Jobs Without Workers

It’s well-known that there are currently a lot of jobs going begging, even as employers offer higher pay;  see for example this article.  Bernie Sanders offers his explanation: he suggests that the problem lies in the ratio of CEO pay growth to worker pay growth since 1978, and “Maybe the problem isn’t a so-called ‘worker shortage.’ Maybe — just maybe — the working class of this country has finally had enough.”

I don’t think Bernie Sanders has a whole lot of experience with this whole ‘working’ thing, so it seems unlikely that he really understands what is going on.

Not very common, I think, for someone to turn down a job because someone at a level stratospherically above him makes a whole lot more money than what he is being offered.  Do people really decide against a job at Wal-Mart because Doug McMillon got paid $20.9 million in 2020?  Or decide not to go workin’ on the CSX railroad because of James Foote’s compensation package of $15.3 million? While people are very concerned with comparative pay levels, they are usually most concerned about the pay of people doing comparable work or those one or two levels above them (or below them) organizationally.

So what are the factors that are actually keeping so many jobs from attracting workers?

One factor, I think, is simple inertia: people who have been out of the workforce for several months during Covid lockdowns may be delaying going back to work, even though they know they will need to eventually.  Another factor is the difficulties with child care / education…even when school are physically open, it’s hard to know how long it will be until they are locked down again, so you can’t count on them for a predictable schedule…and also, there are probably a fair number of people not very enthused about sending their kids back to public school at all, given what they’ve learned about them over the past year.

There are also people who are doing work off-books, and may find that by avoiding FICA and taxes…and any reduction in means-tested benefits…they can do better than they’d do at a full-time job.

Certainly one factor in reluctance to go back to work lies in the unnecessarily unpleasant nature of too many jobs…I’m not talking about jobs that, say, involve working in foundries in high temperatures or working outdoors on commercial fishing boats in winter, but rather retail and customer service jobs that feature extreme micromanagement plus schedules that change from week to week.  See Zeynep Ton’s book The Good Jobs Strategy for more on this point. (my review here)  And the enforcement of political correctness, also, makes quite a few workplaces unpleasant places to be.

And there is a feeling on the part of many people that they can’t get ahead, because of the importance of credentialism and contacts.  I’m sure there are a lot of people in low-level positions in banks who would make excellent branch managers, but are not considered for these jobs because they don’t have college degrees…also, branch managers who are not considered for region executive jobs because they don’t have MBAs, and people who do have MBAs who can’t break into investment banking because their MBA is not from a ‘top’ school.  The importance of credentialism varies widely by industry and by specific company within an industry, of course, I suspect many people think it’s more all-encompassing than it actually is, and this is demoralizing to them and creates a ‘why bother?’ mentality.

Finally, there is the problem of skill mismatch: the jobs that are open will often require skills that the potential applicants don’t have, even when unnecessary credential requirements are eliminated.  (Although one would think that the trend toward jobs that can be done remotely would mitigate this problem to a considerable extent, by broadening the geography from which people can be drawn)

What else?

57 thoughts on “Jobs Without Workers”

  1. “There are also people who are doing work off-books …”

    I have been wondering about that as an explanation of the declining labor participation rate. The smart guys who offshored all the manufacturing jobs tell us that the US has advanced to a “service” economy. Who needs anyone to make scissors when we can all make a living cutting each other’s hair?

    One of the features of a “service” economy is that a lot more of it can be done by individuals or small groups without requiring any obvious fixed investment such as a warehouse or machinery. That makes it a whole lot easier to work off the books. And if Xiden is going to give someone money in addition to what she is earning under the table, that becomes the rational thing to do.

  2. From observation out here in the trenches…? I think an awful lot of the problem is simply that if you pay people not to work, then they won’t.

    The other problem is that because of all the generous unemployment benefits, nobody wants to take work that’s “beneath them”, even if they don’t have the skills to justify being paid the exhalted salaries they think they deserve.

    You’re also seeing another thing play out, with regards to unemployment and inflation: You make minimum wage $15.00 an hour, the iron laws of economics dictate that the employer paying that has to somehow eke out enough revenue to be able to pay that much, so what winds up happening in the long run is that you’re gonna be paying 15.00 for a Big Mac, no matter how much automation they try throwing at it. You have to get that money back, somehow, and oftentimes, the only way to do that is to raise your prices–Thus, inflation.

    Paying a $15.00 minimum wage for unskilled labor basically means that you’re ratcheting up everything else for everyone else, because that’s how economics work. If you’re at the bottom of the wage scale, skill-wise, you’re always going to be at a place where your lifestyle sucks. Inexorable implication of “low or no skill”.

    Other effect of this? Why do a hard job for near-minimum wage? If you can get by working down at Mickey D’s, why would you ever want to take on being a carpenter on a construction site, if the wages are the same for working out in the rain, snow, and ice? And, again… Iron laws of economics: If the guy paying the guy who swings the hammer can’t make money building, he’s not going to build.

    Government intervention in any economic issue is always a disaster; the decision of what to pay whom for what work is one that needs to be left to the marketplace, and the only thing they ought to be doing is making it easier to get skilled, or take up jobs that they’ve locked out for the average joe via professional licensing. It’s a travesty that some communities in this country require literally thousands of hours of “instruction” and certifications for things like braiding hair…

  3. Kirk…re minimum wage, there are also huge differences in cost of living from place to place. I knew a guy a couple years ago who was running a textile-printing business in NC, I believe his wage rate started around $7.50/hour. If he had to pay $15 or $20/hr, his business would probably fail or be greatly reduced, and even more people would be getting their textile printing done in other countries.

