David R. Henderson  

Don't Just Sit There: Undo Something

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Old-time Religion?... My NPR Non-Appearance...

That's the title of my piece that I wrote for the McClatchy newspaper chain. It ran in multiple McClatchy papers. Here's the one in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Here's one excerpt:

First, distinguish between bad jobs and good jobs. An example of a bad job is hiring someone to dig a hole and then fill it in. The person's time is totally wasted. An example of a good job is one created by Steve Jobs: hiring someone to produce a product, say the iPad, that someone else wants to buy and is willing to spend his own money to buy. The person doing the work gives up his time but is paid for it by someone who wants the product.

My example suggests that bad jobs will tend to be those created by government with the goal of making work; good jobs will tend to be those created by people in the private sector creating value.


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CATEGORIES: Economic Education



COMMENTS (8 to date)
Gian writes:

The logic is unclear.

If the digger is digging voluntarily and is getting paid to dig and fill then how is his time wasted?

If I am paying somebody to dig and fill out of my pocket, then who are you to object?

I think your underlying problem is the 'taxation is theft' libertarian meme.

The make-work can criticized by a wider perspective that looks into why man work. Man is made in the image of a creative God and thus any non-creative work frustrates and offends man.

David R. Henderson writes:

Gian asks:
If the digger is digging voluntarily and is getting paid to dig and fill then how is his time wasted?
Good question: from his viewpoint, it's not wasted.
Then Gian asks:
If I am paying somebody to dig and fill out of my pocket, then who are you to object?
Again, a good question. I shouldn't object if you're paying him out of your own pocket. I'm talking about government jobs where the government pays out of our pockets. And you've put your finger on what's wrong with that: taxation is theft.

stuhlmann writes:

While I agree that it is much better to have private employers pay people to produce products that other people willingly buy, how can the government or anyone else bring this about? Using your example of Steve Jobs and the iPad, a few highly skilled engineers and software developers are the only Americans involved in producing iPads. Men like Steve Jobs have all the low-skill assembly work done overseas. As Bryan Caplan points out in his 9 September entry on universal college attendance, not everyone can earn an engineering degree.

Shangwen writes:

A twist: the Malaysian government has tried to curtail traffic congestion in Jakarta by creating special priority lines restricted to cars with three or more passengers. (See the NYT article here.)

As a result, large numbers of poor, uneducated, and unskilled people in that city work as "car jockeys" whose sole task is to sit in someone's car for $1 so the driver can get into the fast lane. Ergo, there is an unintended consequence of not encouraging real car pooling, for a cost of $2 per ride to the driver, and no reduction in actual traffic.

The jockeys collect the fee, but the work only exists because of a regulation. If the law goes away, or ceases to be unenforced, they are out of work, and have not acquired any human capital (though they earned much-needed cash).

Technically, the jockeys are privately employed and the driver is a private sector employer. But the jobs exist only to satisfy a regulation, and create no other value. That is the kind of ditch-digging we have in rich countries. There may be civil servants who do real, productive work, but there are also private-sector workers whose sole function is to comply with meaningless regulation.

TFG writes:

Digging holes and filling them in can be done by an 85 IQ worker. Much of the US work in producing iPads requires an IQ that is multiple standard deviations above that.

Changing all jobs to the latter type is great if you have a 120+ IQ but the 85 IQ guy is SOL. It's either pay him to dig holes, pay him welfare to do nothing, or expect him to take up crime.

Rick Hull writes:
It's either pay him to dig holes, pay him welfare to do nothing, or expect him to take up crime.

There are plenty of menial tasks that actually have value, unlike the digging of holes to fill them back up. e.g. valuable irrigation ditches and signposts require digging. Streets need sweeping, etc.

Colin Blair writes:

So is fixing infrastructure equivalent to digging holes and filling them back in again? If fixing infrastructure is not the equivalent digging holes and filling them back in again, then what are some examples in your estimation?

kyle8 writes:

Stuhlman writes: Using your example of Steve Jobs and the iPad, a few highly skilled engineers and software developers are the only Americans involved in producing iPads. Men like Steve Jobs have all the low-skill assembly work done overseas.

Where do the share of the profits go in your equation? Between the hiring down directly at Apple and the additional hiring and sales commissions at the retail outlets I will wager the amount of profit going to USA sources is 70-80%, although that might be a little high, but the amount going to the assembly and production of electronic products is really very low.

That is only a small part of why arguments against free trade are bad arguments.

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