We Should Pay People What They’re Really Worth

From “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” (boldface mine):

There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

For a lot of students from elite schools who took the ‘banking glide path‘, it must really burn to have this gnawing self-doubt (though the money probably helps. Not that I would know). On the other hand, the ability of some bankers to cause the Collapse of Big Shitpile certainly suggests they have considerable destructive power. Maybe we should view their compensation as a bribe?

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6 Responses to We Should Pay People What They’re Really Worth

  1. Hwang Shin Moon says:

    Not bribe but extortion.

    They know where the choke points are in the economy, and ruthlessly moneterise that specialist knowledge.

  2. Min says:

    Nice economy you got here. It would be a shame if sumpn wuz to — happen to it.

  3. dr2chase says:

    I think the actuaries serve a very useful purpose. Their loss would not be immediately noticed, but over time accurately-priced insurance is a very good thing. We don’t want insurers to become insolvent because of over-optimism, nor we wish to spend more to hedge risk than we need to.

  4. Chrysoprase says:

    For what it’s worth, I had aspiring finance professionals telling to my face (with no apparent appreciation of the irony) that they are entitled to disproportionate remuneration as compensation for the obvious blatant lies they had to live (ie faking to add value to society) and the moral contortions that that required.

  5. drawswithpens says:

    One thing I’ve noticed is a fair number of those devalued but actually highly important jobs (like teaching, service industry jobs, any sort of caregiving job, etc), tend to be done more often by women. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that domination by women in an industry tend to lead to lesser status, and therefore, lower wages.

    This probably isn’t true for *all* jobs like that out there, but a lot of them.

  6. kaleberg says:

    We need more bullshit jobs, especially well paid bullshit jobs. Even if we didn’t import a thing, we’d need maybe 5% of the workforce working in agriculture, 5% in manufacturing and maybe another 10-15% doing something real. That leaves a lot of us sitting around unemployed. We are in a nasty depression right now, because not enough people are getting paid enough to increase overall spending. A 75% unemployment rate would make it even worse. We need excuses to give people money, ideally good money with good benefits. The best excuse I’ve heard of is to give them jobs. So I say, let’s hear it for bullshit jobs.

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