  4. I do know a neighbor who does handyman stuff – various home reno and maintenance stuff. He works off the books, cash-only.
    He has more work than he can deal with. He’s excellent at all kinds of stuff, and has just about all the necessary gear.

  5. Precisely… Which is, again, exactly why the “one size fits all” Federal mandate is an ‘effing disaster. Everyone wonders why all “their jerbs” left for overseas…? Things like this drive that. It’s not just that textile printer who is at risk, it’s all the other jobs supporting that factory radiating out to the folks who ran the local lunch counters where the workers in his plant used to go…

    A lot of the time, you can’t even really document or even outline all the second- and third-order effects that trickle through the economy due to this stuff. Mandate $15.00 an hour for fast-food workers, and the price of burgers goes up… Which means that Joe, the carpenter quits buying his lunch and decides to brown-bag it, which means that the burger joint sells less, which makes it harder to keep going in order to pay that wage, and the money that once went through that enterprise is now going through the supermarket… The whole thing is nutso, if your premise is that it’s both knowable and controllable from some ivory-tower edifice in government or business. Look at the dislocation that happened with regards to the prepared potato industry back at the beginning of the COVID lock-downs: All of a sudden, they had to compensate for not selling to restaurants, while the supply chain for the retail industry was stripped bare. It wasn’t that there weren’t potatoes out there, it was that they were in the wrong pipeline…

    Meddle with this stuff at your peril; the politicians and bureaucrats are used to dwelling in a realm of fantasy, where what they say goes. The reality is, outside that narrow view of the world, that simply does not obtain: Reality is going to do what reality is going to do, and it is all that the rest of us can manage simply to dance with the chaos.

    I really think there needs to be a “SimCity” simulation that accurately replicates the sheer chaos of an economy/governmental system, such that you could demonstrate to people how hard it is to predict and control such a system. Unfortunately, we don’t have any such thing, or there’d be a hell of a lot more humility and caution when they start meddling.

  6. “I really think there needs to be a “SimCity” simulation that accurately replicates the sheer chaos of an economy/governmental system, such that you could demonstrate to people how hard it is to predict and control such a system.” Great idea. To make it effective, you’d have to create characters, whether inividual or corporate, who respond to incentives in non-trivial ways…to make the point you can’t think of everything in advance.

    Years ago, I was talking with the manager of a large factory; I asked him if he paid piecework. He said he didn’t like piecework…why? Because people will do risky things in order to hit their numbers and get their bonus. 99.9% of the time, it will be fine, but every now and them, someone will lose a finger or a hand.

    Not sure whether or not the risk was really high enough to avoid piecework incentives in this situation, but my point is, I don’t think most people…especially people who had never run or worked in a factory…would have even thought of this as a risk factor.

  7. Tried to get my tire patched at the shop this morning. Manager said he had 5 guys on the schedule, only 1 showed up, so he could barely open, but could only take a few jobs for the day. My guess is the 4 dudes just don’t want to work during Thanksgiving week. What’s the manager going to do, fire them? There’s no one else willing and available to do the job.
    I don’t have any particular answers, I think in small towns there’s a horrific combination of economic and mental depressions that envelops everything. You’re not going to get rich doing manual labor, you’re not going to starve, you’re in this awful purgatory existence, and no one seems to care about you at all.

  8. I think part of it is that people are starting to realize how valuable their time is. I after raising my kids and getting rid of my wife, did very little formal work after that, as really time is all you have.

    I’m pleased with my time on this planet, how about you?

  9. It’s a mystery to me. It was particularly in lightning during my 2 road trips this year for 12,000 miles

    So many motels had no vacancy signs.

    The owner of a small hotel in Buffalo Wyoming gave me the insiders secret

    The average occupancy rate was only 40%, but they cannot find people to clean the rooms.

    I remember going to Klamath Falls Oregon and seeing a comfort inn completely closed. Probably had two or 300 rooms.

    Meanwhile I have a good friend up in Chico who is a retired plumber.

    He knows someone who delivers oxygen tanks and offered $25 an hour for a driver just for local deliveries.

    No takers.

    Increased it to $35 an hour and got one applicant.

    I think these unemployment benefits have had a lot to do with the inertia.

    One could say a fear of coming back and being exposed to Covid but if you’re not getting paid and can’t eat it’s a powerful incentive to work.

  10. Do people really decide against a job at Wal-Mart because Doug McMillon got paid $20.9 million in 2020?

    Nope. They decide against working at Walmart because they aren’t paid enough to make it worth their while.

    I’m a fan of John Williams of shadowstats.com. He calculates the US inflation in the manner it used to be calculated, which reveals that per those methods the actual rate is much higher than the government presently reports.

    Hence, real wages have been dropping for many years- and in my opinion we have finally reached the point where many potential workers have decided it just isn’t worth it.

    Of course there are many other reasons people won’t work, good and bad, but if a potential employer wants to pay (say) $9 per hour and potential employees have to have a car to get to work- well, good luck getting anyone who isn’t going to get a ride from someone with a better paying job.

  11. @Pengun – “after raising my kids and getting rid of my wife, did very little formal work after that, as really time is all you have.” You don’t say?

    We have been fortunate for the most part with the labor problems. We have always had a philosophy to “pay more, get better” so we were more prepared than most businesses with the spike in labor costs. We tend to try to hire good people away from poor jobs and that has worked well for us as we offer a pretty generous benefits package and are pretty sensitive when people need personal time, etc. Very few people leave our company voluntarily for “greener pastures” so we are doing something right.

    The origin of the labor problem, of course, was the free ride people were getting with all of the covid money. When you have low or few skills and can get $20 to stay at home, the choice is obvious.

    Labor moves in cycles like everything else and eventually people will get back to work. But it’s going to take a while.

