The conservative's answer to any and all complaints about working conditions and compensation is as familiar as it is invariant: "If you don't like it, quit." This is the kind of response that shows us the capacity (and fondness) for deep thought among the members of the Party of Ideas, the keenness with which they recognize the complexity of an issue and structure a response accordingly. For those of us who recognize that, you know, people usually have a job because they need it, issues about compensation, working conditions, and the like are not quite so black and white.

The remark reflects the central tenet of the conservative faith: that markets are efficient. Certainly the need to attract the best workers will drive wages upward, whereas if the job requires no particular skills the market will drive wages lower. Rather than debate the kindergarten-level simplicity of that worldview, I have a better question: If one's choices are reduced to working at a given job or being unemployed, is the labor "market" a market at all?

In a market, labor could choose among opportunities just as businesses choose among the labor pool.
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In the glorious New Economy, we are a nation full of people who know goddamn well that if they lose their current job it may be a very long time before they see another one. "If you don't like it, quit" makes sense in some ways if we assume alternatives; the guy who doesn't like what Ford pays can go to work for Toyota. If we replace that alternative with "Sit at home and go broke" or "Work for minimum wage in the service industry and not be able to support yourself anyway" then quitting isn't really a means of letting the market mete out some economic justice. It's a way of saying that your only option is to commit financial suicide.

I think about this a lot, and I hear it a lot from my (non-random sample of) friends and acquaintances in careers ranging from writing to food service to skilled trades to White Collar. The job I have right now took me four years to get. During that time I supported myself with temp work that barely kept me out of legally-defined poverty. If my employer treated me like shit (note: they don't) what would my options be, really? The odds of getting another job offer are statistically zero, even for the most successful people in this profession. I could choose between being gainfully employed or…quitting, and being unemployed. Alternatively, I could return to the herd of adjuncts making $11,000 per year. I'm fortunate to have a good job, but I have to be frank (Hi! I'm Frank!)…it really doesn't feel like I have any freedom, and the Job Market doesn't feel like much of a market at all. It feels like a thousand people in the water scrambling for 50 spots on a lifeboat. If you make it on board, someone else controls your fate. If you don't like it, you can always jump back into the water and drown.

I've never been one for broad conspiracies about a They that secretly controls all of our lives. It certainly is a better time to be an Owner than a worker bee, though. With the long-term unemployed numbering in the millions, most of us who don't live on a cushion of trust funds and inherited wealth cling to any stable employment we can find – and we're continually reminded that we should feel thankful to have it. In an actual market, an employee could do something about being underpaid or overworked or mistreated or stuck with a low standard of living.

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I'm no economist, but if that option is unavailable to all but a small segment of the labor force (bonus points for the first person who uses the comment section to brag about how you're in such high demand that you're sick of being offered jobs!) then the concept of market efficiency isn't even relevant.

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If you have one job and it's the only job you can get, you could be in a true market and very bad at your job. That's what we're encouraged to think. But that changes if we reject the flawed premise that the "Labor Market" is anything close to what its name suggests.

49 thoughts on “MONOPOLY”

  • Whenever a well-heeled conservative says "If you don't like it, quit," the subtitles of that statement is "I have total income security no matter what I do–I could retire right now and live better than 95% of this country, and I am so fucking narcissistic/stupid that I assume everyone else has the same relationship to his/her employer. Truthfully, I'm really in the position of being an employer of someone who's miserable, and telling them to fuck off if they don't like it is way easier than having enough of a conscience to address their concerns."

    Whenever a poorly-heeled conservative says "If you don't like it, quit," the subtitle of that statement is "I fucking hate my job–hate it so hard that the only way I can deal with my own impotent misery is to declare that I'm proud of it, while doing everything I can to make sure that everyone else around me is even more miserable than I am. If my job sucks and I am miserable, you should be miserable too. Because I am dead to all feelings but seething resentment for anyone who reminds me of myself."

