Where Jonah Goldberg goes wrong

But, of course, everyone is in favor of jobs and justice

I’m not. Justice, yes, although I’d very much prefer a tolerable administration of it to true and complete justice for each and every one of us.

But I hate jobs. Despise them, would wish that no one at all had to do them.

Because jobs are terrible, they’re a cost to us not a benefit. We know this because people have to bribe us with cash money to do them.

We all want to be able to consume, that’s entirely true. But none of us wants to have to work or do a job in order to do so. We do have to, this is true, but that job is the cost of our consumption, not a desirable thing in and of itself.

50 thoughts on “Where Jonah Goldberg goes wrong”

  1. In theoretical terms, you’re right, Tim, and one day we may get to this Utopia (and find that the old folks were right about the Devil and Idle Hands, and free lunches), but in the meantime when some of us have/had to work it rather sticks in the craw that others don’t/have never had to. Not good for social cohesion etc.

  2. Well, there is job satisfaction too. Sure, some people would be really happy to have no job and all their limited wants taken care of by someone else. We know this because there are already millions of them. But I suspect quite a few people, myself included, would find having any want met instantly by my fleet of personal self-repairing perpetual-motion-powered robots on my private island (robots that would also do the hobbies for me) somewhat frustrating.

    We also know there’s job satisfaction because jobs like nursing which are largely (literally) shitty but personally rewarding to those who go in for that kind of thing, are rewarded with less money than comparably shitty, comparably qualified, and comparably demanding but less personally gratifying jobs (perhaps like mucking out oil rigs but I expect to be corrected by the resident oilies) So that job satisfaction comes down on the employee benefit side of the transaction and is reflected in less of other benefits.

  3. I’m not sure about this. I’m not all that pleased that people are prepared to pay me more to do things that I don’t really enjoy doing than they are to do the things that I really like doing, but I still do both.

    I barely break even on my second, part time job, but I do it mostly for the love of it; it’s a luxury afforded by my first. The funny thing is that people who do it full time find it a it of a bind. It’s that old Mark Twain thing:

    Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and … Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. And this would help him to understand why constructing artificial flowers or performing on a tread-mill is work, while rolling ten-pins or climbing Mont Blanc is only amusement. There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign.”

  4. Also, seeing as we still live in a world of scarce resources, labour apparently still being one of the scarcer of said resources, isn’t it a gargantuan waste to have so many potential hours of labour frittered away on daytime TV?

    I’m not advocating government work programmes, digging ditches with teaspoons and the like, but it’s surely not fatuous to argue that an economic system in which we can’t tap a huge pool of a scarce resource might not be as efficient as it could be.

  5. @ Tim Worstall

    So in that context where do you put the Bank of England’s new policy of linking interest rates to employment

  6. The Bertrand Russell piece could only really have been written, in that way, by a man who had the choice.

    He could be idle – though he claimed not to have been – precisely because lots of people had toiled on the family estates and filled his family coffers over the years.

    If they’d all sat around on the arses, he’d not have been born an earl and would have had to dig his own spuds, or starve.

    Paradoxically, this might also have led him to the view that idleness was a good thing – albeit by another route.

    That’s because idleness is a good thing. I’m all in favour of it – certainly for me. At times I am exceedingly idle.

    But that’s different from thinking all jobs are, outright, a bad thing with no positive element.

  7. @ Interested

    you overlook his main point that the efficiency of the industrial economy produces the required products without the requirement for everyone to toil every hout of the day.

  8. In microeconomic everyday life a “job” is a chore – a thing that needs to be done to satiate the lack of something. If nothing is lacking and things don’t need to be done then that is a good thing and people are happy. In the economy of the division of labour, that simple happy circle is not there as a job is also the income mechanism of spending power.

  9. Labour- well, human productivity, rather- is always a scarce resource. There cannot be a surplus of it. What we think looks like a surplus is failure to deploy it, which harms us all in shortages of desirable human produced goods.

    If at some point every human on the planet’s desires in goods and services were sated, then we could start perhaps talking of a surplus, though in fact it would actually be a different state of increasing leisure, in which nobody desired to work more (since all their needs are sated) so nobody would be less employed than they desire.

