.

      America does a GREAT job of raising experimenters, scientists — best in the world, in fact.

      I figure if we let most folks go, most folks would do something.(Charity work, if nothing else. Making sure people’s feet don’t freeze off)

      Do you remember the housewife whose hobby was a mainframe computer?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kimmi says:

        Aristotle would have been quick to identify with this: idleness is inconsistent with happiness. Thus:

        You give most people enough money to sit on their duff the whole day? A month later, they’re doing Something!

        That may be true. But I see large numbers of people who get subsistence money (often, but not necessarily always, in the form of social welfare dispensed by the government) and who don’t seem to do Anything with their lives other than survive. And, I don’t think these people are very happy, neither in the Aristotelean sense or pretty much any other definition of happiness you might care to proffer.

        Perhaps it’s because they aren’t being paid enough to feel comfortable doing something instead of holding themselves in survival mode; they don’t think they have the surplus funds available to lay the foundation to do Something. Perhaps it’s a function of their micro-culture or their educational attainment. Or maybe the filter through which I am interacting with these people is such that those who use the time and means of survival given to them never make it to me in the first place — after all, my first-hand experience with members of the non-laboring classes (recall) comes mainly from evicting them after they’ve somehow diverted their entitlement funding from paying for their housing to something else.

        I suspect that people who get susbsistence money from sources other than the government try to do Something more often, but again we can at least point to a correlation of education and cultural background to suggest that a state of idle survival is insufficient for personal happiness, so without the need to exchange labor for money, they find idleness dissatisfying. But, that ethic need not necessarily be universal across the various strata of our culture.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Burt Likko says:

          before I finish reading your recall:

          Many times the people living on subsistence from the government have most of their leisure time absorbed in “you gotta dos”… either filling out paperwork, or attending classes, or looking for jobs. There are a lot of different things that they’ve got to do.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

            There’s also the business of impoverishing one’s self before being able to receive any such funds.   Medicare spend-down, case in point.

            And woe betide the recipient of any agency’s largesse if he or she makes a few dollars on the side.   Your kids will lose their health insurance.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Once you “make a few dollars on the side” you’ve lost your right to the dole. Hence the reason so many on welfare and its ilk are unable and unwilling to do “Something”. They can’t because the system is designed to ensure they can’t.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to wardsmith says:

                Many people on welfare do Something. it’s called selling drugs, or other facets of the underground economy. Others do church work, or volunteer work. at least in my experience.Report

              • Avatar mranonymous in reply to wardsmith says:

                The problem is, most of the opportunities a typical uneducated welfare recipient comes across would a)cause you to lose your welfare but earn you only a little bit more than welfare, b) would be far less secure than welfare (and being poor is to live under a great deal of uncertainty (and if uncertainty is bad for business, how do you think its for poor people?) )and c) increase your living costs (so now I need day-care, so how am I going to pay for that? and how am I going to get to work?)… not to mention, you actually have to do hard work to get it.
                So disincentive? Hell yes. But also an incentive to participate in the black and grey markets, where you’re not going to report that income (yes, welfare, you have lots of paper work, I know, I’ve been on it). So what to do? Well. Make sure they have some modicum of income security, even when they are making enough money to pay for the basic necessities of life on their own. A basic income guarantee that is not means tested.

                Long live MMT, and the job guarantee I suppose.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kimmi says:

            All good points. Also things that are probably not well-calculated to lead to either the generation of happiness or the creation of a Something that third parties will believe contributes to the larger economy.Report

  2. Avatar Matty says:

    I want to cheer this but I’m not sure how we get there, for one thing there is work that needs to be done but is pretty foul for the person doing it (those toilets need cleaning). Currently we incentivise people to do that by taking away or stigmatising alternatives, which is shitty but how <i>do</i> you persuade people to clean out the pan in a society without that?

    Another issue that already pops up with regard to the unemployed is resentment “My income is a reward for what I do but yours is a gift and that’s not fair” we already see this in some quarters with regards to the unemployed or even the idle rich and they have defences “I have no choice right now” or “it’s my money anyway”. How do you deal with this when under a minimum income scheme you end up with someone who chooses to live on income that comes from others?

    Don’t get me wrong, we need to stop elevating those who choose to kick puppies for a wage over those who prefer to sit quietly without one and I think a minimum income is a good idea, I just worry about the practicalities.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Matty says:

      There oughta be at least some stigma  to the folks who just sit around and watch TV all day. That said, your garden variety starving artist isn’t making money either.

      Much of the work that “needs to be done” is an illusion. Do we really need waiters telling us we’re “Mr. Super Special Worthy of Being Waited on Hand And Foot?”Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Kimmi says:

        Yes (And I say this completely unironically having worked in customer service and sales before) Even such work is worth doing and teaches important skills.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Murali says:

          What, you learned how to cheat at cards? (completely unironic. arabian rug merchants are champs at it.).Report

        • Murali:

          I agree.  I’ve worked at least some customer service and find that having done so has been invaluable in other of my less-than-customer-focused jobs.

          Also, if anything, it teaches you how to be nice to customer service reps.  It’s not a correlation of 1, but I’ve noticed that those acquaintances of mine who have had few or no service jobs tend to be in my opinion very rude, or at least overly high maintenance, to those who work in customer service.  People can go overboard the other way, however, and be hypersensitive and come off as condescending to the service provider, which perhaps I do sometimes, although I try not to.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

            Ditto what Pierre wrote.  When I drove a cab I learned that people who worked for tips were my best tippers. In consequence of those experiences I’m normally a fairly generous tipper now.Report

            • I try to be generous, too, but I sometimes wonder if by doing so, I’m being condescending.  I guess it just fits with my approach to the world:  nothing we can do is ever purely good or purely bad.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                You’re not condescending.  Those who work for tips rely on them.  There are two sorts of people in this wicked world:  those who’ve worked for tips and those who haven’t.   Those who have, as James points out, will tip more generously than those who don’t.   The waitress is not part of the furniture and the cab doesn’t drive itself.Report

              • I agree completely.  I just want to avoid the trap of saying “I’m a good person because I’m a generous tipper,” when in fact I’m just paying someone what I consider the going rate (i.e., the “generous” tip) for the service they’ve performed for me.Report

          • I firmly believe that everyone should (which isn’t to say “should be required to”) work in retail, food service or customer service at some point in their lives.  It makes you a better person to be on the receiving end of peoples’ entitlement and rudeness, and less likely to go and do likewise.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Russell Saunders says:

              I  firmly believe that everyone should (which isn’t to say “should be required to”) work in retail, food service or customer service at some point in their lives. It makes you a better person to be on the receiving end of peoples’ entitlement and rudeness, and less likely to go and do likewise.

              I got a lot of that, but it was all from the owner’s wife.Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to Kimmi says:

        “Do we really need waiters telling us we’re “Mr. Super Special Worthy of Being Waited on Hand And Foot?”

        Is that what waiters are for? I thought that table service was a convenience not an ego boost, but no I wouldn’t include it in the category of stuff that needs to be done. Now sewage workers…Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Matty says:

          Cafeteria/Buffet makes it just as convenient, doesn’t it?

          (gotta say, something like what’s done at LuLu’s noodles, where they just carry it out and put “nowcooked” food on table, and you bus your own stuff — that’s a lot less than what I’m talking about normally.)Report

          • Avatar Matty in reply to Kimmi says:

            Cafeteria/Buffet makes it just as convenient, doesn’t it?

            It’s marginal but it can be more convenient to go straight to your table and have a conversation with your dining companions sitting down, maybe you want to show them some documents which is harder to do in a queue, maybe one of you is tired or just want to stand around.

            Again I don’t see it as a big deal but I find it irritating to suggest the only reason someone would choose a place with waiter service is because they see themselves as the canines testes and having stuff fetched for them enforces that.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Matty says:

              yes, indeed there are often reasons for things… not everything is conducive to cafeteria format, for example — and why should everyone wait at a counter? But my main point is that often, restaurants have people pay a lot just to be pampered.

              Signs your restaurant is pampering you:

              1) How was the food?

              2) Did you like everything?

              3) Do you need more time to order?

              4) Have this, on the house…

              5) anytime the waiter needs to patiently explain what the food IS.Report

        • Avatar Will H. in reply to Matty says:

          If you’re going to act like that, I’m going to ask for another waiter.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Kimmi says:

        Where would all the failed actors go if we eliminate waiters and waitresses?

        On  a serious note, if rich people want to pay extra money so they can be waited on hand and foot, what is wrong with people taking that job? Rich people spending money on things they might necessarily need can be good for the livelihood of less rich people (not all the time, of course). I’d rather they spend that money than hoarding it.


    • Avatar LauraNo in reply to Matty says:

      Isn’t it possible that if everyone had a minimum income
      they wouldn’t take non-rewarding/ unpleasant jobs at
      the current rate but if someone else – business owner
      for example – needs it done and ALSO doesn’t want to do
      it then a much better wage will be offered? A minimum
      income could mean a true free market for labor and wages.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LauraNo says:

        Having to offer a job that can compete with not working at all doesn’t strike me as a “true free market” in any meaningful sense. That doesn’t in itself make it a bad idea, because maybe things would be all-around better if low-wage workers had more leverage. I don’t think it would (see below), but it could be an example of a market manipulation that is beneficial in the overall.

        I suspect what we would see is a lot of jobs lapsing. People who have engineering degrees cleaning their own house, or putting up with a messier one, rather than hiring a maid. Fast food joints working based off kiosks. Jobs being filled by immigrants who are willing to do the job (and who aren’t guaranteed an income – at least not at first). And lots of people getting by choosing not to work because their lifestyles are paid for by people who are. That… does not strike me as a winning arrangement.Report

  3. Avatar Will H. says:

    Where did you get this idea that social mobility is the objective of work?
    Any way I work it out, it still looks like a false equivalence.Report

  4. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    I think we ought to be careful that in the effort to not stigmatize people for not wanting to do certain jobs, we end up stigmatizing those jobs as dehumanizing, menial, or not worth anyone’s time. For one thing, like Matty said above, those jobs still need doing. And one person’s “menial” job is another person’s way of putting food on the table for his/her family. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to sonmi451 says:

      When things get rough for me in my professional life, I look at the guy stacking cans of soup in the grocery store who isn’t allowed to work overtime and think, “At 4:00 in the afternoon, that guy punches out and he stops thinking about the soup shelf. If the job isn’t done for some reason, at 4:01, that’s someone else’s problem.” It’s hard not to be jealous of that when the demons come to torture my mind at 4:00 in the morning, and trading autonomy for freedom from stress seems like a rational sort of bargain.Report

        • Building on what both Burt and Sonmi are saying, I think that people that stress the importance of any work over not working need to be honest about what that does for a person’s future employment possibilities. For example, I know a lot of (still employed) white collar folk that look at laid off white collar workers and say, “What, they can’t work at McDonalds until things get better?  They think they’re too good for that?  For shame!”