  12. As far as the “off books” economy goes, we see plenty of that in industrial distribution. Basically whenever a guy is buying something on a credit card, not for his company, that’s the tell. To be honest, we haven’t seen any real spike in cash sales to speak of, just the usual.

  13. Paying more for better is what 99/100 hiring managers would claim also and hardly blush when you brought up 40% turn over rates. It just isn’t possible when you hire using some sort of computer algorithm and then assign schedules as if individual man hours were Lego blocks building a wall. Next week you just break it all down and start over. Too many places like Wal-Mart have spent the last 15-20 years eliminating anyone who could get a job elsewhere in the name of efficiency. This goes double for managers who’s only real responsibility is that nobody ever gets overtime.

    You hear the stories from Amazon warehouses where cameras and computers monitor every move and time every break down to the millisecond. Just how desperate/hungry do you have to be to put up with that? I hope I never have to find out. It’s enough to make me buy just about anywhere else first.

    The supplementary unemployment ended in Texas a long time ago, and things may be a little closer to normal than other places but you still see hiring signs everywhere. Where I work, we don’t seem to be having too many problems bringing new people on board but I’m not the one doing it.

    In Sgt. Mom’s post about Fortnum and Mason, whoever tracked her down surely didn’t have someone standing over their shoulder counting how many calls they completed per hour. Some of this is our fault, when the only thing you care about is price …

  14. I think Ace has a good point. When I went back to school to study quality improvement in Medicine, we spent some time analyzing satisfaction in work and its role in quality. Many of you will have heard of or read Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi. His book, Flow, was an attempt to analyze this. He postulated that mastery of skill was key. I’m sure respect was part of it.

  15. MCS, I worked in a customer service call center taking resort reservations for about a year, a job which I hated so much that I still flip the bird toward the building which housed that concern whenever I drive past it…
    We were rigorously timed and judged on meeting that time restriction on calls, and yet had a set script to go by, and had to upsell … and be helpful, and simultaneously work an antiquated computer interface which had so many workaround tricks and glitches that it took people months to be able to use it confidently. On average, employees lasted six months at that center. A few either moved up, but most quit the minute they found something better. A horrible job – and yes, they stood over you. Constantly.

  16. }}} “I really think there needs to be a “SimCity” simulation that accurately replicates the sheer chaos of an economy/governmental system, such that you could demonstrate to people how hard it is to predict and control such a system.”

    The issue here is the detractors would (accurately) claim the results depended on your assumptions, and (inaccurately) claim you were using the “wrong” assumptions.

  17. No one would play that game because they couldn’t win.

    Successful managers learn that the only defense is to have people with good judgement close enough to the action that they can stop things before they get out of hand. Unsuccessful managers create a new form to fill out.

  18. “No one would play that game because they couldn’t win.”

    Which is kinda the point of it… You have to have a way of demonstrating to the idiocy-inclined that their ideas do not work, but I suspect that the people you’d most need to have that demonstrated to wouldn’t play or pay attention to the results.

    One way or another, we need to return accountability to the system such that the idiot class is either identified and eliminated, or that they are given the hard, cruel “learning experiences” they need. District Attorneys like Mr. Chisholm badly need to have to deal with the repercussions of their fantasy policies, rather than being able to slough them off on the “rest of us” and living in peace in their insulated upper-class enclaves.

    Personally, I think one way to do it is to put the onus back on the judges, prosecutors, parole boards, and defense attorneys: You think that “Criminal X” isn’t a criminal, and is safe to put back into society? Fine; you post a personal bond on each of them you release before they complete their punitive sentences. If they offend again, you do the time for their original crime plus the new one, right alongside them. Won’t bring back the people that Criminal X killed, but it will introduce a bit of accountability into the system. You’re so sure that he’s rehabilitated or innocent? Stake your life alongside the lives of the people you’re inflicting that criminal on.

    Same for any of the “activists”: You think you’re advocating for the rights of the oppressed minority? Fine; put your money where your mouth is, and you bet your life on their benignity. “Oh, Criminal X is a good Y young man, an aspiring classical musician… He’d never commit a crime of violence, despite manifest evidence to the contrary…”. OK–You’re so sure of that? Let’s let Criminal X off, and if/when he reoffends, you’re gonna be up there on the dock next to his ass, answering for his actions that you enabled.

    Nice fantasies, all, but we badly need something like them to introduce actual accountability and consequence to the system, which is spinning out of control because there is currently zero amounts of either thing built in. The electorate keeps right on breezing past the hard realities of the situation, re-electing these assholes like Chisholm and Boudin, time and time again. Even while suffering the consequences of their piss-poor choices.

    I’m not particularly on the side of the cops or the prosecutors, but… Man, when I see things like Brooks and Chisholm happening as phenomenon, I want to make sure that the “system” responds accordingly.

    I keep coming back to my theory about the way the world works, and how the idiots running most or all of our institutions don’t actually understand how they work. Consider our Mr. Brooks as an example…

    The law and the people administering it are all creatures of the diktat: They believe that words create reality, and that all they have to do in order to dissuade people like our Mr. Brooks from doing wrong is to write a law against it, and then administer it.

    However, when you actually step back and analyze what has been going on here, in terms of Skinnerian operant conditioning, what has the “conversation” between the almighty Law and Mr. Brooks looked like? What’s the actual signal, the set of behavioral cues that Mr. Brooks has been given, by the system that men like Chisholm administer…?