  • "If one's choices are reduced to working at a given job or being unemployed, is the labor "market" a market at all?"

    Yes it is…you're just the commodity, not a trader.

    You have to understand when they say "Free market" they're referring to the market they're participating in, not you….labor is just another cost. Workers are just burdens to be borne for the purposes of making a profit.

  • If you do quit like they suggest, then you're a lazy quitter. You can't win with the Just World Fallacy, the mental disorder of American politics. "Well you should have done this. You shouldn't have done that…" It all helps people think that they are in control, that their decisions truly matter the most.

    As for the market stuff, well this German guy named Karl actually hit upon that back in the 19th century. You should check him out. See the unique thing about capitalism is no that it has markets; plenty of previous modes of production had those. What is unique is that this system forces everyone to participate in, i.e. to enter the market. So if you don't have money to buy or commodities to sell(beyond your own labor power), you're pretty much screwed. You survive so long as someone wants to buy your labor power.

  • AviFreakinHartman says:

    I just want to submit here that I'm tired of service jobs being referred to as "unskilled". That may be the case for factory-style kitchens like McDonald's, but even in greasy spoon diners, there's a hell of a lot more to the job than flipping burgers. I've been cooking for twenty years, and there is definitely skill involved, even if you're only one step removed from fast food. There are legions of unpaid "externs" leaving culinary school with advanced skills cooking eighty-dollar plates of food. I'm not disputing your point above, Ed, I just want to give credit to restaurant workers, because we're fucking due. That said, we do prove your point, in that there are so many unqualified (read: uneducated) workers to choose from, that there's no market incentive to pay us more year to year. I make the same money now that I made in 1999. If I quit, there are a dozen cooks waiting to fill that void. Still, I just want to defend myself and my peers by saying that we're actually pretty damn good at what we do, and I'm proud of my work.

  • I don't think there is a market. From what I understand, the term "free market" assumes a virtually infinite number of suppliers and a virtually infinite number of cunsumber, none of whom can affect the price. At best we have a situation where there are a few consumers (employers) and very many suppliers (workers). in addition, as Adam Smith pointed out, the consumers are allowed to organize (he used the word "combine") while the workers are viciously prohibited from doing so (the late 18th and early 19th century laws against laborers organizing in any way were horrendous). In this case I would say, as in the case of health care, there is no market. The attempt to pretend there is a market is one of the great flim-flams of classical economics.

  • But there IS a market. If we look at a physical market, it doesn't cease to exist just because some people aren't participating. In that same way, the market as a whole exists, only some people are fucked. In capitalism, everyone is free to enter the market and trade, in theory, but you are no free to not participate in the market. So if you have nothing to sell and no money to buy, you're essentially fucked.

    What this shows us is that capitalism may look good on paper, but it is ultimately a utopian system that just doesn't work in practice. And think of the countless millions who have died in the name of private profit and property!

  • @Arslan: Your final paragraph reminds me of that (very) old gag:

    Show an economist something that works in practice, and he'll give you three reasons it won't work in theory.

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    You might also want to consider the power an employer has if you do consider quitting. If you don't do it on their terms, there's always the chance you could find yourself unable to offer them as a reference to other potential employers.

  • As for the market stuff, well this German guy named Karl actually hit upon that back in the 19th century. You should check him out. See the unique thing about capitalism is no that it has markets; plenty of previous modes of production had those. What is unique is that this system forces everyone to participate in, i.e. to enter the market. So if you don't have money to buy or commodities to sell(beyond your own labor power), you're pretty much screwed. You survive so long as someone wants to buy your labor power.

    I was watching a similar discussion on a libertarian message board (don't remember which one, sorry) a while back, and somebody mentioned this shirt. If I had the money to waste on a shirt that I would never wear and would in fact burn, I would want to buy it just to see where it was made. I'd bet my diploma that it was made in some backwater (in Hispanoamérica, no less) where there are no labor laws, by overworked women or by children who are missing fingers after getting them caught in looms. That's capitalism, all right.

