The Lies of the Creative Class

by Henry on July 4, 2010

Evidence that history happens the first time as a Doug Henwood book and the second time as farce.

“the only way to keep your job nowadays is to constantly re-invent it”

This rather sad article in the New York Times about long-term, middle class unemployment got me thinking…

Got me thinking about the cartoon above, in fact.

Any long-time blogger knows this: The only way to keep people reading your blog is by “Constant Re-Invention”. Keep on finding new things to talk about. Keep on DOING and CREATING new things worth talking about.

i.e. Creativity. Yes. That. Exactly.

And what has always been true for bloggers is now true for anyone hoping to live above the basic subsistence level.

The only way to keep your job nowadays is to constantly re-invent it.

Again, Creativity.

And that’s your responsibility, not your boss’. If your boss won’t let you do that, then quit. Right now. Do something else. It’s your move. Nobody else’s. Sorry.

It isn’t rocket science. But sadly, it’s something far too few of us ever think really hard about.

Formatting preserved from the original, which you should read if only to see the sorry-ass cartoon that it is based around. Although the offensiveness of the post is partially mitigated by the stink of desperation that wafts through despite the author’s best efforts. If this post had an XKCD mouseover it would be something like ‘oh god, please. maybe if I can just somehow be creative enough, I’ll make it through while the rest of the fuckers drown. please. god. please.’

{ 320 comments }

1

Tom 07.04.10 at 4:01 pm

I don’t get it.

2

chrismealy 07.04.10 at 4:25 pm

I think taking the credit for somebody else’s creativity is still the better strategy. Also, sucking up to the boss.

3

Substance McGravitas 07.04.10 at 4:27 pm

Perhaps someone at a bank could develop a creative new way to deal with mortgages.

4

Phil 07.04.10 at 4:32 pm

My blog is occasionally mistaken for Macleod’s. This doesn’t please me.

5

Earnest O'Nest 07.04.10 at 4:45 pm

Rumor has it that the Chinese suck at it.

6

Tom 07.04.10 at 4:45 pm

I really don’t get it. Have I missed some context?

7

Vance Maverick 07.04.10 at 4:48 pm

Tom, this scam doesn’t work without losers — as one commenter there observes, “Creativity keeps you ahead of the pack”. So by not getting it, you’re making the sacrifice we creatives require. Thanks!

8

Delicious Pundit 07.04.10 at 4:52 pm

You missed the update from someone in comments:
… unless we’re constantly pushing our creative edge, and generating the next opportunity for engagement, and the next, and the next–we’re behind … We’ve gotta start inculcating and embedding that value in our culture, from the very beginning of life.

Emphasis added. Now I’m going to go yell at my children to start generating the next opportunity for engagement.

9

Tom 07.04.10 at 5:04 pm

@Vance, 7: “Scam”? What? Please explain what you mean about losers.

10

Alex 07.04.10 at 5:11 pm

That his domain name is gapingvoid.com is almost too perfect.

11

Vance Maverick 07.04.10 at 5:17 pm

Tom, this is a vision of life — not just biological but social life — as an endless competition. The notion of a “creative class”, and the identification of this class with the winners of the competition, is perhaps new-ish, but the “social-Darwinist” vision is not. What I object to, and what I take others to be objecting to, is the valorization of this struggle, the personal acceptance of its supposed values. I suppose it’s kind of true that we’re all in competition, all that is solid melts into air, etc. But what does it mean to tell this story with such relish? Where is this rhetoric headed? Would MacLeod go so far as to say that it’s good that he must crush the faces of the less fortunate beneath his creatively-nailed boots as he scrambles to the top of the pile, new scramblers thundering along behind him to crush him in turn? If not, what precisely is the point?

12

Tom 07.04.10 at 5:23 pm

Vance, I’m not sure where you’re getting this interpretation from. What I read was a man inspiring himself and others to keep going in difficult times. He doesn’t even say it’s a competition. Just that we can’t rest on our laurels.

Still confused. Why the uncharitable interpretation?

13

ice9 07.04.10 at 5:26 pm

Well, I’m not seeing any creativity there, except for new and creative ways to claim creativeness. I couldn’t go very deep, though, because the shoddy writing was too distracting. There may be creativity down there, lurking like oil under the sand. Wait…was the shoddy writing and the hip confidence and the offhand obscenity intentional? Was it designed to test me to see if I was worthy of admission to the creative class? Dang it!

I deserve another chance! In my world (American public education), “Creative” means “free of rigor, criticism, or hard work.” When parents tell me their children are ‘very creative’ they are really saying they’ll rake my ass over administrative coals if I am too critical. So I deserve another chance. Please?

ice

14

Tom 07.04.10 at 5:27 pm

@Delicious Pundit, 8: It sounds like what you’re saying with your “ironic quip” at the end, is that you’re going to teach your children to make friends with other children and share nice things with them.

15

bob mcmanus 07.04.10 at 5:33 pm

I suppose it’s kind of true that we’re all in competition, all that is solid melts into air, etc. But what does it mean to tell this story with such relish?

It means conservatives want to celebrate zero-sum competition.

Liberals want to feel guilty about it, and feel morally superior to conservatives.

16

JP Stormcrow 07.04.10 at 5:37 pm

And bob wants to point out that we’re *all* bozos on this bus. Everybody wins!

17

Tom 07.04.10 at 5:40 pm

What on earth? Where does MacLeod’s blog post suggest that the competition is zero sum? And he’s not telling it with relish, he’s telling it with relief that he’s finally accepted that we all have to struggle for our continued existence.

On occasion Crooked Timber features some of the best left-wing writing that the internet has to offer. This one is not CT’s finest hour.

18

PHB 07.04.10 at 6:08 pm

I don’t get this at all. Lame original comment, lamer post.

Reinvention is a meaningless trope. Its like when Khun introduced the term paradigm and suddenly everyone was finding new paradigms every five minutes when the original point was that changing the paradigm is an act of desperation when you have run out of productive science to do.

Journalists don’t need to reinvent journalism, they just need to start doing some rather than printing whatever puff pieces guarantee their continued access to the powerful who will say not-very-interesting stuff in return. We don’t need the networks to ‘re-invent’ Sunday talk, just give us a one talk show on a weekend that has a Democrat as a guest if they don’t want to be dismissed as partisan shills for the GOP.

Yes, new technology is changing major parts of the economy. Oddly enough the people who cheered on market forces when it was blue collar jobs being lost suddenly change their tune when the information revolution starts to eliminate white collar jobs. What do you mean that you are going to have the computer code written that will let you eliminate 50% of your warehouse staff written overseas? The job of making US workers redundant through technology belongs to Americans!

19

Dave Maier 07.04.10 at 6:10 pm

So I have to quit my job in order to keep my job?

20

Substance McGravitas 07.04.10 at 6:10 pm

What I object to, and what I take others to be objecting to

I’m objecting to job X being just like blogging, that getting a new idea is the same thing as “reinvention” and that all middle class jobs have outlets for such things. Clearly everyone who is not creating is a parasite or a slave.

21

Michael Drake 07.04.10 at 6:26 pm

“Evidence that history happens the first time as a Doug Henwood book and the second time as farce.”

That’s why it’s called being re-inventive. (Heck, even his spelling of “re-invention” is reinventive. That’s how fucking inventive he is. So his job is perfectly secure. We know that much.)

22

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.04.10 at 6:30 pm

Obviously, the guy has overdosed on certain “self-help” books. He needs to relax.

23

PHB 07.04.10 at 6:32 pm

I think creativity is vastly over-rated.

The art world is full of people who imagine that what they do is transcendentally important because it is ‘art’. Academia is full of assholes who think that what they call ‘science’ is similarly transcendental.

Yet when you look at what most of this ‘art’ and ‘science’ consists of it is pretty tedious stuff. Most successful artists have exactly one innovative piece in their entire career. Then they spend the rest of their life repeating it. Likewise the criteria for academic science is now publishability rather than utility.

Some science changes the world, some art changes the world. But the chances are that your science and your art (and your philosophical scriblings) are not going to and that your utility in the wider arc of society is considerably less than the ‘uncreative’ people you look down on who are the ones who actually produce stuff.

24

Current 07.04.10 at 6:54 pm

I don’t understand exactly what’s being condemned here. Are you condemning those who praise creativity and forget that there are other important forms of competence. Or as you condemning those who are too worried about their relative social position?

25

IM 07.04.10 at 6:56 pm

Of course this blog post is not creative at all. This sort of posts were rather popular during the dot.com boom years. Back then everybody had to be inventive and you would load down your food from the internet.

Now a post that we don’t need to creative . that most people are never creative and still happy and useful members of society, that in the good old days everybody was ashamed of new ideas and would protest that his knowledge is old and proven – that would be something.

Of course reinventing contrarianism is not that inventive either.

26

noen 07.04.10 at 6:59 pm

Well, this strategy kind of has a limit point does it not?

27

Henry 07.04.10 at 7:16 pm

Tom

bq. What I read was a man inspiring himself and others to keep going in difficult times.

That’s a rather difficult reading to sustain if you click through to the post, and read the cartoon, which consists (with crappy drawing) of this dialogue.

bq. So what’s your message for people who aren’t very creative.

bq. You’re fucked.

This is straight outa Henwood. It would be self-congratulation if, as I say, the desperation didn’t creep through despite it all. Someone trying to convince himself that if he can only be nimble enough in recreating himself continually, he’ll survive. And that all the losers who don’t survive simply weren’t creative enough.

28

Alison P 07.04.10 at 7:26 pm

The real meaning of the article:

‘So what is your message for people who are fucked?’
‘You are not creative’

29

noen 07.04.10 at 7:29 pm

I like the idea of hiring other people to be creative and taking their ideas for yourself. Once they are used up or no longer creative you can just fire them and get more. There are always more aren’t there?

30

IM 07.04.10 at 7:40 pm

Once they are used up or no longer creative you can just fire them and get more.

Why fire them? I really hope these people have the decency to go as soon as they know that their creativity has run out. That is the correct attitude, after all.

31

Julian Sanchez 07.04.10 at 7:41 pm

Blogs seem like an awfully weird example to pick. Some of the most successful bloggers are those who picked a schtick years ago and have been recycling the same small handful of tropes and topics ever since–giving readers a familiar, comfortable, predictable product. Plenty of industries work on the same model. The whole point of McDonalds is that you can walk into one basically anywhere and know you’ll get exactly what you liked five years ago on the other side of the country.

32

IM 07.04.10 at 7:42 pm

‘So what is your message for people who are fucked?’
‘You are not creative’

And that is even the truth! They are not creative!

That is also totally irrelevant to their job, but so what?

33

lemuel pitkin 07.04.10 at 7:55 pm

The real meaning of the article: ‘So what is your message for people who are fucked?’ ‘You are not creative’

Exactly. It’s much easier to contemplate people who could as well be you suffering for, if you can convince yourself they deserve it. Easier to rationalize your own suffering, if it comes to that, by assuming you do too.

Kind of reminds one of Adorno’s essay on astrology, how the occult becomes a system in which people can preserve the illusion of individual rationality in a world where outcomes manifestly don’t depend on individual actions.

Or, anyone remember the small-town shopkeeper in Dos Passos’ Three Soldiers, who explains his presence in the trenches of WWI by the importance of service in establishing a good reputation, that this is what you have to do to be respected by your customers? The same attempt to imagine — politics verboten — a massive social upheaval in terms of business self-help. Being well-liked being, I suppose, the 100-year-ago version of being “creative” — the mythical personal quality that will insulate you from the social dislocations around you.

34

Tom 07.04.10 at 7:56 pm

Henry, this article seems rather petty in spirit, which is in stark contrast to the excellent analysis that occasionally appears here. The comments are also particularly nebulous.

35

Red 07.04.10 at 8:14 pm

Tom @34. Read the CT post on the Henwood book first, please. Henry is spot on.

36

lemuel pitkin 07.04.10 at 8:46 pm

Second Red. This post works best in the context of Kieran’s linked post on Henwood — which anyway is worth (re)reading in its own right.

37

Mrs Tilton 07.04.10 at 9:46 pm

Tom,

you are surprisingly obtuse (though perhaps wilfully obtuse) for one who can string more than three words together. So perhaps I can help you, given that I am not (by CT standards) especially left wing (not that CT itself (by left-wing standards) is especially left-wing).

When I , as you employer, tell you that you need to be more “creative”, or “flexible”, or something similar, what I mean is that I am about to fuck you and your mates over, but that if you are prepared to fuck your mates over as well, you might just survive until the next round of fuckings-over, though of course at reduced wages and benefits.

It is the siren-song of scabdom; the call to become a capo; the invitation to open a gap in the barricade. And I do not even say it is necessarily a Bad Thing (remember, I am not especially left-wing). But let us be honest about what it is.

38

Also Tom 07.04.10 at 10:27 pm

I’m torn between being irritated at Tom for pushing people to do something like explain a joke, which is always doomed to fail, and thanking him for pushing contributors to check that the post really does justify a snarky reading.

I think it does deserve all the snark it gets. The sentences that encapsulated the attitude for me were: “And that’s your responsibility, not your boss’. If your boss won’t let you do that, then quit. Right now. Do something else. It’s your move. Nobody else’s. Sorry.”

There is a complete lack of sympathy there for people trapped – for whatever reason – in the job they are in. “Sorry” says “Sorry – no sympathy here.” It justifies the Randian SMcG link and the Alison P comment @28, which wins the thread.

39

Henry Farrell 07.04.10 at 11:12 pm

Can’t remember if this is original or if I’m quoting someone else but the underlying ideology is best described as dot com Calvinism.

40

MPAVictoria 07.04.10 at 11:41 pm

37:
Here, here! Spot on. When your boss comes to you and asks you to rethink and reinvent your job it is a warning to anyone with the sense of self preservation God gave a nat to start updating your resume.

41

sg 07.04.10 at 11:51 pm

From his post:

Do something else. It’s your move. Nobody else’s. Sorry.

From his book, “ignore everybody,” the list of key points to being a successful creative:

7. Keep your day job

followed by advice not to quit in a huff just ’cause your job doesn’t give you a creative outlet.

I think someone might need a more coherent overarching theory…

42

Charles St. Pierre 07.05.10 at 2:07 am

Civilization more as competition and less as cooperation? A race to be won more than a pie to be shared? I’d tell them to eat their trophy, except its ruining it for the rest of us.

Everyone who thinks they ‘re vicious, er, creative enough, to be the… last man standing raise your hands.

That’s right. Everyone here is a loser, unless we get it together.

43

captain swing 07.05.10 at 2:16 am

““the only way to keep your job nowadays is to constantly re-invent it”

It’s bullshit bingo.

“Company fat cat fancypants: “And that is why this merger is going to benefit shareholder value by creating value driven content.”

You: “BULLSHIT BINGO!”

Company fat cat fancypants: “You’re fired!”

44

Matt McIrvin 07.05.10 at 2:19 am

If you’re creative enough, you’ll stop complaining about who moved your cheese!

45

ckc (not kc) 07.05.10 at 2:54 am

…perhaps he [almost certainly he] should be glad to have a job with so little import that “creativity” (which I translate as bullshit) is paramount. Try relying on creativity if you’re fixing someone’s car, or operating on their brain.

46

PHB 07.05.10 at 3:22 am

@Matt 43

Another example of formulaic creativity: self-help business books.

I have not read the moved my cheese one, but I have flipped through it in airports and recognize the format. Reading them is like sitting in a jacuzzi, the feeling is pleasant enough when you are doing it, but the experience leaves no real lasting impression half an hour later.

Most ‘management’ books do nothing more than carefully stroke the ego of the reader. What little real content they have is rarely actionable. But there will be a demand for an inexhaustible supply as long as there are business people sitting on airplanes.

Come to that, exactly how does the pornography industry manage to stay in business? At this point we have something like a hundred lifetimes worth of porn already recorded. Every available orifice has already been exploited to the limit. What else is left? Only somehow the industry keeps chuggin’ on regardless.

47

ScentOfViolets 07.05.10 at 3:49 am

If you’re creative enough, you’ll stop complaining about who moved your cheese!

Actually, it’s quite simple; it’s all about Looking Out for #1. A tried and true strategy is the ever-popular Winning Through Intimidation.

The same as it ever was, I’m sure.

48

noen 07.05.10 at 4:42 am

The funny thing about those “Who moved my cheese” books is that they never quite figure out who is moving the cheese. We all know that of course it’s upper management who is capriciously moving the sales targets or productivity goals but the peons can never actually bring themselves to face that fact. So instead they develop a number of coping mechanisms to deal with jealous and vengeful deity and his autocratic rule that changes on a whim.

“Who moved my cheese” — The New Catechism for the 21st century. Am I being creative?

49

Delicious Pundit 07.05.10 at 5:37 am

@Delicious Pundit, 8: It sounds like what you’re saying with your “ironic quip” at the end, is that you’re going to teach your children to make friends with other children and share nice things with them.

But that’s not what the gapingvoid post says. Because the gapingvoid post envisions that other people exist primarily to measure your own success against, not as people in themselves. The way I read it, it’s saying that getting and spending are not laying waste our powers enough.

50

zamfir 07.05.10 at 6:03 am

That cheese book is truly horrible. Life’s a maze, the bosses move the cheese at random and if you disagree with the system, you will be unhappy. And it is supposed to be an uplifting message?

Apparently, there is even a children’s version.

51

Billy Budd 07.05.10 at 7:16 am

Seems like the best charity for the perplexed is a good solid clue, as Hugh offers.

52

Earnest O'Nest 07.05.10 at 7:40 am

I surrender to the more creative as I confess I only now fully realize why I loathed all this ‘Who Moved My Cheese’-thing. Up until reading #47, I could merely point to not being impressed to be likened to a mouse. Thank you, noen, I would talk some more but I fear someone has moved my cheese again.

53

qb 07.05.10 at 7:53 am

28 ftw; Tom’s credulous simplicity is adorable.

54

bad Jim 07.05.10 at 8:44 am

I wonder a little about this piling on. The authors, and likely many of the readers of this blog, are academics whose progress and promotion depends to a considerable degree on at least a perception of their creativity. It’s demonstrably not the case for the average worker, whatever the color of her collar, but it has been for many of us.

Are we just saying, as in the old joke, “Look who thinks he’s nothing”?

55

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.05.10 at 9:09 am

The problem with the cheese story is that you’re actually the one who makes cheese. And then, when the cheese you produced disappears, you’re just supposed to say ‘oh, well, shit happens’. Very convenient for the guy who took it.

56

novakant 07.05.10 at 10:49 am

Well, it does sound a bit like Randian business psychology hogwash. On the other hand it pretty accurately describes how self-employed people in creative fields actually work – mind you, it’s not for everyone and that’s just fine.

57

ejh 07.05.10 at 11:12 am

On the other hand it pretty accurately describes how self-employed people in creative fields actually work

Or think they work.

58

Current 07.05.10 at 11:22 am

So folks, are you saying the bosses will be benevolent and good in the bright Socialist future?

59

ejh 07.05.10 at 11:24 am

How come that last post got through the filter?

60

Walt 07.05.10 at 11:42 am

It’s sad that there are no alternatives to a completely unregulated labor market and socialism.

