Thursday, July 12, 2007

job security exchange

A few months ago I got into a gmail back and forth with Rich Palmer about the merits of job security.
I have manfully refrained from altering my original in even cosmetic ways, and (more difficult) from responding. This includes the incomplete and non-sensical point number 7.

My post refers to some of the pre debate we had.

“well, when you're looking for jobs, it certainly seem that way... very few employees feel like they have any say in what they do, their conditions of work or their pay. most just get told how things are going to be. there's no ground for negotiation, it's not an even partnership…”

  1. I’ve no argument with this, but I don’t get what’s wrong with this. This is the reason people are paid, to induce them to do what others want them to do. I don’t want a partnership with my maid, I want a clean flat. It’s the reason why unpleasant, or dangerous jobs pay more than normal jobs (all other things being equal). In the US prostitutes each more than architects.
  2. You said “but there's not really any job security, 2 weeks leave a year... admittedly they get pad pretty well, but I'm not sure that's a good trade-pff”. you might not think it’s a good trade off, but others prefer high risk, high reward; government enforcing one option means picking sides and forcing the others to just deal with it and I view that as a bad result. Besides these preferences can be dealt with in a free market. Employees could be offered a job with lower pay but with a promise of a months notice. Sure this doesn’t happen, but it a problem with cultural norms, not intrinsically impossible. I bet most people would take higher pay.
  3. Job security is best for highly skilled. Well paid people in France have nice lives (partly because they don‘t really need to work much), but many people are desperate just for a job, and are either unemployed or working in a series of temp contracts not knowing if they‘ll get the next one. This is real lack of security which the laws are there to prevent. These people are the less talented ones. In America, at least you know you’ll get another job. I view the French economy as a disaster; and it’s the one that emphasises security the most.
  4. Jobs are not in fixed supply. Easy firing means its easy to take chances on people with little experience, wacky business ventures etc etc. This changes the nature of an economy creating new job types that are more interesting and diverse. This effect compounds over time making us richer and creating cooler jobs. Surely you’d agree that the range of jobs today is more attractive than it’s ever been. I’d like to intensify this.
  5. People adjust their consumption to fit in with expected lifetime earnings (save when times are good, borrow when things are bad), they do this anyway, and they’d adjust if job security changed, saving more when they get a job. You said that the pay is good there, so they smooth higher income over their lives = higher average consumption.
  6. Happiness studies show that that unemployment is the surest way to make someone (who is not starving) miserable. This misery should be weighed up against anxiety of those with less secure jobs. More security, more unemployed.
  7. Bosses want to pay as little as possible, but there’s obviously something counteracting this impulse. Average wages even for the least skilled, shittiest jobs are way above the minimum wage; why is this? They say, “poor immigrants do the jobs americans wont” this means employers
  8. Something that I don’t really expect anybody to agree with, but here goes. Small differences in economic growth rates make vast differences over time. We don’t know what the future looks like, but the richer we are with better technology (these go together) maximises the chances that we’ll increase normal human life spans, improve human cognition and empathy eliminate suffering and develop super intelligence. If less security means more growth, then great.
Richard's response:

    All very good points no doubt, and as usual, I have no argument with your logic on any of the issues you've raised. Except perhaps the French one… maybe the French system isn't a bad system, but rather a poorly applied system. I don't know enough about it, but there are other countries with a high degree of job security that are prosperous (most of the rest of Europe - Scandanavia, the UK, Holland etc).

    My argument is more around humanity and the human condition, something that is not as easily explained in growth terms, but in the relationships between people.

    I agree that employers should have the right to say "here's something I want done, and this is how much I'm willing to pay to do it – take it or leave it". What you describe in the job market as ideal fits quite closely with the (1st year) micro-economic ideal of perfect competition being the ultimate economic solution. I haven't studied any more economics than that, but from what I've heard, that's not really how it works at all.

    To stick with the analogy, what I see is a situation more akin to oligopoly or monopoly, where employers (particularly corporations), because of their relative size, have market power in the employment market. And I don't like it. No major arguments from a logic perspective, but I think that a lot of employees add a lot more value to the companies they work for than they are rewarded for.

    I also think that a completely free job market leads to people working longer and longer hours, for more and more money. I think this has a detrimental effect on the functioning of society because the top people are not interacting socially, teaching, sharing and contributing in any way beyond the professional. And that's quite a sad place to be. If everyone worked 60h or 80h weeks with paid overtime, sure we'd be a more productive society, we'd grow faster, we may even achieve super intelligence quicker… but is it a society we'd like to live in, in the meantime?

    I can't stand the feel of the US for that reason, it feels like it's all about being productive, making more money, getting more stuff and less and less about building relationships, community involvement, volunteering etc. It starts turning into Atlas shrugged, where there's no room for people whose values aren't fixated on growth. And people in that situation don't seem happy or satisfied to me.

    Also, from a sustainability perspective (and this is getting beyond the bounds of job security and into growth) we need to slow down and start doing things better, more efficiently and slower. Growth will be limited by some very fundamental principles, but that doesn't mean that development must be limited. I think the general rule should be to take more time in planning and not rushing headlong into what will offer the fastest short term growth. But I guess that's another discussion…

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