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“:

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Midweek Mad Scientist Movie Madness II: Metropolis (1927)

Since the first installment of Midweek Mad Scientist Movie Madness two weeks ago, I’ve watched several more films from Mad Scientist Theatre, a collection of mostly bad, mostly public domain films.  As with any such collection, the appeal is in the handful of renowned classics, and some of the hidden gems.

The first three flicks on the very first disc are all silent movie classics.  I’ve already reviewed Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which both debuted in 1920.  I appreciated and enjoyed both films for different reasons, and both were very well done, although quite different, films.

The third film is 1927’s Metropolis, perhaps the greatest silent film of all time.  I took a modern German history course in college, and we were supposed to attend a screening of Metropolis for class.  For some reason, I did not attend, which was very out of character for me (I only missed class twice in college:  a session of Human Geography because my saxophone sextet had its recital that morning, and a rehearsal of the University Band so I could play The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion the night it was released).  I guess we were never tested on it, but when I found out there was a robot woman, I was kicking myself for missing the flick.

Now, some twenty years later, I’ve finally watched this classic of Weimar Germany’s wild cinematic scene.  I wish I’d gone to see it in college!

As with Jekyll and Caligari, you can watch Metropolis for free on YouTube (although, apparently, the film won’t be back in the public domain in the United States until the end of this year):

As you can see, it is a long film—depending on which cut you see.  Apparently, there are dozens of different cuts and restorations, and no one knows for certain which is the “definitive” version.  One of my readers asked me which cut I saw, and I have no earthly idea (sorry, cinephiles).  It’s whatever version Mill Creek Entertainment decided to put on this collection.  I do know the film felt long in parts—although I was glued to the screen for most of it—but it didn’t feel like it was two-and-a-half hours long.

What I can say is that Metropolis is worth seeing, not only because it is an important film in the history of cinema (and the height of German Expressionism), but because it is a good movie with an important message:  the head and the hands must work together through the heart.

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Retro Tuesday: Christmas Break Begins!

Yesterday marked the true “beginning of my glorious, two-week Christmas break.”  It’s been a busy break so far, with a very productive Town Council work session last night, and a meeting with our new Mayor-Elect this morning.  I’m also meeting with a parent later in the day to sign some paperwork for a program for her daughter.

That’s a breakneck pace compared to past Christmas breaks, but it’s nothing too daunting.  I’m looking forward to some time with my parents, brothers, sister-in-laws, niece, and nephews soon, not to mention other family members.

It’s a lazy time of year for the blog, too:  not much is happening in the news, and everyone is settling in for a long winter’s nap.  I will have a guest contribution from 39 Pontiac Dreamer tomorrow—a review of a video game series—and some other goodies after Christmas.  Otherwise, look for a lot of re-runs from yours portly this week.

That said, the topic of this post from last Christmas Break—the need for some time off at Christmas for everyone, not just those of us in the cushy education racket—is still relevant.  Granted, some workers have decided to take the entire year off, it seems, enjoying generous federal unemployment and other kickbacks from The Age of The Virus, rather than return to their honest, albeit grueling, jobs.  Maybe let’s shoot for something a bit more balanced, yeah?

Still, work, while ennobling and healthy, can easily become overtaxing and detrimental.  There are diminishing returns, too:  after too many hours and too much effort, both mental and physical, we all start to get sloppy.  Some folks are built with the drive and energy to go nonstop, but I suspect most of us appreciate having a little downtime here and there.

With that, here is 21 December 2021’s “Christmas Break Begins!“:

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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.

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Fast Food Premium

There’s been a lot of discussion of UBI—Universal Basic Income—over the last few years, especially with the presidential primary run of Andrew Yang.  The concept is seductive in its simplicity:  gut the welfare state and its behemoth apparatus of bureaucratic pencil pushers and middlemen, and just cut every adult citizen a monthly check.

For fiscal conservatives, it’s a particularly toothsome Devil’s Bargain:  streamline an inefficient and wasteful bureaucracy and simply direct deposit a grand every month into Americans’ checking accounts.  Of course, it’s a siren song:  we’d just get the payments and still suffer with an entrenched bureaucracy, claiming $1000 a month isn’t enough to meet the specialized needs of whatever community they pretend to support.

Even if the deal were struck and every redundant welfare program were eliminated, there UBI would still be a bad idea.  Besides the absurdity of merely paying people to exist, it’s inherently inflationary:  if you give everyone $1000 a month, prices are going to go up.  Just as college tuition has soared because universities realized they could jack up the price and federal loans would expand to cover the costs, UBI would cause a similar rise in prices.  Sure, it’d be great at first, but the inflationary effects would kick in quickly.

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TBT^2: April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective

The Kindle version of The One-Minute Mysteries of Inspector Gerard: The Ultimate Flatfoot goes live today!  If you pre-ordered the book, it should pop up in your Kindle app today.  At $5, it’s a very easy lift, as is the paperback at $15.