    Has that conversation been effective in cuing the behavior the general public wants, in our Mr. Brooks? I would have to say, from the evidence, that it has not. Why is that? Because idiots like Chisholm have formed the belief that all that matters in these cases is what they say, not what actually is being demonstrated and implemented out where our Mr. Brooks is taking his cues from his environment. The environment that Chisholm and his ilk have created actually rewards Mr. Brooks for his behavior; is it any wonder that he’s made the rational choice not to change it? I mean… It’s working, right? For him, at least…

    We very badly need to start looking at these issues not in terms of what the idiot class thinks works, the diktat and the simulation of reality they create in their minds with their oh-so-sanctimonious words, and begin considering what the actual environment they’re creating is really telling people like Mr. Brooks. They say “Don’t do crime, be a good hard-working citizen who pays his taxes…”, but what does the environment out there in Mr. Brooks-land actually tell people like him…? Does that environment model good behavior, or cue it?

    I’d submit that it doesn’t, and until it does, you’re not going to see any effective “reform”. We don’t think of things in this sort of way, so we really need to begin recasting our thought processes and systems such that the various and sundry Skinner behavioral boxes we encounter each and every day actually cue and condition that which is good for the body politic.

    Because, folks, at the moment? It manifestly is not. If you think of society as a training tool, a learning experience? It ain’t working, because we’re not looking at it as being any such thing. In reality, we’re cuing criminal and destructive behavior, modeling the very things that tear us all down as a social system.

  19. Well, here’s an amazing story that makes it very clear what time it is…
    https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/jpmorgans-dimon-says-he-regrets-china-communist-party-comment
    JPMorgan Chase JPM.N Chief Executive Jamie Dimon said on Wednesday he regretted his remarks that the Wall Street bank would last longer than China’s Communist Party.
    “I regret and should not have made that comment. I was trying to emphasize the strength and longevity of our company,” Dimon said in a statement issued by the bank.

    Think any CEO of any corporation would “regret” or apologize for daring “speak lightly or disrespectfully” about the US government or political parties?
    There’s really no actions that are too radical to consider in order to break up the current system. Hand-wringing about the evils of government interference aren’t going to cut it. That’s what gotten us to where we are today.

  20. The real wonder is that anyone in that sort of position would be stupid enough to say something directly dismissing one of their biggest customers, and that’s exactly what China is to JP Morgan. Unless he intended to pull out of China, what happened was exactly what anyone with a room temperature IQ would have known would happen. This is one of the Masters of the Universe?

    Surely he hasn’t come this far in life without realizing that he’s just another whore. Whores are only allowed whatever pretense of freedom their master permits.

  21. Yes, Dimon is a moron. He’s been sitting in the right seat for the past dozen years, as the government flat out gave his company several of his competitors, and has rewritten laws to drive consolidation of his industry.
    National and multinational banks need to be ripped to pieces. Any and all policies that will encourage local banks again need to be implemented. I couldn’t care less how “interventionist” that is or how “picking winners and losers” it is. Right now government has driven us to the point of massive corporations running everything, led by leftist loons, with main streets looking like an atomic bomb went off, and no local businesses around to try to drive any sort of recovery. The current financial industry isn’t serving the general welfare at all, certainly not small local communities.

  22. in colonial times, the middlemen in china were the compradors, they were the ones who dealt with the jardines mathesons, the house of russell, et al, see the clavell series from taipan to noble house also robert elegant’s dynasty, that’s who dimon sees himself as,

  23. Brian: “Right now government has driven us to the point of massive corporations running everything, led by leftist loons …”

    Functionally, it is fascism. Big corporations run by employees, not owners, funnel the 10% to the Big Guy in various ways, and the politicians do favors for some of the big corporations while kicking others to make the pecking order clear. Kill the chicken to frighten the monkey. Most politicians inexplicably leave politics much richer than they arrived — and much richer than can be explained by their generous salaries from the taxpayers. We peons who push the buttons on the Dominion voting machines really do not figure into the equation at all.

    Your observation on the deficiencies of local banking is well taken. Only a quarter century ago, the local bank manager was a respected individual who knew his community and had discretion to help turn opportunities into businesses. Now, the local bank “manager” is a transient figure with very little real authority.

    Banks are missing out on opportunities to gain from developing the Real Economy. But they are responding appropriately to the short-term mirages of the Financial Economy.

  24. It’s all about the signalling… If they say one thing, but do another? What they say is meaningless. Much of our problem stems from this inability to connect what’s going on out in the environment of reality that we all live in with the ineffectual diktat of the chattering classes.

    Sure, we hear them say they want to develop local business… But, what do they actually do?

    In a fight, they say “Watch the hands…”, meaning that whatever is coming out of the mouth of your opponent is meaningless, while their actions speak volumes about their actual intent. The voting public simply hasn’t been paying enough attention to the hands, listening instead to all the sweet-smelling lies they’ve been sold by all the “elite”.

  25. in other news gofundme, actually allowed a fundraiser for that reaver brooks, they seem to have taken it down, and rittenhouse whiskey, apologized for any association, with the controversy,

    so they seem to grovel in unhealthy ways,

  26. I suspect that the underground economy was significantly stimulated by the COVID measures. Perhaps this partially explains why statistical labor participation is lagging. I suspect the new banking requirements to inform the IRS of almost all transactions is an serious effort to reduce the underground economy so this activity can be taxed and regulated. Eliminating cash will likely come with complimentary effect.