  • You might also want to consider the power an employer has if you do consider quitting. If you don't do it on their terms, there's always the chance you could find yourself unable to offer them as a reference to other potential employers.

    Yes, and this is why I laugh mirthlessly at fuckwads who think that employers are taking "all of the risks." The employees are risking, too. They are risking the possibility of working for a total asshole and finding themselves spending day after day in hell, and then finally quitting after reaching the end of their ropes only to find that they've just wasted months or years of their lives, with a huge hole in their employment histories due to a lack of references.

  • I work in a profession where everything is based on seniority. Pay, schedule, domicile, what I fly and even when I go on vacation are all seniority based.

    If I was to quit and get hired at another airline (highly unlikely) I would give up 9 years of seniority at my current employer and start right back at the bottom.

  • Personally I've worked hard. Damn hard to get to where I am now. A job that has elements that prevent it from ever being offshored, and at this point I'd really have to do something stupid to get sacked. Don't you just love gub'mint work?

    Do I get the prize? :)

    However, I'm under *NO* illusion as to how blessed—some would call it lucky—I am to have this gig.

    At a critical time someone just *happened* to make a reference to this career path.
    I just *happened* to hear and listen to them.
    I just *happened* to have saved (by working 6 days a week) and had the government give me the last $$$ I needed for the two year course.
    I just *happen*to live in country that heavily subsidises tech education thus I could afford the course.

    Still took two years to land this gig and it's still a fluke that I got it when the comp was far better qualified than I directly in the field. I just was able to bring more to the role from a practical stand point. So yes I am blessed—or lucky, fortunate, whatever—to have this gig, and for that I am thankful!

    I just want to ensure that others too can have the same opportunities that I've had with education, etc. Unfortunately, others voted for speedo wearing, dumbo sized ear Paul F+++in Ryan. By the time Bunny is finished, this country will be nothing but a smoking hulk.

  • This issue exactly is why we should be seriously talking about a universal basic income – every single born person gets a check every month for the equivalent of a full-time minimum wage position, and we abolish the actual minimum wage. You now earn minimum wage for existing, and any sort of money you want above and beyond that, you earn by working (and gets taxed progressively).

    Then guess what – if you hate your job, you CAN just quit it. Your options are now "work in order to get yourself a better quality of life than the minimum" or "go write some poetry for a while and pay attention to your kids, but don't worry about starving or losing the house". It makes the job market much more of a market.

    (It's not a perfect idea, but it's way better than what we have now.)

  • c u n d gulag says:

    My go-to job when I quit corporate jobs before, was tending bar.
    When I got sick of a corporate job in years paast, I'd to and tend bar, and do pretty well for myself.

    But now, I'm too handicapped to stand on my feet for longer than a few minutes, so that's out.
    And I'm too handicapped for most of the jobs in the area my Mom and I live in – which are in retail.

    My "skills" as a Trainer have eroded, over the years.
    Plus, most training now is changing, from instructor-based, to computer-based.

    So, basically, I'm fucked.

    But I'm not handicapped ENOUGH, according to the Orthopedic Surgeons I've met.
    They said, if I was a construction worker, or other physical laborer, then they'd gladly recommend me for SS Disability.

    But, as one said to me, "You can still talk."

    So, hire me to answer the phones, I said to him.

    And on the way out, I knew why he wouldn't.

    He had some 25 year-old hottie answering his phones, who obviously spends most of her salary on hair, finger and toe nail jobs.

    Who wants a balding, overweight, 56 year-old, with a missing front tooth, as a receptionist, when you can have a young female or male hottie?

  • @Phoenician and Sarah: as for employers screwing you. Yup I've had that one. To the point that I probably should have sued the the bastards because of what the guy said.