    But for now, it’s scarce.

  10. There must be some kind of suplus as we can see that something is sustaining the prices on the property market. People are making the judgement that half their after tax income is available for mortgage payments.

  11. and comparably demanding but less personally gratifying jobs (perhaps like mucking out oil rigs but I expect to be corrected by the resident oilies)

    It can swing between absolutely brilliant to absolutely fucking awful with everything in between. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth in the oil business. One thing is universal, though: if you’re not busy offshore, it is hell.

  12. @UKLiberty, we don’t yet have flying cars or self-cleaning robot whores, thus we have scarcity. Less flippantly, we have all the papers whinging about the squeezed middle who can only afford to run two cars per family and eat out only once per week, and isn’t petrol expensive not to mention mortgages.

    Thus we are presumably still experiencing scarcity of the major input that would enable us to make those things less scarce, which is human labour. So having lots of it loafing around on standby is wasteful.

  13. I suppose labour becomes worth less relatively with increasing time but more absolutely with increasing time. Does Tim know the name for that? Maybe Marx was right about capitalism being a necessary precondition for world communism but wrong about the revolution also being a necessary (or even desirable) precondition.

    There is no surplus until everyone has a private island and 800-foot yacht with champagne bath. Ergo there will never be a surplus. And I guess we also can’t ever have communism as long as there are private islands.

  14. In money terms, correcting for inflation, labour remains worth the same (in money units) over time. In terms of goods and services, allowing for Goldman Sachs robbing us all fucking blind, its value increases. Which is why we should expect gradual deflation of the money supply over time as the same income purchases more goods and services.

    I suspect that in a hypothetical economy of unlimited goods, most people wouldn’t want either an island or a yacht, and that the satiation of demand might be more achievable than it seems. Goods like those are luxury goods whose primary purpose is the display of wealth. If anyone *could* have them, there would be no benefit to the display of wealth, so most people would probably have more modest consumption than islands and yachts.

  15. I’ll re-word that

    rather than an increase in productivity resulting in an increase in leisure time, you get an increase in land rents and land prices

  16. I suspect that in a hypothetical economy of unlimited goods, most people wouldn’t want either an island or a yacht…Goods like those are luxury goods whose primary purpose is the display of wealth.

    I’d like a yacht, please. I like sailing and I can’t afford one. I don’t need a whole island, though, I’d settle for a free and accessible mooring, with sufficient keel clearance.

    (It’s hard to keep a yacht in SW London. I’ve got a windsurfer in the back garden, but you can’t invite young ladies to join you on it at dusk. Well you could but they’d think you were a bit odd.)

  17. @ Ian B

    Ricardo. Its worth expanding on that.

    Over a minimum standard of living people spend the rest of their salary bidding up rents and mortgage payments.
    Its applies to North Wales as much North London.

  18. @Dinero ‘you overlook his main point that the efficiency of the industrial economy produces the required products without the requirement for everyone to toil every hout of the day.’

    I didn’t overlook it, I read it. I missed the bit where he said everyone was toiling every hour of the day, though!

    @Sam – you’re not by any chance based in the south west??? Because our paths may just have crossed.

  19. Dinero-

    I don’t have time for a long comment, but basically the Ricardian catastrophe only applies when some rentier class (landlords, capitalists, bankers) have excessive hegemony, generally due to State involvement or religious power, etc. In a true free market it doesn’t occur. The primary problem (with which Ricardo himself wrestled unsuccessfully) was what that “minimum standard of living” is. Bowl of gruel, water, clogs on your feet, share your hovel with the farm animals? We currently have a Ricardian catastrophe playing out precisely due to a rentier-biased government.

    Ricardo’s rentiers were the landlords of his time. Marx’s were the capitalists. And so on.

  20. @ Ian B

    Put Ricardo himself aside.

    Its quite observable that rents are higher where salaries are higher and rise as salaries rise. Regardless of who pointed it out.

  21. Yes, but then I explained why the theory which purports to explain that effect is wrong, and the econometrics are misleading.