It’s April Fool’s Day, a holiday for mirth and merriment, but one I dedicate to remembering the day twelve years ago when I faced unemployment during the worst job market since the Great Depression.

In rereading last year’s TBT and the original “April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective,” I’m reminded how good God has been to me.  Last year I’d lost most of my private lesson students due to The Virus; now, I’m back up to seven students (six weekly, one twice a month), and I’ve just released a book (the Kindle version goes live today!).  Gigging still hasn’t really picked back up, but Bandcamp sales have been decent (and another Bandcamp Friday is tomorrow!), and my front porch Spooktacular was a blast.

I’m still hustlin’, but I’m also taking more time to appreciate life.  Perhaps the hard slog of my twenties has finally paid off here in my mid-thirties.

With that, here are “April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective” and “TBT: April Fool’s Day: A Retrospective“:

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Routine Maintenance

Regular readers will know that I’m a schoolteacher, and as such I enjoy multiple, almost random days off, sprinkled generously throughout the academic year (not to mention the three best reasons to teach:  June, July, and August).  We enjoyed one such break this past weekend—a glorious, four-day weekend dubbed “Winter Break,” in honor (no doubt) of Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day, all rolled into one big excuse to stay home.

It was, by all accounts, a meteorologically dreary weekend, with rain that started sometime Friday and lasting through the duration, but it was nevertheless enjoyable.  I took in my first movie in the theaters in months, and managed to get a number of miscellaneous items completed (as I’ve always got some side hustles going, I was able to dedicate some time to them, though I still need to work on editing my collection of Inspector Gerard stories).

Besides seeing friends and loved ones, though, I try to use these days to take care of routine maintenance—on the house, on my cars, whatever the case might be.  Lately I’ve been borderline fanatical about organization, particularly keeping my desk at home tidy, various writing utensils and calendars at the ready when needed.

This weekend, though, I dedicated several hours to reviving my long lost love:  my busted up 2006 Dodge Caravan.

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Mississippi Meanderings

At the tail end of 2020—and into the New Year—I visited the small town of Lucedale, Mississippi, to meet my girlfriend’s family.  I flew in last Wednesday and we drove back Saturday.

I’ve driven through Mississippi before, and was in Jackson a couple of years ago for a friend’s wedding.  This time I was much further south, as Lucedale—located in George County—is very close to the Gulf Coast, and about fifty minutes from Mobile, Alabama.  It reminded me a great deal of my dear South Carolina—pine trees and deciduous forests; ample farmland; small, rural communities flung across open land between larger municipalities.  In many ways, it felt like my home, just with small regional variations.

For example, my girlfriend’s family eats black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, like any good Southerner does (for them, the black-eyed peas represent good luck; for us, they represent pennies and wealth), but instead of collard greens (also for wealth—they’re the dollars), they ate coleslaw.  I suspect that’s because none of her family liked collard greens, but the difference goes further:  my girlfriend’s father had never heard of Hoppin’ John.  For my Yankee readers, Hoppin’ John is a mixture usually consisting of black-eyed peas, tomatoes, and okra, and served over white rice.  It’s good.

Other than a world without Hoppin’ John, Mississippi also had some local chains I’d never heard of before.  My girlfriend’s mother kept raving about Dirt Cheap, which I think is like a Lowe’s-meets-Ollie’s that sells mostly “dirt cheap” home improvement supplies.  There’s also a regional chain called Foosackly’s, which is essentially a smaller-scale Zaxby’s with clever advertising and a hilariously bizarre name.  My girlfriend quickly became annoyed with my fascination with this obscure chicken joint.

One highlight of the trip was building a fire with my girlfriend’s dad.  He is a man of few words, clad in suspenders, and incredibly resourceful—he maintains much of their land himself, and has built several sheds and garages.  He also has added to their home, which has been in the family at least two generations, and will stay there (his mantra:  “never sell land”).

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Christmas Break Begins!

Well, here it is—the week of Christmas, and the beginning of my glorious, two-week Christmas break.  If this blog post feels a bit like I’m rubbing in readers’ faces the bloated excess of education’s vacation time, my apologies.  I will note, though, that if you spent hours everyday as a surrogate parent to other people’s children, you, too, would want two weeks off at Christmas.

Indeed, I would argue that more professions deserve more time off at Christmastime.  Naturally, I realize that many folks save up their hard-earned vacation days to do just that:  enjoy a week or so with their families by the yule log, sipping eggnog and hot cocoa in their festive Cosby sweaters.  What I’m advocating for, though, is a widespread cultural movement—maybe even to the point of declaring some federal holidays—in the days leading up to and/or immediately after Christmas.  It always blows my mind when people work a full day—even a measly half-day—on Christmas Eve.

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