Skill-Biased Diaper Change

by Kieran Healy on June 28, 2008

Megan McArdle asks,

Why don’t babysitters make much money?

And answers,

Supply and demand. Supply side: it’s not skilled labor. It make take talent (like the patience of a saint), but the actual skills of doing laundry, spooning formula into one’s mouth, and changing a diaper are not hard to learn.

Taking care of the rugrats might not be brain surgery, although it does raise some interesting questions—not pursued in the post—about how much, net of skill considerations, you should be willing to pay someone not to drop, starve or otherwise neglect your child. But really I just wanted to say that if Megan is ever in need of a child-care provider, I hope she’ll take care to pick someone skilled enough not to be in the habit of spoon-feeding themselves formula. Or, indeed, of spoon-feeding it to the baby.

{ 64 comments }

1

Gene O'Grady 06.28.08 at 2:40 am

A good illustration of the utterly perverse way the word “skill” has come to be used.

Back in ancient history when my kids needed such care, the difference between a good provider and an unacceptable provider was very great. I suppose I could say it was personality not skill — naugh, I couldn’t say that because it’s so blatantly false.

To speak only of crafts of which I have personal experience, it takes a great deal more skill to be a plumber than to be a marketing manager, and a day care provider is somewhere in the between (as my younger child used to put it).

2

Harl Delos 06.28.08 at 4:19 am

Supply and demand is more than how difficult it is to acquire a skill.

It probably takes more training to become a good secretary than to become a hod carrier – but the hod carrier’s job is unpleasant, working out in the weather, doing a physically demanding job. People would rather do secretarial work in a nice, clean, air-conditioned office, so secretaries tend to make less money.

Similarly, any licensed physician can perform surgery, but a brain surgeon has a highly stressful job demanding great manual dexterity, and he may be standing up doing this job for hours and hours at a time. It’s a lot easier to sit in an office examining people who have minor complaints, and consequently family physicians are a lot cheaper to hire.

As a rule, you get paid more if you work in unpleasant (honey-dipping) or dangerous (high steel) jobs, or if not everybody is allowed to do the job (licensed professions).

And if your job looks like fun – playing with babies fits in that category – there are lots of people wanting those jobs; you aren’t likely to get paid much at all.

3

Steve LaBonne 06.28.08 at 4:23 am

Is what McMegan does “skilled labor”? Seems to me she could be replace by a not terribly sophisticated AI program. With any luck this thought will eventually occur to her employers.

4

Kieran Healy 06.28.08 at 4:46 am

Supply and demand is more than how difficult it is to acquire a skill.

I know.

As a rule, you get paid more if you work in unpleasant (honey-dipping) or dangerous (high steel) jobs, or if not everybody is allowed to do the job (licensed professions).

This is generally true. If you work in a female-typed occupation you get paid less, too, as a rule.

And if your job looks like fun – playing with babies fits in that category

Playing with babies is fun; taking care of babies all the time, rather less fun. More generally, “looks like fun” as a feature of a job should not be very robust to real information about that job.

5

nick s 06.28.08 at 5:35 am

The ‘looking after kids, piece o’piss’ is a standard glibertarian trope. Strangely, the ‘daycare child abuse’ story is also a mainstay of local news bulletins in the US.

As for MeMeMegan, it may well be noted that given the abundance of stupid selfish prolix people writing on the internets for free, her remuneration from The Atlantic frakking Monthly is way above market rates.

6

Rob 06.28.08 at 6:09 am

(I am speaking from the experience of a parent whose longsuffering spouse has searched high and low for a decent babysitter so she could get back to work part-time.)

For one, babysitting must pay less than the net take after taxes on other jobs, otherwise there would be no economic benefit to hiring a babysitter so you can work. I realize that money isn’t everything, but it still becomes difficult to justify forking over >100% of your wages just to be a productive member of society.

Second, ‘skilled’ babysitters are a) extremely rare and b) quite expensive. You know them- the ones who, when you meet them, provoke all kinds of suppressed angst- “Dammit, why couldn’t YOU have been my mother?”, followed by the general uneasiness that they’ll be better parents to your kids than you are.

… which probably adequately explains why we remain babysitterless.

7

Martha Bridegam 06.28.08 at 8:21 am

The actual skills of practicing law are not hard to learn either. Not in proportion to the usual pay difference anyhow.

8

Katherine 06.28.08 at 9:35 am

And if your job looks like fun – playing with babies fits in that category

What Keiran said. “Looks like” is not a terribly good way of measuring a job. If McArdle (and harl delos) thinks that doing laundry, feeding formula (no breastfeeding mothers in her world apparently) and changing nappies are all it takes to look after a baby, well, she doesn’t have a baby.

As to supply and demand, it seems to be a fairly standard society-wide trope, not just a libertarian one, to downplay the value and difficulty of what is perceived to be “women’s work”.