61

Current 07.05.10 at 11:50 am

Walt, what restrictions on the labor market do you think would help?

62

Walt 07.05.10 at 11:50 am

They turned off the filter after you convinced them in the World Cup ref thread that we were better off relying on the caprices of human judgment over technology.

63

Current 07.05.10 at 11:53 am

Also, surely flexibility would be needed in a more socialist society too?

64

Current 07.05.10 at 11:54 am

I think the filter isn’t applying to walt and I because we have no links in our messages. Generally these filters are to stop people from putting spam links into comments threads.

65

Earnest O'Nest 07.05.10 at 11:56 am

Shorter Walt: they moved the cheese.

The issue is mainly the definition of creativity as something that does not require one to create anything but the perception that you want to outcreate others, for all values of ‘create’ that are basically about earning more than those others.

66

Earnest O'Nest 07.05.10 at 11:57 am

Test: Socialist.

67

Walt 07.05.10 at 12:02 pm

Current, a better opening would be “I’m sorry for posting such a trollish comment.”

68

Henry 07.05.10 at 12:05 pm

bq. I wonder a little about this piling on. The authors, and likely many of the readers of this blog, are academics whose progress and promotion depends to a considerable degree on at least a perception of their creativity. It’s demonstrably not the case for the average worker, whatever the color of her collar, but it has been for many of us.

The issue with this post (at least for me), is not the specific nature of the author’s fetish (on “creativity”, as opposed to “positive thinking” or whatever). It’s the vacuity of the argument, the inapplicability to most people’s circumstances, and most particularly the nastiness of the underlying pseudo-Calvinism – that those who aren’t creative are fucked, and _deserve_ to be fucked. I dunno about the commentators here (they seem nice people to me), but I’m pretty sure that none of us subscribe to the equivalent academic ideology (although I’ve met some who do). I’ve had a slightly unusual academic trajectory (my Ph.D. program was fine, but not top twenty), and I’ve always had a strong understanding of the role that sheer luck played in giving me a decent career, while others, who were equally or better deserving, didn’t do as well.

69

Walt 07.05.10 at 12:05 pm

Since we’re rapidly approaching end-state socialism, where both pharmaceuticals and spam will be illegal anyway, it makes sense to update the filter.

70

Current 07.05.10 at 12:15 pm

> Current, a better opening would be “I’m sorry for posting such a trollish comment.”

And the rest of the comments in this thread are so carefully nuanced. I’m sorry for spoiling it for everyone.

71

Barry 07.05.10 at 12:40 pm

PHB: “Oddly enough the people who cheered on market forces when it was blue collar jobs being lost suddenly change their tune when the information revolution starts to eliminate white collar jobs. “

I’ve seen this before, from Thomas Friedman. He, of course, was one of the guys who did that cheering on, and told us to cheer it on.

The overwhelming majority of such cheering on that I’ve heard was from the spokespeople for the elites; a minority was from fools who thought that they were immune to such things.

72

belle le triste 07.05.10 at 12:44 pm

There will be no bosses in the bright socialist future: that’s what makes it bright.

73

ejh 07.05.10 at 12:47 pm

They turned off the filter after you convinced them in the World Cup ref thread that we were better off relying on the caprices of human judgment over technology.

Certainly helps the flow of the thread, doesn’t it?

74

Earnest O'Nest 07.05.10 at 1:06 pm

@70: but if nobody moves the cheese, will the mice then not get overweight? And what if your only talent is to creatively move cheese?

75

Matt McIrvin 07.05.10 at 1:15 pm

A similar kind of thing is why I don’t generally read programming blogs. So many of them are filled with queasy-making macho posturing in the guise of professional advice. In place of “here’s a tip that will help you”, it’s “people who do this should be fired”, “any programmer worth his salt will know about Y”, “if you’re not following doctrine Z and thinking about procedure X all your waking hours, I’d never hire you”. The bloggers are talking themselves up and talking everyone else down, and painting a picture of the industry as a brutal tournament in which the winners are the closest approximations to an ideal represented by the author, and all true progress is created by a tiny cadre of super-geniuses.

It’s exaggerated relative to the reality. I like to think I’m a competent programmer and I’ve been fairly successful at it, but I’d never survive in the business if it actually worked according to the standards of these programming bloggers, and most of the best programmers I’ve known wouldn’t either.

76

Matt McIrvin 07.05.10 at 1:25 pm

Also related: this old discussion about Nerd Bravado. An anonymous commenter on DeLong’s blog made a peculiar claim about why he thought women were no good at engineering: all worthy engineers had to go through a particular trial by fire involving prolonged sleep deprivation, and women wouldn’t play that game.

77

LFC 07.05.10 at 1:40 pm

@62: “I think the filter isn’t applying to walt and I…”
Should read: “to walt and me”
You’d never write “I think the filter isn’t applying to I,” so don’t write “I think the filter isn’t applying to Walt and I.”
Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of mine.

78

Current 07.05.10 at 1:51 pm

@70

> There will be no bosses in the bright socialist future: that’s what makes it bright.

I’d say that’s more like the dream of Anarchism than Socialism. From what I’ve read here most of the bloggers are conventional Socialists or Social Democrats, not Anarchists. Their argument is for putting more power in the hands of government, so they are not proposing to remove bosses from existence, they are proposing to change who the bosses are.

79

Alex 07.05.10 at 1:54 pm

That cheese book is truly horrible. Life’s a maze, the bosses move the cheese at random and if you disagree with the system, you will be unhappy. And it is supposed to be an uplifting message? Apparently, there is even a children’s version.

This is correct. Other points against it: the argument is explicitly that you shouldn’t waste any time thinking about what might have become of the cheese, just run off looking around at random. Strikes against the first part of that ought to be obvious. And the second doesn’t sound like an effective search strategy.

A children’s version would be tantamount to child abuse.

80

dsquared 07.05.10 at 2:12 pm

I think the original title was “Who Stole My Wallet?”

81

John Protevi 07.05.10 at 2:14 pm

Current, dude, is being impervious to irony your idea of a superpower? Or are you shopping a move script? A pop psych book: “Live without Irony!”?

82

novakant 07.05.10 at 2:18 pm

I’ve always had a strong understanding of the role that sheer luck played in giving me a decent career, while others, who were equally or better deserving, didn’t do as well.

It’s nice of you to acknowledge the role of luck in making careers, but all the luck in the world won’t help a creative if he/she doesn’t have the ability to be, well, creative over the course of their career. You might get a foot in the door through a lucky break, but you still have to deliver on a continuous basis and the competition would be only too happy to outdo or replace you. On the positive side there is a certain objectivity and freedom to this, since people are more likely to be judged by their actual creative output than their history or position. The downside is less job security and a rather harsh and competitive environment.

83

Current 07.05.10 at 2:28 pm

I see what you mean, I’ve never encountered ironical Anarchism before, I wasn’t prepared.

I think I need a cheese sandwich.

84

bjk 07.05.10 at 2:49 pm

The problem with the “be creative” imperative is that it is far less important than “take pride in your work” and “be on time” and “deal honestly with your colleagues and clients.” In some lines of work, being creative might matter . . . but you’re not going to be creative if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. Which this guy clearly doesn’t, or his website wouldn’t suck so bad.

85

Substance McGravitas 07.05.10 at 3:15 pm

all the luck in the world won’t help a creative if he/she doesn’t have the ability to be, well, creative over the course of their career.

Meet Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light.

86

Daniel M. Clark 07.05.10 at 3:34 pm

I read a couple dozen comments and skipped the other 60ish, so if I’m repeating anyone, forgive me.

Two things. First, go to a bookstore or a library and read Hugh’s book. Get to know what he’s about beyond one single blog entry. That’s to start with – if you don’t know what you’re on about, you just sound like an idiot when you spout your opinions.

Second, one Hugh’s points of view is that people need to think more and act like automatons for corporations and bosses less. Considering there are 80+ comments here, you all seem to at least be thinking – somewhat. Plus, you gave him exactly what he was looking for: coverage. Like they say, there’s no such thing as bad press. Hugh wins.

87

kid bitzer 07.05.10 at 3:43 pm

@substance mcg:

hell, meet tenure!

88

Hidari 07.05.10 at 4:06 pm

‘It’s nice of you to acknowledge the role of luck in making careers, but all the luck in the world won’t help a creative if he/she doesn’t have the ability to be, well, creative over the course of their career’.

This presupposes, of course, that there is an objective definition of the word ‘creative’, that ‘we’ all agree on that definition, and that ‘everyone’ can instantly spot creativity and rank people (objectively and fairly) in terms of their creative output.

89

zamfir 07.05.10 at 4:12 pm

Novakant, I would say there is a big difference between delivering constant good quality, and constant reinvention. At least from what I see around me, creative independents tend to do well if they have developed an attractive and reasonably predictable style, so that potential clients have an understanding what they will get. Also, most seem to have a backup of less interesting work of some kind, for when demand for their creative work is lower.

of course, styles and working fields may change over the decades, but that isn’t so deeply different from the career paths of most people.

There are also people who work in fashion-sensitive fields, who always have to worry whether they are losing their edge because the young ones are selling their turntables and buying guitars. But such fields of work have existed since Louis XIV at least.

I am not sure the rest of the economy is really moving away from experience towards year-on-year reinvention. Perhaps it really is, but there a lot of gadget manufacturers and cheese moving executives who have a stake in convincing us of it.

90

Hidari 07.05.10 at 4:17 pm

#85 makes my point for me. As does the fact that Cliff Richard (Cliff Richard!!) is the biggest selling singles artist of all time in the UK.

91

novakant 07.05.10 at 4:24 pm

This presupposes, of course, that there is an objective definition of the word ‘creative’, that ‘we’ all agree on that definition, and that ‘everyone’ can instantly spot creativity and rank people (objectively and fairly) in terms of their creative output.

No, just because something has a subjective element to it, doesn’t mean that it is wholly subjective and that there are no discernible differences as far as talent, skill and quality of the output are concerned. If you or I were asked to design an evening gown, a website or a book cover, it would probably suck and people who get paid a lot of money to design such things would very likely do a much better job.

92

Hidari 07.05.10 at 4:41 pm

‘If you or I were asked to design an evening gown, a website or a book cover, it would probably suck and people who get paid a lot of money to design such things would very likely do a much better job.’

I have designed websites and book covers, for nothing, and they were invariably better than the crap that the ‘people who get paid a lot of money to design such things’ normally do.

In fact, in both cases, the ‘job’ was so embarrassingly easy you do realise just just how overpaid these people are. It is not in any sense difficult to teach yourself how to use a good web design package and build a reasonably good looking web page. Book cover design is even easier.

93

Hidari 07.05.10 at 4:42 pm

And don’t get me started on my Autumn collection of evening gowns.

94

ejh 07.05.10 at 4:56 pm

95

engels 07.05.10 at 4:58 pm

So now we know why Van Gogh died penniless. He wasn’t ‘creative’ enough.

96

ScentOfViolets 07.05.10 at 5:01 pm

It’s exaggerated relative to the reality. I like to think I’m a competent programmer and I’ve been fairly successful at it, but I’d never survive in the business if it actually worked according to the standards of these programming bloggers, and most of the best programmers I’ve known wouldn’t either.

Er, are you sure that programming is the best counterexample? I got out of that business precisely because of the culture and expectations you describe. Maybe things have changed – this was mid- to late-90’s for me, back when DOS still a perfectly fine OS for dialup (I worked at DataStorm on the Procomm software) – but back then, it helped a lot to be a young, unattached male with no familial obligations whatsoever. The boss wants you to 80+ hour workweeks for the next three weeks because the specs have changed and rollout is in 25 days? No problem!

If you’re a twenty-something male with no life outside of work except for other twenty-something males, that is.

Oddly enough, the 90’s also saw the rise of that particularly obnoxious specimen, the Libertarian Programmer, convinced he had ‘leet skills and everyone else had better just suck it up rather than free-riding off of him (always a male . . . of course.)

97

Hidari 07.05.10 at 5:09 pm

‘Back then, it helped a lot to be a young, unattached male with no familial obligations whatsoever. The boss wants you to 80+ hour workweeks for the next three weeks because the specs have changed and rollout is in 25 days? No problem!

If you’re a twenty-something male with no life outside of work except for other twenty-something males, that is.’

Quite. Despite the fantasies of some of the commentators above, most bosses/organisations value being staff who are in the office at 9AM (and who leave at 9PM) far more highly than those who exhibit ‘creativity’ (and so do most clients).

The composer Elisabeth Lutyens, who, amongst other things, did music for films, used to ask the director:

‘Do you want it good, or do you want it by Wednesday?’.

Most bosses want it by Wednesday.

98

ScentOfViolets 07.05.10 at 5:11 pm

It’s nice of you to acknowledge the role of luck in making careers, but all the luck in the world won’t help a creative if he/she doesn’t have the ability to be, well, creative over the course of their career. You might get a foot in the door through a lucky break, but you still have to deliver on a continuous basis and the competition would be only too happy to outdo or replace you. On the positive side there is a certain objectivity and freedom to this, since people are more likely to be judged by their actual creative output than their history or position.

Leaving aside the fact that I know of no way to ordinally rank creativity, consider one of the more “creative” fields, fiction writing. Are you claiming that all 700+ volumes of The Executioner series are “creative”? Really? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read a couple dozen of the things with a great deal of enjoyment. But I wouldn’t call them “creative”. As for judging this elusive quality, well, isn’t it sort of cant that you can’t really do this until long after the writer is safely dead and buried? Look at, oh, I don’t know – Kipling say. There was a guy who became relatively obscure soon after his death, only to to be ranked among the greats several decades later.

99

Hidari 07.05.10 at 5:27 pm

There’s a really important point here, and it”s good because it gives me an opportunity to mention one of my favourite psychological theories, the theory of the Belief in a Just World. This has never really become terribly popular, even amongst psychologists, perhaps because it is too subversive. Anyway, it’s a sub-school of attribution theory, and it deals with explanations for success and failure.

Very briefly, people who believe in a Just World, believe that we live, fundamentally, in a meritocracy, that the people in charge, generally speaking, are good and clever and kind and that if you don’t succeed it’s because you are none of these things. As the key book explicating this theory puts it, this is a ‘fundamental delusion’. But it’s widely believed.

As you might imagine, belief in a just world and right wing politics go together and this (delusory) idea is particularly popular in the United States.

The classic statement of disbelief in a just world is Ecclesiastes:

‘I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.’

100

Current 07.05.10 at 5:33 pm

The gist of this thread is that the “creative class” (whoever they are) are insufficiently class conscious. They don’t see the world as a battle between the forces of capital and labour. They shouldn’t be finding ways to deal with change, but they should rather be sticking it to the man. Libertarians like me, and a whole lot of other folks, don’t think that this attitude is good for society as a whole. Obviously you folks would disagree about that.

Why do you think it’s good for society though if people are reluctant to accept change? Do you think it would make the creative class richer, or decrease profits, do you think it would increase economic output or wellbeing?

101

novakant 07.05.10 at 5:35 pm

Hey, if it’s so ridiculously easy and all creative people are terribly overpaid, why don’t you all consider a career change – you’d be a fool not to …

102

ejh 07.05.10 at 5:40 pm

I think you may be confusing “ridiculously easy” and “involves rather more luck than creativity”. Still, never mind, it’s a creative interpretation.

103

Earnest O'Nest 07.05.10 at 5:47 pm

Yes – one that has us for fools if we don’t want to be terribly overpaid. That quite sums it up.

104

Current 07.05.10 at 5:49 pm

To put my point @99 another way….

Entrepreneurs and capitalists often have to work to satisfy changing customer demands. Would it be good if they treated this burden with ill-grace and grumbled about it?

Or what if the situation comes from the side of the state. Most western states have inefficient bureaucracies that don’t produce much social good. If taxpayers begrudge funding such bureaucracies then is that a good thing?

105

ejh 07.05.10 at 5:57 pm

It depends whether their claims actually bear much resemblance to reality, doesn’t it?

106

Substance McGravitas 07.05.10 at 5:57 pm

The gist of this thread is that the “creative class” (whoever they are) are insufficiently class conscious.

The gist of this thread is that the writer mentioned in the post above doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground and manages to insult everybody on earth while attempting to find it. See also: libertarians.

107

Current 07.05.10 at 6:05 pm

Substance McGravitas,

There’s no real argument whatsoever in what you’ve said. You’re just mudslinging.

There is an uncreative sort of post the Crooked Timber seems to specialise in recently. The process of making it goes something like this:
* Step 1: Find an idea that lefties disagree with.
* Step 2: Search the internet to find it’s most incompetent defender.
* Step 3. Make a post taking the piss out of whatever you’ve found and tar everybody else with the same brush as the incompetent defender you’ve picked.

108

ejh 07.05.10 at 6:09 pm

It’s so unfair.

109

JJ 07.05.10 at 6:10 pm

All this moral hand-wringing over the post-industrial social benefits of creativity is just an intellectual re-hash of the industrial social benefits of productivity.

Oddly enough the people who cheered on market forces when it was blue collar jobs being lost suddenly change their tune when the information revolution starts to eliminate white collar jobs.

Having sub-consciously justified the out-sourcing of blue-collar jobs, they need to re-define the terms of the debate in order to consciously object to the out-sourcing of white-collar jobs.

110

Substance McGravitas 07.05.10 at 6:14 pm

There’s no real argument whatsoever in what you’ve said. You’re just mudslinging.

Let me reinvent my argument then: you have not understood the post or the thread. For reference, see comments from author “Current”.

Step 3. Make a post taking the piss out of whatever you’ve found and tar everybody else with the same brush as the incompetent defender you’ve picked.

Pipe up when the competent defender makes his or her appearance.

111

Current 07.05.10 at 6:15 pm

@104 ejh,

It’s not really so simple. It really depends on counterfactual economic thinking. If group X are protected from uncertainty Y then is that socially beneficial? The answers aren’t immediately obvious.

112

Current 07.05.10 at 6:16 pm

@ 109 Substance McGravitas,

> Let me reinvent my argument then: you have not understood the post or the thread.

Ok, what’s it about then?

113

ejh 07.05.10 at 6:18 pm

Alfie?

114

novakant 07.05.10 at 6:18 pm

The point being of course that it’s hard and creative people in general are no more overpaid than anybody else. As for luck, well, that’s life, but as I said it will only get you so far. And no, being a successful creative doesn’t mean you’re creating high art, but again, if it is so easy to sell 200 million books, why don’t you?

115

ejh 07.05.10 at 6:19 pm

Ah, the “so easy” bit again.

116

Current 07.05.10 at 6:26 pm

@107 ejh,

It is unfair … sniff.

But, look at Henry’s posts and what I said about their structure. Then think about what it would be like if you worked in bureaucracy with Henry and you were both competing for the same job. Maybe if you were colleagues he’d consider you one of his own class, and wouldn’t use and similar techniques. But, then again maybe not ;)

Leftists hate competition in theory, but my experience is that they love it in practice.