    Death6

  27. Thirties movies are full of hard work and success stories (hell, even in that chick’s flick, Mildred Pierce).
    Inertia is a big deal – it doesn’t take a complete neurotic to be afraid of a busy, demanding environment after the years of Covid – esp think of high rise isolation, but anyone anywhere. (The theory that always made the most sense was that Dickinson secured herself away to devote herself to her poetry afraid (sensibly but wrongly) that she was losing her sight. It took her many years to go among people again and when she did it was intensely & briefly.) So we experimented on a lot of people for close to two years, no wonder some got in the habit of not working.
    Geographical, generational changes are in the air – each generation a little less driven, it seems to me. Wandering through trivia after watching an old movie with David Janssen, a quote appeared: He worked hard (and he did – those were the days of large numbers of episodes in series and he starred in 4 of them, besides endless television dramas) because he felt guilty when he wasn’t working, a Nebraska trait he observed though they’d moved to California when he was in his teens. But he’s a bit of a warning, too – dead at 48, heart and lung problems you’d expect from a drinker and a 4-pack a day guy, but in the end his heart seemed to give out & overwork was blamed.

    Years of telling people they should hold out for their dream job: when the aspirational becomes delusional- I’ve never had a job where at least part of the time wasn’t spent in boring or difficult or repetitive work. And this is not just factory line work but, well David I may be wrong but I suspect board room meetings are not always full of high (or even interesting) drama. A bit of stoicism might lead to fewer turnovers: taking the bad with the good.

    Also, it seems hard to take work seriously when mobs seem to be able to recreate every night while destroying the work of workers and money seems to appear as if work was merely the illusion of productivity. Indeed, when recreation is a huge part of our bills each month and those in “creative” enterprises a large percentage of our workers, the concrete reality of work may seem less and less real as well.

  28. I think what Ginny says is right, especially about things like job satisfaction. I think for most people, their dream job is a chimera that doesn’t and never has existed. I’ve never found any job that didn’t include large elements that I would have foregone if I could have gotten away with it. I regularly give thanks for accountants and that there are people that appear to enjoy doing something I find next to torture.

    We or, more accurately, the media and politicians have spent the better part of two years telling everyone that they are in deathly danger any time they are near other people. Is it surprising that especially some of those who were considered dispensable, in “non essential” jobs and industries choose to risk their lives in some endeavor that is more consequent or not risk it at all.

  29. It strikes me that people work because of some combination of Hope and Fear…the Fear part is the fear of not being able to eat, or feed one’s family, or acquire things that one regards as essential…the Hope part is the hope of being able to significantly better oneself, gain status, to do interesting more interesting work, to increase one’s options in life. Both factors have suffered some degree of reduction–the Fear factor, there’s now enough of a safety net that you’re not actually going to starve to death, the fact that there are a lot more people without kids to support–the Hope factor, the limits on mobility driven by credentialism and in some cases by really bad education. (although the credentialism factor is not really as overwhelming as many Harvard-obsessed parents think it is, the perception has an influence)

  30. “Geographical, generational changes are in the air – each generation a little less driven, it seems to me”…perhaps…the Hope and Fear factors I mentioned above surely play a part. But also, I’m reminded of something that Antoine de St-Exupery wrote, reflecting on the failed campaign of 1940 (in which he served as a reconnaissance pilot) and the disappointment of many Frenchmen that the United States had not intervened to save the situation:

    “Had France been France, she might have stood to the world as the common ideal round which the world would have rallied. She might have served as the keystone in the world’s arch. Had France possessed the flavor of France, the radiation of France, the whole world would have been magnetized into a resistance of which the spearhead would have been France. I reject henceforth my reproaches against the world. Assuming that at a given moment the world lacked a soul, France owed it to herself to serve as the world’s soul…A civilization, like a religion, accuses itself when it complains of the tepid faith of its members.”

    I suspect that a lot of people who are presently putting in a lackluster and don’t-care-very much performance at work would, given just a bit of leadership (reflected not just in words but in actions) surprise themselves and everybody else in a positive way.

  31. David F: “I suspect that a lot of people … would … surprise themselves and everybody else in a positive way.”

    Let’s hope so. It will be interesting to see how we all react when our backs are against the wall.

    I keep looking back on Japan and Germany at the end of WWII — beaten down, cities burned, almost every woman in eastern Germany raped, massive number of displaced people in Europe. A quarter of a century later, Japan and West Germany were beginning to kick the butts (economically) of the victors. On the other hand, East Germany was sinking into the mire that produced Mutti Merkel.

    The coming painful collapse will not inevitably improve life — but at least there is that potential in the longer term, if the current Ruling Class can be defenestrated.

  32. “Post WW2 Germany and Japan were liberated from their incestious managerial class”

    Is that really correct? Certainly, the political leadership of the countries was replaced, at least at the national level. But at what level, if at all, was the leadership of the major corporations in either country replaced?

    Same question applies to local government.

  33. Yeah, I have to question the premise, there…

    Before the wars, Germany was set to dominate Central Europe through sheer efficiency and economic competitiveness. The features of German culture that contributed to that still remained after the disruption of the two wars, and since they’d gotten their teeth kicked in, there was no distractions about “getting back on top”. I don’t think that the German managerial classes had much to do with either success or failure; they’re there, true, but… It’s all how they got used. Same managers who enabled the punch-card efficiencies of the death camps were there to help VW and the other German industries recover and modernize.

    I honestly don’t think that there was some vast liberation of anything when WWII was over, in terms of some supposed “freedom of action”. Everything I’ve ever heard and read about post-WWII Germany was that the brakes on operations weren’t necessarily the Germans or their remaining government, but the Allies and the military governments. After all, who nearly sold VW to British and American industrial interests, after all? And, whose industrialists had the lack of vision to refuse the purchase?

    I honestly think this is a null argument, and that the supposed setting free of German competitiveness had little or nothing to do with the post-WWII “economic miracle”. Although, I will grant that getting the delusional favoritism of the Nazis with their worship for the “Fuhrerprinzip” probably did a lot of good. That, however, was not a natural part of German life or culture, being the strictly delusional idea of an Austrian madman who was raised outside of the German educational system that did not embrace such thinking.

