TBT^2: Disincentives to Work

The Great Resignation rolls on, with an ever-shrinking number of competent people shouldering an ever-growing load of the work to be done.  If you’ve noticed that everything seems a little less generous or efficient than it used to be, it’s because fewer and fewer people are willing to work for abysmal wages, long hours, and dehumanizing treatment.

What I can’t figure out is why employers have not woken up to the reality of this situation:  if you’re facing massive labor shortages, the only solution is to offer more money and/or benefits to employees.  Granted, some employers have caught on, and are offering higher hourly wages and more flexibility.  I also recognize that some employers, especially smaller companies, simply can’t afford to pay more than they already are.

Still, I can’t help but notice employers are obstinately trying to get one over on their few remaining employees, trapped in thickets of corporate bureaucracy and New Speak that refuses to acknowledge the shifting tides of the labor market.  Often their stringent leave policies stay on the books but go unenforced.

For example, a friend of mine works at a big box hardware store in a tony suburb of Charleston, South Carolina.  She informs me that the store’s policy is that missing work without notice twice is grounds for immediate dismissal, but the policy is no longer enforced because the story is already so short-staffed, they can’t afford to fire employees for playing hooky.

The problem is that the employees who do show up to work bear the strain of their absent colleagues, and the corporate management shrugs its shoulders.

It may be that we’re entering a phase where large retailers and other companies will simply have to stop providing all services to all people.  My same friend told me how the store stays open until 10 PM, but there are virtually no employees at that hour.  I suspect the thinking is, “we have to be accessible to customers for as long possible; if we don’t our competitors will.”  Yet the same store doesn’t open up its pro contractor’s desk on Saturdays or after 5 PM on weekdays, so that doesn’t necessarily track.

Large companies aren’t exactly known for their logical consistency, but it seems that many workers are getting fed up with the lack of it.  Of course, employees aren’t off the hook, either:  we have all encountered plenty of braindead or discourteous store employees that turn shopping for a wing nut into a baffling ordeal.

Regardless, our attitudes about work are certainly changing, in some ways for the better, in some ways for the worse.  It’s probably good that we’re not ceaseless strivers competing against Bill from Accounting for The Big Promotion.  But we need to reiterate the idea that work is ennobling for its own sake—and hiring managers and their ilk need to treat their employees as human beings.

With that, here is 26 May 2022’s “TBT: Disincentives to Work“:

I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom this week, but it sure feels like things are falling apart all around us:  food shortages, rising unemployment, riots.  I think we’re in for a really nasty summer, but I hope I’m wrong.

We’ve been muddling through longer than we realize.  While gas prices have only shot up in the past five months, people have been dropping out of the workforce for a good while now.  Back in the Obama years, conservatives used to mock (rightly) the government’s unemployment figures for leaving out the labor force participation rate, which was pretty paltry back then (something like only 60-70% of working aged people were actually actively looking for work; the unemployment rate was based off that portion, rather than all working aged adults).

Now we’re in the midst of what the mainstream media is calling “The Great Resignation,” with millions of Americans quitting their jobs.  That’s due in part, I believe, to the generous government largesse during The Age of The Virus.  We’ve all gotten a taste of easy money—inflation be damned!—and now we want the gravy train to keep on rollin’.

But I think it goes deeper than that.  My generation in particular—prone to wokery, alas—legitimately has gotten the short end of the economic stick, entering the workforce during a recession, saddled with billions in student loans and overcredentialed.  Granted, some of those problems were our fault—we fell for the siren song of expensive degrees—but we were largely following the advice that had worked for our parents’ generation.

Understandably, many of my peers did not want to go back to waiting tables and pouring coffee for strangers—or going back to other thankless jobs.  Not all of those folks are deadbeats or mooches—some of them are just worn out.

Regardless, the government’s sticky hands are in all of this mess (for example, college tuition is so astronomically high because the government will keep extending loans to anybody to get them to go to college, even if that person isn’t going to earn much with his degree).  Work is annoying, stressful, and demanding—but doing it makes us better people.

With that, here is 26 May 2021’s “Disincentives to Work“:

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece, “Fast Food Premium,” which argued that, as restaurants began offering higher wages and even signing bonuses to employees, those increased wages would get passed along to consumers, and would result in wider inflation (a big “thank you” to jonolan at Reflections from a Murky Pond for expanding upon the premise of my post with his own, excellent piece, “UBI —> UBM“).  My observations might be deemed “prophetic” if they weren’t so blindingly obvious:  higher input costs mean higher prices.  That’s basic economics.

Of course, the ongoing labor shortage is not due to a booming economy, per se, but due to excessively generous federal unemployment benefits, which have effectively increased the minimum wage for restaurant employees:  many such employees are paid more to stay at home, collecting unemployment, than they are to flip burgers, wait tables, etc.  Mogadishu Matt highlights this phenomenon in a reblog of a John Stossel piece:  the issue is not a labor shortage, but a problem of incentives.