117

magistra 07.05.10 at 6:30 pm

Hidari@98 – one of the complicating factors is that even if belief in a just world is wrong, it may be personally beneficial to someone to believe it. Ben Goldacre reports an interesting study suggesting that superstitious people do better at tasks because superstition ‘improves confidence, lets you set higher goals, and encourages you to work harder’. In the same way, belief that being ‘creative’ will ensure your success may promote the kind of positive attitude that does benefit workers and job-seekers (or at least help avoid the negative attitude that works against doing well).

118

ScentOfViolets 07.05.10 at 6:31 pm

The point being of course that it’s hard and creative people in general are no more overpaid than anybody else. As for luck, well, that’s life, but as I said it will only get you so far. And no, being a successful creative doesn’t mean you’re creating high art, but again, if it is so easy to sell 200 million books, why don’t you?

Sigh. Since you aren’t courteous enough to read what people are actually posting, tell me: why should I care the slightest scintilla what you think? I think you owe several people an apology.

119

belle le triste 07.05.10 at 6:34 pm

The idea that (say) BP’s internal structures work in some magically different way from the much-demonised “inefficient bureaucracy” that Current’s “leftists” are imagined to adore so is beyond silly.

120

Matt McIrvin 07.05.10 at 6:40 pm

I got out of that business precisely because of the culture and expectations you describe. […] back then, it helped a lot to be a young, unattached male with no familial obligations whatsoever.

Oh, it still helps, believe me. But the programming bloggers also believe that this goes hand-in-hand with being some sort of genius coding ubermensch, which it definitely does not.

It’s of a piece with the idea that all true progress in human history–in science, art, what have you–is the work of a tiny subpopulation of geniuses who are several sigma out on the bell curve of ability, and everyone else is just some sort of clock-punching parasite.

121

Richard J 07.05.10 at 6:41 pm

The idea that (say) BP’s internal structures work in some magically different way from the much-demonised “inefficient bureaucracy” that Current’s “leftists” are imagined to adore so is beyond silly.

My direct personal experience of BP’s bureaucracy comes some way to supporting this view. Nice bunch of chaps, though.

122

Natilo Paennim 07.05.10 at 7:07 pm

If you saw Alice, like I Cialis, Oh! Oh! Oh what a pill!

123

Substance McGravitas 07.05.10 at 7:15 pm

Ok, what’s it about then?

Mysterious Things hidden in super-secret leftist jargon that NO LIBERTARIAN CAN PENETRATE. See comments by libertarian Current above.

124

Substance McGravitas 07.05.10 at 7:17 pm

If you saw Alice, like I Cialis, Oh! Oh! Oh what a pill!

Now that is reinvention.

125

Natilo Paennim 07.05.10 at 7:22 pm

103: Entrepreneurs and capitalists often have to work to satisfy changing customer demands.

This, this is just hilarious beyond belief! It’s sometimes startling to realize how profoundly ignorant the most strident defenders of capitalism are about its basic principles.

No, Current, “entrepreneurs and capitalists” do not have to “work” to “satisfy” changing customer “demands”. Rather, they pay other people a fraction of their eventual profits to produce, market and eventually sideline ever more objects in order to trick people into thinking there’s something in it for them.

126

Red 07.05.10 at 7:24 pm

What’s it about, then? I think Mrs. Tilton summarized it most eloquently @37.

By the way, you do have a way with words, Mrs. T. Is there a Mr. T?

127

Hidari 07.05.10 at 7:50 pm

#116 Yes absolutely. Attributional style does have an impact on lifechoices and ‘success’. Also, cf Seligman’s ‘Learned Helplessness’ another branch of attributional theory. The key factor is ‘locus of control’: having an ‘internal’ locus of control is associated with believing in a Just World (especially if you happen to be successful yourself) in the same say that having an ‘external’ locus of control is one of the components of having a ‘depressive’ attributional style which is in turn one of the components of learned helplessness. Superstitious thinking and ‘luckiness’ can also be interpreted in attributional terms. Indeed, cognitive behavioural therapy is also best seen as another branch of attribution theory: it’s really a kind of attributional therapy in which one attempts, through therapy, to change people’s attributional style.

But….one has to be a bit sophisticated here, in a way Seligman sometimes isn’t. It’s very tempting to adopt a ‘one way’ view of attributions, in which attributions cause actions and that’s the end of it. But attributions, attributional style, didn’t arise from nowhere. People have backgrounds, histories, genders, ethnicities, social classes. And we know that one can predict attributional style from some/all of these factors. Seligman tends to see things the wrong way round, IMHO: change your attributional style and Voila! Happiness. But it probably makes more sense to see a negative attributional style as an entirely ‘rational’ response to bad life experiences, which then reinforces that sense of failure. Although I hate to use the word, one has to be ‘dialectical’ here: ‘External’ factors influence attributional style which in turn influence behaviour which in turn changes one’s life choices and standing, which then influences attributional style, and so on.

In any case, it doesn’t alter the fact that people ‘on top’ like to believe that the World is Just (hence their own success) and that people who haven’t achieved riches, power, and fame deserve what they get.

128

novakant 07.05.10 at 8:04 pm

When I mentioned “self-employed people in creative fields” above, I was referring to people working in the Creative Industries. Confusing this common definition with “creative” in the emphatic sense referring to the creation of works with high artistic value is not very helpful in the context. My point was that people working in these industries often live under the pressures mentioned in the article and that there are both good and bad aspects to this. When I said that there is a certain objectivity, I meant success in this field, which to a great extent is based on talent, hard work and the ability to cope with such pressures. I was not referring to questions of artistic value. None of the creatives I know compare themselves to van Gogh or whoever and I am appalled by the apparent urge to dismiss them based on a category error or just plain arrogance.

129

Substance McGravitas 07.05.10 at 8:11 pm

When I mentioned “self-employed people in creative fields” above, I was referring to people working in the Creative Industries. Confusing this common definition with “creative” in the emphatic sense referring to the creation of works with high artistic value is not very helpful in the context.

Have you noticed that people in

# Advertising
# Architecture
# Arts and antique markets
# Crafts
# Design (see also communication design)
# Designer Fashion
# Film, video and photography
# Software, computer games and electronic publishing
# Music and the visual and performing arts
# Publishing
# Television
# Radio

are often not creative and may not in any case have jobs that demand creativity? Or are you referring specifically to people within those industries who are supposed to have the creative ideas?

130

Hidari 07.05.10 at 8:14 pm

#127

To begin with, these two uses of the word ‘creative’ are not mutually exclusive. For example, even in the Wikipedia article you link to, the creative ‘industries’ are defined as: ‘…architecture, art, crafts, design….film, music, performing arts, publishing…TV and radio.’ Unless you are claiming that no film or TV series or published book has ‘high artistic value’ there is clearly a (potential) overlap.

‘Success in this field, [is] to a great extent … based on talent, hard work and the ability to cope with… pressures.’

A more succinct definition of the Belief in a Just World (a Fundamental Delusion) it would be harder to find.

131

Hidari 07.05.10 at 8:17 pm

‘Zick Rubin of Harvard University and Letitia Anne Peplau of UCLA have conducted surveys to examine the characteristics of people with strong beliefs in a just world. They found that people who have a strong tendency to believe in a just world also tend to be more religious, more authoritarian, more conservative, more likely to admire political leaders and existing social institutions, and more likely to have negative attitudes toward underprivileged groups. To a lesser but still significant degree, the believers in a just world tend to “feel less of a need to engage in activities to change society or to alleviate plight of social victims.”
Ironically, then, the belief in a just world may take the place of a genuine commitment to justice. For some people, it is simply easier to assume that forces beyond their control mete out justice. When that occurs, the result may be the abdication of personal responsibility, acquiescence in the face of suffering and misfortune, and indifference towards injustice. Taken to the extreme, indifference can result in the institutionalization of injustice. ‘

http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v3n2/justworld.html

132

Current 07.05.10 at 8:18 pm

@118 Belle le triste

> The idea that (say) BP’s internal structures work in some magically different way from
> the much-demonised “inefficient bureaucracy” that Current’s “leftists” are imagined
> to adore so is beyond silly.

I doubt BP are as bad as the government. BP have to be efficient because they have to compete for capital and against other oil companies. Governments don’t have to compete.

If BP are inefficient that’s mostly a problem for their shareholder’s. Except in circumstances like this recent oil spill, which are not common. If bureaucracies are inefficient it’s a problem for every voter and taxpayer.

@ 124 Natilo Paennim
> No, Current, “entrepreneurs and capitalists” do not have to “work” to “satisfy”
> changing customer “demands”. Rather, they pay other people a fraction of their
> eventual profits to produce, market and eventually sideline ever more objects in
> order to trick people into thinking there’s something in it for them.

Let’s say Bill who is a capitalist owns two businesses A and B. Bill has more money to invest. The management of both businesses tell Bill to invest in their business. They both have an interest in doing that. For Bill, that is the problem, he can get information from the businesses to aide his decision, but they can’t be relied upon to decide on things like that. Capitalists can delegate a great deal, but not everything. What they can delegate depends on the situation.

An Entrepreneur is often defined as a businessman who looks for and exploits profit opportunities . An entrepreneur can buy factor services, such as labour. But, he must make at least some of the decisions about what services to buy.

133

ejh 07.05.10 at 8:28 pm

Have you just learned that from a book?

134

Current 07.05.10 at 8:30 pm

@132 ejh,

> Have you just learned that from a book?

I’ve seen it done in practice too. I expect you have as well.

135

ejh 07.05.10 at 8:35 pm

I meant success in this field, which to a great extent is based on talent, hard work and the ability to cope with such pressures.

Great extent?

Do me a favour.

All sorts of people succeed in those fields without possessing any noticeable talent (unless we’re engaging in the common circular argument of equating talent with succeed) and without obviously working harder than other people who do not succeed. Nor do they obviously face a struggle to reinvent themselves and stay at yer cutting edge of creativity all the time. (One reason for this, by the way, though far from the only one, is that if you make a lot of money very quickly you don’t actually have to stay at the top for very long. You can spend much of the rest of life sitting in bar and talking about how the current generation have it easy compared to you.)

Really, so much of this is myth and self-image.

136

ejh 07.05.10 at 8:37 pm

I doubt BP are as bad as the government. BP have to be efficient because they have to compete for capital and against other oil companies. Governments don’t have to compete.

It’s magic! The theory answers all our questions for us! Hurrah!

137

Current 07.05.10 at 8:41 pm

> It’s magic! The theory answers all our questions for us! Hurrah!

For empirical evidence I present the USSR.

138

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.05.10 at 8:50 pm

I doubt BP are as bad as the government. BP have to be efficient because they have to compete for capital and against other oil companies. Governments don’t have to compete.

BP is bad in a completely different way. It’s bad exactly because it has to compete for capital, and to compete for capital it has to get ‘creative’ in, among other things, ignoring safety procedures.

139

AntiAlias 07.05.10 at 8:51 pm

So, BP’s clusterfuck is OK ‘cuz Bolshies were badder.

140

Phil 07.05.10 at 9:01 pm

Did someone mention Friedman? Because he was pushing a remarkably similar line last October, when I commented that I’d heard it before:

“The ‘work-smarter-not-harder’ stuff … is pretty insulting … for those of us who have been hearing it from management gurus, year in and year out, ever since the last recession. The sermon changes from year to year – sometimes there’s just no money around; sometimes there’s lots of money but lots of people competing for it; sometimes it’s neither of the above but the world is changing! – but the message is always the same. There’s always some compelling reason why we’ve got to invent “smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services”, new ways to achieve this and save money on that. We can’t just get on with our jobs – that would be wrong.”

141

Phil 07.05.10 at 9:02 pm

when I commented

That would be here.

142

Current 07.05.10 at 9:06 pm

@137 Henri Vieuxtemps,

> BP is bad in a completely different way. It’s bad exactly because it has to compete for
> capital, and to compete for capital it has to get ‘creative’ in, among other things,
> ignoring safety procedures.

What that means is that there need to be laws that ensure that when the external effects of an accident are large the organization responsible and it’s owners pay for the external costs.

Besides, competition for capital in one way or another is inevitable.

@138 AntiAlias,
> So, BP’s clusterfuck is OK ‘cuz Bolshies were badder.

My point was about bureaucracy and it’s efficiency. Those who praise modern bureaucracies in developed countries should remember that there is little difference between them and the much larger bureaucracies of communist countries. Those who make the case for the superiority of modern bureaucracies have to explain why things are different for the bureaucracies they advocate compared to historical examples such as the soviets.

I think it’s often a type of “exceptionalism” Social Democrats say that the bureaucracies they like are efficient. But, they’re willing to concede that historical ones like the USSR haven’t being, and that the US army probably isn’t.

143

Hidari 07.05.10 at 9:07 pm

‘Governments don’t have to compete.’

The not have elections your part of the world, Current?

144

Current 07.05.10 at 9:11 pm

Regarding Hidari’s comments above and the discussion about capitalists and entrepreneurs. I’m not saying that by his or her actions a capitalist or entrepreneur earns a reward that is just in any cosmic sense. My point is that they do have decisions to make, and the type of decision often changes quickly. So, should they moan about their cheese being moved?

145

Hidari 07.05.10 at 9:14 pm

Current
your argument is wrong in so many ways I don’t really know where to start, but one of the key problems is the theory (apparently widely believed in the libertarian community) that there are two discrete entities, corporations, and ‘Government’ which have nothing to do with each other, and that all we have to do is choose between them. But the reality is that corporate power and state power are completely intertwined.

146

Henry 07.05.10 at 9:14 pm

Please people, don’t feed the troll. It is not an especially insightful example of the breed.

147

Walt 07.05.10 at 9:26 pm

Insightful trolls would be something out of a horror movie — like the fast zombies in 28 Days Later.

148

Current 07.05.10 at 9:29 pm

@ 142 Hidari,

> The not have elections your part of the world, Current?

Barely, I live in Ireland. But, do you really think that elections allow the electorate to do much about that sort of thing?

Do you think that electorates know enough about the organizations involved? Even if they do don’t you think that they often have other priorities when voting?

@144 Hidari,

> that there are two discrete entities, corporations, and ‘Government’ which have
> nothing to do with each other, and that all we have to do is choose between them.
> But the reality is that corporate power and state power are completely intertwined.

Of course they are intertwined. I think one of the main reasons for BPs carelessness in this accident is the oil-spill insurance scheme run by the US government. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with insurance per se, but government run insurance schemes can’t decide on premiums on a commercial basis that reflects risk.

How though do the leftist policies that people on this site advocate actually help with that problem though? I’d argue that they don’t. I think big government with lots of discretionary power is easier to pervert and it’s much more difficult for the voter to understand when it has been corrupted.

149

novakant 07.05.10 at 9:30 pm

OK, you’ve got me: success in the creative industries is all down to good looks and the willingness to perform sexual favours – it’s awesome!

150

Current 07.05.10 at 9:32 pm

@145 Henry,

> Please people, don’t feed the troll. It is not an especially insightful example of the breed.

Are you afraid of a little debate? I’ve had a few discussions like this on the comments threads of this blog. I don’t know why you’re moaning about it now.

151

John Protevi 07.05.10 at 9:35 pm

Hidari @144: many thanks for that link. Here’s an earlier one by Jeremy Scahill in the same genre.

152

John Protevi 07.05.10 at 9:36 pm

Coming next from Current: a denunciation of the left-wing echo chamber.

It’s like troll bingo!

153

John Protevi 07.05.10 at 9:40 pm

Then a denunciation of the Left-wing Obama Administration’s Interference with The Market ™.

Then a Declaration of Triumph, followed by a False-Bonhomie Good-bye, perhaps even of the Thanks, But I Have to Get to Work, Unlike You Elitist Academicians type.

Followed of course by A Quick Return.

154

Current 07.05.10 at 9:40 pm

I think I’ll condemn left-wing snarkiness instead.

155

Current 07.05.10 at 9:43 pm

John, since I’ve discussed lots of this stuff before here, why am I being accused of being a troll *now*?

Anyway, why does this blog have comments threads if it’s not interested in critical comments?

156

John Protevi 07.05.10 at 9:44 pm

Ah, I see he’s opted for the Can’t You People See I’m Trying to Be Serious and Rational Here.

The classics never age.

157

ejh 07.05.10 at 9:44 pm

Because we’re all bureaucrats!

158

Current 07.05.10 at 9:49 pm

> Can’t You People See I’m Trying to Be Serious and Rational Here

Well, I am. I see you’re not.

159

studentee 07.05.10 at 9:59 pm

Current, the reason you are being teased is that your are not presenting “critical comments”. You are just waggling around the most superficial arguments right out of Glibertarianism 101.

160

noen 07.05.10 at 10:27 pm

“BP have to be efficient because they have to compete for capital and against other oil companies.”

The problem with that is there is no external measure of what they are competing for. Oil company X that invests in extra time, labor and equipment in the prevention of disasters and environmentally safe practices is at a competitive disadvantage to oil company Y that engages in regulatory capture. If you get to write the legislation then you can write it in a way that favors you or your industry.

Let’s say I own the maintenance contract for an apartment building. I sabotage the building’s infrastructure in such a way that it threatens the safety and integrity of the building. I present the owner with these problems and suggest an “independent contractor” (actually a buddy of mine who is in on the scam) who can fix the problems. He suggests a series of expensive fixes that will require the owner pour more money into the building but… you’re in luck! We can do this for you for a small ongoing fee!

As my business grows and I acquire more buildings I get cozy with local government. Instead of just buying off the city inspectors I get to re-write the building codes. That way I can punish my enemies and reward my friends. Building owners don’t get wise because we’re not talking about a maintenance man here. Managing a large high-rise requires specialized insider knowledge. It’s a black box to most people. Those building owners that do get wise to me can be brought into the scam because it’s Joe Taxpayer who is footing the bill and he’s dumb as shit.

I’m a member of the creative class.

161

noen 07.05.10 at 10:45 pm

current
“What that means is that there need to be laws that ensure that when the external effects of an accident are large the organization responsible and it’s owners pay for the external costs.”

People would rather we not destroy the entire gulf in order for companies to do what they knew they should have done in the first place. and we can’t just allow BP to fail because that would take Britain, who owns most of BP, down with it. That’s the same reason we couldn’t just let Wall Street fail, because it would have thrown us into a global depression. People would have died. People are dying now because of BP’s criminal negligence.

Individuals and companies do not exist in a vacuum. The central fallacy of libertarians is that “I” can exist free of all externalities. I am alone and sufficient unto myself. This is a delusion born of narcissism. You can no more survive on your own than one can separate out corporations from everything else. It cannot be done.

162

Mrs Tilton 07.05.10 at 11:04 pm

Current @149,

Are you afraid of a little debate?

No, we’re annoyed by canting bores.

BTW, I am not one of the “leftists” that you imagine infest CT. I am a liberal, sensu europeo. And there is more, and better, to liberalism than hiding under one’s covers to masturbate onto the comic-book version of The Road to Serfdom.

163

Current 07.06.10 at 12:46 am

> The problem with that is there is no external measure of what they are competing for.
> Oil company X that invests in extra time, labor and equipment in the prevention of
> disasters and environmentally safe practices is at a competitive disadvantage to oil
> company Y that engages in regulatory capture. If you get to write the legislation then
> you can write it in a way that favors you or your industry.

I don’t know exactly what sort of regulation you would like for the oil industry, or any other industry for that matter. What lots of others on the left propose is stricter regulation of some sort.