9

bad Jim 06.28.08 at 9:36 am

Oy. I’m a childless 56yo, mostly the caregiver to my 83yo mother, but yesterday I was, um, privileged to spend 3h taking care of my 11mo nephew Sam, just on the verge of walking, very fast at crawling, deeply interested in the technology of doors and drawers, pots and pans and dishes and platters and downright enthusiastic about the percussive possibilities of everything, convinced the world is made of food (no, don’t eat dead bugs) but basically expecting major nourishment to be delivered by bottle (reminder to self: wash jeans).

The house isn’t childproof. I was constantly placing my hand strategically between sharp surface and soft head, holding closed doors that open on toxic cleansers. And picking him up and tossing him.

He doesn’t know what he’s in for, and I’m gentler than his father.

10

Stuart 06.28.08 at 9:39 am

Isn’t the problem that paying more for child care doesn’t guarantee you getting a better skilled or more conscientious babysitter. Seeing as you are normally not there when they do their job, it will take some time to work out if they are worth the money. Equally there are no league tables listing every potential babysitter and how many times they have dropped babies on their heads, so it takes a lot of time to get anything like a reliable idea of if their previous work history is any good, and most people aren’t going to have the time/resouces to do so. Hence whoever charges less is going to get most jobs regardless of skill/experience, and this will move the market to pay fairly limited premiums for skill/ability except in exceptional circumstances.

11

abb1 06.28.08 at 10:40 am

I noticed that toddlers are very resilient. They eat dirt and nothing happens to them. I remember my daughter, at the age of about 3, at full speed hitting her head against a corner of the piano while running around the apartment. I still remember the sound, it made a beautiful sound. I looked, saw her standing still for a second, then shaking her head and then she went on as if nothing happened. See, their bones might be a bit softer, but then their total mass (and thus total kinetic energy) is much lower.

12

Brett Bellmore 06.28.08 at 11:36 am

“I noticed that toddlers are very resilient. They eat dirt and nothing happens to them.”

Not so: There’s substantial evidence eating dirt actually benefits them; Apparently a lot of auto-immune diseases are due to not giving the immune system enough to do while you’re growing up, so it starts looking for something to do…

13

robertdfeinman 06.28.08 at 12:51 pm

Childcare workers don’t get more money because parents can’t afford to pay more. There is actually a severe shortage of decent childcare facilities, so parents end up sending their kids to unlicensed facilities, or using other informal arrangements like relatives or women using their homes to care for several neighborhood children. If you are a woman making $30K can you afford $600 a week for childcare?

The rich pay their nannies pretty high salaries and “household managers” can get over $100K per year.

Apparently our society doesn’t think it is worthwhile to put young kids in a suitable environment as is done in places like Scandinavia, after all they’ll probably end up as either Walmart greeters or cannon fodder – so why bother?

14

seth edenbaum 06.28.08 at 1:05 pm

caregiving requires empathy and empathy is not a “skill”

15

tom hurka 06.28.08 at 1:43 pm

1. Wasn’t the original post mostly about spoon-feeding formula (pretty funny)?

2. Judging by the number of snarky posts she generates on this blog, Megan McArdle is very skilled at her job, which from her employer’s point of view is to attract readers and attention to the Atlantic site. So Kieran: you’re boosting her salary.

16

Matthias 06.28.08 at 1:58 pm

caregiving requires empathy and empathy is not a “skill”

In the economic sense, how is it not? Some people have more of it than others, you can increase it by practice or let it degenerate, and, as you point out, it makes you more effective at certain tasks.

17

Kieran Healy 06.28.08 at 2:42 pm

15.1: Yes.

15.2: Judging by the number of snarky posts she generates on this blog

Number of times McArdle has been at least mentioned by name in posts on this blog since May 2007: 16. Number of these posts that could reasonably be said to be snarky: 6. Some of the latter really are quite snarky (maybe for good reason), but it’s hardly a significant portion of posts on this blog, or even a majority of the posts that mention her.

18

Dan S. 06.28.08 at 2:45 pm

nephew Sam, . . . downright enthusiastic about the percussive possibilities of everything, convinced the world is made of food (no, don’t eat dead bugs) but basically expecting major nourishment to be delivered by bottle

Is his first name by any chance “Uncle”?

Anyway, my one contribution is to complain about the terminology, the conflating of “babysitter” and full time childcare workers in general. Not that it doesn’t happen, in terms of usage – as Mrs. S. points out, she gets referred to (or clearly thought of) as a babysitter, and she’s a kindergarten teacher [meanwhile, kindergarten nowadays is kinda what 1st grade used to be, in many ways] – but it’s linguistically de-skilling a field that really needs to become an even higher-skilled & standard-ed profession. (And of course, such deskilling is, in part, because it’s a caring, woman-associated and almost completely -staffed field).

19

James Wimberley 06.28.08 at 2:57 pm

As a matter of curiosity, are American babysitters really expected to do the laundry?
Maving got the feeding skill doubly wrong, McArdle omitted three skills that aren’t so easy: telling a story, singing a lullaby, and saying “no” without setting off a flood of tired tears.