          I get that argument, but it also bears noting that if a position opens up in their own company not one of these people would hire the guy who decided hard work was good and now lists McDonalds as their current employer.Report

          • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Suddenly I’m thinking of The Company Men (aka the only movie I found Ben Affleck tolerable).Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            I get that argument, but it also bears noting that if a position opens up in their own company not one of these people would hire the guy who decided hard work was good and now lists McDonalds as their current employer.

            I would hire someone that worked at McDonald’s for a year after college before I would hire someone that was unemployed during that period. In a heartbeat. I don’t know how typical or unusual that is, though. I will say that when I lived in Deseret, one of the things that *really* impressed me about the attitude out there was that they looked very positively on people willing to do grunt-work. For the locals, you sort of payed your dues working as a phone jockey in customer support before moving on to your first “real” job. (Customer support companies absolutely love Mormonland. You get articulate and conscientious individuals willing and happy to work for $7/hr).

            Now, logistically, the problem is that someone who is working full-time at McDonald’s is less likely to have time to interview for the job in the first place.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

              “I would hire someone that worked at McDonald’s for a year after college before I would hire someone that was unemployed during that period. In a heartbeat. “

              This is certainly true, but I would argue there is a huuuuuge chasm in white-collar-wold perception between a guy who worked for a year at McDonalds right out of college, and (for example) a laid off 38-year old advertising exec that has been working at McDonalds.  The first is perceived as just getting his or her start.  The other (fair or not) is not only written off as a loser you don’t ever hire, but in my experience is most vocally written off as loser you don’t ever hire by the same type of person that complains that people on unemployment should be willing to go work at McDonalds.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Here again I disagree, though. If someone has a substantial resume prior to having worked for McDonald’s, in what sense is it worse than they spend 9 months of a 12 month stint since their last real job working something menial in nature? I mean, you don’t exactly highlight it on your resume, but it would be pretty short-sighted of an employer to not care that you were Assistant Director of Design at Company X a year ago because you are presently working a menial job. I’m not saying that some companies aren’t so short-sighted, but the original posit wherein I open a company, I’d still be more open to McDonald’s guy. (Though, unfortunately for him, there are probably other candidates who haven’t been 12-months out of his field to begin with.)Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

                1) shows lack of confidence

                2) shows lack of industry in saving. if you can’t spend 1 year out of work and not sweat it (on unemployment), you’re really not in a very good position.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kimmi says:

                Saving industriousness is a lost art. I am as likely as not to believe that #2 is swimming in credit card debt than that they are necessarily better savers than #1.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

                hadn’t meant those to be exclusive… (maybe that was understood?)_Report

              • Avatar Plinko in reply to Will Truman says:

                As far as my experience in the corporate world goes, both you and Tod are correct here, Trumwill. The stigmatization of people who step down in work prestige is both shortsighted and extremely commonplace.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

              Sometimes I wonder if I should feel embarrassed because I repeat myself so much. Then I forget.

              Anyway, here‘s what I wrote in this thread:

              I have friends in management (until recently, I would have said that I know three people without degrees) at a small manufacturing company who tell me that they would hire a person with a year or two of experience as assistant manager of a Domino’s, Pizza Hut, or McDonald’s before they would hire a person with a bachelor’s degree in “Business” (let alone (whatever) Studies).

              They say this because, and I’ll try to recreate the rant for you:

              “I know that the guy who worked as an assistant manager at Pizza Hut had to deal with all three delivery drivers calling in sick on a Friday night because there was a party, I know that the guy who worked as an assistant manager at Domino’s had to deal with screaming customers at the same time as stoned line cooks at the same time as the phone ringing, I know that the guy who worked as an assistant manager at McDonald’s knows how to tell time, how to count, how to shower, and how to deal with both people who tell him what to do and people that he has to order around. The guy with a degree? I don’t know anything about him except that he can probably outdrink me.”

              I don’t know how representative this is but I was impressed by the rant and it was given to me at a point in his life when he did not (yet) have his (night school) college degree.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:

                Speaking of repeating oneself, I’d like to link to this story again.  The manager profiled is a heck of leader, completely responsible for a staff of about 80, working at least 45 hours on the clock, but de facto on call 24/7.

                He makes $39K.  (plus some medical).  In Washington DC.  (where the typical recent college grad with a fraction of the responsibility is regularly starting at double that).

                (One of the thing apparently keeping him back per the article is that he has a 9th grade Central American education so he’s hit a ceiling on how much English-language paperwork he’s able to handle.)Report

            • Avatar Matt Huisman in reply to Will Truman says:

              This is really a non-issue as any McDonald’s operator with a brain would not hire you.  Why go through the effort to bring along someone you know will be gone ASAP?

              Overqualified people are tough to hire…too much defection risk.  Besides, it screws up your unemployment benefits.Report

              • Avatar karl in reply to Matt Huisman says:

                Thanks for bringing this little conversation back into the real world.Report

              • Yes…overqualification is a huge wall I’m starting to find.Report

              • It’s not quite that simple. Places like McDonald’s have a system in place that minimizes training requirements. If you’re bright, not much is really required (I think I got half a day when I was in high school?).

                This is, of course, a generalized argument for overqualification in general. The extent to which overqualification may be a hinderance depends a great deal. Due to the demands of my wife’s career, I’ve been applying for jobs that I have been overqualified for going back on over five years now. I’ve been passed over for being overqualified*, but I’ve also gotten the job more than once. I was hired as a phone jockey with little more than a competence/diligence test (and that required a lot more training than McD’s). I have also been hired on entry-level with an eye towards promotion if I proved myself worthy for it. It really depends.

                Age can be an issue, though. I have worked for employers that passed on people for being too experienced and too old. We hired a woman a thesis away from a master’s degree in Computer Science (and killer internships and references) for a job that paid less than $10/hr. She’s still there, actually, last I heard.

                (Looping back to the original topic, I think I was better off taking multiple entry-level jobs for which I was overqualified. It actually increased the breadth of my experience. My pay graph didn’t increase like it would have without the constant moving, but it beat being unemployed or waiting for the perfect job, in the end.)

                * – Or it may have had nothing to do with that. I was 10x qualified for the job and I doubt they hired someone more qualified. And during the interview, they expressed concern over my qualifications. On the other hand, I was invited back to interview for a different position that I was similarly overqualified for, so it seems that they weren’t entirely averse to the idea. Maybe they did find someone similarly or better qualified and hired them.Report

          • Avatar Simon K in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Maybe I’m unusual, but provided something had relevant experience and education, I’d take the guy currently working at McDonalds over the guy who’s spent 98 weeks on unemployment and is only now sending me his resume, which I see far, far more often. Now, HR might rule out the guys currently working at McDonalds, but if I saw his resume it would count in his favour.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

        “At 4:00 in the afternoon, that guy punches out and he stops thinking about the soup shelf. If the job isn’t done for some reason, at 4:01, that’s someone else’s problem.”

        In Colorado, we’ve got that whole MMJ thing going on. There are the jobs where you absolutely positively cannot have a card and if you get a card, you will be terminated on the spot… and there are jobs where it doesn’t matter if you have a card.

        While I expect that it is true that I will never retire, I look forward to the day when I can go from a job where I cannot have a card to a job where I can (not that I *WOULD*, mind… just that I could).Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

        As a teacher, I sometimes long for this. But it works both ways. I look at my students and th endof the year, and the growth they’ve achieve, and think, “Holy crap! I had something to do with that! Awesome!” I doubt the soup stacker thinks that… no matter how nice those cans look.Report

      • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Burt Likko says:

        There are way too many high tech jobs today where you’re expected to be working 60-70 hours/week (no overtime, because you’re a professional), and thanks to the marvels of the internet, you’re on call 24/7 in case of emergency (which has been defined down from “a production system is broken” to “a sales guy in some other time zone can’t figure out how to demo X”.).  Any suggestion that you have a life outside work is considered a bad attitude, because your focus should be that we’re all building a company together.  Oh, and the minute you’re not needed any more, you’re let go.  No recourse — you’re an at-will employee.

        That is, the choice between autonomy and stress is “both, please”.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to MikeSchilling says:

          Lack of autonomy and stress.Report

        • Avatar Plinko in reply to MikeSchilling says:

          There are way too many high tech jobs today where you’re expected to be working 60-70 hours/week (no overtime, because you’re a professional), and thanks to the marvels of the internet, you’re on call 24/7 in case of emergency.

          Fix’d for you.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Plinko says:

            I believe that far more positions should be considered hourly rather than salary.Report

            • Avatar Plinko in reply to Will Truman says:

              Quite right. The idea that making $23,000 and supervising another person  or possessing a ‘professional’ skill in one’s work exempts one from overtime pay rules is a cruel joke.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Plinko says:

                I question whether anyone who makes less than the median wage (assuming a 40-hour work-week) should be considered salary. I do have to confess that I haven’t thought through all of the possibilities on this.Report

              • Avatar Plinko in reply to Will Truman says:

                Well, surely many people’s nominal salary would be reduced, and the difference mostly returned through overtime pay, so on balance we would expect payroll to not change that much. I’d still say it’s a good thing because it would incentivize firms to actually consider work and resource allocation more carefully instead of being able to treat marginal worker time to be ‘free’.

                I guess a lot of incentive to get one’s work done in a quick fashion in many jobs would be eliminated – though for those of us that have a component of their job which is ‘be present/available’ that’s always been a joke anyway.


              • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Plinko says:

                it would incentivize firms to actually consider work and resource allocation more carefully instead of being able to treat marginal worker time to be ‘free’.