I don’t think that that really solves the problem. What’s often forgotten is that the whole area of “regulatory capture” was first pioneered by some quite libertarian leaning economists. They pointed out that a regulatory agency with discretionary powers is more easily corrupted than one without because the discretion may be used as a cover. An agency with fixed rules however must explain why they are waived in particular cases.

I used to work quite a lot with FCC regulation of communications devices. That agency doesn’t suffer from the worst problems of regulators. It at least has rules that are written down. However, the interpretation is very loose. If you get a company A to ask the FCC a question about interpretation then they’ll get a different response to company B. Many of the regulations are unnecessarily complex (european regs are often better).

Rather than employing more staff for regulators and giving them more discretion governments should be moving in another direction. They need to make regulators more like normal courts. Their actions need to be more open to the public and to wider examination. The regulations or laws should be written as to minimize differences of interpretation.

I think that many of these problems don’t have a solution. Adam Smith wrote about how shopkeepers discourage city councils from having open-air markets as a ploy to reduce competition. It’s an eternal problem. But, I think that better law is a large part of the answer, not more government power.

164

Current 07.06.10 at 1:24 am

> People would rather we not destroy the entire gulf in order for companies to do
> what they knew they should have done in the first place. and we can’t just allow BP to
> fail because that would take Britain, who owns most of BP, down with it. That’s the
> same reason we couldn’t just let Wall Street fail, because it would have thrown us into
> a global depression. People would have died. People are dying now because of BP’s
> criminal negligence.

I’m not sure that BP would have “take Britain down with it”. BP’s big certainly, the biggest stock on the London stock market. It’s not that big though.

Also, I don’t think it’s certain yet that leaving BP liable for all of the externality costs would have left the shareholder nothing.

> Individuals and companies do not exist in a vacuum. The central fallacy of
> libertarians is that “I” can exist free of all externalities. I am alone and sufficient unto
> myself. This is a delusion born of narcissism. You can no more survive on your own
> than one can separate out corporations from everything else. It cannot be done.

Of course individuals don’t exist in a vaccum, I know of no major libertarian who has argued that they do. Nobody argues that externalities should not be dealt with.

If I understand you correctly, your saying something like: there will always be externalities that can’t be accounted for by law, so you need strong government to make discretionary choices. I some cases I agree.

But, what we need more is to deal with the perverse effects of previous government interference that have got us to where we are now. The next financial crisis is going to be horrible unless western governments do something about the precedents they have set for bailing out banks and semi-state corporations in this one. Governments tend to believe that they can safely create booms through the central banking system and deal with the consequences afterwards. Unfortunately that tendency doesn’t seem to be going away.

In many cases its not that humans don’t know how to deal with externality X or Y by creating a law. It’s that governments don’t actually do it, or actually exacerbate the problem.

165

john b 07.06.10 at 1:52 am

People are dying now because of BP’s criminal negligence.

11 people died because of the negligence of BP and/or its contractors. Nobody is dying now, unless you believe that sea animals are people (mermaids, perhaps?).

Also, I don’t think it’s certain yet that leaving BP liable for all of the externality costs would have left the shareholder nothing.

Indeed, it’s almost certain that it wouldn’t. BP is big, and oil is profitable. Cleaning coastlines and compensating Americans is expensive, but not by comparison to how big BP is and how profitable oil is.

166

AntiAlias 07.06.10 at 1:53 am

You got fired = you suck.
You suck = you got fired.

Now, OK, I’m Red as hell but not an academic, so I’m asking – is it a tautology we’re at?
Or just Social Darwinist-ish wishy-washy Blablalablish bullshit?

167

Henry 07.06.10 at 2:38 am

Daniel M. Clark@86 – your comment was in the moderation queue for a while (we weren’t diligent in checking over the holiday weekend). On your point (1) – I took enough time to look around the website to be quite sure that this wasn’t a one-off (my general impression was that this was a man on a single-minded and generally quite successful quest to justify the “asshole principle”:http://www.robertsinclair.net/comic/asshole.html of cartoon labelling).

On your point (2) – the bullshit line about how under the new economy “people need to think more and act like automatons for corporations and bosses less” is discussed at length, and skewered appropriately in the Henwood book. Which, perhaps you should be reading under your own ‘don’t sound like an idiot’ principle. Really. If Henwood has (as Henwood did) analyze this line of rhetoric and show it for what it was a number of years before your mate started spouting this guff, it says quite a lot about its quality and, dare I say it, ‘creativity.’

And on your final point – if the business model here is indeed to act like an arse, get people to point angry fingers at it, and make lots of money, then (a) it rather undercuts the suggestions as to the prime quality of the thought here, and (2) there is a bit of an underpants gnome problem in the intermediate stage between the ‘getting people to point angry fingers’ and ‘make lots of money’ parts. The generalization that there is ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ is manifestly untrue. Ask anyone with shares in BP.

168

Martin Bento 07.06.10 at 3:02 am

If there is such a consensus that “creativity”, however defined, is the key to success in the workplace, and that the primary purpose of K12 education is to prepare children for the workplace, why is “creativity” in education, either as a subject or in technique, such an anathema? Really, shouldn’t we be encouraging children to find ways to re-imagine their tasks, rather than simply execute them? That, however, is “old hippy-school stuff”. Why the disconnect between what we claim workers must do and what we prepare them for?

169

Matt Austern 07.06.10 at 3:57 am

I think there is actually a fairly simple answer to the question posed by Martin@168. It all depends on what you think the function of the exhortations about creativity is, though.

His question is hard to answer if you think that they’re all about giving useful advice that will help everyone make their lives better. But I (along with at least some other people here) think that the actual function is somewhat nastier: I think these exhortations are more about making winners feel good about being winners, giving them a story they can tell themselves about how their good fortune is because they’re better people than the losers, and that they don’t have to feel any sympathy for the others. The world is just, and the unfortunate are necessarily undeserving.

If that’s the case: surely if the one crucial mark of personal virtue is something that isn’t taught, something that you have to create yourself or that’s an innate and unteachable sign of good character, then you can feel even better about yourself when you hear that you must possess such a crucial and meritorious key to success.

170

Metamorf 07.06.10 at 4:14 am

Oh, surely the “one crucial mark of personal virtue” is being scornful of winners and sorry for losers — isn’t it? But … does that make the virtuous moral winners, so to speak? Hmm, a dilemma.

171

Dr. Hilarius 07.06.10 at 4:55 am

Be creative or be fucked is a subset of blaming workers for being insufficiently prepared for personal growth. For the last decade or two there has been a whole industry of books explaining how employment instability is really a thrill-ride of independence. Not having a pension plan is really an opportunity for financial self-direction. Insane work demands are really incentives for self-transformation…blah blah and blah.

It’s no accident that so much business-speak apes New Age gibberish. It’s Calvinism with auras and crystals. The preterite will be passed over for promotion. Spiritually advanced to the head of the line. Wheat meet chaff. The flip side is the capitalist as warrior. Recall all the business travelers reading the Book of Five Rings? Corporate retreats with rappelling (abseiling for the Teutonic) lessons?

Remember, it’s all for your own good and if not it’s your own damn fault.

172

Earnest O'Nest 07.06.10 at 7:17 am

@114 (and anybody can skip most of what is in between this and that): tell that to the writers we still remember, because they sure had a beef with the writers of their times that we are not quite able to remember. The idea of the rich and successful that there has to be some element in their fortune than good luck is basically like people that find a piece of cheese and think they are now suddenly like Newton.

173

Hidari 07.06.10 at 7:25 am

‘The idea of the rich and successful that there has to be some element in their fortune than good luck is basically like people that find a piece of cheese and think they are now suddenly like Newton.’

The thing that interests me about this is the (pardon my language) ‘cognitive dissonance’ involved. Every time we turned on the TV when George Bush was President we could see that someone who was little better than an imbecile (and a thoroughly nasty person to boot) could get to be the most powerful person on earth. In other words, you had objective evidence that we do not live in a meritocracy, beamed live into your living room.

But then when you go to work you have to forget all that, and pretend that ‘if you are the best person for the job we will hire you’, that promotion is based on merit, and that if you lose your job (or can’t find one) it’s your own fault.

174

Earnest O'Nest 07.06.10 at 9:06 am

Why do you have to forget all that? For most of us not in the ‘top performers’ it is kind of OK to realize that lack of success is not an indicator of being an imbecile.

Let me try to improve somewhat the sentence quoted: “The idea of the rich and successful that there has to be some element in their fortune other than good luck is, basically, like people who find a piece of cheese and think they are now suddenly like Newton.”

175

Hidari 07.06.10 at 9:17 am

‘ For most of us not in the ‘top performers’ it is kind of OK to realize that lack of success is not an indicator of being an imbecile.’

Absolutely. But my point is that there is a gigantic amount of corporate and state propaganda that attempts to persuade us of the opposite: that if you are not ‘successful’ then it is because you are an imbecile, or because you are ‘lazy’, or not a ‘team player’, or a ‘subversive’ or whatever.

Indeed belief that this is the case is a crucial component of the war on the poor (AKA ‘welfare reform’).

176

Current 07.06.10 at 10:05 am

Hidari, Earnest,

Sure, some people do get rich by luck.

However, your chances of doing well in business and many other things are improved by being hard-working, intelligent, forward looking creative and reliable.

Most sensible people aren’t arguing that meritocracy is any kind of absolute. The point is that being good at what you’re doing generally helps.

177

Hidari 07.06.10 at 10:15 am

I’m aware of Henry’s injunction at #146, but I’ll give it one last shot.

‘However, your chances of doing well in business and many other things are improved by being hard-working, intelligent, forward looking creative and reliable.’*

Do you have any evidence for this belief? More to the point, what sort of evidence could you conceivably produce to demonstrate it?

And don’t forget: ‘the plural of anecdote is not data’. I have no doubts whatsoever that you, personally, believe that this is true. But some of us require a little more, even with your personal assurance that it’s the case.

*The corolary of this, of course, is that people who are not ‘succesful’, in other words, the poor, are, generally speaking not hard working, intelligent and reliable. This is the quintessence of the right wing belief system.

178

Metamorf 07.06.10 at 11:12 am

Just wondering if anyone here has heard of the term “ressentiment”? If so, do you think it might apply? If so, to whom?

179

David 07.06.10 at 11:14 am

“‘However, your chances of doing well in business and many other things are improved by being hard-working, intelligent, forward looking creative and reliable.’*”

“Do you have any evidence for this belief? More to the point, what sort of evidence could you conceivably produce to demonstrate it?””

Hidari (and others) – if you don’t believe that (in other words if you think that neither hard work, intelligence, forward-looking creativity [whatever that is] nor reliability improve your chances of doing well in business and many other things), why do you get up in the morning? I’m serious – if the world is either a vast conspiracy or an arbitrary mess of contingencies, why would you do anything ever?

“*The corolary of this, of course, is that people who are not ‘succesful’, in other words, the poor, are, generally speaking not hard working, intelligent and reliable.”

As Current stated it, it isn’t. The corollary would be that people who are not successful may, in some cases, be either not hard working, not intelligent,not forward looking creative [see previous disclaimer] or not reliable, or some combination of the above. Or they may be unlucky or persecuted.

I don’t think ability correlates perfectly with success at all – si monumentum requieris – but the opposite claim that it correlates not at all seems just as bogus, and just as comforting, albeit to different people.

180

Hidari 07.06.10 at 11:41 am

Because if I don’t get up in the morning the terrorists will have won.

181

David 07.06.10 at 11:46 am

But how do you stop them, without hard work, intelligence, reliability or FLCWTI?

182

Metamorf 07.06.10 at 11:52 am

Because if I don’t get up in the morning the terrorists will have won.

And you care about that because…?

183

Hidari 07.06.10 at 11:58 am

And the moral of the story is, DFTT.

184

magistra 07.06.10 at 12:11 pm

Why do I get up in the morning, even though I don’t think the world is meritocratic? Because I take personal pride in doing a good job, even if that isn’t necessarily rewarded. One of the most corrosive aspects of modern capitalism is the belief that unrewarded effort (such as unpaid or poorly-paid work) is therefore intrinsically worthless, because nothing counts if you don’t get lots of money for it.

185

Metamorf 07.06.10 at 12:21 pm

Why do I get up in the morning, even though I don’t think the world is meritocratic? Because I take personal pride in doing a good job, even if that isn’t necessarily rewarded.

So then you do believe that something like hard work, intelligence, forward-looking creativity and/or reliability is helpful in doing a good job at least, for whatever reason you do it? I don’t think that’s inconsistent with modern, or even old-fashioned, capitalism.

186

Earnest O'Nest 07.06.10 at 12:24 pm

Hidari@175, that is precisely what I try to address on my site.

Others: yeah-yeah, it is hard to go against the brainwashing of success correlation but to have a bit of success in anything requires to be a. good at something AND b. good at convincing others that you’re good at something. As it stands only the being good at convincing others that you’re good at something satisfies both conditions at once. Merely being excellent at something has no payback value. There is only one merit that is being strongly favoured by meritocracy and that is the desire and the skill to come out on top.

187

David 07.06.10 at 12:33 pm

Oh, well, if we’re talking about being rewarded as opposed to being succesful, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. But Earnest’s (b) isn’t as trivial as he appears to be saying it is. If you can’t articulate convincingly why what you’ve done is important and how you’ve done it well, isn’t that a hint that you might be deluding yourself about your abilities? (Ability, note, not merit.)

188

Henry 07.06.10 at 12:53 pm

On the meta-point – it would be weird if effort and talent, however you wanted to measure them, were entirely uncorrelated with success. But they are far from constituting a complete explanation. Duncan Watt’s work on this is a useful frame – I might do a separate post on this.

189

Hidari 07.06.10 at 1:14 pm

#188 Ignoring the trolls for a second, I think I should be a bit more precise to my objections to the ‘you work hard, you get on’ kinda argument. It’s not really about whether or not we live in a meritocracy. It’s more about the kind of explanation I think is appropriate.

In our, ‘Western’, capitalist society, certain attributional (explanatory) styles are considered plausible or acceptable and others aren’t. For example, poverty, in the ‘West’ (especially in right wing discourse) is considered, usually, as an individualistic phenomenon. In terms of poverty (or ‘success’) one looks for factors within the individual which explain their poverty or riches (‘laziness’, ‘talent’, ‘ability or lack of it’ etc.’).

For better or for worse (probably for worse, actually) I’m part of a different tradition, the Marxist or sociological tradition, which sees things like poverty and wealth etc, as being fundamentally social issues. And so the more useful question is not ‘why is individual X poor’ but, why is there poverty in the first place? Why are certain classes of society poor? Why are certain ethnic groups (or genders) generally speaking, poorer than other ethnic groups? And so on.

That for me really is the issue, and so, even if the trolls were right it wouldn’t really matter, because for me, it would be the wrong sort of question to ask, and ‘individualistic’ answers the wrong kind of answers to give.

190

engels 07.06.10 at 1:17 pm

On the meta-point – it would be weird if effort and talent, however you wanted to measure them, were entirely uncorrelated with success. But they are far from constituting a complete explanation. Duncan Watt’s work on this is a useful frame – I might do a separate post on this.

I can’t help thinking of this as a kind of translation of Ecclesiastes 9:11 into Crooked Timber-ese.

191

Hidari 07.06.10 at 1:23 pm

For example, see here.

192

David 07.06.10 at 1:26 pm

“Even if the trolls were right it wouldn’t really matter”.

I can’t help thinking of this as a kind of translation of “naa, naa, can’t hear you” into Crooked Timber-ese.

193

engels 07.06.10 at 1:52 pm

David that’s so clever!

194

David 07.06.10 at 1:57 pm

Sensei!

195

chris 07.06.10 at 2:19 pm

If you can’t articulate convincingly why what you’ve done is important and how you’ve done it well, isn’t that a hint that you might be deluding yourself about your abilities?

Only in sales and maybe politics. Otherwise, what you actually do and convincing people of things are separate skills and being bad at the latter says nothing about your ability at the former.

Articulating clearly what you did may have no effect, or even a negative effect, at convincing a layperson (which, in many cases, includes a manager) of the importance of what you did, even assuming that it’s something that can be articulated clearly in nontechnical terms.

Obviously the details depend a lot on the specifics of the field, but in many cases the people making the reward decisions are not actually well versed in the field and, thus, are not strictly speaking competent to judge the performance of the people whose rewards they are controlling. Worse, they may know and resent it, so anyone who puts technical details in their face may be met with hostility. (And that’s assuming the manager has no a priori bias against you. Not everyone is lucky enough to face that scenario.)

Also, I think Hidari’s point at 189 is an interesting one. If you look at large groups of people, individual-focused explanations seem unconvincing because individual traits should cancel out in the aggregate. So why are there aggregate differences? Either you have to postulate group differences in individual characteristics (i.e. individual members of unsuccessful minorities are more likely to be stupid and lazy — an idea with a long and unpleasant history) or you have to back away from focus on the individual as the nexus of causation and look at group effects as the cause of group outcomes.

196

David 07.06.10 at 2:28 pm

“‘If you can’t articulate convincingly why what you’ve done is important and how you’ve done it well, isn’t that a hint that you might be deluding yourself about your abilities?'”

“Only in sales and maybe politics. Otherwise, what you actually do and convincing people of things are separate skills and being bad at the latter says nothing about your ability at the former.”

We came into this talking about the creative industries, in which context I stand by what I wrote. (Don’t need to be a hen to know that an egg is bad, and so forth.)

Your last para; yes, absolutely.

197

Bruce Baugh 07.06.10 at 2:40 pm

I’ve worked in one “creative” industry and had the chance to see the workings of others, both small and large, and it looks to me like the way any other business looks: it’s neither creativity nor luck that really reliably gets one ahead, but the ability to reliably work very hard in the way that pleases one’s superiors. This is almost never deeply creative; it’s a matter of rearranging existing elements and introducing just a few that let one’s superiors feel clever themselves. American business, at least, has gotten very heavily top-down-oriented in recent decades with myths of managerial innovation, and the most successful employees are almost always those whom their bosses can portray as fulfilling the boss’s vision.

There is always a push in lots of businesses for what’s called innovation or creativity, but it’s pretty much always a matter of repackaging. This can be a valid work – figuring out how better to convey existing stuff is not dishonorable, after all. But it’s way, way far removed from all the blather about creative uber-souls routinely transforming the world.

198

Metamorf 07.06.10 at 2:42 pm

If you look at large groups of people, individual-focused explanations seem unconvincing because individual traits should cancel out in the aggregate.

Wouldn’t that depend on how you do the aggregation?

199

ejh 07.06.10 at 2:50 pm

I think the points are these:

a. whatever the precise balance between fortune and effort, far too much emphasis is put on the latter and its relative importance is vastly overstated ;

b. at a time when many people are likely to lose their jobs (or have lost them already) and the present and future conditions of many people in jobs are likely to be seriously downgraded, being told it’s all our responsibility to be 24/7 flexible creatives is somewhere between tiresome and offensive.

200

Current 07.06.10 at 3:00 pm

As Hidari @189 and chris @195 say wider groups are very important.