20

Barry 06.28.08 at 2:59 pm

harl delos: “It probably takes more training to become a good secretary than to become a hod carrier – but the hod carrier’s job is unpleasant, working out in the weather, doing a physically demanding job. People would rather do secretarial work in a nice, clean, air-conditioned office, so secretaries tend to make less money.”

Unionized hod carriers (in someplace like NYC) – maybe.

Otherwise, I find this hard to believe. What’s the non-union wage for unskilled construction labor – $10/hr in most places? That’s $20K/year (depending, of course, on hours worked). They might earn more than that given substantial overtime, in which case they are comparable to a secretary with a part-time side job.

21

Kieran Healy 06.28.08 at 3:40 pm

are American babysitters really expected to do the laundry?

If the job name is “babysitter”, no, definitely not. If the job name is “nanny”, then often (but not always), yes. What Dan S. said in 18.

22

ScentOfViolets 06.28.08 at 4:11 pm

10: Therein lies an outstanding problem for conventional economics; it simply isn’t very good at justifying what people get paid to do for a living. Part of the answer is obvious. Athletes and entertainers can be paid very, very, very well. No one objects to this because the metrics are clear, agreed upon, fairly objective, and easy to evaluate. What’s Mark McGuire’s worth? Look at his stats.

That’s not so easy for a vast array of jobs, daycare in this particular instance. In fact, not only are parents not good at evaluating the performance of daycare providers, they aren’t very good at evaluating their own performance as parents. So extremely good providers get lumped in with those who feed their charges cheerios and plop them on the couch to watch the Cartoon Network.

No, it doesn’t take a lot of skill to change diapers, wipe noses, etc. But that’s far and away the least of it, at least if the kids are being properly cared for.

23

Gene O'Grady 06.28.08 at 4:29 pm

Couple of comments that I hope won’t upset too many people:

In response to no. 2, I have actually been both a secretary and a hod carrier (working concrete, which is close enough and probably physically harder) — on an otherwise all black crew, of all things — and it would be hard to compare the skills. But as to the environment, I vividly remember one of my fellow concreters pulling me aside one day and giving me some avuncular wisdom about how he used to work in an office and had been overjoyed to throw that kind of work over and get out in the air to do physical labor. Unfortunately (as a couple of the laborers pointed out to me) the contractor skimmed a little on taking the foundation deep enough and after I toddled off to graduate school there was an incident that left several of my co-workers unable to work outdoors again.

No. 22, I think categorizing the skills of a child care provider as changing diapers, wiping noses, etc. is tendentious (and probably a bit sexist). You wouldn’t categorize the skills of an attorney or a manager as shuffling paper, writing notes, and sitting in meetings. Good day care people (a couple of the best in my experience were male) also have to analyze, anticipate, observe. I think credentialism often gets in the way of accurately defining skills. I know when the HVAC supervisor I worked closely with was trying to hire a journeyman he was enormously frustrated by how many guys (not gals, unfortunately) showed up who had this or that bit of training, on paper, and how few could give good answers to questions about what you do first when you’re troubleshooting problem X or Y.

24

c.l. ball 06.28.08 at 4:33 pm

Is McCardle’s math or assumptions right?

Leaving aside center overhead, she says you need a pretax income of $10,000 to pay a day-care worker $40,000 plus payroll taxes and benefits at a 8-1 child-worker ratio. OK, but at her 25% tax rate, when I multiply $7500 (the post-tax amount) by 8, I get $60,000. Do payroll taxes and benefits really amount to 50% of salary?

(By the way, we pay $1,000 a month for our day-care, which provides up to 11.5 hours of coverage a weekday).

25

Tom T. 06.28.08 at 4:35 pm

What’s Mark McGuire’s worth? Look at his stats.

Maybe not the best example…

;-)

26

smaug 06.28.08 at 4:48 pm

Re 23’s
You wouldn’t categorize the skills of an attorney or a manager as shuffling paper, writing notes, and sitting in meetings.

Yes you would, depending on what they do. Many senior partners, even at top law firms, and many senior business executives or top government officials seem to do exactly that. They also read documents or listen to presentations, and then they “decide.”

Look at the memorandums for a decision that US presidents get — they are not that hard to read, don’t go into much detail, and are supplemented by oral briefings by a few advisers. How hard is that job, especially when you have maids, butlers, chefs, waiters, and groundskeepers to take care of all the chores we have.

27

seth edenbaum 06.28.08 at 5:04 pm

“are American babysitters really expected to do the laundry?”
“If the job name is “babysitter”, no, definitely not. If the job name is “nanny”, then often (but not always), yes.”

I know plenty of people who call their nannies babysitters, if only to avoid the realization that they employ a servant.

“caregiving requires empathy and empathy is not a “skill'”
“In the economic sense, how is it not?”