  34. well there is certainly a continuity between the zaibatsu and keiretsu structures of economic integration, less so with germany, but there are constants deutsche bank of course, also other players like siemens and even klaus schwab’s employer, esch wyss,

  35. On the “Economic Miracle” WEB Griffin in several of his novels attributes much of it to money hidden in Argentina during the war. No proof but he had pretty good sources.

  36. he puts a less severe spin on gehlen and paper clip, as a paratrooper who had been trained in a german lycee, he had the ants eye view of the matter, the last series as well as his sort of memoir, the hunting trip, suggests that

  37. “I suspect that a lot of people who are presently putting in a lackluster and don’t-care-very much performance at work would, given just a bit of leadership (reflected not just in words but in actions) surprise themselves and everybody else in a positive way.”
    I’m not sure what sort of “leadership” you have in mind, to be honest. What do men live and die for? Family, “For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods”, etc. One hundred and fifty years ago, was the average small farmer working hard due to pride in being self-sufficient, or in fear of he and his family starving? I suspect it was far more the latter than the former. Take away that fear, and also take away any self-sufficiency, self-respect, autonomy, etc., and you get what? Well, what we have today, I guess.

  38. Brian…I’m not speaking of national leadership and overall social trends, but of the specific leadership of a particular company, a particular department, a particular group within that department…or the equivalents in other kinds of organizations. Whatever the overall situation of a society, small-unit leadership makes a difference in how people feel about their work and how they perform it…and large-unit leadership makes a difference in who the small-unit leadership *is*, and how well will be are able to do their jobs.

  39. I may be an outlier, but I’ve never found “leadership” to be particularly critical with anything, at any level. Most “leaders” are idiotic dolts who’ve managed to get themselves to the top of things and arrogated the authority inherent to the position to make themselves feel better about their own inadequacies. The guys who I look back on and remember as being really effective were rarely the sort of egotistical twats you tend to think of, like Patton or Trump, whenever someone speaks of “leadership”.

    Final analysis, I really don’t think “leadership” is all that important.

    What is important, then? Look around you; what is missing from many people’s lives, and what do they seek out? Why do so many kids join gangs? Religious cults? Any sort of group that provides them with affirmation and support, even if it is the sort of group that’s actually inimical to their welfare… Why, for the love of God, did I join the Army and keep beating my head on the walls inside that institution, fully aware of its pitfalls and pratfalls?

    The simple answer is that we’re all seeking purpose and the sort of supportive familial relationships that a lot of us just aren’t finding in today’s world. If you find yourself in an organization that validates you, and provides you with the warmth of human interaction while you work, you’ll pretty much do anything to keep that–Even when it’s often an abusive relationship. You want to know why there’s so much anomie and dissatisfaction in the workplace? It’s not the jobs; it’s not the “leadership”: It is the vacuum of humanistic expression and fulfillment within what we’re doing with these things today. There’s no loyalty downwards in the majority of institutions; thus, there’s no feeling of loyalty upwards, either. You know your “leader” is looking out for number one, his career–Why should you care about anything besides your own? Look at the examples you’re given to model on.

    The dearth of these things, the petty little demonstrations of truly felt care and concern that your boss shows you? They stem from the fact that nobody is showing your boss any, either. The system is too big, too impersonal, and it’s been set up by sociopaths, designed by crazy people who’ve no earthly idea about human loyalties or desires.

    Ever wonder why feudalism is such an evocative thing, why every science fiction writer in the history of the genre always imagines vast interstellar empires of feudal glory? It’s because that situation speaks to us, of loyalties up and down, knowing that you’ve got a place, that you’re appreciated in it. We dream of it, and fail to recognize that a lot of those systems were as vast and impersonal as our own, but we feel the lack of it all, and project our desires for it on the imaginings of the far-off future.

    I think a lot of what we’ve built up in the last few centuries is too vast and impersonal to really last; you need to have contact, camaraderie, trust in the guy on your left and right. When you’re a cog in the machine, a bit of protoplasmic machinery, interchangeable with all the rest…? You don’t have that; thus, you’re left unsatisfied and unfulfilled.

    Fixing this is going to require a recasting of most of our civilization. You need to have things done on a more human scale, a scale like the one we evolved under, that of the small band of hunter-gatherers interacting across a landscape peopled by other suchlike small bands. I think we need to interpose another level of hierarchy and organization in society, one where you are able to find a home and family feeling. The nuclear family is a thing of import and wonder, but the reality is you need something a bit bigger, more extended–Call it a work-group, or something. We already know what the size ought to be–Between 9 and 15 people, just like the “coincidental” sizes of most organized athletic teams or an infantry squad. Were you to do it right, such an entity would be able to serve as a home for someone’s entire working life, where you might take part in other, larger organizations similar to how teams in sports function within leagues, and infantry squads manage themselves in larger elements. Imagine being a member of such a team, perhaps one that starts out working together on a loading dock as a crew, gaining experience and skills to progress along the way towards other ends in the same realm of logistics. You might have a work-group that loads trucks and then moves on to do other things like dispatch and stock-keeping, maybe going from a warehouse dock working for Amazon to some smaller entity that doesn’t need all the people and specializations that Amazon does, but which can be served by your work-groups skill-set.

    People want camaraderie and companionship; badly enough that they’ll kill for it. I know for a fact that the main reason I stuck around the Army for so long was the fellow-feeling I had when I was in a good unit; whatever bad units I served in, that time in the good ones made up for it, and I was happy to pay the price. Even now, looking back? I miss it. And, I think that an awful lot of us miss that same thing, that team feeling, the shared collective spirit you get in those situations. We need to find ways of building opportunities for that to happen, and nurture these things.