The environment and culture that anyone grows up in is bound to have a huge effect on them, I don’t think anyone is denying that. Some people are brought up to have more of an understanding of how to go about work, and other aspects of life.

I’ve being friends with many unemployed people over the years, and I’ve found that their family and/or friends play a huge role.

The people I’ve known often could have got jobs and raised their income. But, for various reasons doing so is unappealing to them for understandable reasons. For example, let’s say your three best friends are unemployed and you live in the same house as them. They like having parties on weekdays that last all night. How could you take a normal job? Some nights you wouldn’t get any sleep. I had a friend who was in that situation once.

Piece of knowledge that people here would be accustomed to aren’t so clear to others. Lot’s of knowledge about looking for jobs and finding work is transmitted from parents to children, not from schools to children. So, those who’s parents don’t work are at a disadvantage.

Of course nothing I’m saying is new, I think almost all Sociologists would mostly agree.

But, I don’t think that the generous welfare state really helps any of this in the long run. It just papers over the cracks.

201

Bruce Baugh 07.06.10 at 3:01 pm

EJH: Yes on both, but I want to emphasize about your A that it also matters what kind of effort does or does not reliably contribute to success. There are a lot of people succeeding at things I…I don’t know where I fall sometimes on the spectrum from “can’t” to “won’t”, because I stop at the outset, finding myself unwilling to put much effort into some kinds of activity at all. But it’s not a mater of thinking that successful New Corporate Men are lazy – it’s that they’re working hard at something I don’t find worthy of respect or admiration.

202

mpowell 07.06.10 at 3:06 pm

I agree that being told to be creative is pretty obnoxious. We live in an increasingly volatile world with winners and losers picked at least somewhat arbitrarily. I can invest 15-20 years in a very profitable career, but if the market shifts and no longer rewards that job function, I can be ‘creative’ and find something new to do, but I will have lost a considerable investment in domain-specific knowledge and expertise. That’s the best deal capitalism can offer: higher expectation with more volatility (and inherent unfairness). But yes, let’s acknowledge the unfairness for what it is. The best social democracy can offer to amend this unfairness is government guaranteed health care and a minimum income for the losers. And that sounds fine to me.

Referring back to Hidari at 189, I think the distinction you draw is important. But if I’m trying to figure out how to live my life happily, I’m a lot more interested in the individual factors that will determine my success or failure. So there is conceivably a space for literature addressing those concerns. But if I am worried about what kind of government we should have, I agree 100% that we should be asking why certain groups are poor or not. And that is where most of our attention should lie.

203

ejh 07.06.10 at 3:08 pm

the generous welfare state

Where’s my gong?

204

ejh 07.06.10 at 3:11 pm

But it’s not a matter of thinking that successful New Corporate Men are lazy – it’s that they’re working hard at something I don’t find worthy of respect or admiration

Up to a point, but even then I really wonder whether they’re working harder than most other, less successful people. I heard the odious Danny Alexander talking the other day about how it was hard work was going to lead us out of the recession, or something, as his explanation as to why you can cut benefits for the poor but not increase taxes for the rich, and I thought…well, you can guess what I thought and how I expressed it verbally.

205

Daniel 07.06.10 at 3:27 pm

(lifted from Parapundit)
Businessweek article pertinent to the discussion.

>>Former Intel CEO Andy Grove has written a piece arguing that the US is losing a long term competitive advantage by outsourcing so much manufacturing abroad.

Today, manufacturing employment in the U.S. computer industry is about 166,000, lower than it was before the first PC, the MITS Altair 2800, was assembled in 1975. Meanwhile, a very effective computer manufacturing industry has emerged in Asia, employing about 1.5 million workers—factory employees, engineers, and managers. The largest of these companies is Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn. The company has grown at an astounding rate, first in Taiwan and later in China. Its revenues last year were $62 billion, larger than Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), Dell (DELL), or Intel. Foxconn employs over 800,000 people, more than the combined worldwide head count of Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Intel, and Sony (SNE) (figure-C).

Foxconn will inevitably end up doing more steps of the value generation process. Some of the companies now using Foxconn will get wiped out by Foxconn.

In an earlier era a successful American company like Apple would have generated a large number of American jobs. Nowadays a successful American company generates a large number of Chinese jobs for a different company.

Some 250,000 Foxconn employees in southern China produce Apple’s products. Apple, meanwhile, has about 25,000 employees in the U.S. That means for every Apple worker in the U.S. there are 10 people in China working on iMacs, iPods, and iPhones. The same roughly 10-to-1 relationship holds for Dell, disk-drive maker Seagate Technology (STX), and other U.S. tech companies.

You could say, as many do, that shipping jobs overseas is no big deal because the high-value work—and much of the profits—remain in the U.S. That may well be so. But what kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work—and masses of unemployed?

Plus, we make it worse by importing millions of low skilled peasants from Mexico and Central America. How stupid are we? Very stupid. Our political leadership and opinion makers are incredibly foolish.

Grove says the ratio of money spent to jobs created has soared. Silicon Valley has ceased to be a jobs creation machine for Americans. The cost of that job creation has gone from a few thousand dollars initially invested per eventual job created to $100k per job.

Grove says that we are losing the technological ecosystems needed to stay on the technological edge. The innovations for improving manufacturing efficiency end up being made abroad. Engineers in America effectively cease to be in the loop. We can’t stay on the cutting edge in design and product development or in the development of manufacturing equipment if we have no manufacturing industry. He criticizes economists who think that the work moving abroad has a low value added. Grove sees the models of economists as overly simplified and not how the real world works.
<<

I would like to emphasize one point: leave aside the manufacturing assembly that has either been directly outsourced by American companies or manufacturing processes that were never even planned to be seated in America (nor in Europe for that matter) due to the trade agreements that have permitted barely obstructed trade in manufactures, throughout the nineties and aughts in America we were subject to endless hectoring by business, political (the left as well as the right), opinion and ethnic interests that America needed to import hundreds of thousands of engineers yearly or the information technology industry would "collapse".

And so this is the result: no net gains in computer manufacturing employment in 35 years. I am sure that the software universe has grown, but not by nearly as much as free trade boosters assert. The globalists (catch-all term for those who support unrestricted trade, movement of workers and immigration) lied. They are frauds.

What we have accomplished in America since the mid nineties is the displacement of the American technology worker with imported labor, largely from India and China. And some people are just fine with that. They trot out the usual bull lines: the American worker is lazy, not hungry enough, not creative enough, not adaptable, and besides, national rights are so outdated, why they are downright fascist………….some of this has been elaborated on above. Yet, I get the sense that the Crooked Timber crowd is not at all sympathetic to the American (or European) worker in the actual case, largely because she is so wedded to globalization and utterly contemptuous of any sense of national economic rights actually accruing to the citizenry(as long as such rights apply to westerners). Puzzling? Not at all.

I believe strongly in international cooperation, but what is so wrong about putting the interests and rights of your own workers first, ahead of the interests of citizens of other countries? Isn't this a normal response? Only westerners have a problem with this. Anyway, somewhere, somehow a political force will arise that will make such rights and interests front and center. Watch out.

206

praisegod barebones 07.06.10 at 3:36 pm

There’s always the possibility that in some cases, creativity, and the demand for it, might be part of the problem rather than part of the solution:

http://emptywheel.firedoglake.com/2010/07/06/creative-wall-street-and-money-laundering/

207

JM 07.06.10 at 3:58 pm

What I read was a man inspiring himself and others to keep going in difficult times.

That’s because you’re an idiot.

208

Current 07.06.10 at 4:13 pm

> And so this is the result: no net gains in computer manufacturing employment in 35
> years. I am sure that the software universe has grown, but not by nearly as much as free
> trade boosters assert. The globalists (catch-all term for those who support unrestricted
> trade, movement of workers and immigration) lied. They are frauds.

Did any of the free trade supporters say that jobs in computing specifically would grow?

I don’t think they lied. The argument for free trade is an overall one, based on the overall factors of comparative advantage, worldwide division of labour and larger markets.

209

JM 07.06.10 at 4:15 pm

For empirical evidence I present the USSR.

The USSR is empirical evidence for your Child’s Little Golden Book notion of capitalism?

This will surprise no one.

210

Current 07.06.10 at 4:20 pm

>> the generous welfare state
>
> Where’s my gong?

I live in Ireland it is quite generous here.

211

Current 07.06.10 at 4:24 pm

> The USSR is empirical evidence for your Child’s Little Golden Book notion of
> capitalism?
>
> This will surprise no one.

My point was about the efficiency of bureaucracies. The USSR demonstrates the problems with them.

I’m not saying that any measure of socialism necessarily leads to something like the USSR. Or that the USSR was a democratic country and can be compared to social democratic countries.

212

Bruce Baugh 07.06.10 at 4:25 pm

Praisegod: An excellent point, that. Sometimes what’s really good for a society is to not make bold innovative changes.

213

JM 07.06.10 at 4:27 pm

My point was about the efficiency of bureaucracies. The USSR demonstrates the problems with them.

My point was that your pathetic notion of evidence explains why you’re a waste of space.

214

JM 07.06.10 at 4:44 pm

praisegod barebones: I think that’s more of a metaphorical connection.

The “creativity” being mocked here is the creativity required by managers of employees due to the incompetence of said managers.

But #37 has already summarized this.

In the context of specifically American capitalism in the present day, obsessed with the creation of the illusion of shareholder value and little else, able to purchase regulatory environments due to the nation’s nearly unique (among developed nations) regime of “money = speech,” employees move from collapsing fraud to collapsing fraud, subject to a race to the bottom in wages and everything else under the pretext of a “free trade” ideology that is only selectively applied, and certainly never to the embezzlers in charge.

Employees’ gallows humor is to be expected, as is their intolerance to the kind of feel-good bullshit at the top of the page, all without ever coming within an area code of becoming “socialists.”

215

ScentOfViolets 07.06.10 at 4:45 pm

Hidari (and others) – if you don’t believe that (in other words if you think that neither hard work, intelligence, forward-looking creativity [whatever that is] nor reliability improve your chances of doing well in business and many other things), why do you get up in the morning? I’m serious – if the world is either a vast conspiracy or an arbitrary mess of contingencies, why would you do anything ever?

You’re making a qualitative mistake here, as well as committing the fallacy of bifurcation. There are not two alternatives – it’s all random or it’s all skill – but rather a continuum. If getting ahead is 80% skill and hard work and only 20% work, I would guess that most people would find that incentive enough to diligently beaver away if they really wanted to “get ahead”. Reverse those percentages so that it’s 80% luck as opposed to 20%, and you’ll see a different response. Note that all other things being equal you stand a better chance of getting ahead, statistically speaking, by working harder. But that really doesn’t mean a lot when placed in this context either, does it?

216

ScentOfViolets 07.06.10 at 5:03 pm

The “creativity” being mocked here is the creativity required by managers of employees due to the incompetence of said managers.

Exactly. Maybe those who are a bit (deliberately) slow on the uptake would understand here if we made a substitution and said that the “creativity” being mocked here is the creativity required by incompetent managers like Dilbert’s boss.

217

Bunbury 07.06.10 at 5:06 pm

Popular music nailed this one some time ago:

The rising moon faces the sickening sun,
as the lights in the tower blocks go on, one by one,
A big shot, overlooking this black iron skyline–
Surrounded by his symbols of prosperity–
Sits back in his new leather chair
ripped off the back of some unfortunate beast.
I’m smiling through my teeth.
Anybody can be a millionaire,
so everybody’s gotta try
but by the laws of this human jungle
only the heartless will survive.
& down there–but for the grace of god
–go I.

Twilight of a Champion –The The

and even earlier of course:

T’ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)

There is a tendency for people to assume that the system needs to solve one set of problems while morality demands that individuals solve another. Thus libertarian types think it is important that society allows presumably talented individuals to receive unlimited rewards but rely on morality to stop the rest of us resorting to pitch forks and tumbrels, here that means current and metamorf I think. For more left wing people society must look after the weak and morality dictates that the rest of us bear the burden. I think that is for example implicit in Hidari’s 189:

That for me really is the issue, and so, even if the trolls were right it wouldn’t really matter, because for me, it would be the wrong sort of question to ask, and ‘individualistic’ answers the wrong kind of answers to give.

As the framing suggests I don’t think either can be the whole story.

218

david 07.06.10 at 5:11 pm

SoV – if you read back above, you’ll see that the bifurcation (100 per cent one thing, 0 percent ‘tother) was Hidari’s, not Current’s.

219

Hidari 07.06.10 at 5:15 pm

#218 No that’s not my point at all. My point was epistemological not ontological, in this particular instance.

However I can also produce a lot of empirical evidence that viewing Man as, in the ‘core of his being’ a social creature is a better way of looking at him than ‘individualistic’ approaches. (excuse the sexist pronouns).

220

JM 07.06.10 at 5:19 pm

Maybe those who are a bit (deliberately) slow on the uptake would understand here if we made a substitution and said that the “creativity” being mocked here is the creativity required by incompetent managers like Dilbert’s boss.

In which case, they’re not pimping capitalism for its efficiencies, but instead voyeuristically enjoying its power relationships, like a kind of bondage porn.

That’s one way of coping with powerlessness, I guess.

221

david 07.06.10 at 5:23 pm

Then I’m misreading you at 177, and I apologise.

222

Metamorf 07.06.10 at 5:29 pm

Thus libertarian types think it is important that society allows presumably talented individuals to receive unlimited rewards but rely on morality to stop the rest of us resorting to pitch forks and tumbrels, here that means current and metamorf I think.

Well, actually that’s what someone else referred to as the “Child’s Little Golden Book” view. A little more accurate summation would be to say that talented individuals, as well as the rest of us, should get what they earn, which includes luck or fortune, good or bad. That doesn’t preclude caring for the less fortunate, it just precludes looting (pitch forks and tumbrels, etc.).

223

ejh 07.06.10 at 5:32 pm

That doesn’t preclude caring for the less fortunate

Of course!

224

JM 07.06.10 at 5:35 pm

A little more accurate summation would be to say that talented individuals, as well as the rest of us, should get what they earn, which includes luck or fortune, good or bad.

And if their “talent” lies in deflecting blame and sticking their noses up the boss’ ass, there’s a market for that. Likewise, there’s no agreed-upon way to determine what ‘the rest of us’ contributed to the profitability of an operation. And, if there are a lot of us who could contribute to the operation’s profitability, it doesn’t matter what our contribution actually was, our wages will be depressed by our ubiquity. So what, then, can anyone say that we have earned?

Sorry, it’s a trick question, because compensation is not a democracy nor a meritocracy, and those who command the payroll will reserve the lion’s share to themselves, regardless of performance.

Seriously, if you’re going to get away from the “Golden Book” level, try harder.

225

Metamorf 07.06.10 at 5:45 pm

Likewise, there’s no agreed-upon way to determine what ‘the rest of us’ contributed to the profitability of an operation.

Sure there is — it’s your salary. If you’re “ubiquitous” then you really aren’t contributing much that couldn’t be found elsewhere. But — and it’s just a suggestion — you could try distinguishing yourself by, oh, say, “creativity”? Reliability? Initiative? Judgment?

Or, you could take your own advice and try deflecting blame and sticking your nose up your boss’s ass. You can find both kinds of models.

226

JM 07.06.10 at 5:52 pm

Sure there is—it’s your salary.

And that’s the turtle that goes all the way down, is it?

Ah, good. We can all stop thinking then.

227

ejh 07.06.10 at 6:03 pm

I always think that if people wish to be measured by their money, they can talk to their money and see if it tells them how great they are. Talk to human beings though, and we may find they use rather more human criteria.

228

chris 07.06.10 at 6:08 pm

A little more accurate summation would be to say that talented individuals, as well as the rest of us, should get what they earn, which includes luck or fortune, good or bad.

How do you earn luck? Unless you mean (and believe) that it is something like karma?

For that matter, isn’t talent itself a matter of luck, when viewed from a larger perspective? For every Michael Jordan, there are dozens if not hundreds of people who worked equally hard to become great basketball players but lacked the natural talent to do so (or succeeded to a more moderate extent). So why does Jordan deserve greater reward than those who put in the work but lacked the talent?

A lot depends on what you mean by “deserve”…

229

chris 07.06.10 at 6:29 pm

Sure there is—it’s your salary.

I had no idea Bernie Madoff was so productive!

There is a sense in which salary *in an ideal perfectly informed economy with no principal-agent problems* would reflect actual productivity, but since we don’t live in that world, salary is a very imperfect guide to value, at best.

And that’s not even getting into all the ways an individual’s productive capacity is determined by things other than that individual’s choices, and therefore isn’t earned in a moral sense. Anyone can choose to produce less than they are capable of, but they can’t choose to produce more, so how is it just to limit their rewards for reasons beyond their control?

Many people are productive because they have received scarce and valuable training, or because they are in a position that allows them to be highly productive because they are the focus of a large collaborative organization (doctors, for example, on both counts), so what does it mean to say that they are highly productive and everyone else in the organization is not? Isn’t that a rather myopic view of the causation involved?

230

Current 07.06.10 at 7:12 pm

@227 ejh,

> I always think that if people wish to be measured by their money, they can talk to their
> money and see if it tells them how great they are. Talk to human beings though, and
> we may find they use rather more human criteria.

But, do you think those “more human criteria” are really any better?

For example, do you think that friends accord respect and admiration to each other in relation to their moral character, or what they’ve done for others? I certainly don’t.

231

Hidari 07.06.10 at 7:22 pm

# 230

Well I don’t know about the data about pay within companies, but it’s well known that there is little or no relationship between the performance of a company and CEO pay.

http://ideas.repec.org/p/bri/cmpowp/05-122.html

232

Chris Johnson 07.06.10 at 7:28 pm

“For example, do you think that friends accord respect and admiration to each other in relation to their moral character, or what they’ve done for others? I certainly don’t.”

On the whole, I think they do. That’s not a claim to any sort of higher morality among folks I know, just my own observation. And I don’t think my observation is a unique or even unusual one.

233

bianca steele 07.06.10 at 7:43 pm

The Randroid answer to noen@160 is that the hypothetical maintenance mogul might have tried to accomplish a task requiring great personal character, organization, and leadership skills, but such an immoral person could not have succeeded.

I do recommend the cheese book, and don’t skip the reading group transcript appendix at the end, either. It’s right up there with Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

234

bianca steele 07.06.10 at 7:46 pm

What is being missed is that–regardless of the actual audience these books are aimed at–the Ideal Reader is the uncle who wants to be able to dispense sage advice to the younger generation at family gatherings.

235

Current 07.06.10 at 8:02 pm

@ 232 Chris Johnson,

> On the whole, I think they do. That’s not a claim to any sort of higher morality among
> folks I know, just my own observation. And I don’t think my observation is a unique
> or even unusual one.

I used to think that too. Now I’m much more sceptical.

Remember, what we’re really discussing here is the contribution that people make to society as a whole. What I’ve noticed amongst my friends is that the ones who are held in highest regard by others are the ones that are best at selling themselves. It’s often the ones who are most charismatic. Also, normally nobody really aims to find out what their friends do for others it’s something they only find out incidentally in the process of getting to know them. What people are most concerned with is how they are seen and how their friends will treat them.

