Bryan Caplan  

Working: The Graphic Novel

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Readers familiar with my fondness for graphic novels will know that when I recommend the graphic novelization of Studs Terkel's Working, it's no snub.  In the original book, first published in 1972, Terkel interviewed people in a wide variety of occupations about their jobs.  The 2009 graphic novelization edits and illustrates the original interviews - and brings a dated work of oral history back to life.

Admittedly, the original author's pro-union and left-wing bias is pretty clear.  Malcontent workers are vastly overrepresented in the interviews.  But their life stories are still interesting to hear.  Elderly workers interviewed in 1972 could easily have started their careers in the 1910s.  Though few of the interviewees have any idea about why workers' lives improved so much during the 20th century, the poverty they remember was all-too-real.

Also striking: While some workers think their whole lives were out of their control, plenty of Terkel's subjects independently discovered compensating differentials.  You can do the work you love... if you take a big pay cut.  Don't miss the interview with the bohemian jazz musician.

The main lesson I took away, however, is that the worst thing about "bad jobs" isn't the jobs themselves.  It's your fellow workers.  When they're resentful and lazy, they don't just make your life harder; they also make managers choose between looking weak or being mean.


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COMMENTS (3 to date)
Sean writes:

Along this vein, check out the 2001 book "Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs". It explicitly acknowledges the debt owed to Working, but doesn't contain the lefty edge. It's also 30 years fresher.

David J. Balan writes:

Your "bad jobs" point seems to me to be an argument for making it illegal to be "mean" to workers.

Suppose there are two equilibria: one bad one where firm owners and workers hate each other, the workers don't work and the owners are mean; and one good one where the firm owners and workers respect each other, the workers do work and the owners are nice. If you are stuck in the bad equilibrium, how can you get to the good one? One way would be to simply ban meanness.

Obviously there are lots of other considerations at work which might cut against banning meanness, but I do think this argument is a serious one in favor.

hacs writes:

An off-subject comment.

The new report about CO2 emissions (consumption-based CO2 emissions) shows that EU's green tech revolution intensively consists in to move abroad dirty but necessary technologies.

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