    Because isolation and anomie is no way to go through life, and stay sane. You need that “fellow ape” tribal feeling, and when you don’t have it? You’re on the road to perdition.

    And, for what it’s worth? That’s coming from someone who would describe themselves as a life-long “non-joiner” and individualist. I’ve always preferred being the “cat who walks alone”, but there’s also a need there for the pack, the band, and knowing that my back is not bare of brother to guard it. Modern life strips us all of these things, and we need to find a way to get back to a better balance.

  40. After the end of WWII, it didn’t take long for the Allies to realize that a permanently crippled Germany and Japan, as was the goal of Versailles, wouldn’t be any help containing the Soviets. Most of the German industrialists were handed long prison sentences mostly for their participation in the slave labor schemes. Just about all of them were released early in the ’50’s and took up their positions where they left off.

    The culpability of “our” German scientists like Von Braun is very murky, no one wanted to look too close.

  41. Hrm, well, I don’t work at a big box store, though I do shop there a lot (not much choice about that, unfortunately) and I’m not poor or unemployed, though I live in an economically depressed small town, and I’m pretty certain that better managers at the local Lowe’s isn’t going to fix what ails America today…

  42. Not to mention the fact that had we actually sent everyone that deserved it to prison, Germany and Japan would both have been essentially crippled, and likely dependent on the former Allies for decades to come. It was the same story on either side of the Iron Curtain–Lots of former Nazis were given positions in the new East Germany, so long as they did as they were told and didn’t make trouble.

    It was pretty much all hypocrisy, all the way down. Personally, I think a point should have been made, and we should have run everyone with a Nazi Party ID card through the camps the way they ran the Jews through, to the same end-point. I doubt that that would have made the world a better place, necessarily, but it would have made more of a resounding point about “don’t do this” for the rest of us to observe and learn from.

    There were a lot of things about the whole deal with regards to the Nazis; they’re going after kids who were conscripted to work the gates at the camps, as if they’d had anything to do with setting them up, and yet…? Meanwhile, we let the bastards that actually administered things like confiscating Jewish properties and benefiting from the looting of other countries go free as birds, ‘cos they didn’t do anything sufficiently “bad”. Yet, they’re the ones who benefited the most, and the sanctimonious “authorities” are going after some poor schlub who likely had not a damn thing to show for his WWII experiences except life-long trauma. While the asshole who was back home working within the Party gets a free ride, ‘cos he never got his hands dirty…

    All of them were morally culpable, and should have been held accountable.

  43. “Don’t quit your day job.” And why shouldn’t you? Yeah, it may not be fulfilling, and it may be far from your dreams, but it’s reliable. You always know the paycheck is coming in.

    Until, suddenly, it wasn’t. No warning, no severance package, just POP! Gone.

    And it wasn’t like you could go find another job, because they were cancelled not just all across your town, or state, or even the nation, but the entire world.

    You had nothing but time. And your dreams.

    How many people started chasing those dreams? How many of them are willing to give up now and go back to their old grind?

    No idea, but in my neck of the woods, the number is not insignificant, and they overlap strongly with the “off book” folks.

  44. did we need rorschman, mengele wolf rauff for anything, that’s just a random sampling, see kodama kishi sasagawa well the bookends formed the ldp, so probably, yes there were many rank and file nazis that were part of the bureaucracy,

  45. Perhaps Bernie Sanders shouldn’t fixate on the absolute numbers (20 million) but rather the percentage increase.

    The sad truth is that low level wages have stagnated. Worse, benefits and opportunities have been taken away while requirements have sky rocked.
    Which company still has their own cleaning staff? Who does it now? Whoever it is, bet you they are paid worse in comparsion, crushing timetable and even by US standards sub-standard workers rights.
    Waitstaff? Your customers are still rude, but now you have to wear a mask, disinfect the table, check vax status. You don’t get more time to do these task. Nor can you work longer (if that is an option) to compensate fewer tips due fewer customer per hour* because longer hours you’d qualify for what the US calls benefits** and oh no can’t have that. Of course, are you getting tips? Or is it all digital and your boss pinky swears he’ll hand over your tips? And has your boss hired enough staff, if he could? Or does he try to make one waiter do the work of three?

    For most of the above you can replace waitstaff with service craft, driver or health care worker.

    So why would they return to a job that pays relativly less than it did 20-30 years ago while also being a lot worse because some bean counter decided that his spreadsheet told him the job could be done with 5 people, while 30 years ago it would have been 15 people, bills the customer like it was 20 people and then pays the 5 people he actually hired like it was 30 years ago?
    Also they have to be on time but unlike 30 years ago the 5 people live on the ass end of nowhere, as there the rents are still affordable for them, but cars can’t be driven to the workplace and public transport is sick joke. More so in these time than usual.

    *assuming your business cares about the disinfect between customers part

    **and the rest of the West insults, most of the world in fact, only a few countries consider US working conditions an advance over theirs

  46. There are a lot of reasons. The only thing I’d add to what others have discussed is that a great many blacks are reluctant to return to work because of concerns about COVID and the vaccines.

  47. I wonder if perhaps we have the jobs issue backwards. It seems to me that historically people worked because if they didn’t, they’d starve to death, and that their natural condition was to aspire to not doing anything at all. In fact, the wealthy basically didn’t.

    In the societies of Western Europe and Russia, where agriculture was the major source of wealth (well, apart from robbing and looting and pillaging), the periods of serious labor only took up a small part of the year, mostly during harvesting. Yes, there were periods when people worked from sunup to sunset, which, especially in Northern Europe meant long periods of time.