As others have pointed out charisma and the ability to sell yourself helps with work. I’d argue that it also helps even more in social situations. Because, in normal social exchanges these days situations that require trust or judgement of it don’t crop up very often. When they do they’re often very minor in nature.

236

ScentOfViolets 07.06.10 at 8:02 pm

Likewise, there’s no agreed-upon way to determine what ‘the rest of us’ contributed to the profitability of an operation.

Sure there is—it’s your salary. If you’re “ubiquitous” then you really aren’t contributing much that couldn’t be found elsewhere. But—and it’s just a suggestion—you could try distinguishing yourself by, oh, say, “creativity”? Reliability? Initiative? Judgment?

Oh really? So then Angelo Mozilo (Countrywide), Rick Wagoner (GM), and Richard Fuld (Lehman Bros.) demonstrated contributions to the profitability of their respective companies to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation? And you know this because their remuneration was measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars?

Isn’t that a bit, um, circular? And contrary to the facts, Given that Countrywide, GM, and Lehman Bros. collectively lost billions of dollars?

Care to elaborate on this rather odd stance of yours, perhaps fill in the gaps for the rest of us?

237

ScentOfViolets 07.06.10 at 8:04 pm

Let me try again:

Likewise, there’s no agreed-upon way to determine what ‘the rest of us’ contributed to the profitability of an operation.

Sure there is—it’s your salary. If you’re “ubiquitous” then you really aren’t contributing much that couldn’t be found elsewhere. But—and it’s just a suggestion—you could try distinguishing yourself by, oh, say, “creativity”? Reliability? Initiative? Judgment?

Oh really? So then Angelo Mozilo (Countrywide), Rick Wagoner (GM), and Richard Fuld (Lehman Bros.) demonstrated contributions to the profitability of their respective companies to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation? And you know this because their remuneration was measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars?

Isn’t that a bit, um, circular? And contrary to the facts, Given that Countrywide, GM, and Lehman Bros. collectively lost billions of dollars?

Care to elaborate on this rather odd stance of yours, perhaps fill in the gaps for the rest of us?

238

Current 07.06.10 at 8:14 pm

@231 Hidari,

> Well I don’t know about the data about pay within companies, but it’s well known that
> there is little or no relationship between the performance of a company and CEO pay.
>
> http://ideas.repec.org/p/bri/cmpowp/05-122.html

That wouldn’t surprise me if the link is weak for board members. There are many laws preventing proper supervision of boards by shareholders. The laws on electing directors and insider trading laws for example.

Are you saying there in no correlation between ability and income? Or are you just saying that there is none for the “creative class” or CEOs? Certainly I’d like to know for those groups. But the answer to the general question in obvious. Does whether you can and do work the checkout at Tesco properly affect your income from it? Of course it does.

239

engels 07.06.10 at 8:19 pm

David, the point is I wasn’t actually agreeing with Henry. In fact, I wasn’t responding to the substance of what he wrote at all. I was just making a small joke with reference to George Orwell. Also, I don’t know who you are and I have no interest in the ‘arguments’ you have expressed in this thread or any other thread. So responding to my comment with another rendition of ‘you group-thinking librul academics Can’t Handle The Truth’ is really moronic.

240

sbk 07.06.10 at 8:23 pm

Just wondering if anyone here has heard of the term “ressentiment”? If so, do you think it might apply? If so, to whom?

Wow, nice to know that there’s one other person out there who has read that book! I was sure I was the only one. Just a quibble, though: it’s pronounced NEET-sha, not GOT-cha.

On the more experimental evidence: I wonder if a case could be made for a corollary Belief in a Just Economic World, or more generally for a disjunction between beliefs about money and beliefs about other realms of human action; they don’t always seem to track together. (As for learned economic helplessness: I might be in that camp.)

241

ScentOfViolets 07.06.10 at 8:36 pm

Are you saying there in no correlation between ability and income? Or are you just saying that there is none for the “creative class” or CEOs? Certainly I’d like to know for those groups. But the answer to the general question in obvious. Does whether you can and do work the checkout at Tesco properly affect your income from it? Of course it does.

Um, there’s this bit to the scientific method known as “burden of proof”. And that’s on you to show the causal connections and degree of correlation. If you want to maintain both are high, well, let’s see your evidence. I take it though that you agree that for those at the very top, the system is broken, and that there is little correlation between pay and performance, or if you like, pay and ability.

242

chris 07.06.10 at 8:48 pm

Does whether you can and do work the checkout at Tesco properly affect your income from it? Of course it does.

Weakly. Aside from meeting a minimum standard, further performance improvements (whatever that means) may not have any effect at all, and if there is one, it probably won’t be large. (The obvious productivity measurement for a cashier would be customers moved through your line per hour without pissing any of them off, but do they even give incentive pay based on that?)

Even worse for the correlation, lots of people who *could* work the checkout properly get no money from it at all, because they haven’t been hired, and their ability to work the checkout properly won’t get them hired — to get hired, they have to have the right credentials and interview well, things which may have little or nothing to do with checkout-operating ability.

Heck, even failing the minimum standard (whatever that is) won’t necessarily get you fired — you might not get caught, or you might have some other way to persuade the manager to not fire you right away. Yet more workplace-survival skills that are unrelated to your productivity in your job.

243

Hidari 07.06.10 at 9:32 pm

Hard Facts, by Pfeffer and Sutton (which I’ve actually read) sums up most of the objective scientific evidence about how capitalism actually works. It’s available on Google Books. It demonstrates that the ‘individualist’ approach to corporate success is a lot of crap. Paying ‘good’ people more than ‘bad’ people doesn’t work because, as I pointed out, these are inherently subjective phenomena and in any case vary over time. Performance related pay is another crock of shit. Even if it did work, which it doesn’t, managers wouldn’t be the best person to administer such a system because managers are no better at spotting ‘good’ people than anyone else (au contraire: managers like people who kiss their ass). Firing people who can’t ‘perform’ is invariably a disaster for the company. Good people don’t get promoted more than ‘bad’ people in any company because these phrases have no agreed upon objective meaning. As I pointed out, in one of the few circumstances where there are objective criteria for success (the performance of a company and its relationship to CEO pay) there is no link between pay and performance. And so on.

244

Hidari 07.06.10 at 9:36 pm

‘Are you saying there in no correlation between ability and income’?

I am absolutely saying there is no correlation between ability and income because except in a very few fields of human activity (e.g. single form sports, like running) there is no objective way to rank ability. So the question is meaningless. In any case, even if there was such a link, managers would be the last people to spot it cos managers are, generally speaking, thick as pig shit. CF Dilbert.

245

Martin Bento 07.06.10 at 10:08 pm

This is one of those debates that goes round and round, though I think it obvious from recent, unpunished, spectacular failures that meritocracy does not apply at the top. Let’s look at a counter-factual. Suppose all people were about equally talented, diligent, educated, motivated, etc., for the jobs for which they were applying? Would there still be a disparity of outcomes? Of course. Due to chance? In part, but also due to the structural requirements of the system. You cannot have a competition with only winners, so maintaining a system of competition requires losers, in a pinch arbitrary losers. So even if the meritocracy is real, and I think there is some truth to it, removing it would not change the basic situation.

It is official government policy in the United States and most if not all other AIS’s to maintain unemployment, theoretically as a brake on inflation. The economy is manipulated, chiefly by central banks, to maintain this. Currently, the US and others have higher unemployment than their targets, but are declining expansionary policies sufficient of overcome it, rightly or wrongly. Given all that, it is silly to hold the unemployed responsible in a deep sense for their own plight. A competitive system requires losers, our particular system requires losers in the form of unemployed people, and current policy requires high unemployment as a means to other ends. None of that is due to the actions of the unemployed.

246

ScentOfViolets 07.06.10 at 11:09 pm

I am absolutely saying there is no correlation between ability and income because except in a very few fields of human activity (e.g. single form sports, like running) there is no objective way to rank ability. So the question is meaningless. In any case, even if there was such a link, managers would be the last people to spot it cos managers are, generally speaking, thick as pig shit. CF Dilbert.

I would tend to disagree slightly and say that the correlation as well as the proxy to ability has changed over time. Maybe it’s just me harkening back to the mythical days of my forefather’s youth, but I’d like to think that at one time, workers really did get paid more if they were more “productive”, or at the least their ability was recognized and they advanced upwards through the ranks more quickly than otherwise. Yes, I know, there are difficult problems when it comes to measuring productivity (actually the difficulty lies in a way of measuring productivity that is fast, accurate, and cheap. As the saying goes, pick any two. Also as the saying goes, this tends to be options 1 and 3, sigh), but one of the extra problems on top of the basic one is that of being consistent in the application of these standards, something that is less true today than it was fifty years ago (or so I believe.)

The second problem is that the jobs for which productivity is considered a gauge for ability have gone into a steep decline. So what if as a grocery checker you move customers through the line 40% than average and the most your drawer is ever off is five cents – that’s not going to get you a raise or put you on the track to management. contrast this with stories my dad tells me of people advancing on the strength that their brake drum assemblies were noticeably better than average.

In fact, I would generalize and say that to the extent that ability and performance is rewarded, this also a measure of the health of a business or economy. Perhaps that’s something of a tautology :-)

247

bunbury 07.06.10 at 11:13 pm

When I leave the house I am well advised to lock my door but there is no reason for me to be pleased about that. Or more graphically it might be good advice not to bend over in the shower if I am sent to jail but that doesn’t mean that nothing should be done about rape in prisons does it?

It is quite possible that many people will run into trouble if they carry on as they are but that is not a good thing. It is also possible that some of them, if they read enough Tom Peters books or whatever may be able to avoid that fate. Unfortunately that is no reason to believe that if all of them did whatever it is that they are supposed to do that all or even most of them would be able to succeed. Those who don’t become creovative self actuating media millionaires will still have lives to lead. Moreover all the effort put into the rat race doesn’t come for free. All the effort that would have gone into other things that would not necessarily have been invaluable.

It might be worth pausing for a moment to think who is in practice ‘ubiquitous’. Nurses are a good candidate. Should they all be desperately trying to think of something else to do?

All this talk of correlation between talent effort and success is silly. I’m sure that for most convincing measurements of such concepts there may be a correlation but I also believe that there would have been some correlation in Nazi Germany and in Soviet Russia and that there will be other correlations, perhaps with parental wealth for example.

Is it just me or has Metamorf in the worryingly numbered post 222 established that my stereotype is not an empty set? The state must provide a certain type of property law and morality means we must live within that. We can go right ahead and care about the poor but it will be through charity, trickle-down, provision of the correct incentives and possibly distribution of of appropriately bracing self-help manuals. It will however not be the duty of the state or at least not if it interferes with the main priority which is the preservation of a certain kind of property right.

Just to even things up on the popular music front: sometimes “What have you done for me lately?” is a valid question.

248

Metamorf 07.06.10 at 11:16 pm

Sorry — pulled away from this fascinating pastime….

Care to elaborate on this rather odd stance of yours, perhaps fill in the gaps for the rest of us?

The “odd stance” has to do with CEO’s “earning”wads of money — salary — while their companies lose money. In any case, I’m happy to elaborate. I’d say that, while you’ve certainly picked an illustration that’s counterintuitive, it’s nevertheless as good as can be done re: the notion of “earning” in general. I’m an atheist, actually, and so I don’t beleive that there’s a divine perspective from which we can discern what any particular indiviual ought to earn in the grand scheme of things (and even if I wasn’t an atheist, I wouldn’t presume to believe I had a pipeline to such a perspective). Lacking that, the concept of “earning” comes down to the concept of what someone is willing to pay — for your goods or your services. So, since the CEO’s were willingly paid by those authorized to dispense the monies, yes, they earned their salaries. I’m not happy with that myself, but then I’m not a shareholder in their companies. Madoff, on the other hand, was a mere fraudster, and as such no better than a looter — he simply stole, he didn’t earn.

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ScentOfViolets 07.06.10 at 11:24 pm

I’m an atheist, actually, and so I don’t beleive that there’s a divine perspective from which we can discern what any particular indiviual ought to earn in the grand scheme of things (and even if I wasn’t an atheist, I wouldn’t presume to believe I had a pipeline to such a perspective). Lacking that, the concept of “earning” comes down to the concept of what someone is willing to pay—for your goods or your services. So, since the CEO’s were willingly paid by those authorized to dispense the monies, yes, they earned their salaries. I’m not happy with that myself, but then I’m not a shareholder in their companies.

So the usual next question on the money-go-round is, why were CEO’s willingly paid those munificent sums by those authorized to dispense the moolah? ‘Just because’? Because the dispensers new these worthies were going to cost the company billions of dollars?

There’s got to be some justification for giving these chieftains so much money, so just what is it? That is what I’m getting at with rather odd stance bit.

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Greg B 07.06.10 at 11:44 pm

@Metamorf
the concept of “earning” comes down to the concept of what someone is willing to pay—for your goods or your services

Saying “someone paid you X means you earned X” begs the question. It describes exchange relations without accounting for the conditions which enable those relations. It doesn’t tell me why these agents are engaging in this relationship*, it precludes any questions of power, coercion, influence, habit, and so forth.

*to say they are doing it of their own free will begs the question yet again

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MQ 07.06.10 at 11:44 pm

Most ‘management’ books do nothing more than carefully stroke the ego of the reader.

in a market society this *is* creativity. Coming up with new ways to please your customer.

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Metamorf 07.06.10 at 11:46 pm

I’m not quite sure what bunbury is trying to say. It’s true that there will always be some correlation between, as he says, “talent effort and success”, even in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. That’s just because such a correlation is so inscribed in the nature of things that no regime, no matter how horrendous and violent, can flout it and survive even for a very short time. Which certainly shouldn’t mean that any talk of such a correlation is “silly”.

Beyond that, the notion of concern and caring for the less fortunate is open-ended as far as I can see. It’s true that, in theory, such concern ought not take the form of forcibly taking from some to give to others, but in practice, given our present historical situation, I think it makes perfect sense for the state to step in to help, even with all the baggage, wastage, and indignities that state bureaucracies bring in their wake, in the case of the truly destitute.

As for that notorious phrase “trickle down” — the problem with it is the verb “trickle”. In the context of capitalism, as compared with any other social/economic system in history, including especially compared to the sordid record of “actually existing socialism”, wealth doesn’t trickle down — it gushes down, it geysers down, it floods down, raising all boats, even the poorest of the poor, to heights never before seen in all of human history. If you’re interested in self-help manuals, maybe start with The Wealth of Nations, skip Capital (all 4 volumes), and continue with The Road to Serfdom.

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Metamorf 07.06.10 at 11:49 pm

There’s got to be some justification for giving these chieftains so much money, so just what is it? That is what I’m getting at with rather odd stance bit.

I don’t know, Scent. A mistake? Poeple make mistakes, right? Collusion? But, barring criminal activity, that’s up to the people whose money they lost to look to. As I say, these things don’t make me any happier than you, and I don’t even own any shares.

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Metamorf 07.06.10 at 11:57 pm

to say they are doing it of their own free will begs the question yet again

And which question would that be, exactly? Who has power — is that the question? Can you name any single example of any human relationship in which there isn’t a power discrepancy? E.g., this blog? So how do you imagine addressing that situation? Appointing a grand poobah that will level out all power relations? Having a vote to settle all power relations? How has socialism worked re: power relations?

I don’t want to beg any questions — let’s get them out into the open, by all means. But complaining about power discrepancy by itself is a little like complaining about the unfairness of gravity.

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Greg B 07.07.10 at 12:16 am

If someone told me they agreed that power relations were everywhere, and also said that anything acquired in an exchange relationship deserves the appellation ‘earned’, well, I would be stymied. Maybe my boat is rising too fast, I get lightheaded when that happens.

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engels 07.07.10 at 12:23 am

Shorter Metamorf: You can’t do anything about it. So it must be okay then.

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Metamorf 07.07.10 at 12:30 am

Shorter Metamorf: You can’t do anything about it. So it must be okay then.

Not at all — you’ve misunderstood me. You can set your own goals and achieve things that might surprise you if you tried. So try.

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Metamorf 07.07.10 at 12:31 am

If someone told me they agreed that power relations were everywhere, and also said that anything acquired in an exchange relationship deserves the appellation ‘earned’, well, I would be stymied.

Well, I’m telling you — guess you’re stymied.

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engels 07.07.10 at 12:38 am

Metamorf – you clearly have a view of the world that is readily comprehensible and coherent. Just one question: are you sure you get enough air, living down there in that basement all the time?

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Robert 07.07.10 at 1:14 am

Suppose one had actually read Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Then one would know there is a continuity there. Despite the nonsense put forth by publishers of liberal newspapers, Smith was not interested in pleading for the special interests of projectors.

Suppose that one had actually read Hayek. Then one would know that he has that, consistent with his view of entrepeneurship, no meaning can be attached to people getting what they earn. He is correct. But then the term “reswitching” is in my technical vocabulary.

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ScentOfViolets 07.07.10 at 1:39 am

There’s got to be some justification for giving these chieftains so much money, so just what is it? That is what I’m getting at with rather odd stance bit.

I don’t know, Scent. A mistake? Poeple make mistakes, right? Collusion? But, barring criminal activity, that’s up to the people whose money they lost to look to. As I say, these things don’t make me any happier than you, and I don’t even own any shares.

I’m not asking whether the people doling out the money and willingly paying these executives millions or hundreds of millions of dollars made a mistake. I’m asking why they would want to pay these executives this much money in the first place. There’s got to be some reason more substantial than “I liked the cut of his jib”, right? Let me ask this a different way: Suppose Angelo Mozilo’s contract was up for renewal on July 1, 2008. Do the people who willingly paid him such huge sums before offer essentially the same contract again, or do they change it? And if they change it, how do they change it, and why?

Iow, if I ask someone why they are offering me $80,000 for my teaching for the 2010-2011 academic year, I don’t think that they would reply “because that’s how much we’re willing to pay you”. Agreed? Now, back to the original question, why were those executives willingly paid those munificent sums by the people authorized to dispense the money? Could we have some answer that’s not a variant of ‘because’?

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Metamorf 07.07.10 at 1:51 am

My answer isn’t a variant of “because”. My answer is, I don’t know. I assume that the money was willingly paid, but if not then, as far as I can see, it could only be because there was either state or criminal involvement (or, I suppose, both) — in which case, I withdraw my claim that the money was in any way earned.

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ScentOfViolets 07.07.10 at 2:16 am

My answer isn’t a variant of “because”. My answer is, I don’t know. I assume that the money was willingly paid, but if not then, as far as I can see, it could only be because there was either state or criminal involvement (or, I suppose, both)—in which case, I withdraw my claim that the money was in any way earned.

Come now. This sort of obtuseness does not become you. Are you seriously maintaining that the people who set Mozilo’s compensation had no idea why they did it? That they didn’t think that he wouldn’t benefit the company more than it cost to compensate him?

Please. Just answer the question. If you refuse, I’m going to have to go with dismissing anything else you have to say on the grounds that you’re simply not to be taken seriously.

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Metamorf 07.07.10 at 2:30 am

That they didn’t think that he wouldn’t benefit the company more than it cost to compensate him?