              • Avatar Matt Huisman in reply to Plinko says:

                All hourly pay does is lead to sign out sheets for bathroom breaks, discussions about who you were talking to on the phone, arguments over why didn’t I get OT this week and why do I have to work OT next week.

                Employers are either true to their expectations or they aren’t.  The method of pay is almost entirely irrelevant.  Employees need to decide what works for them.Report

              • Most of the jobs I’ve worked (even the professional ones) have been hourly and the above has generally not been an issue. It’s a bit more complicated on the bathroom thing, but I never had to sign out to use it.


          • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Plinko says:

            No doubt; I’m just reporting on what I know first-hand.  And, I suppose, commenting on the perception that STEM-based job are space awesome.Report

  5. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    A large part of what community organizers do is to compete — against other community organizers — for scarce state and federal welfare grants.  There is no reason to believe that the result of their competition approximates an efficient allocation.  Much more likely it approximates their political influence.  This, when compared to a theoretical state where resources go to the truly needy, is almost certainly worse than random.

    In other words, a large part of their work is deadweight loss.  What isn’t deadweight loss is decreasing the efficiency of the welfare state.

    That said, I don’t value work as an end in itself.  I look forward to the day when robots do it all for us, and when we can all sit in our basements eating Cheetos and watching porn.  Or sit on a sunny hillock, wearing togas and discussing the works of Aristotle.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Do you have some statistics for this, or is your “much more likely” merely an “I Believe”?

      In the latter case, allow me to advance a competing theory (backed up, in as much as it can be, by my local citypaper):

      Communities that organize get funded. If enough people get together, and say “let’s do this particular one thing”, something happens. This isn’t really a result of political influence — because these communities all are yellow-dog Democrats. But it is a variety of political influence, in the sense that it takes politicking to get disparate groups together to “clean up the streets” or “tear down the nuisance bar.” In an ideal world, we’d all agree on everything instantaneously. But it really doesn’t work that way — your deadweight loss is mostly TIME, not money. To show that it’s deadweight loss in money, you’d have to show that competing projects were all being greenlit — and that the competition wasn’t going to show which was best. (which, I’ll grant, you can show in the case of the US military, so it’s not like the gov’t hasn’t done such…)Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kimmi says:

        The fact that you offer this as a “competing theory” just shows that you don’t know what deadweight loss is.

        Some communities that organize get funded.  Others organize, and apply for funds, and get nothing.  Their efforts are deadweight loss, and adding even  more community organizers to the picture just adds to the loss.  Only n of them will win; there are always more than n around; and unlike in a market, there is no reason to believe that adding more of them will add either to the general stock of goods or to the efficiency of their distribution.

        It’s a lot like standing in line — when you stand in line, you could always potentially be doing something else.  The time you spend in line is time that went to the allocation process of queuing.  It’s not an efficient process.  Neither is begging the government for resources.  Adding more beggars doesn’t help, and calling them “community organizers” doesn’t help either.

        So when you say “your deadweight loss is mostly TIME, not money,” and you think you have me, I just have to laugh.  It’s what I was talking about all along, and yes, time is valuable.  I’m sorry that you don’t like that fact.Report

        • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Implicit in your critique is the assumption that all of organizing’s value derives from bringing in outside funding, and none from actually organizing the community in question.  You haven’t demonstrated this at all.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Dan Miller says:

            Please re-read the first eight words of my original comment.Report

          • Dan, that was originally going to be my critique of what Jason wrote.  However, upon re-reading his comment, I find he was stating that competing for funding is only a part of what community organizers do, although according to him it’s “a large part.”  I know too little about what community organizing actually is in practice, and in theory it  probably ought to be more focused on empowerment or whatever instead of funding, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is largely on winning access to funds.

            As always, I stand to be corrected.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

              Hi! Ready the pittsburgh citypaper if you wanna know about community organizing. It ranges from “hi, I patrol with a gun, and stop drug deals” to “let’s grow some Corn!” to “lets say some prayers about the nuisance bar”

              Lotta things, some that get outside funding.Report

        • Avatar Will H. in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          I’m interested in the turn of this sub-thread.
          One of my favorite drums to beat is that organizations that offer community services should be tied to the community in which they serve. And I see a movement away from this; a trend where everything is bigger, Bigger, BIGGER, until you have a “community service” organization that serves a five county area.
          I see all sorts of problems with this, and the only benefit that I can see that could come of it is in the possibility (in theory) of reducing administrative costs, and in the competition for funding.
          I would like to solicit an opinion on the matter.
          Are these organizations better smaller or larger?Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Will H. says:

            Depends on the organization. Habitat for Humanity would run out of projects if it was downsized to just one neighborhood. OTOH, that Phillipi WV shtick with the solar panels (google it, it’s awesome) is just waiting to be copycatted by every other rural community.

            You got a lot of logistics issues — and a friend of mine specializes in logistics.

            I figure it works like this — a community organization that’s about the community attracts more people in need of help. A broad based organization attracts more funding (you see it around more places, and it’s not just in jack-poor places).

            Ideally, you link up organizations — small ones bridge with larger ones, so that the local community can influence what charity happens (“hey, let’s have a 2 times a month grocery store!”) and can benefit from the enhanced logistics of a larger entity (like habitat for humanity, who can call in tons of college student help, who might otherwise be unwilling to volunteer for a relative unknown.)

            Now, if we can just not use slide rules anymore…Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


          okay, now that I’ve managed to argue your point, perhaps a mite bit more coherently than you did 😉 (please don’t take this seriously!)

          What about community cleanup efforts? I think there is some level of “added value” that comes of people knowing each other in the community. And the more people are linked together, the more something like “Redd Up Pittsburgh” attracts a big crowd. Each person who gives a half-day to pick up trash is able to add value to the effort. And they all do it because they’ve formed a social group which believes in “giving back” to the community.

          Now, I don’t know how much time is spent “carpin and kibbitzing” versus actually doing something (and I know it varies community by community)… But you certainly do get something back.

          And, really, what else did you expect people to be doing? watching TV? Is that actually a better use of time (economically speaking) than showing up and bitching, and potentially helping with smallish projects?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      There are excellent reasons to believe the money is efficiently allocated.  I know, I know, this goes completely against the grain of reason-based Libertarian thinking, but community organizations interoperate with rather more efficiency than you might suppose.   There’s no data to support your claim and plenty to show you’re wrong.  Face it, philanthropy isn’t the Libertarian strong suit:  forgive me that cheap shot but it’s true.

      For example, the entire reason for the United Way is to fund smaller organizations who would otherwise be wasting money competing for philanthropic dollars.   The Red Cross/Red Crescent works quite well, forming nodes at low level to act in the event of a disaster:  Los Angeles Red Cross is the node I know best these days:  they work in concert with many other entities to efficiently distribute and manage large-scale disasters — police departments, fire departments, state entities, federal entities such as National Guard and US Navy, whose nuclear-powered vessels  would likely provide power in the event of a major earthquake.

      You have it completely, utterly back-to-front.   The state does have a role in the welfare of its citizens, though you do not much like that idea.   What’s a deadweight loss anyway?   Allowing a city to descend into hunger and chaos?– here comes another Cheap Shot:   confronted with human need, the Libertarian response has always been some variant of Qu’ils mangent du gateaux.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Looks to me like it’s just another pool of funds to compete for.
        A lot of foundations out there that are required by law to give a percentage of their total worth every year.
        But the dynamic is the same.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

        What’s a deadweight loss anyway? 

        The money that’s spent in the competition for funds, which is money that doesn’t go to the operations of the organization.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

          Doesn’t work that way in the real world of philanthropy.   These days, nobody wants to give to a 501(c)(3) that can’t demonstrate org overhead of more than say, 10%, and they want it to be spent on the refugees, not on overhead.   Nonprofit accounting looks nothing like regular P&L accounting:  it’s little pots of money which must be spent according to the definitions of those pots, called Directed Giving.   A donor could give 100K to refugee work in Haiti:  I can’t spend any of that money on refugees in Chad.  In fact, I might have to instruct the donor to give that money to someone who is working in Haiti, since I don’t. Very few people give money to the General Fund which could be used for donor recruitment.

          This trend has pushed small charities into the arms of larger ones, for a small charity could be awash in what we call Directed Funds and still be unable to pay the front office secretary.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

          The money that’s spent in the competition for funds, which is money that doesn’t go to the operations of the organization.

          So, in the private sector, that’s marketing, advertising, idiot things done to impress potential, investors, inter-departmental politics, etc.?Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      “I don’t value work as an end in itself.  I look forward to the day when robots do it all for us, and when we can all sit in our basements eating Cheetos and watching porn.”

      “The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.”

      Oscar Wilde, The Soul Of Man Under Socialism (1895) Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      That said, I don’t value work as an end in itself.

      My experience in life has been different. I have seen that work, in and of itself, IS valuable, something near sacred in its effect on people.

      Even if we somehow COULD pay people to be idle, I think it would only create more misery, not less.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Liberty60 says:

        {blink} {blinkblink} I very much agree. {blinkblinkblink}Report

        • Of course, I have to be careful here: I am largely unemployed. But on the whole, I would say that this state of affairs has not been good for me. I substitute teach in part to mitigate this (it’s certainly not for the money). I’ve even tried to get on with some open source projects, but due to the dispersed nature of such things, it’s hard to get the guidance to contribute. I’m on the mailing list for OpenOffice and LibreOffice, but without a clear idea of how to jump in and actually start doing stuff (my professional background includes a lot of QA, which one would think would be an asset)..Report

          • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Will Truman says:

            Don’t get me started about open source projects and QA.

            If you like to write unit tests, try constructing some, focusing on areas that have high bug counts, and send them to the gatekeeper for the project.  If he finds them valuable (e.g. is smart enough to realize the value of automated tests), that should put you on the path to being a comitter.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Liberty60 says:

        Work is valuable.  Drudgery is not.  If you’re doing something useful and you accomplish something productive, that’s work.  If someone is all “somebody dun put they dirt in mah hole, here’s y’all’s shovel”, that’s drudgery.