Empathy is not a skill in the same sense that values are not rules.
Economics as it is understood requires a concrete measurement of function. Nurses are paid for their skill-set, and empathy is not a part of the equation.
if it can’t be measured precisely, or translated, it either doesn’t matter, or doesn’t exist.

I’m not condoning this I’m describing the use of supposedly neutral terms that in fact are not neutral at all.

28

L2P 06.28.08 at 6:24 pm

In fact, not only are parents not good at evaluating the performance of daycare providers, they aren’t very good at evaluating their own performance as parents. So extremely good providers get lumped in with those who feed their charges cheerios and plop them on the couch to watch the Cartoon Network.

I think you’re very wrong here. Most people interview dozens of nannies before hiring one, and often go through many. Most parents are very aware of what goes on. It’s actually much easier to judge somebody elses’ skills than your own. And believe me, the nanny and parent gossip goes around.

For instance, we have a nanny we’re not thrilled with. But the things we’re unhappy about about aren’t major and very subjective (she doesn’t do things exactly the way we’d like), she loves our kids and they love her. But because of the time and effort it takes to replace her, she’s staying.

You’re really underestimating the informal flow of information. Nannies generally know pretty much what they should get paid for the number of kids, their background, the annoyance factor of the family, etc., and families know the same.

29

L2P 06.28.08 at 6:25 pm

Oh, and McCardle’s a childless idiot.

30

roger 06.28.08 at 6:34 pm

I don’t fiercely dislike Megan McArdle like they do at certain liberal sites. She is, for instance, one of the few engaging bloggingheads vid people. She actually has a camera presence. But sometimes she is a bit irritating. For instance, her response to the pay scale of babysitting is: supply and demand. Well, no. Supply and demand has never explained the difference between labor that is coded female as opposed to male. In fact, one notices that female work – housework, mothering, etc. – is very often defined as not-work. But when a branch of work is coded female, it will not be paid as much as a branch of work that is coded male. This has to do with patriarchy, not supply and demand. There are exceptions – mostly in the entertainment industry – but otherwise, this is the way it is. It used to be that this was no secret, and women would be told that they were not being paid as much as men, because, unlike men, they did not have to support a family. This has long been non-politically correct (and of course it bogusly rationalized the general oppression of women), but the structures remain. To pretend that this is does so is pretty silly. When, for instance, secretarial work went from being a mostly masculine to a mostly feminine sector, the wage of the secretary did not go down because, suddenly, there was a larger supply of them. It went down because females are paid less than men. End of story.

31

leederick 06.28.08 at 8:00 pm

“In fact, one notices that female work – housework, mothering, etc. – is very often defined as not-work.”

Roger, the reason ‘housework, mothering, etc’ is defined as not-work, is because it isn’t work. I don’t wish to come across as a dangerous radical, but during the industrial revolution people started to use the word work with roughly the meaning of market related labour done to provide yourself with a living. This was a perfectly sensible development, because it’s quite useful to distinguish trades and professions from cleaning up your own mess.

I don’t see any reason why we should harken back to some misbegotten medieval notion of work as any expenditure of effort. Housework, mothering and so on is not remotely equivalent to market-related work for a living. It’s quite patronising to those of us who do work for a living to try and equivalise our work with activities like these.

32

seth edenbaum 06.28.08 at 8:50 pm

leederick, that’s either radical or reactionary depending on which direction you take it. If it’s radical then you’re positioning caregiving to a social activity that can not be isolated as economic, so that when we pay someone to do it we are in an awkward mix.
Again as in the difference between rules and values, technocracy wants to say that rules are enough, that Welfare is compassion tout court and that Social Democracy is a set of regulations rather than the sensibility that produces them.

If paid caregivers can be seen as like an extended family then there’s no need to pretend to define their value. What’s the value of friendship? When I hire friends I’d rather pay them too much than too little. That way money never becomes an issue. Still if you can’t isolate the economic value of caregiving then the best answer is that that labor should be shared. Day care is a poor replacement for an extended family.

33

Roy Belmont 06.28.08 at 8:58 pm

#29- Before all consider the fruit of the labor involved. Human children on the one hand, a variety of commodities on the other.
Now consider not-work v. work.
work:”A form of energy arising from the motion of a system against a force, existing only in the process of energy conversion. Many forms of work (electrical, chemical, etc.) may be defined by analogy with mechanical work”
The real
“reason ‘housework, mothering, etc’ is defined as not-work is because”
is because the people doing the defining weren’t and aren’t doing that work, and in a not insignificant corollary were and are very keen on attaining and maintaining slaves of one kind or another, including the capitalist-industrial phenomenon of mechanical slaves (machines).
Getting someone(or something) to do necessary labor for you that you’d have to do yourself otherwise, without incurring obligations commensurate with the services rendered… peachy! Yeah!
The difference in skill-sets between an efficient nanny in a affluent household and an efficient sommelier at an upscale restaurant. The difference between their rates of take-home pay. The difference in effect between the outcome of their labors on humanity and the world.
The difference in their genders.
Women, and to a great degree children, have been slaves to a particularly odious and unenlightened patriarchy for millennia.
We grow up into that debased relation, and accept it as the way of things, the natural order, and it takes often oppressively marginalized voices a lot of effort to get a more realistic view of things before us.
Great changes have taken place in the last four or five decades, yes, but clearly, from the smugly paternal fatuous idiocies of your comment, not nearly enough.