Well, there you go, then — that’s why they did it. Isn’t that a reasonable reason? I don’t know myself why they couldn’t have gotten someone cheaper, but then I’m not in their shoes and don’t know what they do.

In any case, I would certainly be hurt if you were to dismiss anything I have to say. But I do have to say that I don’t get where you’re coming from with this, or why it’s an issue for you? Maybe you could explain the background.

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David 07.07.10 at 7:06 am

Engels at 239 – ? I wasn’t responding to your comment at all; I was responding to Hidari’s mirroring the form of yours (pace Orwell).

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David 07.07.10 at 7:14 am

“Also, I don’t know who you are and I have no interest in the ‘arguments’ you have expressed in this thread or any other thread.”

What is this, though? Is it Don’t You Know Who I Am? in Crooked Timber-ese? I am someone who reads with interest and is very occasionally foolish enough to post, and either persuades people or doesn’t. Are some people here something more exalted than that?

—-
At the time, there were three separate discussions being conflated:

A Do hard work, reliability, forward looking creative &c affect performance?

B Is performance within a given role accurately (1) appraised and (2) rewarded?

C Does society fairly reward different roles?

My answer to A was and still is yes, to at least some extent. Wasn’t saying anything about the othre two. (C I think only diehards would say yes, and on B 1 and 2 clearly most people here say no, but I think mileage varies.)

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Hidari 07.07.10 at 7:43 am

There was a good article in the LRB recently about how, even in sports (where ability should be far more ‘objective’ than in business) it’s almost completely impossible to identify who is good at their job, and why, therefore, salaries don’t really bear that much relation to ability (assuming there is a static thing we possess called ‘ability’ which there isn’t). . This is because managers simply don’t understand the basic laws of probability, the reversion to the mean, the fact that ability is subjective, context specific, and varies over time, the role of blind luck in ‘success’ and so forth.

Needless to say, it’s almost certain that things are much much worse in business.

‘In the United States, there has been a lot of serious academic research – and some not so serious – into the curious phenomenon of the Hot Hand. In all sports, there are moments when an individual player or whole team suddenly gets hot, and starts performing way beyond expectations…What the research shows is that all this – the sense of destiny, the effect it has on a player’s confidence, the virtuous circle – is an illusion. Exhaustive analysis of the data has revealed that making a sequence of three-point baskets has almost no bearing on the likelihood of making the next one, which remains determined by a player’s basic skill level (some players are more likely to make the shot than others, but that is just because they are consistently better at it, not because they are intermittently Hotter). What we experience as the Hot Hand is simply a result of the random distribution of chance, which determines that some players, inevitably, will string together a successful series of shots, just as if you get enough people tossing a coin, some of them will get heads 20 times in a row. We believe these sequences reflect a kind of destiny only because we are predisposed to remember the occasions when the sequence seemed to go on for ever, and forget all those other occasions when a promising little sequence went kaput….’

Does Mourinho ‘deserve’ his (gigantic) salary? The fact is that it’s very difficult to answer that question because it’s almost impossible to separate the effects he produces that originate from him, that originate from the situation or the team or the players, and that are due simply to blind luck.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n01/david-runciman/he-shoots-he-scores

We also know for a fact that no financial forecaster (in the world, in any circumstance) ‘deserves’ their salary because the stock market is inherently unpredictable and all their predictions are all, in all circumstances, invariably worthless. Indeed, this is a classic job, not just that ‘anyone’ could do, but that ‘anyone’ could do better than the ones who actually do it. Indeed, experiments have been done that prove that children and animals can do it better than the ‘professionals’. But these people are still paid a fortune.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/1235304.stm

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John Quiggin 07.07.10 at 7:58 am

Metamorf, have you actually read Road to Serfdom and Wealth of Nations, or are you just waving them around as a magical incantation in the manner of Glenn Beck?

(I see Robert has raised the same point)

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Hidari 07.07.10 at 8:01 am

CF also the ‘Nothing Succeeds Like Success’ thread, especially comment number 24.

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Metamorf 07.07.10 at 8:27 am

The impossibility of finding the absolute or objective (or divine) measure of the worth of anybody’s work (or for that matter the worth of any thing) is the reason that the concept of “earning” can’t be defined in that way. Instead, as I’ve said, it can only be defined in terms of what someone is willing to pay, which in turn requires some approximation of worth to the one doing the paying.

But as for those financial forecasters:

Indeed, this is a classic job, not just that ‘anyone’ could do, but that ‘anyone’ could do better than the ones who actually do it. Indeed, experiments have been done that prove that children and animals can do it better than the ‘professionals’. But these people are still paid a fortune.

That’s terrific! Looks like we all have two options:

1) If we care about money, we can do this job! It’s easy, right? As long as we’re not a professional, we can do it better than they can. Of course, we still have to convince somebody with money to pay us to do it, but how hard can that be with this clear, simple argument that we can make more money for them than the people they’re currently paying? I mean, this is assuming that the person with the money is greedy enough to want more, but there’s got to be someone around like that.

2) If we don’t care about money, we’re done. We’re not going to care how much other people are making anyway, right?

I think that’s pretty much wound up the thread.

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Hidari 07.07.10 at 8:41 am

Is there some sort of prize for CT Troll of the Decade? Because if there is I think we have a winner.

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sg 07.07.10 at 8:53 am

Hidari at 267, I remember reading about a baseball team in the US that used a battery of statistical tests to predict possible achievement of young players before the selection procedure, and got better value for money from the selected players than other teams. After a season or two, having shown their worth, it would sell some on at a profit. The argument of the selection team was that a lot of baseball selectors at that time were basing their selection decisions on “glamorous” markers of achievement that didn’t necessarily reflect the underlying skill of the players, and were easily fooled by second-rate players who looked good. They were paying high prices for the second-rate players with good managers, rather than selecting the cheaper, less fancy-looking players who were actually better at what they did.

I read this a long time ago now – maybe in the JRSS? – and so I don’t remember the details, but it seemed to be a good example of actually being able to quantify sports ability quite well, if you used the right battery of markers.

Could have just been blind luck though.

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Hidari 07.07.10 at 9:03 am

# 272 Yeah it’s important to not go overboard about this. For example it’s just an objective fact that Usain Bolt can run faster than me. But running is unusual in that it’s not a team sport and there is a completely ‘objective’ way of gauging ability.

But once you do go into the ‘team sports’ issue then things become a lot more complex, and when you go into even more nebulous abilities like ‘management’ then things become almost infinitely complex.

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Metamorf 07.07.10 at 9:08 am

Hey, it’s an honor just to be nominated, etc.

Actually, Hidari, I thought you and the article both made a good point about random factors in success. I doubt that randomness accounts for the whole of the differences in performance, of sports stars, business people, or poker players, but luck, both good and bad, plays a role everywhere. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, is all.

And though I made light of it, I also thought you have a point re: financial forecasters — if you’re referring to, say, fund managers, it’s well known that on average they can’t beat the market average. But it’s complicated, because you then need to ask how the “market average” itself is arrived at, and it’s only through the buying and selling of those same fund managers as well as others, in aggregate — this is the “wisdom of crowds” phenomenon. So their job is necessary or there would be no market average at all.

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novakant 07.07.10 at 10:01 am

there is no objective way to rank ability.

Yet in #92 you rank your design ability above all those who are getting paid for it …

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engels 07.07.10 at 12:52 pm

slip Capital (all four volumes

You can certainly skip the fourth volume…

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chris 07.07.10 at 1:21 pm

So, since the CEO’s were willingly paid by those authorized to dispense the monies, yes, they earned their salaries. I’m not happy with that myself, but then I’m not a shareholder in their companies.

But principal-agent problems in CEO pay are notorious — doesn’t that undermine the concept of “willingly” as it applies to the shareholders, just as much as it does for Madoff’s investors?

Nobody doubts that CEOs have an excellent ability to convince people to pay them (voluntarily in at least some sense) large amounts of money. But so do con artists, and you don’t consider their incomes earned. If the CEO isn’t actually contributing equivalent value to the company, but convinces the shareholders he is and/or pulls strings on the compensation committee, how is his case really different from Madoff’s?

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Metamorf 07.07.10 at 1:59 pm

If the CEO isn’t actually contributing equivalent value to the company, but convinces the shareholders he is and/or pulls strings on the compensation committee, how is his case really different from Madoff’s?

Well, this doesn’t really have anything to do with CEO’s per se at all, it applies to any willing exchange of goods and/or services — the exchange is fraudulent if it involves deliberate deception. If you can make that case with other CEO’s, you should. But you’d have just as easy or difficult a time making such a case for you or me or anyone. And if you really wanted to push on that, a better place to start would be the entire range of public employees at all levels, who receive their income out of monies simply taken from people’s pockets.

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Earnest O'Nest 07.07.10 at 2:15 pm

I propose we start with getting rid of all public employees that keep in existence a system which allows CEO’s per se not to enter into unwilling exchanges of goods – and/or services for sure – with people not receiving monies anymore out of their corporations pockets ;-)

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chris 07.07.10 at 2:28 pm

And if you really wanted to push on that, a better place to start would be the entire range of public employees at all levels, who receive their income out of monies simply taken from people’s pockets.

So the collective actions of shareholders are voluntary (and binding on the minority of dissenting shareholders), but the collective actions of voters aren’t? I have trouble understanding your concept of voluntariness, if it doesn’t include democracy. The people of a representative democracy voluntarily, through their elected representatives, assess taxes against *themselves*, enforce tax compliance against free riders among their own ranks when necessary, and voluntarily decide how to spend those tax dollars. “Simply taken from people’s pockets” is highly misleading and inflammatory language.

Neither public employees, nor most ordinary employees, can get inside their employer’s decisionmaking process the way CEOs can and do. (Public employees can at least try, because they’re also citizens, but they’re one relatively weak interest group among many.) It’s certainly possible that some could be frauds, but the “entire range”? You really doubt that, say, firefighters in general provide any useful service in exchange for their taxpayer-funded salaries?

P.S. Mistakes aren’t fraud, but they do undermine the potential use of market prices as a measure of value — unless you assume that they cancel out exactly, which there’s no good reason to assume they would. In particular, recurring mistakes based on systematic irrationalities of human psychology are going to recur and reinforce themselves to the point that a market of humans will be *systematically* off base — their consensus will be wrong — and IMO this issue is underacknowledged by economists. Particularly relevant to this discussion is the salience of CEOs and how it affects theories of causation of the outcomes of a company. Salience bias will lead the CEO to be credited/blamed even for events that had nothing to do with him/her (Presidents have the same problem).

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Metamorf 07.07.10 at 3:45 pm

So the collective actions of shareholders are voluntary (and binding on the minority of dissenting shareholders), but the collective actions of voters aren’t?

Less so, certainly — it’s a good deal harder to leave the state than to sell one’s shares.

The people of a representative democracy voluntarily, through their elected representatives, assess taxes against themselves, enforce tax compliance against free riders among their own ranks when necessary, and voluntarily decide how to spend those tax dollars. “Simply taken from people’s pockets” is highly misleading and inflammatory language.

This is getting us back to that “Child’s Little Golden Book” level. Constitutional representative democracy is the best we’ve been able to do so far in terms of figuring out how to manage a state at all, but it’s curious to see someone so concerned with quasi-fraud in business so unconcerned with the same when it comes to an organization with a monopoly on force. “Simply taken from people’s pockets” is simply an accurate description of what actually occurs.

You really doubt that, say, firefighters in general provide any useful service in exchange for their taxpayer-funded salaries?

No, firefighters are fine. I had academics in mind.

As for “recurring mistakes based on systematic irrationalities of human psychology ” — these apply to everyone, including politicians, bureaucrats, regulators, activists, and yes, even academics. This is why the world isn’t perfect, ideal, or optimal. Market prices aren’t a measure of some Platonic notion of Value — they’re simply a measure of approximate value to the participants in the market, which is the best we can do in the real world.

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lemuel pitkin 07.07.10 at 4:11 pm

skip Capital (all four volumes

You can certainly skip the fourth volume…

Engels, you really don’t think there’s anything useful in Theories of Surplus Value?

:-)

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lemuel pitkin 07.07.10 at 4:18 pm

Is there some sort of prize for CT Troll of the Decade? Because if there is I think we have a winner.

Indeed. If you click on Metamorf’s name, you’ll find yourself reading a post on Elena Kagan that (1) misspells her name and (2) cites Ann Althouse in order to (3) beat up on the “global warming fad.” All without scrolling down. Quite a performance.

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Metamorf 07.07.10 at 4:31 pm

Thanks lem, fixed it — you’re a human spell-checker!

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bianca steele 07.07.10 at 5:03 pm

Metamorf, what is your goal here? To prove that it is epistemologically or metaphysically possible to hold your set of views? To argue that the laws and government should be more like what your views say they should be? To argue that the laws and government are like what your views say they should be? Or what? Just to force people who disagree with you to justify their beliefs out where you can see them?

I see you weren’t blogging when Sotomayor was nominated for the Court. If you had been, the firefighter example might have triggered some kind of apparent recognition of relevance.

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MPAVictoria 07.07.10 at 5:12 pm

Maybe competence is important up to a minimum level and once that level is achieved other factors, such as charisma or reliability, become more important. To take the cashier example, a person who could not count or who didn’t have basic literacy skills would not last long in the position. However once a certain level of basic competence is achieved the law of diminishing returns kicks in and it wouldn’t matter if you were a math genius or just average.

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Metamorf 07.07.10 at 5:40 pm

Once again, bianca, you ask some good questions. I don’t think I’m trying to force people to do anything — I started out taking issue with some things being said in a couple of threads, and I think it’s clear that I’m starting from a point of view quite different from the majority here. I certainly don’t have any idea of proving that point of view “is epistemologically or metaphysically possible”, though obviously I think it must be. Anyway, I see that one of my posts, at least, is “awaiting moderation”, and I take that as a sign that I’ve overstayed my welcome. I’ll leave you to your more congenial conversation, but come visit metamorphoses if you’re ever inclined.

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chris 07.07.10 at 6:10 pm

@280: “Simply taken from people’s pockets” is simply an accurate description of what actually occurs.

Well, no, it plainly isn’t that. Nobody goes around actually reaching into anyone’s pockets to extract their tax liability. It’s at best a metaphor for taking from people’s bank accounts (i.e. tax withholding). But the bigger problem with it is that “simply tak[ing]” ignores the whole *law* issue and gives the misleading impression of an act analogous to theft. Definitionally, taxation is not theft (or extortion) any more than arrest is kidnapping or execution is murder. There are, of course, certain resemblances in all three cases, but it’s generally uncontroversial (except for the last one) that society can commit those actions for legitimate reasons in a way that individuals cannot.

Constitutional representative democracy is the best we’ve been able to do so far in terms of figuring out how to manage a state at all, but it’s curious to see someone so concerned with quasi-fraud in business so unconcerned with the same when it comes to an organization with a monopoly on force.

I don’t know how you got the impression that I’m unconcerned with frauds against the people of a democratic state. But unless you think nobody *ever* votes for taxes except as a result of fraud, I don’t see what it has to do with the general moral standing of taxation as a voluntary act of the people toward themselves.

Of course the people of a democratic state have to police their government and their politicians for fraud. But even the knowledge that they will be imperfect at that task doesn’t undermine the legitimacy of the democratic actions they take based on the information available to them in any broad sense — at most, the actions that are actually procured by fraud are illegitimate.

Market prices aren’t a measure of some Platonic notion of Value—they’re simply a measure of approximate value to the participants in the market, which is the best we can do in the real world.

The second phrase doesn’t follow from the first one. If markets aren’t a Platonic notion of value, but merely an approximation, then how can you be confident that there isn’t a better approximation? In particular, if we know that humans are generally subject to irrational bias X, then how does correcting for that bias not improve on the market’s estimate? Or if we know that the market undervalues the desires of the poor because of its one dollar, one vote system, how does correcting for that not improve on the market’s estimate? Or if we know that the market doesn’t price externality Y at all because it isn’t experienced by the people making the relevant market decisions, how does a Pigouvian tax or some similar mechanism not improve on the market’s estimate?

Once you’ve cracked the facade of infallibility, there’s all sorts of ways to improve on the market’s estimate.

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Bruce Baugh 07.07.10 at 6:25 pm

I’m fascinated by how much more trust Metamorf freely grants to senior executives and corporate boards than to journalists. The juxtaposition is illuminating.

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ScentOfViolets 07.07.10 at 7:11 pm

That they didn’t think that he wouldn’t benefit the company more than it cost to compensate him?

Well, there you go, then—that’s why they did it. Isn’t that a reasonable reason? I don’t know myself why they couldn’t have gotten someone cheaper, but then I’m not in their shoes and don’t know what they do.

Gotcha. Iow – as you have just admitted – what they are paying for is “added value”, that supposedly discredited Commie formulation that always get’s trotted out to justify executive pay. So no, even according to you, value is not defined as “what people are willing to pay for.”

What you are doing, in fact, is deliberately confusing the measure with the measured. It’s as if you insisted that the time is always 2:10 because the reference clock has stopped with the hands frozen at that time, or that the temperature was a balmy 72 degrees Fahrenheit because that’s what your thermometer showed . . . even after it was pointed out to you that by looking outside the window you can see two feet of snow on the ground and a ring of solid ice in the birdbath.

And this is in fact the usual idiot right-wing talking point workers are worth just that much because that is how much someone is willing to pay them – a tautology – which is then thoughtlessly tossed aside when all sorts of justifications for executive pay in the face of catastrophic failure are trotted forth.

I harp on this because this is my pet diagnosis for what’s Wrong With Everything:

The Labor Markets Are Broken.

Fix those, and I suspect that once again the United States would be a pretty comfortable place to live.

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ScentOfViolets 07.07.10 at 7:14 pm

I keep forgetting about the wonky posting forms here. Let me try again:

That they didn’t think that he wouldn’t benefit the company more than it cost to compensate him?

Well, there you go, then—that’s why they did it. Isn’t that a reasonable reason? I don’t know myself why they couldn’t have gotten someone cheaper, but then I’m not in their shoes and don’t know what they do.

Gotcha. Iow – as you have just admitted – what they are paying for is “added value”, that supposedly discredited Commie formulation that always gets trotted out to justify executive pay. So no, even according to you, value is not defined as “what people are willing to pay for.”

What you are doing, in fact, is (deliberately) confusing the measure with the measured. It’s as if you insisted that the time is always 2:10 because the reference clock has stopped with the hands frozen at that time, or that the temperature was a balmy 72 degrees Fahrenheit because that’s what your thermometer showed . . . even after it was pointed out to you that by looking outside the window you can see two feet of snow on the ground and a ring of solid ice in the birdbath.

And this is in fact the usual idiot right-wing talking point workers are worth just that much because that is how much someone is willing to pay them – a tautology – which is then thoughtlessly tossed aside when all sorts of justifications for executive pay in the face of catastrophic failure are trotted forth.

I harp on this because this is my pet diagnosis for what’s Wrong With Everything:

The Labor Markets Are Broken.

Fix those, and I suspect that once again the United States would be a pretty comfortable place to live.

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ScentOfViolets 07.07.10 at 7:19 pm

there is no objective way to rank ability.

Yet in #92 you rank your design ability above all those who are getting paid for it …

This comment makes no sense.