    After I hurt my back in a work related fall, I was not in a position where I could not NOT work. Instead of being able to recover I had to keep grinding through it. I was told I had to be on my feet despite having a certificate from the doctor saying I needed to be allowed to rest. I was told I either had to stand or give up the shift. I was told I wouldn't be promoted because I had reduced lifting capacity. I had to dose myself up on cold meds—one part masks the pain, one part to amp up. There were mornings when I found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and could only lay there and cry, because the only thing I had to offer to earn money (my body) was falling apart because of the only job I could land. And this is in Australia where worker protections are better.

    During a stint of unemployment I used to arguments with my very conservative brother about "dole bludgers". Yet I was different because unlike them, I had "a good work ethic". Actually, the only difference between myself and the others was that I was his brother. However, his support and encouragement were still very helpful in keeping me up and going during some dark times.

  • (bonus points for the first person who uses the comment section to brag about how you're in such high demand that you're sick of being offered jobs!)

    Even if you can say that, it's only true for a short while. Software Engineering is in huge demand right now. I could quit my job today and start tomorrow at anywhere of a dozen places. But 12 years ago, when I actually was looking for a job, the dot com bust flooded the "market" with tons of qualified engineers who where better than me, and more desperate. I worked construction for several years ($11 an hour! No benefits!) before getting a job as a software engineer. Fortunately, the dot com bust coincided with the housing boom, which lead to the housing bust…

  • The "Karl" you need to read is Karl Polanyi. He called land, labor and money "fictitious commodities" because they are not things produced for sale in a market. 'The Great Transformation' 1944.

    In the case of labor, it is not possible for the "price" to go below the cost of maintenance. Labor doesn't like that. So, we have unemployment insurance and other non-market (half-measure) instruments to keep people alive while pretending that they are real commodities.

    We're coming up on the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. Every year about this time I make a real pain of myself by asking random people if they've heard of it and then saying that that's how Libertarians want to run the world.

    I recently came across a comment by someone advocating Henry George's single tax. So I guess we're back in about 1931 again and I'm free to advocate:
    No minimum wage but minimum national income.
    Single payer essentially free health insurance.
    Free education.

    Pie in the sky bye 'n bye.

  • @Avi; one reason I go out to eat is to get food that I can't make at home. I don't go to $80/plate places (more like $10 dollar/plate places), but I am so impressed that the chef at my favorite place (a family-owned Thai place) can not only cook my meal, but everyone else's meals at the same time. You're right–that's not unskilled labor.

  • Sarah, to build on what you pointed out about risk, about the only thing a worker can do is try to predict the future to figure out what *might* be a more 'marketable' set of skills and spend their own time and fortune procuring those skills – taking on risk, of course, which may never pay off.

    I'm currently in school to get a Bachelor's degree, because a few years back I was looking for a better paying job, and I couldn't get anyone to look at my resume without a degree on it. So I'm spending my money (and some of the government's – I have a job I mostly love, but I make little enough money that I qualify for Pell grants) to get a degree that may never be useful in terms of improving my chances in the job 'market'.

  • @maurinsky: you hit the nail on the head–it's a guessing game as to what career field will be "hot". Undertaking a degree takes time and money, and it's a crap shoot as to whether the job market will shift before the degree is finished.

  • This is a topic I've long been interested in, so I can't help but put in my two cents. My opinion is that what we're seeing here is the long circling of the drain of capitalism itself. Capitalism worked well early in the century, in large part because the value of human labor was relatively high. But decade after decade of technological progress has continually eroded that value, and in my opinion, there is little reason to believe that the value of human labor will ever truly recover.

    Automation has long been reducing the value of so-called unskilled labor, but consider more modern technologies. For example, consider board layout engineers – highly-educated, well-paid engineers that were responsible for taking a hardware design that involves an abstract representation of a circuit board and its components/interconnections, and creating a physical layout that can be actually manufactured. Advanced in technology have made it possible for relatively cheap software tools to perform this job very quickly and with high-quality. So automation isn't merely siphoning away low-skilled jobs. And as we continue ever-faster towards the development of software-based human-level intelligence, I believe there's every reason to believe that virtually every job than a human being is capable of perform, will also be achievable via software.