  22. Well the topic of the thread is what is the purpose of a job.

    Its enlightening to acknowledge that under this system it is partly to pay rent on land. This has consequences for the possibility of future leisure time, regardless of labour surplus in the context of labour productivity

  23. If almost everything that people wanted, created by human labour, was given away free of charge – you would still need a source of income to pay the rent or mortgage.

  24. This is the problem. I’ve got involved in these sorts of discussions before and it’s so hard for everyone, including I admit, myself, to drop the assumptions we live with every day based on our experience in the current scarcity economy that it really is hard to discuss.

    If everything is free (the infinite state) then landlords don’t need (or can have) an income either. It’s a moneyless economy. There is no trade. There is no rent. No profit. No labour. No income for anyone at all.

    You can then work out intermediate positions from there. But it’s hard, because we’re all so used to how things are.

  25. Is it just me or is someone about to pop up advocating LVT?

    After all, the logical conclusion of the above is that land will still be scarce when nothing else is.

  26. JamesV-

    Yes, the Luncheon Voucher Tax is directly derived from the Ricardian proto-macroeconomic analysis. Henry George has been described as “the last Ricardian socialist”.

    Marx took the same analysis and replcaced landlords with capitalists, hence his conclusion that they required euthenasia. For the same reasoning; Ricardo (and George) have land as being “special” because it’s scarce. Marxism makes the same judgement regarding capital (and its renting out by capitalists in return for interest, which is the rent on capital).

    So anyway yes, if you believe Ricardo you have to either confiscate the land, kill the landlords, or LVT all their profits off them.

  27. There is a concrete difference though in that (not being mormons) we cannot build new planets thus land will always be scarce. At some point environmental limits become real. We will never be able to use more than 100% of the solar energy the planet receives (or could with added satellites etc), for example. And who defines economic efficiency at the physical limits anyway? All of us living under a shell of 100% efficient solar panels means no one can enjoy a cold beer watching the sun set over the pacific but on some measure mankind will be better off feeding everyone on Solaryent gruel than allowing anyone a gap in the solar panel shell to enjoy the sunset through.

    So I think scarcity is built in to any economic system we can imagine, because we all assign different values to stuff. It’s ultimately why !communism, !equality and so on – you have to measure everything by as many different standards as there are people.

  28. ‘Jobs … would wish that no one at all had to do them.’ Putting remuneration to one side, I suspect >50% of men would be incapable of functioning without the stimulation and direction provided by a job. At least that’s what the drinkers in the Dog & Duck tell me.

  29. That’s one of the basic Green (and general leftist) economic errors. Scarcity is not the absence of infinitude. It’s just having less than you want. If something is superabundant, like air currently or water in many contexts, there is no scarcity of it, because you can take as much as you like; breathe or drink your fill, and never be left wanting. So one way to look at it is that economic growth is not the quest for infinity, but just superabundance, which is infinitely more attainable.

    The interesting question for me really is non-reproducable goods. Doesn’t matter how many robots you have, there’s only one Mona Lisa. You can have a print for free, but only one person can own the painting itself. I wonder if we may move to some kind of economy in which all the “commodities” are free, and we just trade non-commodities. My tropical island for your Picasso, and so on.

  30. Ian, I don’t agree with it being the absence of what you want. Your wants change with your means.
    I love travelling, flying in particular for some reason. When of limited means I got outraged by ever having to pay a penny more than the cheapest headline rate for a flight. Now I appreciate yield management keeping seats free for me at short notice and pay my own way in business class from time to time. The cost/benefit ratio of a bigger seat/ego stroke is now positive for me, whereas the earlier me would have baulked at paying four times or more the minimum fee to go somewhere.
    So as we get richer (whether collectively or individually) our baseline expectation goes up. Again, !communism and such. We are apes, not ants. Wanting the bling the other guy has just comes naturally. Probably because on some fundamental level it comes with more opportunities to make copies of your DNA.

  31. And capitalism is a success because we are, mostly, no longer talking about needs. We can do needs off the sweat of 10% of the population’s brow. We are talking about wants and how much of those wants we get fulfilled. And that’s the fucking coolest thing in the whole of human history.