        Although, of course, one man’s work is another man’s drudgery.  I actually enjoy shoveling snow.  I like making a big pile, I like cleaning off spaces and doing something useful for myself and my neighbors, and my regular job doesn’t offer many opportunities for physical activity.  Although duration is a big factor; I might like shoveling, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like shoveling ten hours a day for thirty years.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      This is really, it seems to me, a critique of making available these funds by way of competition for grants as opposed to doing it some other way, something a structure that to my knowledge was not put in place by community organizers.  (And it may not purport to be anything else.) I agree that it’s mighty time- and sweat- and money- consuming, though the extent of the deadweight loss as compared to whatever is gained by using that funds disbursement method (perhaps building a degree of social capital in communities where there would be less if there was a purely-need-determined and perfectly-implemented system of state-provided income support) is something I have absolutely no confidence opining upon.  It does seem interesting to critique a system of private entities competing for scarce dollars as inefficient, but I’m not at all sure or claiming it’s wrong.

      But I’m not sure how this is a critique of community organizing. (Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.) Even if the rfp system of grant disbursement had never been developed, there would still be community organizing, or do we not believe this?  (Incidentally, how do we define community organizing and comunity organizers here?) Community organizers would just do something else.  There may be less of them.  (This in itself, per my parenthetical speculation above, may involve an entry of some magnitude or other in the loss column from the perspective of social utility may; it may not.) It may be true that, given how much finding is available via grantseeking, community organizing in practice amounts to mostly seeking grants.  That doesn’t mean that community organizing as a generic activity is mostly about seeking federal and state grant dollars.  It is the decision to make these funds available in this way that creates rational incetives for organizations to expend their resources on seeking them through the prescribed process.  If that were not the environment that existed, community organizing would consist of something else, though it would still be community organizing.

      Moreover, in order to exist and be maintained, any organization must expend resources, including the resources of its membership as individuals and as a corporation.  That is a necessary predicate for being able to pursue objectives external to existing.  So by necessity, the existence of any organization implies a degree of deadweight loss.  If that degree is large in the case of the thing that actually exists in this world that you term “community organizers” the question then becomes, is there any problem with people choosing to spend their time in this way, given this environment, since, again, given that given, their communities actually do stand to benefit relative to there being no such organizing?  After all, the comparison you make here is of this situation compared to a situation in which there is a more ideally designed safety net, not what these people choose to do given the environment they face, as compared to what else they could choose to do given that same environment.

      Or, I may have completely wrong what comparison and claims you are making.  (I might just start attaching that as a standard disclaimer to all my comments.  Indeed, anyone who sees this comment is encouraged to mentally attach it even if it doesn’t appear.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        …To some extent, this is function of the role we envision for community organizing/that it envisions for itself.  I hosestly don’t know: to what extent do community organizers think of themselves as/actually function as conduits for cash or cash-like benefits from the government to people in need?  Again, this much depends on what community organizing actually is – what qualifies for the term.  i have some experience in community organizations, and my experience tells me such organizations tend to be much more focused on providing services rather than providing expendable resources per se.  Helping people find affordable housing.  Helping people apply for state benefits (which are distributed by the state, though Im sure not in a way that will satisfy critics – but still, not by community organizers).  Helping people find work,  Etc.  There is no component of these kind of functions that a rational, efficient, need-based system of income support from the government would actually replace.  You could argue the government could do this better and eliminate this service-provision function from the private-non-profit part of society.  I’d be surprised but not shocked to find a libertarian arguing that.  But you can’t really argue that simply a better income-support system would supplant these functions and increase overall efficiency.  And, to the extent that any organization is going to provide such services, that organization has to sustain itself in existence.  They can strive for efficiency, but there will always be existence costs, i.e. dead weight loss (and if that’s not exactly what dead weight loss is, then it is still true that some degree of inefficiency in terms of outputs as apart of imputs is necessary so long as there is going to be an organization providing outputs.Report

  6. Avatar James Hanley says:

    A guaranteed income could begin to reverse this state of affairs by giving people the option of opting out of the labor market, which today is only possible for a wealthy few.

    Not that I’m a fan of the rich, but those rich bastards who sit around doing “nothing,” are in fact performing a service, making their money available for others to use in productive ways.  Unless they simply stick it under their mattress they are participating in the economy in a way that earns them the rewards they gain.

    A much poorer person, despite my greater sympathy for them, who opts out of work to enjoy a guaranteed income is doing nothing to earn the rewards they gain.

    You are right that hard work in and of itself does not guarantee a great life, but how do you leap the gap from that to thinking that someone else should provide an individual with that better life?  And you also ignore intergenerational effects–the family that works hard in this generation sets up its children to take steps upward from that starting position–many generations of descendants of poor immigrants demonstrate that amply. You also ignore that most people who work hard at low-paying grunt job aren’t stuck in that job, but use that as a stepping stone to something better, having demonstrated their capacities, impressed their bosses enough to be promoted or get a good recommendation, etc.

    In all, I think you have a very static view of the world.  You take a snapshot in time and look at how much you (and I) would not want to trade places with person X. But the real world isn’t static, and X’s position over time won’t necessarily remain  the same.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

      Yeah, they’re saving China or india. not america, cause nobody with money invests here — too safe, doesn’t earn them nearly as much. They’re ransacking america.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kimmi says:

        nobody with money invests here…

        Then kindly explain the bond market to me.  (This should be fun…)


        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          My bad. Did I say nobody with money? I meant nobody with -American- money. American dollars and debt make a great hedge if you live in say Europe.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kimmi says:

            Still wrong:

            The national debt stands at $14.3 trillion. Nearly $6 trillion of that is held by the Federal Reserve and U.S. government agencies in various funds such as the Social Security Trust Fund.

            The rest of the amount, about $8.3 trillion, is “privately-held” debt owed to mutual funds, pension funds, foreign investors and other bond holders.

            There’s no doubt China holds a lot of U.S. government debt. In fact, it’s the largest foreign owner of U.S. Treasury securities.

            As of March 2011, China owned about $1.2 trillion of U.S. debt – more than a quarter of the total $4.5 trillion in U.S. treasuries held by foreign investors, according to statistics from the U.S. Treasury Department. But the rest of the roughly $3.8 trillion of privately held debt was owned by United States investors such as banks, pension funds and mutual funds.

            Nice you’re getting your made-up talking points from Republicans, though.  They are a never-ending source of fabulism, so I’m sure you’ll get along just great.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:



     (catch the line “required by regulation”)

              Dumb Money, aka boomers, don’t count as people “with money”

              I thought that would be apparent via context, my apologies that it wasn’t.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kimmi says:


                Just pure, unadulterated bullshit.

                You didn’t look at the numbers before you wrote.  You didn’t even think about doing it.

                How do I know?  Because you never do.  You always just say stuff that seems appealing to you, and who even gives a damn whether it’s true or not.

                Then you were shown to be wrong, and you tried to save yourself with a half-assed re-definition of “people with money.”

                That you thought would be “apparent” to me.  Ha!

                “Nobody with money.”


                “My bad, nobody with American money.”

                “Wrong again.”

                “Ok, nobody with smart American money.  What’s wrong with you, Jason?  Don’t you pay attention to context?”

                There is no other commenter on this site for whom I have more contempt than you.  A constant, blatant disregard of facts is more offensive than almost any other intellectual sin I can imagine.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


                I’ve got sharp ears. I listen to what people say. Sometimes I make comments based on what I hear. They aren’t always correct, but most of the time they’re correct in substance if occasionally imprecise.

                I could make an observation on the enforced lifestyle of wallstreet traders, knowing that Blaise would back me up, and if he didn’t, that I could point you towards “friends of a friend” who would. This may not be quantitative truth, but it actually is for me. Why? Because enough anecdotal evidence is indicative of truth.

                Do I look at the numbers before I post? Occasionally. Often those don’t get posted… (and not necessarily because the numbers disprove the point that i’m trying to make). You’ll note that quick google I did above got flagrantly wrong numbers on Hokkaido’s GDP. (either that, or my math sucks moreso than usual today).

                Am I going to claim that I looked at the numbers before posting this? Surely you’re joking, sir! Nonetheless, the institutional character of American bond investment is something that anyone paying attention to the money market fiasco in 2009 would find intuitively obvious.

                Do I claim it’s your fault when I type quickly and am imprecise? Fuck no, it’s mine, and I’ll cop to it. That ain’t an apology, but I will try to do better.

                If you really hate talking to me so much, you’re welcome to stop. 😉 I won’t hold it against you. But I’d prefer you don’t take me terribly seriously (or else everyone will figure out about the donkey ears).Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Kimmi says:

                Are you related to Mike Daisy?Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                What you have to understand about Kimmi is that she’s not actually a real person. She’s a digital allegory of rational ignorance.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Which bond market?   Munis?  Corporate paper?  I’m not sure you understand the bond market well enough, especially not bond traders, if you’re going to use them as a counterexample to Kimmi’s statement about why investors would rather go to India or China.

          Commercial paper is about a quarter of the market.   Government paper is about another quarter.   Mortgage backed paper is roughly another quarter.  Now if you want to get a better picture of the bond market, now that Lehman’s dead, you’ll need to look at Barcap  .

          Home > Benchmark Indices> Aggregate/Bond Indices

          Global Treasury Universal Ex China India
          Global Treasury Universal GDP Ex China & India

          There’s a reason they exclude China and India.   They’re the I and C in BRIC.   They’re attracting huge amounts of investment capital.  So if you want to deal with a developed nation with a fully functioning treasury, avoid BRICS.   But lots of people don’t. In fact, most people don’t. The non-BRICs are in lots of trouble, economic prospects looking relatively dimmer as the BRIC lights turn on.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Kimmi says:

        I got burned big on two Chinese companies, even though I had profited from them on prior occasion.
        A-Power Wind and L&L Energy. The one was de-listed for awhile.
        Accounting practices in China aren’t what we would typically expect here.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

        Funny, Kimmie, just this morning NPR had a long story about a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley that’s scouting for tech startups to fund.  Apparently there’s a whole bunch of those countries out there. And you might check out this Congressional Research Service paper on foreign direct investment in the U.S.   Yes, it declined during the recession–shocking! But it dropped even further in the early 2000s before returning to near-record levels before the recession.  If you can actually predict what FDI is going to be in the future, you’re not just ridiculously smart, you’re an omniscent god.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

          thanks for the link!

          America hardly does anything anymore (would we even notice if Iowa disappeared? would it take a few days).

          It’s definitely more efficient to put a new factory in China than America, for most values of new factory.