34

abb1 06.28.08 at 9:02 pm

Leederick has a point. Labor, economic activity in capitalist society is oriented towards mass-production of goods and services. Those working for the child-care industry, child-care companies – they do labor, but a babysitter is more like a companion, often a member of extended family; not exactly a part of the economy. Babysitting is extremely ineffective, waste of valuable man-hours.

35

SG 06.28.08 at 9:05 pm

well and good leederick, but we all know that housework as roger was referring to it means cleaning up after someone else’s mess, not just one’s own, which is market-related work, with a fee per hour if someone you aren’t screwing does it for you.

Mothering is producing the next generation of market-related-labour providers, and while we can pretend that it’s just cleaning up after the mess of 2 adults who wanted to have kids as some kind of stupid and expensive hobby, the reality is that it’s vastly more important than that and whatever our view of the skills and talents involved, to pretend it doesn’t have some value in the economy is very … disingenuous? sloppy? single-minded? It’s very something, anyway.

36

Dan S. 06.28.08 at 9:11 pm

Housework, mothering and so on is not remotely equivalent to market-related work for a living. It’s quite patronising to those of us who do work for a living to try and equivalise our work with activities like these.

{Gets out popcorn, leans forward on sofa . . .}

37

Kieran Healy 06.28.08 at 9:16 pm

Let us be sure to proceed from here as though no-one has ever given this question any thought before.

38

abb1 06.28.08 at 9:20 pm

Productivity, SG, housewifing and mothering lack productivity. The same housewife employed by an entrepreneur could clean 270% more living space and take care of 317% more children, according to the recent studies.

39

SG 06.28.08 at 9:28 pm

I did think of saying something along the lines of 34 and 35, but thought I’d bite… it’s that or computer games…

40

seth edenbaum 06.28.08 at 9:31 pm

“Let us be sure to proceed from here as though no-one has ever given this question any thought before.”

How many people have argued that you can’t be an individualist and a social democrat?

41

seth edenbaum 06.28.08 at 9:42 pm

Too glib. That was like an Abb1 imitation, but still..

42

abb1 06.28.08 at 10:35 pm

I will not be mocked.

43

Randy Paul 06.29.08 at 1:18 am

For instance, her response to the pay scale of babysitting is: supply and demand. Well, no. Supply and demand has never explained the difference between labor that is coded female as opposed to male.

Precisely. I may also add this: it depends on how much you value the work being performed and the means you have to compensate for the work as robertdfeinman noted. If one values one’s children enough and has the means to pay a babysitter enough, the babysitter will be well compensated.

Wonder if Megan has ever changed a diaper.

44

Randy Paul 06.29.08 at 1:22 am

Just for the record, btw, it’s not Megan McArdle. please click the link. The author of the post is Megan Carpentier,

45

Randy Paul 06.29.08 at 1:23 am

Actually, it’s two Megans. I need more coffee.

46

seth edenbaum 06.29.08 at 2:04 am

“Supply and demand has never explained the difference between labor that is coded female as opposed to male.”

It’s not just male and female it’s quantifiable and unquantifiable. What is nurturing? What is companionship? What is the “right” way to care for the young? I know parents who let their kids play barefoot in the snow if the kids want. Is that caregiving or irresponsibility? There are 10,000 thousand ways to raise a kid.

Women are in a double bind: what’s called “women’s work” is undefinable as work. But if you want to no longer call it “women’s work” that doesn’t mean you should try to define it as what it’s not. That’s like redefining education as testing. It’s been done, and it’s not a good idea.

47

ed 06.29.08 at 3:12 am

Megan is the demon spawn of David Brooks and Kathleen Parker. {shudder}

48

Bloix 06.29.08 at 6:40 am

“Demand” doesn’t mean the amount of a product or service that would be consumed if people could consume all they want or even in some sense need. It means the amount they will consume at a given price. Wages for caregivers cannot be higher than the wages of the parent who is freed for work. A caregiver can care for multiple infants and children, of course, but over a few children this means a day care center – a physical facility with rent, overhead, insurance, and management. Although there is room at the top end for high-priced caregivers, the average simply cannot be higher than what the customer earns.

49

maureen 06.29.08 at 8:34 am

Under the present system our captains of industry are paid megabucks for reading reports someone else has researched, signing off accounts that one person has kept during the year and (probably) another has taken to trial balance before a third at the accountancy firm prepared the final version. Then they go off to network – maybe usefully, maybe not – over a lunch that other people have cooked and served or at the golf club where a team of groundsmen ought to be thanked.

