Another work-week begins and I had to share one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time. This article goes into the essential reasons that many are performing valuable work but not being compensated accordingly while others perform “bullshit jobs” that create little or no value or wealth and are making outsized compensation packages. Evonomics presents Why Garbagemen Should Make More Than Bnnkers…
Thick fog envelops City Hall Park at daybreak on February 2, 1968. Seven thousand New York City sanitation workers stand crowded together, their mood rebellious. Union spokesman John DeLury addresses the multitude from the roof of a truck. When he announces that the mayor has refused further concessions, the crowd’s anger threatens to boil over. As the first rotten eggs sail overhead, DeLury realizes the time for compromise is over. It’s time to take the illegal route, the path prohibited to sanitation workers for the simple reason that the job they do is too important.
It’s time to strike.
The next day, trash goes uncollected throughout the Big Apple. Nearly all the city’s garbage crews have stayed home. “We’ve never had prestige, and it never bothered me before,” one garbageman is quoted in a local newspaper. “But it does now. People treat us like dirt.”
When the mayor goes out to survey the situation two days later, the city is already knee-deep in refuse, with another 10,000 tons added every day. A rank stench begins to percolate through the city’s streets, and rats have been sighted in even the swankiest parts of town. In the space of just a few days, one of the world’s most iconic cities has started to look like a slum. And for the first time since the polio epidemic of 1931, city authorities declare a state of emergency.
Still the mayor refuses to budge. He has the local press on his side, which portrays the strikers as greedy narcissists. It takes a week before the realization begins to kick in: The garbagemen are actually going to win. “New York is helpless before them,” the editors of The New York Times despair. “This greatest of cities must surrender or see itself sink in filth.” Nine days into the strike, when the trash has piled up to 100,000 tons, the sanitation workers get their way. “The moral of the story,” Time Magazine later reported, “is that it pays to strike.”
Rich without Lifting a Finger
Perhaps, but not in every profession.
Imagine, for instance, that all of Washington’s 100,000 lobbyists were to go on strike tomorrow. Or that every tax accountant in Manhattan decided to stay home. It seems unlikely the mayor would announce a state of emergency. In fact, it’s unlikely that either of these scenarios would do much damage. A strike by, say, social media consultants, telemarketers, or high-frequency traders might never even make the news at all.
Things Could Be Different.
The modern marketplace is equally uninterested in usefulness, quality, and innovation. All that really matters is profit. Sometimes that leads to marvelous contributions, sometimes not. From telemarketers to tax consultants, there’s a rock-solid rationale for creating one bullshit job after another: You can net a fortune without ever producing a thing.
In this situation, inequality only exacerbates the problem. The more wealth is concentrated at the top, the greater the demand for corporate attorneys, lobbyists, and high-frequency traders. Demand doesn’t exist in a vacuum, after all; it’s the product of a constant negotiation, determined by a country’s laws and institutions, and, of course, by the people who control the purse strings.
Maybe this is also a clue as to why the innovations of the past 30 years – a time of spiraling inequality – haven’t quite lived up to our expectations. “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters,” mocks Peter Thiel, Silicon Valley’s resident intellectual. If the postwar era gave us fabulous inventions like the washing machine, the refrigerator, the space shuttle, and the pill, lately it’s been slightly improved iterations of the same phone we bought a couple years ago.
In fact, it has become increasingly profitable not to innovate. Imagine just how much progress we’ve missed out on because thousands of bright minds have frittered away their time dreaming up hypercomplex financial products that are ultimately only destructive. Or spent the best years of their lives duplicating existing pharmaceuticals in a way that’s infinitesimally different enough to warrant a new patent application by a brainy lawyer so a brilliant PR department can launch a brand-new marketing campaign for the not-so-brand-new drug.
Imagine that all this talent were to be invested not in shifting wealth around, but in creating it. Who knows, we might already have had jetpacks, built submarine cities, or cured cancer.