    This isn't necessarily a long-term problem, but we could be in for a very painful transitional phase insomuch as our system of governance refuses to allow our socio-economic system to adapt to fundamental changes in the labor market…

  • The trend that I've seen in place since about 2000 is that even being good at your job in no way guarantees that you'll be able to continue in it. Before that time, people often spent 10-20 years in one company with internal changes, promotions and an improved standard of living commensurate with their experience. After 2000, I see seasoned veterans with 3-6 month stints followed by a few months of unemployment. Maybe, if you're very lucky, you'll have 2-4 years at a company before it merges, is acquired or has some artificial "re-org" created when senior management has a shake-up.

    What remains unchanged is the need to pay bills each month. Without some sense of responsibility for the social responsibility to employees, business will continue to view us all as expendable commodities that can be replaced with no consequences.

    I support a universal basic income but I also support making businesses absorb the social costs for their reckless pursuit of short-term profits.

  • Government is the only thing powerful enough to reign in the worst of capitalism and keep it from turning (back) into feudalism. The "Reagan Revolution" was the complete capture of government by the wealthy. The Government stopped regulating and stopped supporting unions. The slide to feudalism continues.

    The capture of our government starting with Reaganite tax-haters is likely to continue into oligarchy and feudalism that would make the Russian Tsars envious. Thomas Piketty explains why in Capital.

    We either fight back and tax these bastards or we're doomed. But the bastards now own our government. So – doomed?

    What kind of black swan is going to swoop down and wipe the slate clean with it's wings, is what I wonder. China? Worldwide viral plague? Meltdown of the internet and bank accounts wiped a la Bitcoin? Skynet taking over and installing a network of keeper drones for its meat puppet pets?

    One of the pleasures that reading history provides is that those who predict the future – Cassandras and Polyannas alike – are always wrong. Always. The last of the Russian Tsarist family were executed and buried in a shallow ditch.

  • A couple of commenters here have mentioned a universal basic income to give workers something to fall back on so they won't be totally at the mercy of employers. I like the idea, but wouldn't it cause the demand for goods and services to go up, driving up prices so that the buying power of the poor, working or not, will stay the same as it is now?

  • c u n d gulag says:

    If the Democrats want to win in 2014, 2016, and on and on, run of FDR's "Second Bill of Rights."

    Excerpt from President Roosevelt's January 11, 1944 message to the Congress of the United States on the State of the Union:[2]

    “It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

    This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

    As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

    We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.”[3] People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

    In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

    Among these are:

    The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

    The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

    The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

    The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

    The right of every family to a decent home;

    The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

    The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

    The right to a good education.

    All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

    America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens.

    For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

    Instead, we get gutless Democrats who are about as Liberal as Far-Right Republicans were back in the 60's and 70's.

    WITH, some notable exceptions!
    Like Senators Warren, Franken, etc.

  • charluckles says:

    I don't know about the conservative hoi polloi, but I feel pretty certain that the conservative elite damn well know that a desperate, powerless labor pool is good for "business" and are promoting policies accordingly.

    Also health care in America. Even more so when it comes to dependents. I am lucky enough to have a job I enjoy, but if things ever did go south, I would be extremely hard pressed to leave. I have a child with medical issues and decent health insurance through my employer. Funny how that never comes up during discussion about family values and freedom.

    Also too. Debt. The expense needed to go to college or improve oneself in our society has become a fucking anchor. How does one leave a job to go back to school? And once one graduates with that millstone, where is the freedom to choose employment?

  • Reminded of Steinbeck's "Starvation Under the Orange Groves". The farmers wanted the migrants there when things needed harvesting, but the day after it was over they become a blight on the landscape. Everything that was done to drive them out had the blessing of the powers that were; everything done to improve their lot was demonized as Communism.

    So glad that's all in the past.