          (if one can predict the FDI, one probably is helping write the algorithms… which I’m not)Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kimmi says:

            Iowa’s GDP?  142 billion.

            It must be interesting to live in a world where opinions come first, and facts are just things you make up to support them.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

            America hardly does anything anymore (would we even notice if Iowa disappeared? would it take a few days).

            Oh, for god’s sake, let me echo Jason’s comments about how irritating your refusal to bother with facts is.

            America does shitloads today. The value of our manufacturing output is greater than it was in 2005.

            As for not missing Iowa,it is generally the nation’s leading producer of corn, soybeans, pork and eggs, 2nd in red meat production. It’s second in the nation in the value of agricultural exports, meaning that even if you, Kimmie, didn’t miss Iowa, hungry people around the world would.

            Iowa State University is also one of the world’s leading engineering and agricultural science research centers.

            The state is also one of the major centers of the insurance business in the U.S.

            They do a whole hell of a lot in Iowa.

            Is everyone in PA as allergic to facts as you are, or are you an anomaly even there?


            • “As for not missing Iowa,it is generally the nation’s leading producer of corn, soybeans, pork and eggs, 2nd in red meat production. It’s second in the nation in the value of agricultural exports, meaning that even if you, Kimmie, didn’t miss Iowa, hungry people around the world would. Iowa State University is also one of the world’s leading engineering and agricultural science research centers. The state is also one of the major centers of the insurance business in the U.S. They do a whole hell of a lot in Iowa.”

              Still, if you’re interested in purchasing it we’re open to hearing offers, Japan.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

              So, I asked this question a while back — what exactly does Iowa State University do, agriculture wise?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

                Well, Kimmie, if you’d bothered to go to school yourself and learn how to do the most basic, simple, type of research, you might start by looking at the webpage of one of the Iowa State ag departments.

                They do shitloads of research into improving agricultural products and production systems.  You want a better fed world tomorrow? You need Iowa State, Minnesota, Purdue, Texas A&M, and other schools I’m unfairly not mentioning.

                Riddle me this…what exactly does Harvard do?

                Then figure out which school is more valuable to the U.S. and the world in general.


              • Riddle me this…what exactly does Harvard do?

                Um.  One can appreciate the incredible importance of what places like Iowa State, etc. do without the need to crap on Harvard.  I’m from a college town smack in the center of the Midwest, and I hold the work it does in the highest regard.  Really.  But they have plenty of “useless” departments, just like you imply are infesting Harvard.  And Harvard does an incredible amount of research into lots of really very useful things that the world likes.

                It’s very easy to respect both at the very same time.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Russell Saunders says:

                harvard, I’m certain, does some research that is better than that done at my institution. I’m absolutely certain we do more research, though.Report

              • I’m really not in a position to pronounce on how much research Harvard does in any given field compared to any other given institution.  You aver that yours does more than Harvard?  I’ll take you at your word.

                But in the one small area of the vast behemoth that is Harvard that I observe, I know that it does a tremendous amount of very useful research.  Comparing medical research to ag research as a means of determining overall worth seems like comparing apples and oranges.  I have ample respect for both.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Kimmi says:


                so long as we’re talking medical and not pharmaceutical research, much of which is merely greenbacking 😉Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Russell Saunders says:

                OK, my delivery clearly was at my fault here.  I did not mean to crap on Harvard. I meant to show that asking “exactly what does the megalithic educational institution do” is a silly question, because they do lots and lots and lots of different things.  And to ask which is more valuable, when the comparator is to one of our most prestigious and venerable institutions is to highlight the tremendous value of a school like Iowa State. If I thought Harvard was of little value, then I wouldn’t actually have been giving ISU (really, our land-grant colleges, for which it is acting as a proxy), any significant praise.

                But I easily see how that was misread, so me culpa for poor writing.Report

              • Heh.  Sorry for being touchy.  Took me a long time to get here, is all.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                No worries. When I re-read my comment it looked pretty snarky to me, too, and I even knew it wasn’t meant that way.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to James Hanley says:

                Everyone knows it’s Yale that provides negative valueReport

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                My adviser got his Ph.D. at Yale, and his argument was that Yale was obviously superior to Harvard because Yale didn’t have a Business School. I think he was only half-joking.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:


                that doesn’t tell me jack. maybe if I dug in a bit, I’d get somewhere. I know purdue because they do organic apples. In that vein, what does Iowa State do? (yeah, I realize that I’m not gonna know every place for everything…) Penn State does dairyfood research and meteorology.

                Harvard does medicine and Law (If I trolled a bit, I could get you a bit more of exactly what harvard does) [it only does middling in a lot of fields…].

                It also does much less research than the organization I currently work for.

                I’d run Penn State above Harvard any day of the week.

                [oh, and it’s Iowa University that’s in the top 25 public research unis in the country. color me surprised.]Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

                Fine I’ll spoonfeed you, since you’re clearly incapable of doing anything more on the internet than clicking your bookmark for the League.

                ISU’s got one of the top business programs in the country, with particular expertise in logistics. They’ve got the Ames energy lab (kinda world famous; some folks have managed to hear about it).They also do a teensy little bit of ag research.

                Over the past decade, Iowa State University was the 10th most-cited institution in the world in agricultural sciences, according to In-Cites, a Web site that tracks the use of scientific information that is mentioned in research papers worldwide.

                From Jan. 1, 1994, to June 30, 2004, Iowa State ranked 10th among all institutions and fifth among the world’s universities. Among American universities, ISU ranked fourth, preceded by the University of California-Davis, the University of Wisconsin and Cornell University. According to In-Cites, scientists cited 1,196 agricultural science papers created at Iowa State 8,340 times over the decade.

                purdue because they do organic apples

                Yeah, that’s it.  Purdue does apples….that’s all, nuthin’ else. And that’s why I’m not giving you more specifics–by focusing on one single thing that such a school does you drastically distort what it really is. You’d never guess from organic apples that they have a top 10 aerospace/astronautical program and a top 5 civil engineering program.

                Jesus, it’s like saying Harvard does lawyers.



              • Avatar Will H. in reply to James Hanley says:

                Des Moines has a booming tech industry, and Cedar Rapids has Rockwell Collins.
                The effect of Rockwell Collins on Cedar Rapids is greater than that of McDonnell Douglas on St. Louis. It’s more of the Los Alamos model.
                You might not see that in your statistics, but you’ll read it in the papers.Report

            • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

              As for not missing Iowa,it is generally the nation’s leading producer of corn, soybeans, pork and eggs, 2nd in red meat production.

              And the setting for one of the best musicals ever.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to MikeSchilling says:


              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                I thought that one was set in Indiana, but I meant The Music Man.

                So, what the heck, you’re welcome,
                Glad to have you with us.
                Even though we may not ever mention it again.
                You really ought to give Iowa
                Hawkeye Iowa
                Dubuque, Des 
                Moines, Davenport, Marshalltown,
                Mason City, Keokuk, Ames,
                Clear Lake
                Ought to give Iowa a try!


              • Avatar Chris in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                I remember the email forward I got about 12 years ago with a list of alternative state mottos, things like “Alabama: At least we’re not Mississippi,” and “Kentucky: 5 million people, 15 last names.” My favorite one was for Iowa, though.

                Iowa: Gateway to Illinois!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

                Iowa: Gateway to Illinois

                What’s ironic about that is that one of Iowa’s biggest profit centers is educating Illinoisans in Iowa’s colleges and universities.Report

            • To be fair, PA did spawn Rick Santorum…Report

            • Avatar Citizen in reply to James Hanley says:

              Ah, so Iowa over produces, and exports to the smaller communities in the nation. In effect under cutting the local markets, and flooding the markets with cheap food. Geez which is worse, the commercial agriculture machine or the government handouts. I would say communities would do good to turn their back on both.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Citizen says:

                Yep, and Michigan overproduces cars, undercutting the domestic car industry in North Dakota; Florida overproduces oranges, harming the Montana orange industry; and Alaska overproduces crab, absolutely wrecking the crabfishing industry in New Mexico.

                If you think trade is a bad thing, try producing everything you need and want all by yourself. Hell, forget your wants and just focus on your needs. I look forward to seeing you out in the woods trapping animals for food and clothing with traps you have made from materials you accumulated all by yourself.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to James Hanley says:

                This is the one thing about economics that I wish everyone understood.

                The market isn’t some colossal evil trick we’re all playing on each other.  It’s a way of taking the cheapest producers of goods, grabbing them by the shirt collars, and making them give those goods to other people for as little money as possible.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Ideal markets are just as mythical as anything else.

                Can you accurately assess the value stolen from you each day?

                How much of that is your fault?

                (I’m wagering one effusive apology that most of the value you lose per day is your fault. I don’t think you run anything like my budgets (which is not to imply that I am morally superior for having some measure of fiscal aptitude)…).Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kimmi says:

                I prefer it when you make up facts that I can more easily check with Google.


              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Kimmi says:

                Pity google doesn’t index everything, isn’t it?

                The best way to cheat at cards is the most obvious — by reading the reactions of your opponents. Much less error prone than counting cards. Pupillary response isn’t something you can really fake.

                Still, I often get the feeling that we’re either on the same team, or playing utterly different games. Both of which are fine by me.


                … one picture gets posted online. From that one picture, the person (and room) in it is tracked down. Then the cyberstalking begins. I think it’s still ongoing, actually. Your mileage may vary. [trivia point: name the guy i’m referencing.  Extra special spicy trivia point: why this?]Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

                Can you accurately assess the value stolen from you each day?

                You think the market consists of theft?  Do you have a particular Book of Idiocies that you draw from?

                Let’s take “citizen’s” model, and let, say, Pennsylvania, ban Iowa corn to protect it’s domestic corn industry.  In that case we’ve told Pennsylvanians that they can’t buy the cheapest corn available, but must pay more, with that more being given to the Pennsylvania corn farmers. Is that not theft?  And of course that leaves the corn consumer with less remaining cash, so she will have to forgo some other purchase or saving, diminishing her overall well-being. Is that not theft?  And what about the supplier she would have purchased from if not for being forced to pay more for corn? He sells less, his income having been diverted to the corn farmer, even though in a free market he and his customer would voluntarily have consummated a transaction to their mutual benefit? Is that not theft?