Stossel makes a compelling moral point in his piece (emphasis added):

“No one wants to work,” says a sign on a restaurant drive-thru speaker in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Please be patient with the staff that did show up.”

I never wanted to work. I got a job because I had to support myself. That was good for me. It forced me out of my comfort zone. It made me a better person.

Had government offered me almost equal money not to work, I never would have applied.

Stossel is an incredibly hardworking journalist and commentator, so he might be a bit coy here, but the truth is that many people, given the option, would not work.  That’s why retirement is such an attractive proposition:  work hard for forty-five or fifty years, and enjoy maybe one-to-three decades of relaxation and financial independence.

The problem is, no one improves just sitting around watching daytime television and eating TV dinners.  Sure, those are fun, mindless pastimes, but they’re not exactly soul-enriching or -improving.

Work can be difficult, stressful, unrewarding, and draining.  But it also teaches us how to deal with difficult, stressful, unrewarding, and draining situations—and how to deal with them more effectively in the future.  I’m a far better teacher now than I was ten years ago, in part because I have experienced and overcome a number of obstacles, not least of which is conquering the subject matter I teach (a process that is never truly completed).

Work has become less difficult and stressful, and more rewarding, because I had to struggle in the early years, when I would spend hours at Thomas Cooper Library putting together lesson plans and relearning American History.  I taught myself difficult ideas from Western Philosophy by laboriously reading and annotating dense excerpts from my college Philosophy textbook.  I’ve become a better musician by teaching it and playing it.

When the government—or any entity—subsidizes idleness, it corrodes the character-building potential of work.  That’s one reason we have young people today—and my generation is especially bad about this—who quit jobs at the first signs of difficulty, struggle, or pushback.  I myself sometimes vent these frustrations.

Short-term unemployment insurance is a prudent and compassionate policy.  Extended benefits that promote idleness are damaging.  Indeed, the longer the term of the supposed beneficence, the longer its corrosive effects seem to be.


18 thoughts on “TBT^2: Disincentives to Work

  1. Good piece, mate. Suffice to say, the age of the virus (or health fascism to be more accurate) has altered the state of many a country, ours included. There are more people working (or not) from home than ever. I worked from home before 2020 and continue to do so but it’s become a staple for so many people. The one plus side is that at least the roads are quieter.

    Where did you get that axe, by the way? Toys R Us? 😂😂😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, that axe belonged to the couple my then-girlfriend and I were camping with at the time. I just thought it would make for a good picture that would relay the idea of “work.” That said, it was not a good hatchet, haha. Cutting wood with it was VERY difficult, although it probably doesn’t help that I’ve grown soft and weak over the years. : D

      Liked by 2 people

      • I always thought Leatherface would be good for cutting wood. Yes, he likes to wave that chainsaw about like a madman and you might get the odd uneven piece but get him all riled up and you’d have enough wood to build a fire for November 5th! 😂

        You’d have to put him back when you’re done. The last place you want to end up is on his slab! 😉


  2. Some day, when I get my sense of humor back, I’ll tell you the story of my house getting a code violation from the City. You’d never believe it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Port – for your English education:
    English Folk Verse (c.1870)

    The Fifth of November

    Remember, remember!
    The fifth of November,
    The Gunpowder treason and plot;
    I know of no reason
    Why the Gunpowder treason
    Should ever be forgot!
    Guy Fawkes and his companions
    Did the scheme contrive,
    To blow the King and Parliament
    All up alive.
    Threescore barrels, laid below,
    To prove old England’s overthrow.
    But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
    With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
    A stick and a stake
    For King James’s sake!
    If you won’t give me one,
    I’ll take two,
    The better for me,
    And the worse for you.
    A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
    A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
    A pint of beer to wash it down,
    And a jolly good fire to burn him.
    Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
    Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
    Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The largest part of the problem isn’t corporations, it’s what passes for workers these days. Their wrongly entitled and not really worth hiring… except that you need some number of them at the moment.

    Understand, the worker has no value. The worker never did and never will. The work has value. Hence, it is the work the person can do that is worthy of a certain wage, not the worker. And, if a company pays more for that work than its market value, they fail or, at best, suffer a loss in market share and income.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Favor? Nope! Its going to suck big time, and for a much broader segment of the people than most think, especially in the West. Understand the push for it and think it might be more ethical than 3rd-World, quasi-slave labor? Oh yeah.

        You see, here’s some sad facts about workers: The average global personal income is $9,733 per year; the average global household income is $12,235 per year; and the median per-capita household income is only $2,920 per year. But, the American average annual salary is $60,575 and the median annual salary is $56,420.

        We’re either going to automate, continue outsourcing to non-Western nations, both, or face an economic collapse as we’re outpaced, outperformed, or simply purchased by global companies who have made products or offer services through those means.

        Liked by 3 people

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