  • I don't think this post goes far enough. There is a market, but a very bad one. The labor market is really loose. And that is how businesses want it. A loose labor market means businesses can crush the workers. Since labor is usually one of the biggest expenses, this means higher profits. And indeed corporate profits are way up. No mysteries or secrets here so far.

    The solution is pretty straight forward. Increase deficit spending and have the fed double the size of QE3 and cut rates to zero. But who opposes that policy? The pro-business Republicans. The solution isn't taxing the rich, it is increasing the money supply. But even now, with the last 6 years showing the lowest inflation and worst labor markets in 70 years, the pro-business crowd are screaming about inflation. Why? They want higher profits and they know how to get it. Pretty simple, really. We don't need communism just better economic policy. But guess the odds of that happening.

  • My partner has recently bought the small business she has been employed by since she left high school. We never could have done it without our gov. subsidised degrees (that no longer exist), my dad's decades in government jobs (laid off, job now privatised, with devastating results to the efficacy of the service), and her parents' disability pension ( which our government is presently attempting to scale down/ revoke. Or, indeed, all of our lovely government employee customers. Now we are the job creators! Two employees and counting! I shit you not when I say that I have lot count of the number of conservative voters who assume our politics have changed since taking over. Idiots.

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    @Xynzee @Phoenician and Sarah: as for employers screwing you. Yup I've had that one. To the point that I probably should have sued the the bastards because of what the guy said.

    And try to imagine what the reaction of a potential employer would be in contacting these people and being told "Well, for legal reasons, we can't tell you what we thought of Xynzee's employment here…". You can't win in that situation.

  • "Market" arguments mostly are ridiculous. Markets almost always are distorted in some way. Labor markets may be dominated by a small number of employers who essentially set wage rates, or there may be a small number of undercapitalized employers vying for the same, sometimes even scarce talent (think elite trades like stone masons). The only time we hear about distortions is when people opposed to labor complain about closed shops or the evils of teachers unions and credentialling. The idea that organized labor actually creates less distorted labor markets is a little more difficult to make, although it is valid and consistent with a social justice perspective.

    Skilled competent people want secure employment. employers want people who are insecure about their work. Good use of human capital and real innovation requires the kind of stability in employment that is slipping away. We've reached a point where much of our economy seems to rest on buying and selling existing business es and screwing customers and workers tends to be the inevitable outcome of the paying off the debt created in this kind of "capitalism". Creation of value for the future and the creation of infrastructure to sustain value in the future no long are corporate values. It will require a long sustained road to accomplish this and it has to start by fighting the faux capitalists who yammer about markets they work very hard to rig and distort.

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    Get with the program. With unemployment compensation and food stamps, unemployed people are just living the life of Riley.

    (George Riley, the guy who lives in a van down by the river.)

  • Does anyone here know, strictly mathematically, how any outlandish assumptions it requires to prove that markets are efficient? That was a rhetorical question.

  • @ronzie

    "I like the idea, but wouldn't it cause the demand for goods and services to go up, driving up prices so that the buying power of the poor, working or not, will stay the same as it is now?"

    I believe(going by purely mainstream economics here) that increased demand would simply cause businesses to hire more people, thus encouraging a lot of people to go to work as opposed to getting by on the basic minimum.

  • "And as we continue ever-faster towards the development of software-based human-level intelligence, I believe there's every reason to believe that virtually every job than a human being is capable of perform, will also be achievable via software."

    As a software engineer, let me just say I feel like it's only a matter of time until software can write software. We're verging on that already.

    I'm trying to subtly nudge my daughter towards robotics. I figure they're always going to need a handful of people to work on the robots and maybe her housing cubicle will have an extra closet where my wife and I can eke out our "golden" years.

  • Anon (being cautious) says:

    I will raise my hand to say I'm in a profession that's (currently) in demand enough that I can quit my job and get another, plausibly.

    Still, the market sucks for me.