And why are they paid megabucks? For the responsibility, for steering the whole enterprise in the right direction, for making the right decision on whether doing it this way or that will in the long term maintain the well-being and longevity of the enterprise. At least, that’s what they say.

If such things are possible to quantify in the boardroom with very little sign of actual work on view then it is perfectly possible to do it in the home, a child care setting, in the full-time nursing of an elderly parent.

Such quantification has been done many a time, with greater or less success, but it can be done and it could well be incorporated into our understanding of economics.

All we require is that those who benefit from the current skewed view come out from behind the pinnies of their fantasy (mostly) mothers who they now believe laid the foundations of their own success entirely by magic and without effort.

50

MR Bill 06.29.08 at 12:36 pm

I was the stay at home parent: my late wife had the ‘real job’ (the one with health insurance) and I pursued an art career, doing infant and child care in the studio. My two children did ok, good students and good people. But I could not have done it without lots of help from both grandmothers (some 30 mi away) and hiring out some day care, when I had to travel or make some impossible commission deadline.
I came to think that primitive man had invented war and the market system to avoid child care.

51

sara 06.29.08 at 3:07 pm

HR departments probably do have a way to quantify empathy. Schools, etc. HR do know whether teachers have these qualities, and private schools will quickly fire those teachers who lack them altogether.

The manufacture and doubtless training of empathy — “The Managed Heart” — is a major aspect of the service economy, whose workers learn at least to fake it; so do politicians, as in “I feel your pain.”

If you’ve ever shopped in a store that appears to be staffed by citizens of the old Soviet Union, you agree that at least fake empathy is more pleasant in the service economy.

Furthermore, people with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism are usually, outside certain narrow fields (software engineering, economics), considered unemployable. Stigma against the cognitively different is only part of this.

52

seth edenbaum 06.29.08 at 4:41 pm

“HR departments.” Human interaction as bureaucracy, and a service economy based not on care but efficiency. [Skip to the last two sentences if you want]

“Furthermore, people with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism are usually, outside certain narrow fields (software engineering, economics…”
political science, academic philosophy and the theory of ideas as opposed to the study of events.

Theorists of political liberalism still aren’t willing to admit that seduction is more important to politics than ideas; and if they are, they’re still unwilling to accept that seduction and assumptions are important drives for themselves as much as those they study. What after all is Rawls actually doing, and why? I’m always struck by the irony of attacks on Maureen Dowd by people who are much less observant than she is and just as driven by assumption.

Do claims of reason and rationalism mark the acceptance of simple self-interest (cf. theories moral hazard) or the promulgation of the academic ideals of collaboration? How many more examples do I have to lay out (and I’ve laid out quite a few over my time trolling here) of contempt of the educated elite for the majority? Never mind Kansas, what is the matter with Harvard?

“Under the present system our captains of industry are paid megabucks for…”
making the bets that either win or lose large amounts of money.
They’re the generals in the army of capitalism. I’ve know a few of them and they’re very smart men. But they’re out for themselves and not very well socialized. They don’t serve people, they use them, deploying an advanced instrumental rationalism in the service of self-aggrandizing and often destructive silliness. Some of them try to play the benign god, after the fact. And people buy into that.

It’s always struck me as odd that some of those who consider themselves intellectuals would actively defend the aggressively self-interested as opposed to simply acknowledging their presence, at what one would imagine would be the opposite end of the spectrum.
The intellectual defense of “efficiency” is the defense of whatever goal that efficiency furthers. And efficiency as a goal in itself is the definition of autism.

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minneapolitan 06.29.08 at 5:37 pm

Both my sisters have worked as babysitters and as nannies. Sister #1 worked in what might have sounded like a plum nannying assignment (which she got through an agency): $300 a week, plus room and board and the use of a vehicle which she didn’t have to pay to fill up or maintain. Her main charge was a 1 year-old who was fairly docile and healthy. She also cared for a couple of elementary school children in the after-school/before-dinner hours. And she was expected to do laundry and basic cleaning (i.e. cleaning up the kitchen after fixing a meal.) On the whole, it was a pretty dismal job. The executive husband was always away. The wife was almost a caricature of a brittle, nouveau-riche harridan who cared more about her McMansion than her children. Additionally, there were children from previous marriages around who were likewise caricatures of massively dysfunctional rich kids (e.g. kicked out of a dozen private schools, frequent runaways, etc.) Sister #1 made it through about 9 months and was let go when the executive decided to quit and do consulting instead.

By contrast, Sister #2 worked off and on for a couple of years as a nanny for two preschool age children whose parents are freelance music teachers/musicians/composers. I believe she made somewhat less than $10 an hour for ~15 hours a week and no room and board (maybe lunches with the kids). However, the parents were very involved, they had a very flexible schedule, allowing her to work retail on the side, and the kids were generally happy and easy enough to deal with. From what she’s said the experience was almost unqualifiedly positive.