    But for long stretches of the year, agriculture involved little to no work. That began to change with industrial revolution, especially in Great Britain, the United States, France, and Germany, when the GDP increasingly consisted of manufac-tures, e.g. textile mills in particular.

    But I don’t think people in the upper classes did much work in the sense we think of it today. As the welfare state began to develop in the late 19th century, that began to change, but the Marxist-Leninist model of happy and productive workers getting their just rewards was just as delusional as Voltaire’s theology of work (developed half jokingly in Candide). My in person familiarity with the Workers Paradise only began towards the end, in the 1970s, but I never saw much actual work going on.

    Anyway, I wonder if the basic reason for what we’re seeing now is that we’ve eliminated the basic motivation, and a good many people have, rather sensibly, concluded that since there’s no way they can amass the resources to imrpove thei situation byt very much, they’ve decided not to bother. Why should they?

    After a professional lifetime as a member of the professorate, I heard nothing but complaints about how my colleagures were overworked and underpaid. Not only was this not really true, but they could easily have increased their compensa-tion. But they didn’t. It was too much bother. They’d have to go to the office every day! Or actually produce something that society was willing to pay for. Horrors! Not happening, in the vast majority of cases.

    Obviously there are other reasons, and earlier commenters came up with some good ones, but I wonder if a good bit of the problem is just a version of the same completely delusional view of human behavior that we see in all sorts of other ways in contemporary society.

  48. John M…some good points. In some aristocratic societies, the upper classes weren’t expected to work, but they were expected to fight, to defend and/or increase their own territory or that of their superior lord. And also to act as judges in the affairs of theirs peasants/serfs.

    Yeah, a lot of academics seem to feel underpaid, even though among the tenured professoriate the relative pay situation is quite different than what is was, say, 50 years ago. (How much is a good pension + lifetime medical worth in present-value dollars?) I get the impression that a lot of profs feel that they could easily work as CEOs of (any Fortune 100 company) and that they are making a big personal sacrifice by being in academia.

    And, of course, those down in the instructor/adjunct professor ranks really *are* exploited and underpaid.

  49. “of course, those down in the instructor/adjunct professor ranks really *are* exploited and underpaid.”
    That “of course” is doing a lot of work there–what reason is there to believe that “instructor/adjunct professors” are any more exploited or underpaid than starting out mechanics or cashiers or any of a billion other entry level positions in any other industry?

  50. May not be…the comparison was intended to be with the tenured professors, not for people in other industries.

    Although I’d note that the cashiers, at least, probably didn’t sign up for large loans in order to acquired their hiring credentials.

  51. “Although I’d note that the cashiers, at least, probably didn’t sign up for large loans in order to acquired their hiring credentials.”
    Cue any number of jokes about people working at Starbucks…

    Our predatory student loan system is an entirely different subject. Just a recent part of turning us from a nation of citizens into a nation of employees, and in more recent times functionally into serfs. You want health insurance? Get a job with a big company. Want a pension/retirement? Get a job with a big company. Want an education/credential, to get that job at a big company? Take out a ton of debt, which in order to repay you have to go work for a big company. Want to discharge that loan that you signed up for when you were 17 that will take you your whole life to pay off? Haha, that’s a funny joke. (Yes, I know “People need to suffer the consequences for their bad choices–junkies deserve to die, and French Lit majors deserve to toil in permanent debt bondage…”) Want to stay home and raise a family? What sort of self-loathing woman are you, who doesn’t want to be in “the workforce”?

    What’s amazing is that Marx’s predictions were all wrong and his “solutions” were evil when they weren’t “just” idiotic, but he’s the most famous economist ever, while Belloc and Chesterton nailed everything and languish in obscurity (relative, at least)…

  52. Agriculture before mechanization in no way resembled Mr. Mosier’s characterization.

    There were two periods of maximum effort, planting as well as harvest. The period between would only seem slow by comparison. The summer was the fighting season because the men could be spared by transferring the work to the women, children and aged, and there was a lot of work.

    First was the care of animals that was year around. Summer was the time to gather winter forage for those animals that were a matter of life or death. There was cultivation of the crops by hand and hoe. There was winter fuel to gather, also a matter of life or death. Thatch cut to repair cottages and out buildings. Wild food for a little variety. Work owed to the seigneur. Etc.

    After harvest was time for threshing grain. Then the long cold dark of winter with activities confined to indoors and the ever present chance that a poor harvest would transform subsistence to starvation. Mending clothes, harness, tools. The ever present disease, not least those of deficient diet.

    Spring brought tillage, often by hand with spade. Plows and horses or even oxen were for the well to do. Also the time to practice the art of dung gathering which rarely accomplished more than slowing the decline of soil productivity. Fallow fields weren’t for those who’s lives depended on every potato or kernel of grain.

    Details varied from place to place and depended on crops but the Shire was a work of imagination by someone that never experienced it.

  53. I apologize for my lack of precision in specifying the time period in question. Your characterization of agriculture may well be true in the twelfth century, and it may well have continued in parts of the world for a very long time. But in Europe by 1700 (if not before) that was definitely not the case.

    However, the fact remaims that planting and harvesting only occured in relatively short time periods. Sure, there were periods of intense activity, but during the rest of the time, not much needed to be done. In the sense that work in a factory began to exist at some point in the early 19th century—long hours 6 days a week all year round, agricultural labor was intermittent, pretty much the same way when I was growing up in the 1950s.

    Yeah, cattle and sheep require attention, but a lot of that consists of just sitting there, or wandering around checking the fences. Plus a lot of the work is dependent on the weather. You can’t do much when the ground is frozen, for example.

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