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bianca steele 07.07.10 at 7:28 pm

SoV: Only it is, unfortunately, not just a “right-wing talking point[s].” Liberals (the kind who won’t take their own side in a fight, the American-style not-quite-progressive but decidedly at least center-left kind of liberal, not Mrs Tilton’s British or European kind) do seem inclined often to confuse the measure with the measured, to assume that what someone is willing to pay for what you have to offer (as a proxy for how much what you have to offer is valued) is what what you have to offer is worth, and to assume things pretty much work. And that is annoying. But what the right really says, as you can see by reading Ross Douthat once in a while, is that the playing field is tilted towards the rich and the rest of play on their sufferage, true value of what you have to offer as it may be.

Maybe this is because in the US liberalism has become dominant. But in that case, when the right argues that we ought to pursue right-wing values because the dominant class has right-wing beliefs, they are incoherent. I suspect they just switch the signs whenever their logic points them in the wrong direction.

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JM 07.07.10 at 8:54 pm

If you click on Metamorf’s name, you’ll find yourself reading a post on Elena Kagan that (1) misspells her name and (2) cites Ann Althouse in order to (3) beat up on the “global warming fad.” All without scrolling down. Quite a performance.

Jesus Felching Christ, not another cookie-cutter idiot. I’m beginning to think they’re bots.

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Hidari 07.07.10 at 9:08 pm

If you click on the link below you see why all this matters: rich idiots (all of whom are convinced they are geniuses and that, to coin a phrase, there is a direct and positive ‘correlation between ability and income’, and that therefore people who have gigantic incomes must therefore have gigantic abilities), to repeat, rich idiots telling other rich idiots lots of idiotic things in front of an audience of even more rich idiots, who mindlessly applaud.

And what idiotic things do these rich idiots have to say to other rich idiots? Why that people who are not-rich must be not-rich because they are stupid and lazy (but mostly lazy) and that, therefore, their benefits must be cut, whereas the main problem facing the rich is that they pay far too much in tax, and that, come to think of it, they should really be running the country.

On account of the correlation between ability and income.

Warning: this article contains the words Niall Ferguson.

http://www.salon.com/news/us_economy/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2010/07/07/rich_people_know_best

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Chris Johnson 07.07.10 at 9:17 pm

I have no experience in the greater corporate world, but I do know that in the medical corporate world (which is the way to regard it) there is little correlation between salary and skill set or smarts. I suppose our libertarian friends would argue that the mere fact an orthopedic surgeon is able to extract an inordinate amount of money for fixing a broken bone is proof that this activity is worth the money. Of course this is a circular sort of argument, as others have pointed out. I suspect the reason medicine has such wildly disparate salaries is similar to why we see them in the corporate world: political power, wielded by special interest groups, has enabled them to set up a system that benefits them. And, as a corollary, only they are qualified to judge their own worth. It’s strangely elegant.

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Seeds 07.07.10 at 10:36 pm

@246:

The second problem is that the jobs for which productivity is considered a gauge for ability have gone into a steep decline. So what if as a grocery checker you move customers through the line 40% than average and the most your drawer is ever off is five cents – that’s not going to get you a raise or put you on the track to management. contrast this with stories my dad tells me of people advancing on the strength that their brake drum assemblies were noticeably better than average.

Is it possible that the reverse could be true? That in some circumstances there is a negative correlation between ability and remuneration?

Nobody has mentioned the “Peter Dilbert Principle” yet. A good brake drum assembly worker is suited to a position in which he makes brake drum assemblies. A useless brake drum assembly worker is better suited to a middle management position where he can cause fewer class action lawsuits.

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novakant 07.07.10 at 10:44 pm

This comment makes no sense.

It makes perfect sense: claiming that there is no objective way to rank ability while ranking your own ability (“invariably better”) above that of others (“crap”) doesn’t make sense.

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ScentOfViolets 07.07.10 at 11:07 pm

This comment makes no sense.

It makes perfect sense: claiming that there is no objective way to rank ability while ranking your own ability (“invariably better”) above that of others (“crap”) doesn’t make sense.

Sigh. There’s another word you haven’t considered that’s similar in construction to “objective”. Here’s a hint: It starts out “sub” . . .

Do you really need to be led by the hand like this? Or are you just being deliberately obtuse? There seems to be a lot of that going around lately.

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novakant 07.07.10 at 11:57 pm

My, you sigh a lot. The claim made in #93 was not that purely in the author’s subjective opinion his designs were better in a de gustibus sense, but that he has more ability than those being paid for such stuff and could do their job easily, i.e. objectively better, as indicated by the use of “invariably better” and “crap”.

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Myles SG 07.08.10 at 12:04 am

Fix those, and I suspect that once again the United States would be a pretty comfortable place to live.

The United State is a pretty comfortable place to live. Most spacious housing on average in the world, sweet weather on the West Coast, the world’s best summer hideouts on Cape Cod and in the Vineyard, and so on.

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ScentOfViolets 07.08.10 at 1:15 am

My, you sigh a lot. The claim made in #93 was not that purely in the author’s subjective opinion his designs were better in a de gustibus sense, but that he has more ability than those being paid for such stuff and could do their job easily, i.e. objectively better, as indicated by the use of “invariably better” and “crap”.

Yes, and I’m going to have to sigh again – sigh. Why don’t you actually go back and see if the word “objective” was used? If it’s not, you get to tell me how wrong you were and how right I am, and if it was, vice versa. Deal?

Here’s a another few taps of the clue hammer for you: “subjective” is not a synonym for “completely arbitrary” and objective measurements are not necessarily more accurate than subjective ones. Quite the contrary in fact, and don’t get me started on rating a student’s mathematical ability or knowledge on the basis of a test graded by scantron.

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Red 07.08.10 at 2:07 am

Slightly off-topic: Bianca @293: when you say that “Maybe this is because in the US liberalism has become dominant”, I assume you are using “liberalism” in the European sense. But why then, “has become”? Wasn’t it always? Sure, we’ve had a little more variety in the past, but only on the margins.

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Hidari 07.08.10 at 8:19 am

OK novakant
if it makes you feel better you should feel at liberty to decide my book and web design skills are non-existent ok?

ScentofViolets gets it entirely right. Whereas some skills are purely objective (the ability to run fast, for example) most are a mixture of subjectivity and objectivity. For example, it’s on objective fact that I can use DreamWeaver, but its a subjective ‘fact’ (if you want to use that phrase) that my webpages are ‘good’. I would argue that they are, but of course other people might disagree.

But that, of course is the whole point.

I would argue that this only part of the problem. The other part of the problem is: how did I go about getting these web design skills in the first place? And here the post ‘Nothing Succeeds like Success’ is important.I quote:

‘ Early opportunities (as well as other, later ones) are not randomly generated,…Many of the initial informational signals that are sent out (attendance at good universities; prestigious internships) are disproportionately available to those who come from well-off backgrounds. And those who start out with advantages tend to end up doing better… The general point is not that ability doesn’t count at all – but that opportunities to exercise ability count too, and that a world where they are cumulative (so that more opportunities come to those who have had such opportunities in the past because of information sharing or another mechanism) is likely to generate high levels of inequality of outcome and substantial ‘noise’ in the relationship between ability and outcome..’

(This is absolutely true for me: I was taught DreamWeaver on a University run course which was free for me as a member of staff).

And that applies to all fields including sport. My point, going beyond this is that most fields of human activity are not like single form sports. There is no widely agreed upon ‘objective’ criterion/criteria for what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and (if you had read the Pfeffer/Sutton book, which I’m sure you haven’t) you would also know that even if there were such criteria (and there aren’t) in business, there are important structural problems that would prevent this information from being clearly recognised or acted upon.

And that is why, in business at least, the link between ability and salary or promotion is highly ‘noisy’, assuming it exists at all which I suspect it doesn’t (actually I suspect the while concept is meaningless because I don’t think ‘ability’ or ‘hardworkingness’ is a static, individual’s, non-context-specific ‘thing’ that one either has or one hasn’t).

But to complete my lecture there is a huge amount of corporate/state propaganda which aims to deny this and which proclaims that the link between ability/hard work and ‘outcome’ (success, failure) is simple and linear* and that’s best understood, I argued, by looking at Just World Theory.

OK is that all clear enough for you now?

*In order to pretend that our highly class stratified society is in fact a ‘meritocracy’.

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bianca steele 07.08.10 at 12:06 pm

Red @ 303
No, I mean “liberalism” in the American sense: more or less what Europeans call welfare state liberalism, a little less enthusiastic than progressivism and with decided differences on a few issues. The kind of liberalism that cost Michael Dukakis the election in 1988. The New Deal and Civil Rights Act are the law of the land, the idea of the “liberal media” is overblown but there is some truth to it, teachers at all levels and in most kinds of schools are liberal in a very broad sense (probably shading towards neoconservatism in a lot of a cases in the public schools, but all the same), and so forth.

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MPAVictoria 07.08.10 at 2:11 pm

“The kind of liberalism that cost Michael Dukakis the election in 1988. The New Deal and Civil Rights Act are the law of the land”

What world are you living in?
I want to go there….

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Red 07.08.10 at 2:21 pm

@305: I’m speechless. Do you really believe that? Liberalism is dominant in the US? Liberal media? Just stunned that you buy into this.

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bianca steele 07.08.10 at 3:49 pm

@306, @307:
If I believed in karma or something similar, or were just very sensitive, I might be upset by your refutations, assuming that you have arguments that have never been made in such detail or with such care, and that you’re just avoiding demolishing my post point by point because it would be rude.

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MPAVictoria 07.08.10 at 5:12 pm

308
You do realize that the US is the only major developed country without universal healthcare?

And is without mandatory coffee breaks for employees?
http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2010/06/breaking-points

And has among the worst maternity/paternity leave policies in the developed world?
http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/parental_2008_09.pdf
http://www.inc.com/news/articles/200702/family.html

That has imprisoned a huge proportion of its male African American population?
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0881455.html

And has one of the highest levels of inequality in the developed world?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_inequality_in_the_United_States

And executes more people than any other developed country?
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_exe-crime-executions

Almost half of which are African American?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment_in_the_United_States

And you still think you live in a country where the New Deal and the Civil Rights Act are dominant? (Though I give you more credit than most conservatives. At least you didn’t try and steal credit for the Civil Rights Act)

Like I said: What world are you living in?
I want to go there.

310

novakant 07.08.10 at 5:13 pm

So you have taken a Dreamweaver course (something along the lines of this I suspect) and that not only puts you on par but above professional web designers, who are overpaid and produce “crap”. Hmmm, ok…

Do you know all the stuff mentioned at that link? Has it become second nature to you so you can quickly implement changes requested by clients? Do you know HTML, CSS and Photoshop well? What about Flash and video compression? What about typography and color palettes? Can you come up with a couple of attractive design mock-ups over night if a client asks for “something a bit different”?

Unless you’re some sort of renaissance man, chances are you don’t. And if someone has spent 3 years doing that stuff every day while getting a BA and then worked in the field to earn his or her living, chances are they will be much better than you.

Reading your camcorder manual doesn’t make you a cameraman, cutting your holiday films in IMovie doesn’t make you an editor and creating spinning cubes in Maya doesn’t make you an animator. There is such a thing as good and bad design, camerawork, editing, animation, acting etc. and some people are simply astonishingly good and nobody argues otherwise (well, you might disagree, but then explain to me e.g. why Deakins is a bad cameraman, Kahn a bad editor and Pixar bad animators or how all of this is purely subjective).

It takes years of hard work and dedication to become qualified for such jobs and the fact that the digital revolution has facilitated access to the tools doesn’t change that. Neither does the fact that, as in any field, there are always wannabes and chancers, who even might get away with it for a while.

Of course we’re not living in a perfect meritocracy, but if people hire, pay and judge you based on what you actually create, it is not a purely subjective process and most of the people who sustain themselves for years or decades in this field are able to do so because they are very good at what they’re doing. You can acknowledge that without having a Panglossian view of the world and your blanket dismissal of any such achievement is simply ridiculous.

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ScentOfViolets 07.08.10 at 8:24 pm

OK novakant
if it makes you feel better you should feel at liberty to decide my book and web design skills are non-existent ok?

ScentofViolets gets it entirely right. Whereas some skills are purely objective (the ability to run fast, for example) most are a mixture of subjectivity and objectivity. For example, it’s on objective fact that I can use DreamWeaver, but its a subjective ‘fact’ (if you want to use that phrase) that my webpages are ‘good’. I would argue that they are, but of course other people might disagree.

Right. The perception of color is definitely subjective; nevertheless, most people most of the time would agree that, say, this particular apple is green and not red. Iow, the two chief complaints of subjective ratings, a) that they are not accurate, and b) that they are not consistent don’t, upon further reflection, appear to be as decisive as all that.

Take, for example, subjective impressions of performance (which don’t seem to be that transferable across disciplines :-)

One example: Many, many years ago I had a few friends who supported themselves by essentially grading essays, critiquing them on grammar and syntax, form, style, and exposition and content, and then assigning each paper with a single numeric score (iirc, on a scale of one to six.)

Now, you’d think that being “subjective”, the evaluations of the papers would show some variance, one grader giving a particular essay a 4, another grader giving it a 3, yet another rating it as a 6, and so on. But in fact, there was very little variance. If one grader assigned a 4, the long odds were that so would the other two (not surprisingly, when there was variance, it tended to be at the extremes, 1 vs 2 paper, or a 5 vs 6 one.)

Iow, whatever one might say about the accuracy of these assessments, at least they were consistent. And, funny thing that, but as in so many other things the subjective rating of a particular student on their abilities to write clearly, concisely, and coherently seemed to be more accurate – not less – than any “objective” assessments, say of the sort where you bubble in your answers on a scantron form. The usual caveats apply of course: while these subjective assessments may be more accurate, they are definitely more expensive, and require more man-hours to administer. And of course, they are more easily abused than the other, more impersonal rating systems. Those last two seem to be the main objections of those who oppose “merit pay” in any of a number of professions.

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Myles SG 07.08.10 at 8:52 pm

Those last two seem to be the main objections of those who oppose “merit pay” in any of a number of professions.

I thought your line of thinking made perfect sense until I read that sentence, and alarm bells started ringing. You know, subjective evaluation much better when in high-level situations than in low-level ones. You can tell if a guy is Harvard material on a subjective level very easily, but when it comes to differentiating between UMass Amherst and UMass Boston the objective evaluation becomes very much sufficient.

That’s the difference between teaching and any of the other number of professions where merit pay is, well, not a meritorious method of evaluation.

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ScentOfViolets 07.08.10 at 9:15 pm

Those last two seem to be the main objections of those who oppose “merit pay” in any of a number of professions.

I thought your line of thinking made perfect sense until I read that sentence, and alarm bells started ringing. You know, subjective evaluation much better when in high-level situations than in low-level ones. You can tell if a guy is Harvard material on a subjective level very easily, but when it comes to differentiating between UMass Amherst and UMass Boston the objective evaluation becomes very much sufficient.

I’m not sure what you’re saying here because I don’t understand the Amherst/Boston reference. If you’re talking about some sort of minimum standards, say, basic grammar and punctuation, sure, machine scoring is perfectly adequate. But that’s not the usual situation when talking about productivity or “creativity”, or so I would think.

That’s the difference between teaching and any of the other number of professions where merit pay is, well, not a meritorious method of evaluation.

Again, I’m not sure what you’re talking about here. I do know that there is a very strong consensus within the circle of people actually teaching who is good and who is not, and who is perfectly atrocious. And I also know that there isn’t a good match up between these ratings and the administration’s assessments of the exact same people.

Would it surprise you in the slightest that the “trouble makers” are rated significantly lower by the administration than their own peer’s estimations, or that the so-called “trouble makers” are often exactly those who are the most committed to their teaching and are determined that their students learn something in their classes :-(

That seems to be a very valid criticism against merit pay, at least insofar as the teaching profession is concerned. I have no doubt that there is a similar dynamic in play in most other job environments.

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floopmeister 07.08.10 at 11:23 pm

Well Ok, but I actually always liked this one

315

Red 07.09.10 at 6:43 pm

Bianca@308. No, I don’t want to be rude. If you believe that liberalism has become “dominant” in the US, please consider this:
tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/07/shocking-poll-55-percent-of-voters-think-obamas-a-socialist.php?ref=fpb

316

cripes 07.10.10 at 5:02 am

Can’t help but remark on comments earlier in the thread to the effect that “bizniz” is more “efficient” than “government,” cause they have to make a profit.

Aside from the underlying tautology here, it is a pernicious myth that can’t be refuted enough. It has caused no end of mischief and suffering, as the past two years have amply demonstrated.

It is hard to take seriously business “efficiency” after forty years of big macs and gas guzzlers, and overpriced pharmaceuticals, all costing the entire nation untold trillions in mortality, productivity and general tomfoolery. ‘course if profit is the only measure, I guess we should do another forty. Who’s in?

Nor is the idea that gubmint is inefficient very persuasive, per se, when we consider it manages to administer medical benefits with an overhead of 2-3% versus the private sector’s 30% overhead. Oh yeah, they’re only efficient at making profit. Not delivering services, value or public health. My bad.

Can we put this stupid trope to rest?

Soooo, “efficiency” is a loaded, primarily ideological term, employed mainly to discourage the volk from daring to have a voice in their own governance, which can be good or bad government, depending, you know, on how it’s done.

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ijb 07.11.10 at 6:20 am

@cripes

This “bizniz” you speak of is remarkable for those reasons not because of “bizniz” but because of the millions of American consumers who voluntarily and happily demand their fast food, sweet SUVs, and state of the art medicine. Voluntary exchange, free markets, it’s a beautiful thing and if you don’t care for the result I suggest you change consumer attitudes that drive these consumption bundles. Or the various government/market failures that produce externalities or perverse incentives and such.

I’m tired of hearing the tired trope about government efficiency with Medicare. Yes, they can write checks very efficiently. Shocker, the government can spend a lot of money. But imagine health insurance company X: they hire an administrative team to educate their consumers about low-cost and less-invasive end of life care, market free gym memberships, educate about lower-cost health care, advise regarding better nutrition. These wouldn’t be “health care dollars” and would be considered “overhead”. At the end of the day, no one is better equipped to control health care spending than the insurance company that wants to keep that money in its wallet. Unless that’s not your goal at all…

Government isn’t bad. It does some things well (patents, defense, judicial, welfare and SS and simple transfers) and other things not so well. I prefer it sticks to the things it does well, and leave the rest up to the people to figure out.

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dave heasman 07.11.10 at 11:45 am

“But imagine health insurance company X: they hire an administrative team to educate their consumers about low-cost and less-invasive end of life care, market free gym memberships, educate about lower-cost health care, advise regarding better nutrition. These wouldn’t be “health care dollars” and would be considered “overhead”.”

The US government doesn’t do any of this? Certtainy the UK NHS does.

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alex 07.11.10 at 11:56 am

Is this US healthcare system the one that spends twice as much per capita as other developed economies, and still racks up some of the worst figures for child health amongst those economies?

Or is it one from a parallel universe where that appalling juxtaposition doesn’t hold true?

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Hidari 07.11.10 at 4:30 pm

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