                In comparison to that, what aspect of a free market seems to you to constitute theft?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

                The best way to cheat at cards is the most obvious — by reading the reactions of your opponents.

                That’s within the rules of the game, so it’s not cheating. It’s like saying that a baseball player trying to steal second base is cheating by watching the pitcher, or that a basketball player is cheating by watching his opponent’s eyes or feet.

                Your ability to misinterpret the world knows no bounds.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kimmi says:


                Why not use a real example, like all those protectionism laws cities have instituted for their cab industry?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:


                I was just riffing off of Iowa corn still.  But I have in the past written about the cab cartels, which truly are a rip-off for the public.  Here’s an interesting <a href=”″ target=”_blank”>critique</a> from a libertarian public policy thinktank in Michigan. And here’s <a href=”” target=”_blank”>one</a> on the beneficial effects of taxi deregulation in Indianapolis.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kimmi says:

                Duly noted. Good to have real world examples handy when dealing with some folks ’round these parts.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

                Agreed. And my apologies to all for fishing up the html.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kimmi says:

                Kimmi —

                Not gonna bite.  Cheers.


              • Avatar Citizen in reply to James Hanley says:

                Since you brought it up, look what happened to the trapping and clothing industry in this country per capita. I know how to produce what I need, do you? I guess its all good business ehh? Communities that don’t fit the “new” i-business model should perish? What was the last produced item in your community built from raw materials?Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to Kimmi says:

        And? seriously this is an attitude I don’t get, why should preferences for investment (or charity) depend on what side of an arbitrary line the recipient is?

        Let’s put it this way, suppose you have the chance to give a sum of money to anyone at all who is not among your family or friends. What are the reasons to prefer giving to someone in the same nation over someone elsewhere, do the same arguments mean you should favour the same county, the same town?

        Plus maybe we should consider that the reasons that money is going to India has something to do with India rather than  investors being down on the US and reaching for the first convenient bit of not-America.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Matty says:

          matty, oh, it definetely does have something to do with india. but it also doesn’t produce american jobs. and when people are talking about “job creators” I’d really rather they understand that.Report

          • Avatar Matty in reply to Kimmi says:

            Well my main point was that I don’t understand why American jobs are better than Indian jobs. I mean they probably have better pay but that’s an argument for either raising wages in India or cutting living costs in America it isn’t an argument for why Fred deserves to make widgets more than Raj does.Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to Matty says:

              I’ve never heard it put that way before, but I like it.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Matty says:

              That’s also a good argument for eliminating the military.  Why do Americans deserve to run Hawaii more than the Japanese do?Report

              • Avatar Matty in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                The following are not equivalent

                Should people have self determination over what government they live under?

                Do people have a moral obligation to privilege others because they live under the same government?

                Your question is an example of the first one, mine is an example of the second.

                However to answer it, Hawaii’s future government should be decided by its inhabitants not by who has the biggest navy (and the same was true in 1893 if you really want to go down the rabbit hole).


              • Avatar Roger in reply to Matty says:

                I second Matty on both counts. Why are people so tribalistic? The half starving guy in India needs the job at least as much and probably way more. Furthermore he produces it for less. Thus we get a good produced for less and probably wages enjoyed more. The world is much better with globaltrade.

                I also agree Hawaiians should be able to choose the government they want. We all should.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Roger says:

                I second Matty on both counts. Why are people so tribalistic?

                Because we are. Leaving aside the practical advantages I mention below, we tend to mentally associate ourselves with people that are more like us than people who are less like us. People we can most easily communicate with and associate with. Suggesting that we should equally relate to someone with whom we have much in common as with someone half-way around the world with whom we cannot even communicate may be admirable in a sense, but it’s not real-world.

                From a governance standpoint, one of the issues we here in the USA have in trying to bolster our safety net (which I realize you don’t support, but lots of transnationalist types do) is dealing with our diversity and the sense among some that the benefits are going to others. Politicians and pundits exploit this view, but they didn’t invent it. The transfer of money and wealth requires a degree of solidarity that requires more than simply being human.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

                Tribalism was probably a pretty good survival strategy in our evolutionary past.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Will Truman says:

                James and Will

                Yeah, I understand evolutionary psychology explains coercive behavior like nationalism, racism and rape. And that is what I am complaining about here, coercion against others.

                Why can’t we value all humanity and drop all coercion. I am not trying to be utopian, but we won’t become more moral until we extend our empathy to all humans. I hope my grandchildren can live in a world where coercive tribalism is condemned as slavery, racism, and sexism have been.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Roger says:

                Sweatshops.  Because all men are brothers.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:


                Yes all humans deserve an opportunity for a jobReport

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Subsistence farming. Because that’ll teach them dirty furriners to take our union jobs.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Let’s see, we get rid of Hawaii, then Obama really /isn’t/ an American after all?Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Matty says:

              American jobs aren’t objectively better than Indian jobs, but they are preferable to Americans. Some of it is tribal pride. Because I have a greater sense of loyalty to my fellow Americans (even ones across the country, whom I will never meet) than I do to Indians (though I wish them no harm!), I would work on the employment prospects of the former before I’d worry about the latter. There are limits to this, of course. If one American job could be sacrifices for two jobs in India, I wouldn’t like it, if one were sacrificed for 2,000 jobs in India… that might be a different story. (Things don’t exactly work that way, but it’s a thought experiment.

              There’s also a self-interest thing. Which is to say, more jobs in the US likely mean more jobs for people I know and care about and people that might otherwise be asking me for money. Greater utilization of labor capital in the US is broadly good for the economy, and a stronger economy in our economic zone is good for me and people I know.Report

  7. The work of the corporate PR guy isn’t distinguished from the work of the community organizer;

    I would be careful of insisting too much on a distinction.  Perhaps the corporate PR guy really is a lot like the community organizer.  Perhaps neither is as moral or immoral as some of us would like to believe.

    Same for the investment banker who works 60+ hours a week.  Maybe what he or she does is immoral, as you claim.  But how much of what any of us do is actually moral?Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      Depends on how much charity work you do. And on how much of your income you funnel towards it. I know what I do at work is … mostly moral. People’s lives are saved because of the work I do. (and through the actions of a ton of other people, don’t give me most of the credit, i ain’t a doc).Report

      • Depends on how much charity work you do. And on how much of your income you funnel towards it.

        Maybe.  I guess I was just concerned about who has the right to cast stones.  Even charity can be perversely immoral:  it can function as condescending, for example, even if it at the same time helps people.

        I can say that nothing I’ve done (to my knowledge) has saved any lives.  My brother, who’s a sheriff’s deputy, used to say that the only good (i.e., “moral”) job was to be a firefighter.  I think he said this for at least two reasons, although I should hesitate before putting words into his mouth.  First, his own job involved at least some morally ambivalent duties, like supervising evictions or arresting people for “crimes” that weren’t all that immoral (he told me he once had to arrest a man who was trying to catch ducks in a park so the man could feed his family….probably not the worst of crimes).  Second, he seemed to believe that firefighters’ main job was to simply help people, without any ambiguity.  I don’t know if he still believes this.  I don’t believe it:  firefighters draw a salary from the public purse, they, I imagine, sometimes have to make on the spot decisions about the right thing to do that might sometimes compromise somebody’s interests, and probably other things.  I will say that my brother’s son (my nephew), however, is a firefighter, and I know my brother is proud of him, as am I.


        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          … nothing? What do you do, out of curiosity?

          I work computers in the medical field — I have to have saved some lives (probably through allergies getting caught).Report

          • I’m a grad student and work in the research portion of a library that processes archival collections.  I suppose conceivably some of what I might do might somehow save someone’s life, but it would be several degrees removed from anything I can conceive.

            My prior jobs have included fast food (five years), bank teller (14 months), telephone customer service (about 2 years and 2 months), teaching assistant and adjunct instructor (about 8 years total, give or take), loan processor (about half a year), and a variety of summer service-level jobs.  While each of those jobs has its virtues and contributes to society in some ways, I don’t think the contribution really rises to the point of saving lives, except in an attenuated, unforeseeable way.

            I also believe that there’s a possibility that the virtues are at least partially offset by immoral things.  One example, while a loan processor, I was pretty low on the totem pole (I was one of the first to be laid off when the financial crisis hit in 2008, although they hired me back the next February), yet I still made money ($9 per hour) off the fact that people applied for loans they probably couldn’t afford in an industry (home improvement financing) that has its share of shady characters.


  8. Avatar Roger says:

    Organisms work because otherwise entropy gets them and they die.
    They work to solve the problem of surviving and thriving in an entropic universe.
    They find or grow food and build shelter and clothes and other such solutions.
    Humans have found they can solve more problems collectively than individually via the process of division of labor and exchange.
    They specialize in areas of comparative advantage and mutually benefit. Even the toilet cleaner benefits.
    If you pay people not to work, many won’t.
    You will thus get less produced and less specialization and less prosperity.
    Eliminating the socially destructive jobs is a great idea of course.
    Now we must ask who decides?Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Roger says:

      Back in the early 90’s, I worked maintenance at a section 8 apartment complex.
      There was a guy on disability for being an alcoholic. He would get his check every month, and sure enough, he would go drink until it was all gone, and then be bumming around for money the rest of the month.
      Take away his alcoholism, and what sort of job skill does he really have?
      Being a drunk is all that he’s ever known.
      There was another guy that was too fat to work.
      He would get his check and his food stamps every month, and then go buy a lot of cakes and pies and sit there and eat them until they were all gone. And sure enough, he would be bumming around for the rest of the month because he didn’t have any money. He would give people rides here and there for a few bucks, because he was the guy with the car. If you needed to go to the grocery store, he was right there.
      But being fat was all that he really knew.
      Were the man to lose weight, then what type of job skill would he really have?
      And of course, there were a number of women there that whoring around was the only thing they ever really knew. Etc.

      Let’s say that that’s not the place I want to live.
      If you expand that to include the entire world, I think the world would notably increase in suck value.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Will H. says:

        And of course, there were a number of women there that whoring around was the only thing they ever really knew.