    I teach ESL, you see. And with only a Masters degree (and no school teaching cert), my only real options are universities and community colleges, and neither of those offer full time work at entry level. I have to work multiple part time jobs, under bosses that don't entirely like the idea that I'm not working for them exclusively.

    Inevitably, one of the institutions I work for will offer me full time in the next few years— I just finished my MA and am working my way up. Or so I'm told. At which point, I will make between 30 and 32K per year.

    For me, this salary is not bad pay on an hourly basis. I take much less time for prep time than the average teacher. I'm able to do this with the same good results as someone else who preps more; I have a special knack for efficiency. Unfortunately, what I do is very subjective. If my supervisors and colleagues had any idea how (relatively) little time I prep compared to them, they would probably start judging me as a bad teacher, and more intensely scrutinize my teaching methods.

    Then there's the thorny issue that, as I constantly apply for jobs to make sure I always have a healthy roster of multiple employers, some jobs pay much lower and offer much crappier working conditions than others. And yet, all employers assume I will take a job if I offer it. When I am forced to decline a job because a school refuses to budge untenable pay and hours, the hiring manager generally gets quite enraged. And hiring managers in the region I work in all know and talk to each other.

    What really frustrates me about this is the fact that tuition rates for the international ESL students I teach are sky high. Their enrollment is rising, while local enrollment drops because local students are being priced out of higher education. By being one of the few properly trained to teach the super-rich who come her for higher ed from abroad, I am helping to bring in millions of dollars per year. When university ESL programs collapse due to poor staffing, schools lose a lot of money, and entire departments can become insolvent. And yet here I am, juggling multiple temp jobs, and risking my reputation whenever I say "I can't put your job in my roster—- you pay a fraction of what my other current employers do."

  • As income inequality and chronic unemployment finally reach the upper-middle class, we are beginning to see changes happen. No one listened to the poor or the working class but now that it hit those that thought themselves immune, change will come.

    Restoring overtime pay to spread the "good jobs" around is a start. Cutting the work week back to 30 hours with an eye on making it even lower is another step. Free, universal education and retraining can help. A negative income tax or guaranteed minimum income is inevitable to keep society from crumbling.

    Ultimately, technology must serve people if it is to be desirable. Our current era of cutthroat capitalism is at an end. Our investments go toward the trivial, our needs go unmet, people live in desperation. If you happen to be rich, stupid or woefully ignorant, it's a great time to be alive. For the rest of us, it's looking like an increasingly shitty system that requires some massive social engineering to benefit us all.

  • I don't know if anyone noticed this, but Ed's point kind of dovetails with a Mike Konczal column from a little while ago, in which he called for economics courses to be reordered.

    The idea of a functioning labor "market" is not inherently senseless. It's just senseless in a context like the present, with high short- and long-term unemployment and a shortage in effective consumer demand. In a context more like the late 90s, when companies wanted to expand but had a hard time attracting enough employees to do so, "if you don't like it then quit" was a lot more reasonable—if your employers didn't value your contributions as much as you thought they should, there's a good chance some other employer would value them, and compensate you, more. But that was in a macroeconomy that had been effectively stabilized, which is something we don't have now.

    Konczal's column is really worth a read, by the way, for anyone who missed it the first time.

  • @Hobbes: I like the idea of a universal guaranteed income, but let's not kid ourselves. If I quit my job and received minimum wage instead of zero, I would lose my house just as quickly as if I received zero. When your household expenses exceed $5K/month, minimum wage is rounding error.

  • It would help if conservatives were science literate. "Labor markets" work the same way species evolve. If something bad happens in an ecosystem, all the animals who are poorly adapted to the change die horrible deaths alongside their children, except for the random few who, by pure accident, happen to be a better fit for the new environment. Then these animals fill the vacant niche and a bunch of conservatives come by and say how amazing it is that God designed these animals so perfectly for their environment. The Invisible Hand of the market works the same way, leaving the Ruby on Rails engineers unscathed while strangling 400,000 steelworkers and their families.

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