I don’t suppose either of these examples is a typical nanny experience, but anecdotally it suggests that just as with hod-carrying, lawyering and secretarial work, the specifics of job conditions and labor discipline can be just as crucial to happiness as pay, hours and benefits. Specifically, the empathetic drain on Sister #1 was pretty disturbing to see, where as Sister #2 was often energized and amused by her work.

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Pete 06.30.08 at 1:27 pm

Doesn’t the classic “market for lemons” paper apply here? While there is clearly good childcare and bad childcare, people find it hard to tell the difference in advance or even during the childcare (because by definition it doesn’t happen while the person commissioning the service is there). So the price falls to the “bad” rate.

Also, the before-tax pay of the carer cannot be greater than the after-tax pay of the less well paid parent, or people do it themselves.

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Tracy W 06.30.08 at 3:18 pm

Economics as it is understood requires a concrete measurement of function. Nurses are paid for their skill-set, and empathy is not a part of the equation.
if it can’t be measured precisely, or translated, it either doesn’t matter, or doesn’t exist.

Actually no. A central concept to economics is utility, which is unmeasurable. Or in other words, “there is no arguing with preferences”. It’s weird to see you criticising economics on the basis that it requires a concrete measurement of function, I’m far more used to economics being criticised on the basis that economics rules out inter-personal comparisons of utility as economics says that utility is immeasurable.

I also don’t know why you say that if something can’t be measured precisely, it either doesn’t matter, or doesn’t exist. We know by Hesienburg’s principle that we cannot measure precisely both the frequency of a electro-magnetic signal and the time it occurred – does that mean that therefore radios or TVs or wireless LANs don’t exist, or don’t matter? Has any economist argued that electromagnetic signals don’t exist and/or don’t matter? Can you provide some cites for this extraordinary claim about economic theory?

If McArdle (and harl delos) thinks that doing laundry, feeding formula (no breastfeeding mothers in her world apparently) and changing nappies are all it takes to look after a baby, well, she doesn’t have a baby.

McArdle was talking about childcare provided by external sources. Wet nurses generally disappeared with the invention of infant formula. If a couple is hiring a worker to take care of their baby, then said worker is unlikely to be breastfeeding. If said worker is breastfeeding, then, like, uuggghhh!

The real “reason ‘housework, mothering, etc’ is defined as not-work is because”
is because the people doing the defining weren’t and aren’t doing that work, and in a not insignificant corollary were and are very keen on attaining and maintaining slaves of one kind or another, including the capitalist-industrial phenomenon of mechanical slaves (machines).
Getting someone(or something) to do necessary labor for you that you’d have to do yourself otherwise, without incurring obligations commensurate with the services rendered… peachy! Yeah!

So if defining things as not work means that you don’t have to pay as much, why not do that for everything? Why don’t the lords of government/companies define medical treatment as “not-work”? Why not define “building me a house” as not work? Why not define “cooking fancy meals in 3* restaurants” as not work? How many of the people you imagine as doing the defining were really down in coal mines, risking life and limb in terrible conditions? How many were heading out in a freezing stormy night to rescue their stock from rising floodwaters?

If such things are possible to quantify in the boardroom with very little sign of actual work on view then it is perfectly possible to do it in the home, a child care setting, in the full-time nursing of an elderly parent.

I don’t think the problem is quantifying. I think the problem is paying for what is incredibly-labour-intensive work if done well. For example, if we paid every childcare worker more than the median income, then we wouldn’t be able to pay for very many children to have childcare workers. And a low-carer-to-caree ratio seems to be an essential part of providing a quality care service (speaking as a non-expert in the field – if there is a way of providing high quality serivce without needing this low ratio I would be delighted to hear about it).

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seth edenbaum 06.30.08 at 4:02 pm

If utility is immeasurable, and I agree, what’s a utilitarianism other than an intellectual vulgarity?

“I also don’t know why you say that if something can’t be measured precisely, it either doesn’t matter, or doesn’t exist.”

Ask a philosophy professor in any department in the US, Great Britain, or Australia
Again, I’m not agreeing with the argument, except as a sometimes necessary vulgarization and impoverishment of language in service to the banalities of functionalism; the functionalism that is the ecstasy of autism.
Do we want childcare to be governed by such banalities? Is autism the moral philosophy of the day? I’d say yes, actually.
I just spent the afternoon with an autistic architect.
A tragedy he can not understand.

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Righteous Bubba 06.30.08 at 4:21 pm

We know by Hesienburg’s principle that we cannot measure precisely both the frequency of a electro-magnetic signal and the time it occurred – does that mean that therefore radios or TVs or wireless LANs don’t exist, or don’t matter?

Bzzzt.

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bad Jim 07.01.08 at 5:08 am

Hesienberg was pulled over by a traffic cop. “Do you know how fast you were going?” asked the cop. “No,”, Heisenberg replied, “but I know exactly where I am.”