  32. There is no distinction between wants and needs.

    The interesting point comes when there’s an unlimited supply of bling. At that point, there is no bling. See the problem? Status good cease to be status goods and lose their value. So you end up just taking what you actually want, rather than to show off. So on that basis, the wants you’ll have in an infinite economy will probably, paradoxically, be much less than your unrealised aspirations, or your conspicuous consumption should you be a rich bastard, in a scarcity economy.

    It’s worth noting also that seriously rich people in our own economy run out of things to spend their money on. They even start giving it away. There really is a saturation point. It’s just that most of us currently are far below it.

  33. With some things, it seems like there is not so much a scarcity because of a lack of the things, but because of the distribution of the things. E.g. there are places that produce surpluses of food and furniture, but many people don’t live in those places. There is also lots of land, but a scarcity of work / uneven distribution of work – and people prefer to live within a reasonable commute to their work.

    It’s worth noting also that seriously rich people in our own economy run out of things to spend their money on.

    Well, once you buy a mega yacht that holds several super yachts that each contain yachts and RIBs, mini-subs, helicopters, jetskis and whatnots, accompanied by a fleet of support yachts, I guess you think “yeah… I’ve got enough yachts”.

  34. Oh, I dunno. As others have already mentioned – job satisfaction. I love my job. My retirement plan is to keep on working because I love my job.Indeed, there was a time when I did it for a hobby. So, no, it’s not a cost. I am being paid to do something that I love doing and gain great satisfaction from. I’d say that’s a bonus.

  35. What Tim Newman said about offshore work.

    I am personally glad that economic circumstances (i.e. not being born as rich as Croesus) have forced me to work, and before that get educated to work, since my day job is a frequent source of learning which appeals to my primeval geek drive to understand more about the world and my position in it. As a result I feel that I’m a wiser and better person than years ago. Of course it would be nice, all else being equal, to be paid more and work a three day week – but probably not much less than three days.

  36. Job Creation Schemes are a Cost: Yes, but not jobs.

    From the point of view of the employee, a job is a combination of work that he must do and wages he is paid. If the wages exceed the cost to him of the work, he takes the job, and it is a benefit to him.

    From the point of view of the employer, a job is a combination of work he gets done, and wages (plus tax) he must pay. If the value of the work done exceed the wages plus tax, the job exists and is a benefit to the employer.

    Ergo, absent a third factor, jobs are a benefit to both employer and employee.

    What is not a benefit is creating a harm which must be rectified by creating a job, for example by breaking a window, bribing people to scrap perfectly good cars, or creating a legal requirement to do pointless work which does not help anyone, such as subsidising greenwankery. The job remains a benefit but in the context of an even larger harm. So causing the harm created the job (indirectly) but it does not follow that causing the harm is a benefit, because of the goddamn harm part.

    So the correct analysis of whether a particular job creating event is a net cost or benefit has to account for why it is being created. If it is purely free market actors, acting of their own volition, then ex hypothesis and via the theorems of welfare economics it is a benefit, at least prospectively.

    Wheras if it is being created by politicians spending other peoples money on creating sinecures for their friends and relatives then it is almost certainly an overall harm, what with the vast majority of politicians being some combination of callous, greedy and stupid. (It only takes one and so many seem to have all three).

    To prove it one final time: Imagine someone passed a law forbidding the creation of jobs by people freely associating in the market: Would that be a good law? It would not. But of jobs were a cost it would make us all rich, wouldn’t it?

    Now can you please stop saying jobs are a cost.

  37. Labor is a cost of production.

    Revenue is a benefit of production.

    Let’s not confuse cost and revenue.

  38. Ben gets rapturous applause.

    But I think Tim’s point, as we’ve seen made billions of times, is that jobs are regularly touted as benefits of politicians’ schemes (these days often to subsidise greenwhackery) without consideration of the costs – particularly opportunity costs, which all jobs, without exception, are. And I think we can agree that such jobs, to the extent they need (prolonged) subsidy, are on balance a harm.

  39. @John Fembup,

    also, stuff produced is a benefit of production. Otherwise we wouldn’t bother with some of it. At least in the absence of politicians.

    And the pendant would probably say “profit” in place of “revenue”.

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