        I REALLY, REALLY hope you mean they are actually getting paid for sex, not that they are “whoring around” because they like having sex. It’s offensivce either way, but if it’s the latter, well, you might need to reconsider a few things about how judge women.Report

        • Avatar Will H. in reply to sonmi451 says:

          Now, that’s something I don’t understand.
          Why would it make you feel better if they actually engaged in an illegal practice?
          I distinctly remember one that self-identified as a ‘whore.’
          Where were you when this was going on that would make you an expert on this group of people?Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Will H. says:

            not gonna claim that I’m speaking for sonmi…

            but calling someone a whore who isn’t, has a name: it’s called “slut-shaming” and is something that says some pretty poor things about your applying of judgement to other people (particularly ones in a subculture that you don’t belong to).Report

            • Avatar Will H. in reply to Kimmi says:

              The slut is one thing.
              The shame is what you bring in to it.
              Get it straight.
              I don’t think there was very much shame about it going it, or the matter would have been dealt with more discreetly.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Will H. says:

                The issue is your wordchoice, not mine. Do you see shame in a woman selling herself for food/shelter?

                Bear in mind that most marriages (over the course of time) have been a woman selling herself for food/shelter…Report

              • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Kimmi says:

                Actually, I’ve known a lot of guys who think they’re the model of goodness by saying they’re okay with a woman exchanging sex for money for food/shelter, but a woman having a healthy sex life is THE REAL WHORE (TM).Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to sonmi451 says:

                now you are normalizing sexual behavior. some people are functionally asexual. 😉 please laugh, this isn’t supposed to be taken super seriously.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Kimmi says:

                I’m just saying it is what it is.
                Any sense of shame is something that you bring in to it.
                It’s not something that they themselves were unaware of.
                I also referred to an overweight person as ‘fat,’ and I referred to an alcoholic as a ‘drunk.’
                Now, both of these are legitimate medical conditions.
                Pardon me, but I forgot your point.
                I do understand that the thought police are out to get me, for they fear that I might have thought unapproved thoughts, but only in the name of freedom.
                I was just speaking plainly.
                If you would prefer, I could use the phrase, “severely and indiscriminately promiscuous beyond mildly aberrated.” Because, really, this is a serious psychological disorder, and I didn’t mean to make light of it.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Will H. says:

                bubububububu sexisssmmmmmmReport

          • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Will H. says:

            Wow, so they really were women who have sex, not working girls, and yet you feel free to say they were “whoring around”. Yeah, I think there’s a fundamental misconnect in the way we see the world, if this wasn’t obvious before, it’s obvious now. I’m not going to bother engaing with you anymore. Bleghhhhhhhhhh.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

      I am just wondering if any of the libertarian regulars here who in fact (last I knew in any case) have a GMI as a positive point on their ideal policy programs are going to engage with the demolition the idea is getting in this thread and defend it even in theory.  This is, after all, an entirely theoretical discussion; we could posit the dissolution of the various need-specific parts of the existing social safety net into such a policy.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Meant to click “Cancel Reply” and put this in as a separate comment – sorry Roger.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I’m a soft supporter of a negative income tax, which is a form of guaranteed minimum income.  One of the other problems of the whole idea, though, is that it might make low wage paying firms pay even lower wages, allowing the GMI to function as a subsidy for their labor costs.  But if that prediction didn’t work out in the real world, I’d support the scheme with certain constraints that kept able-bodied/minded people from receiving contributions from society without providing any contribution in return. (That’s shockingly anti-social behavior, no?)

        So I tentatively still keep some elements of the concept as a positive point in my policy program.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

          Richelieu and the Rope.  Richelieu thought he could put the poor of France to work, making miles of rope for the French sailing fleet.   Damned near bankrupted all the legit rope makers in France.   Make-work jobs must not conflict with what the market can provide or you’ll only damage the market for labour.

          Able-bodied isn’t enough any more.   You need transportation, for one.   For another, who’s to say who is able-bodied?   More damned bureaucracy.   No, if you want to have the able-bodied doing something while they’re out of work, send ’em to school or training or something of that sort.   Make-work is not contributing to society.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Funny, I don’t see the words “make work” anywhere in my comment.

            As to bureaucracy, you can’t have a government without a bureaucracy.  Make a rule, make a bureaucrat. I’d rather have bureaucrats deciding if I decided my gummint check than trying to determine if I’m price-gouging by charging more than the store across the street, engaging in predatory pricing by charging less than that store, or colluding by charging the same price.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

              Unfortunately, when we get into “able-bodied” and “contributions to society”, that’s where it always seems to lead, to make-work schemes.   The positive contributions we want from the members of our society come in the form of taxes.   I’m all for any scheme which will turn someone into a fine, upstandin’ tax-payer.    Those who can’t get there, well, that’s another problem entirely.


              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Unfortunately, when we get into “able-bodied” and “contributions to society”, that’s where it always seems to lead, to make-work schemes. 

                Maybe, in which case I’d get offboard.

                My own bigger worry is that those terms drift away from being positive statements to having all kinds of normative connotations I think are inappropriate.

                Probably, both our fears would come true.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to James Hanley says:

          I don’t want to work. Feed me anyway.

          Because if you don’t feed me, I’ll die.  And if you let me die when you could have fed me, then you’re a bastard.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I am a big fan of a social safety net that does not incentivize free riding. Details available upon request.

        I am still trying to decide if this post is an April fools day joke. Does anyone actually believe it is a good idea to pay people to sit at home and honor their dignity?

        Let me ask it more personally… Would anyone bring up their own children to believe that hard work and responsibility are bad traits?Report

        • Avatar Matty in reply to Roger says:

          Responsibility is a good trait

          Willingness to work hard to get what you want (including what you want for others, I’m not advocating simplistic selfishness) is a good trait

          Working hard when it doesn’t get you closer to what you want or even gets you further away is fishing stupid.

          If I ever reproduce I’ll want my kids to know the difference.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Matty says:


            Exactly. And that gets back to why this post is absurd. If someone wants to pay lazy people to nurse their dignity then I believe they should be free to do so. Please don’t force this foolishness on others.Report

            • Avatar Matty in reply to Roger says:

              I take your point, you don’t want to pay for the support of people who could be supported otherwise. I’m not sure that we are necessarily talking about laziness though, some people are lazy sure, others want to write a novel or volunteer to dig old people’s gardens, or raise children without having to leave them to go out to work.

              Now you don’t want to pay these people, OK I can respect that view and probably need to adjust my own to fully address it, but the people who makes those choices are not morally inferior to a shop attendant just because they don’t draw a wage or have to take orders from a boss.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Matty says:

                Actually, in a highly monetized economy like our own, we have solid reasons to suspect that people  contribute less to social utility when they devote their labor time to something for which they can’t get paid.

                Solid reasons don’t equal dead certainties, of course, but if I had to bet on who was doing more for aggregate happiness, and if I only knew that one person got paid and the other didn’t, I’d bet on the paid laborer every single time.Report

              • Avatar boegiboe in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                If we’re comparing the average paid laborer to the average person sitting at home and doing little or nothing, I’d probably bet the same way. But we can’t neglect the long-term effects of devaluing the labor of specific kinds of people. For example, I’d argue that in our society, parents aren’t generally paid for their labor in raising children largely because women traditionally did that work and women are traditionally undervalued in our society. So Matty’s example of someone wanting to stay home to raise their kids is salient.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to boegiboe says:


                The reason people don’t pay themselves to raise kids and wipe their own butts or flog the bishop is not that these are undervalued by society it is because people do not need a medium of exchange to do tasks for themselves or their families.

                I continue to repeat that this OP is economically naive.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                What is social utility?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


                Is pregnancy something that you can get paid for?

                Is caring for children something that you can get paid for?Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kimmi says:

                I’ll play along.

                Yes. A person who is paid to be pregnant is called a “surrogate.”

                And yes. A person who is paid for raising children is called a “nanny.”

                I have heard rumors that both surrogates and nannies have freely and voluntarily entered into arrangements whereby these servies are exchanged for money.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Burt Likko says:

                wait… was I supposed to be going somewhere with this? 😉Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Matty says:

                Maybe I’m mistaken but I thought the point of the post was in this line: “At bottom, the problem with the prevailing fetishization of employment and hard work is that it’s done so indiscriminately, so reflexively.” That didn’t lead me to the conclusion that we should pay people to sit at home and honor their dignity at all.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Rufus F. says:

                … we should pay people to sit at home and honor their dignity…

                Say I have some dignity over here (just for argument’s sake).
                How much is that worth, dollarwise?
                If I get a check for $500, do I send it back with a little note that says, “I have a bit more dignity than that. Try again.”
                How would we go about determining the dignity of each person?
                Granted, I don’t buy into that positive liberty crap so much, but say I did (just for argument’s sake). And now I’m really concerned about Justice in the world, to where my hands a chafed from the wringing of them.
                Don’t you suppose I would be well aware of the inherent Injustice of just writing checks to each and every man, woman, and child in the US to compensate them for their dignity, and then failing to determine each one’s dignity on an individual basis?
                Oh, the indignity of it!

                Now, I’m back to my old self.
                Cringe later if you must, but let me get this across first:
                Who exactly is my own personal dignity worth something to?
                I mean, if this is a thing to be purchased, then who should be making that purchase?

                I think it’s much more reasonable to look at the same data and say, “You know, maybe we shouldn’t be defining ourselves according to our work so much.”Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Will H. says:

                Wait, how did you read me writing that the post did not lead me to think at all that we should pay people to stay home and honor their dignity- to quote me, myself, and I: “That didn’t lead me to the conclusion that we should pay people to sit at home and honor their dignity at all” and excerpt that to read “… we should pay people to sit at home and honor their dignity…” which is like the exact opposite of what I said?

                What I was referring to was Roger’s claim that the original post was absurd because, “if someone wants to pay lazy people to nurse their dignity then I believe they should be free to do so. Please don’t force this foolishness on others.” All I’m saying was that I didn’t take away from the original post an argument that people should be paid to do nothing; just that we should start being more critical about what work is worth signing up for.


              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Rufus F. says:

                I was citing your summary.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Rufus F. says:


                I agree as a personal choice we should consider these tradeoffs. One of which is dignity. We can each evaluate which of out various values and needs we would exchange for money. Incentivizing the poor to stroke their dignity is basically saying we should encourage them not to serve their fellow man via specialization and exchange.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Matty says:


                I guess the question is “do you want to pay people to garden and write novels that nobody wants to buy from them?”