In reply to #18: I should have signed my #9 by what my nieces & nephews call me: Uncle Jim.

This discussion has been amazing. It’s been my commonplace observation that since we ceased to deny women the opportunity to work outside the home, apart from teaching and nursing – in other words, when we allowed women to work alongside men in whatever field of endeavor they chose – the proessions of teaching and nursing went to hell, perhaps because we could never rid ourselves of the impression that those professions were merely women’s work, or perhaps because we could never bring ourselves to pay more than we used to, back when mainly women did those jobs.

In other news, the patriarchy is still alive, but showing signs of dementia, and Americans still revere the Reagan presidency.

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notsneaky 07.01.08 at 6:08 am

“If utility is immeasurable, and I agree, what’s a utilitarianism other than an intellectual vulgarity?”

The word “utility” is left over from utilitarianism but it doesn’t play the same role in modern economics as it did 100+ years ago.

Is temperature measurable? Is 100 degrees F “twice” as “hot” as 50 degrees? Is 200 twice as hot as 100?

Things can be non-measurable but still ordered. 100 degrees is still hotter than 50, whether or not it really is twice as hot.

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maureen 07.01.08 at 8:56 am

I think we have to take the lower carer to caree – horrible word! – ratio as a given. There are proven ways to adjust it somewhat but it won’t go away – not as long as children benefit from growing up among a manageable, to the child, number of people whom s/he can trust totally, not as long as the elderly would choose to spend their final years in their own homes and surrounded by their own kit. And to listen to the radio station they have preferred for the whole of their adult lives – you can tell I’m getting on a bit for as the possibility of losing Radio 4 at some stage looms it matters ever more.

Not being a philosopher, I don’t really care whether utility can be proved to exist or is measurable in any formal sense.

Having been on several sides of this conundrum both personally and professionally I know what I want the world to start doing. Quite simple really – start comparing the cost of doing something reasonably well – the carer, the parent – with the cost of not doing it at all or doing it very badly.

If as the carer I completely lose the plot – fail to teach a child to speak, mess up someone’s medication, allow the parent with Alzheimers to wander or the one who is bedridden to develop pressure sores then the degree of misery caused may be difficult to measure but the cost of sorting it all out – hospital, prison, armies of social workers will have a string of zeroes on the end. That’s where we start.

I am not suggesting that every carer should be paid as much as a consultant geriatrician – or tenured philosopher? – but we then have a starting point. We can see precisely why the minimum wage or zilch are not adequate reward for work which will cost us all dearly if it is not done.

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Dave 07.01.08 at 10:45 am

Just on the ‘domestic labour’ side of things, off the top of my head, 100 years ago in the UK, something like 10% of the entire female population was employed as paid domestic labour. The argument that housework is not work is not only bullshit politically, it’s historically ignorant [which is far worse… ;-) ]

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Tracy W 07.01.08 at 10:54 am

Righteous Bubba , quoting from the Wikipedia article you linked to:

“This is an exact counterpart to a well known result in signal processing — the shorter a pulse in time, the less well defined the frequency. The width of a pulse in frequency space is inversely proportional to the width in time. It is a fundamental result in Fourier analysis, the narrower the peak of a function, the broader the Fourier transform.”

This result is what I was referring to – the implication of those sentences is that if we take a larger sample of time we can measure the frequency more precisely, but then we don’t know the time it happened as precisely as before.

Which means that we cannot measure precisely the characteristics of EM signals for fundamental reasons, not merely due to inadequacy of our current equipment.

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Righteous Bubba 07.01.08 at 2:25 pm

Which means that we cannot measure precisely the characteristics of EM signals for fundamental reasons

That’s not Heisenberg and depends on what you mean by precision: oscilloscopes work perfectly well, as do televisions which you used as an example.

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seth edenbaum 07.01.08 at 6:03 pm

“Just on the ‘domestic labour’ side of things, off the top of my head, 100 years ago in the UK, something like 10% of the entire female population was employed as paid domestic labour.”

That’s true of course but “servants” are not merely workers among workers, they’re in [lower] class of people. I had a girlfriend who was a tenured professor at a major university. She told her grad students to get cleaning ladies, and not to waste their valuable time on housework. Although I never mentioned it, that was probably one reason the relationship didn’t last.

On a related note someone should do some research on the return of the sensibility (the esthetic) of willed servitude. It’s popular these days to choose to see oneself as a “bottom:” to ask others to bear the burdens of moral responsibility and to offer up your ass as payment for the privilege. Examples are everywhere, in employment and in private life. It’s all very “story of ‘O'” and not a good sign in a democracy.

And related to that:
Radek, if you want to measure people as numbers than do so. On the question is whether to consider that an ideal or a vulgar necessity I’ll argue with you and win.
I’ve seen blog posts about scientists with equations tattooed on their chests. All symptoms of the same “posthumanism”

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