                I value and respect your choice and thank you for being equally tolerant of mine.

                I certainly do read the OP as favoring other people being required to subsidize dignity of the indigent.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

                Or at least that we ought to seriously the idea that subsidized indigence may be a desirable public policy.

                The OP goes against my rule #1 for policy analysis: Don’t focus on either the moral basis or the desired outcome, but consider the incentives created.Report

              • Avatar Plinko in reply to James Hanley says:

                No wonder no one ever agrees with you.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Roger says:

                I certainly do read the OP as favoring other people being required to subsidize dignity of the indigent.

                Ditto here. I am really not sure how else to interpret the juxtaposition of menial labor being degrading with a guaranteed income. That’s not to say that he wasn’t also making the point Rufus refers to, but I don’t see how your reading of what Shawn is saying is off-base in the slightest.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

          pay people to sit at home and honor their dignity

          Is “honor their dignity” the new euphemism for “making Flipper spit in the ocean?”Report

  9. Avatar North says:

    An interesting thought experiment but too left field for me personally.

    -The jobs need doing; someone has to do them.

    -If people are paid/cared for someone has to be paying/caring.

    -We have observed that absent the unpleasant goads of necessity people in general are pretty willing to do very little.

    -We have observed that people in general mistreat things that are unowned or communally owned (the commons); few things are more beat up, littered, graffitted and abused than city bus shelters or public road sides.

    Until and unless technology advances to the point where such labor can be performed by automata the gods of the copybook headings still hold sway. The work has to be done.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to North says:

      Our graffiti is to the point of public art. I LIKE our graffiti, says that someone’s been there.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Kimmi says:

        I’ll meet you half way and say some graffiti can at least be argued to be public art. But plenty more is just purile scrawls of paint deployed by bored teenagers with nothing better to do; as devoid of artistic content as it is devoid of thought or any intent higher than the animal impulses that make cats spray their territory or dogs sniff fire hydrants.Report

        • Avatar Will H. in reply to North says:

          I knew a guy that was really into spray art. There’s different nozzle tips and what-not. I really learned a lot from him about it.
          He was showing me some pictures one day of his work and that of some of his friends. A lot of it was just letters that he was explaining to me stood for this or that, various phrases.
          And I was thinking that if you need someone to explain to you what those initials stand for, why not just write out the words?
          I never understood that aspect of it.Report

  10. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I remember reading a historical anecdote about a church run soup kitchen on skid row in the late 19th century where the bums are lined up waiting for their soup and the father has each one move a pile of bricks from one end of the yard to another, back and forth all evening long, so that each man will understand the value of hard work. There’s absolutely no utility in it at all. The story always stuck with me.Report

  11. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    America doesn’t revere a good work ethic and never has.  We have always idolised the wealthy.   Some folks, though they aren’t wealthy themselves, actually preach the destructive doctrines of deregulation, privatisation and union busting, measures once enacted to protect the working man from the predations of the wealthy, using pejoratives such Parasites and Contributors.   These Useful Idiots are called Libertarians.   But I repeat myself.

    We have never instilled the virtues of hard work in our children.   We want our children to occupy a higher rung on the ladder than ourselves.  To this end, we save our money to put them through college and expose them to the virtues of Working Smart, not Working Hard.   Some of us take our children to work and show them Daddy working on an industrial robot.

    Investment bankers don’t put in 60 hour weeks.   They work during market hours.  Their actions were manifestly morally inferior to the Cheeto-eatin’slobbo in Mom’s basement.  At least he’s choking his own chicken and not that of the investing public.

    Yes, I suppose there are plenty of grocery store jobs for people to do.   If they don’t pay well, they were once union jobs.  They aren’t anymore.   Some firms such as Costco pay their people reasonable wages, others do not.  While I was going to school, my wife and I cleaned apartments.   I’m not above cleaning a toilet.  It wasn’t dehumanising in the least.   Someone’s willing to leave sixty dollars cash on the kitchen counter for me, takes me an hour to clean his apartment, hell, leave him a note to buy a pair of Rubbermaid gloves and some bleach cleanser.  Beats driving a cab, which I did for a while.  Cleaning toilets paid better.

    The American Dream is not an illusion.  It’s a myth, which is rather different than an illusion.   A myth is a story of origins, Joseph Campbell tells us.  Myths put us in context.   The great genius of America is the offer of rebirth, what the Greeks called metanoia, a change of direction, a change of identity.  In America, you can be what you want to be.  In a banana republic, you’re locked into your own social stratum with little hope of advancement.   But in the USA, the newcomer travels the same path of all who came here before him.   This he knows.  Though the streets are not paved in gold, they are at least paved with asphalt.

    And yes, I suppose, social mobility isn’t what it used to be, though I wonder about that those trends as well.  The only meaningful incentives to work are self-interest.   People will work harder when it’s their company:  working for someone else is never the road to riches.

    If the Left is ever to preach a sermon on empowerment, it ought to avoid talk of Oppressive Relationships.  If the trade union is ever to make any headway in this country, it will be when the Left abandons its notions about Evil Capitalism.   I loathe the word Incentivize and its negative form Disincentivize mades me ranty.   Work is trading time for money, specialising and striving to better that fraction of time over money in every possible way.   I’m a Lefty.   I’ll tell anyone who will listen that the poor do not want our goddamn pity.   They want a job.   Work lends meaning to life.   The Left does start measuring the world from the bottom up, but he doesn’t condescend to the poor.

    Sitting in a little nemawashi session in a bar in Nagoya, a Japanese executive starts telling me why he likes American workers.   They demonstrate initiative.  If a machine goes down on an assembly line in Japan, the worker will simply stop the line and summon the repairman.  An American worker will go to the back, get some electrical tape and a coathanger and do a temporary patch.   An American will not do something stupid or dangerous eight hundred times a day, he’ll get another coathanger and a pair of pliers to rig up a custom tool.   That, he said, is why America will always win the battle for efficiency.Report

  12. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    “The woman who chooses joblessness over a menial job deserves castigation, not government assistance. But do those who fail to “make the right choices” really deserve to be discarded, denied a dignified existence in which they aren’t supplicants?”

    Tell that to the men who were given jobs during the New Deal.  Improved self-esteem is recognized by many as the most important thing that came out of those jobs. If I understand Shawn Gude’s point here he is saying that some jobs are so crappy that it’s beter to be on the dole.

    I do not understand that principle at all.Report

    • Avatar Matty in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      I read it as if someone decides that the available jobs are so crappy that it’s better to be on the dole that does not automatically mean they are a bad person who is really lazy and want everything done for them. There’s also a strong element of not praising those who work hard just because they work hard without looking at the content of what they do.Report

  13. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I’d go with ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’.  “My old man worked hard, all they did was give ‘im more work!”Report

  14. Avatar Damon says:

     Giving folks money or a minimum income so they are free to do something is nice, but it ain’t gonna work until we have an evolution in mankind or “something” happens in society where the costs to do so are so insignificant that it’s not material.

    That being said, this post quickly moved from where it was going to this topic…so I want to change it back…

    Yes, hard work is valued here and Americans work more than most.  I think that’s unfortunate. I’ll share an example.  A friend of mine and I were chatting years ago talking about advancement at the company we both worked for at the time.  he said “I don’t want to be CEO.  Look at all the guys who get to that level.  They are on the third plus marriage, don’t know their kids, and work is their entire life.  I want to see my kid’s little league games.”  It’s all about balance for me.  Hey, if you’re passionate about what you do, super.  I’m passionate about other stuff.  I LIKE what I do, but it’s a means to an end.  Work funds my passions.  It may not work for all, but it does me.Report

  15. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Or maybe ‘She’s Having A Baby’. 

    (baby Kevin Bacon and his grandpa).
    GP “What did Bumble Bunny do after he graduated from High School?”
    KB “He went to college!”
    GP “And why did he go to college?”
    KB “So he could get a Master’s Degree!”
    GP “And where would he be without a Master’s Degree?”
    KB “Working in a tiny office at some smelly warehouse and hating every minute of it!”

    (Cut to adult Kevin Bacon at a desk in a tiny office at a warehouse, with his framed Master’s Degree diploma on the wall next to him.)Report

  16. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Or consider the average man or woman working a job at the local grocery store. There’s nothing particularly objectionable about this line of work. And if the attendant revels in stocking groceries, engaging with customers, and learning the ins and outs of the grocery industry, this could be a fulfilling way of earning a living. Most people if given the choice, however, would rather not perform boring tasks for little pay.

    I suspect that most people’s level of “boredom” is inversely proportionate to their level of imagination. In my experience, people who are bored easily are fairly boring themselves. When I worked at a grocery store (for about 7 years or so), I found it absolutely liberating how much time and autonomy I had to mull over questions and books I was reading and just be left alone. The real pleasure of ‘mindless’ jobs is they don’t leave you mentally or psychologically exhausted at the end of the day. At one time, young men would become monks so they could work through mathematical problems while sweeping floors in silence. There is something to be said for it.

    Of course, from a personal standpoint, the real irony is that my job now has a bit more cultural esteem than my job then, but amounted to the same thing- doing a bit of hard work and a lot of wandering around and thinking about stuff!Report

  17. Avatar Murali says:

    I wanted to cite a study that I read some time ago that shows that people who have internalised an ethos of hard work and responsibility and meritocracy do better (materially speaking) than people who don’t. Only thing is, I can’t find the article. If  any of you guys remember it it would be greatReport

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Murali says:

      Oh, so you want us to do your work for you?  😉Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Murali says:

      Murali, I previously posted a link that talked about Scandinavians and quoted Friedman: “A Scandinavian economist once stated to Milton Friedman: “In Scandinavia we have no poverty.” Milton Friedman replied, “That’s interesting, because in America among Scandinavians, we have no poverty either.” Indeed, the poverty rate for Americans with Swedish ancestry is only 6.7%, half the U.S average. Economists Geranda Notten and Chris de Neubourg have calculated the poverty rate in Sweden using the American poverty threshold, finding it to be an identical 6.7%.

      More germane to this OP, which at heart is really about welfare, this post from the same author, a rising star in economics at the University of Chicago. No matter how one spins it, getting paid for not working is welfare.Report

  18. Avatar Guy who is just checking says:

    Just checking: This post was meant as parody, right?Report

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