Bryan Caplan  

The Signal of Protest

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If you were an employer, would you want to hire an Occupy Wall Street protester?  Probably not.  In fact, it's hard to imagine an employer seeing a protester on TV, then thinking, "I've got to hire him!"  Protesters are arguably showing off some traits that employers value, like IQ, initiative, teamwork, and determination.  But they are also showing off many traits that employers avoid: A can't-do attitude, eagerness to blame others, non-conformity, and defiance.

These observations would presumably annoy, even outrage, the typical protester.  They might complain that employers' stereotypes about protesters are unfair.  But I suspect that protesters are more likely to concede the facts, then attack employers' preferences: "How dare employers expect deference!  Who do they think they are?"

Two question for protesters:

1. If you were an employer, would you hire someone like you?

2. Really?



COMMENTS (28 to date)
Brian Moore writes:

I think the problem is that the negative traits are all value judgments. They are not conforming, true, but if one believes that the thing one might conform to is bad, then non-conformity is good. They are defiant, yes, but employers would want their employees to be defiant in the face of bad things. It just all depends on who is defining "bad."

So, if I were a protester, I would answer: yes, really. Because whatever wonderful and good company I would be running would not inspire defiance in my employees. I would see myself as say, my preferred fantasy of Steve Jobs, and imagine myself glad to employ such free spirits.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I think most of this sounds right, although if we're assuming the employer "sees them" at OWS, it probably depends on the conduct of the protesters. I'm guessing there are a lot of really engaged, serious, dependable looking people their among the more flighty ones.

I'm curious how you think the Tea Party/Ron Paul rally types would compare on this. From what I've seen most of these issues would apply as much as they would to OWS.

David E writes:

"Protesters are arguably showing off some traits that employers value, like IQ, initiative, teamwork, and determination".

I agree about initiative, teamwork, and determination, but I have seen little evidence of high IQ. If you just mean above average IQ, well, there are tens of millions of people with above average IQ that don't come off as entitled jerks.

Andreas Moser writes:

Getting hired is not the most important goal in life.

Chris Cory writes:

I would not want to hire an OWS protestor if I were in a large firm, especially a financial firm. It clearly would be outside the firm's interest.

However, that in no way speaks to the legitimacy of the protest itself - for good or ill.

The American Tories wouldn't have hired Thomas Paine.

The Syrian protestors have much more to fear than losing their jobs.

JKB writes:
Getting hired is not the most important goal in life.

You've obviously never been out of a job and out of money.

=================
Well, given the overriding theme of the protest is to get rid of capitalism and capitalism is the way a private for profit employer makes their evil profit off the backs of the workers, I'd say no to hiring a protester.

Or we could go with the crushing student loan debt that would preclude them getting a security clearance and also, increase the prospect the new employee would pilfer or embezzle.

And can you say, high maintenance?

Arthur_500 writes:

Who would hire these folks? One guy stated he had travelled from Oregon to New York and found a protest so he joined it. Sounds like he wasn't interested in working to begin with. However, here is my favorite:

Guy Nearby Adds Thoughts (GNAT): The government should feed the poor.

Alan: Well, government only governs legitimately if it's with the consent of the governed, right? (Heads nod.) Where does government have consent to take money from us and give it to other people?

GNAT: Well they should do that. They don't need permission. (DOPE: Yeah, what he said).

Alan: But there is a list of what we the people have said the government can do. It's called the Constitution. Limited delegated powers we give them.

GNAT: There's no such list.

Alan: Sure there is. It's in Article I, Sec. 8. [I rattle off some -- post office, build post roads, defend the borders, weights and measures, copyright and patent...]

GNAT and DOPE: Deer-in-headlight silence... Then it should be added.

Alan: I'd support that. Amend the Constitution to say it's OK to take money from people who earn it, and give it to people who are hungry. Give them clothing too?

GNAT and DOPE: Oh, that would never get done. You'd never get that passed.

These folks show an ignorance that passes over the line into stupidity. Why would any employer want to hire individuals who are downright stupid?

jh writes:

How are they showing off high IQ?

Bill writes:

"I'm curious how you think the Tea Party/Ron Paul rally types would compare on this."

They have jobs.

Alex writes:

Employers won't hire even the most attitude qualified individuals these days. to be hired for an entry level jobs you need at least 5 years experience in the field. So in other words you need to have a job to get a job.

djf writes:

Bryan says that the OWS protesters are demonstrating "nonconformity," among other traits.

Really? The members of the OWS mob look like a bunch of mindless, unimaginative conformists to me. No doubt they're conforming to an image that turns off employers, but they're still conforming.

Miguel Madeira writes:

"How are they showing off high IQ?"

Protesting is a sign of being interested in political/social issues, and an interest in this issues is a sign of high IQ.

Bernie writes:

I wouldn't hire any of them. At least not for the next 5 years minimum. Once they had at least a steady 5 year job with a positive reference letter, then I would consider it. Where I work reliability is critical, and the type of person who would move out of society into a protest camp is assumed unreliable until proven otherwise.

Todd Fletcher writes:

They don't want to get hired, they want a paycheck.

joeftansey writes:

Another big reason not to hire an OWS protestor is because they think their time is well spent protesting. This is insane.

Miguel Madeira writes:

"they think their time is well spent protesting. This is insane."

No, it is not - it is simply a subjective preference (it is the same thing as thinking their time is well spent going to see a movie, or commenting in a weblog).

Miguel Madeira writes:

"They don't want to get hired, they want a paycheck."

Like everybody else, no? What everybody wants is a paycheck (being hired is simply a way to get the check).

If anything, can be argued that the typical "left-wing-college-student-demonstrator" is more prone than the average individual to want a work (or a specifical work) instead of simply a paycheck (basically, this was the problem refered in the post about "political correct jobs")

Miguel Madeira writes:

"they think their time is well spent protesting. This is insane"

No it is not; it is simply a subjective preference

joeftansey writes:

"No it is not; it is simply a subjective preference"

If they want to protest for the sake of protesting, yes it is "subjective". If they want to protest because they think their marginal participation will make a difference, they are insane.

liberty writes:

It depends on the job.

Dain writes:

Here in the bay area I've read that nearly half of all non-profits are dedicated to environmental issues. My perusal of Craigslist in recent times shows that many more are interested in issues of social justice and the like.

I'm certain that for all of the above, having participated in OWS is a plus.

Jonathan Bechtel writes:

Depends on the firm.

Non-profits and NGO's who rely on donations and government subsidy to get by would probably be fine hiring an OWSer. You're motivated by causes and your sense of allegiance is probably similar to theirs.

A for-profit firm.....probably not. For the reasons you stated, and more.

Curiously, I don't think it signals well for a government job, even if it were a leftist party. Unless you're the show-pony government jobs usually require conformity and an acceptance of the status quo.

Kyle writes:
What everybody wants is a paycheck (being hired is simply a way to get the check).

No. I genuinely like my job. Some days I love it. I work in a professional environment with people I think highly of. I believe what I do adds value to the company and society.

Now, if you allowed me to surgically remove a few (maybe 15%) of my duties and keep the same pay, sure, I'd love that. But for me the paycheck and the work both add positively to my life, and my life would be less rewarding with the same pay but no job.

Michael E Sullivan writes:

I'm not sure where some of you are getting your sense of who is protesting and what they are looking for. When I went down to zuccotti park, I didn't see a lot of people looking for handouts, or who want to destroy the capitalist system. I see a lot of people who think that the system and laws we have seem to be set up to create and benefit an oligarchy of rich tournament-winning executives and investors.

What they want is an economy that works, and provides jobs to those who are able and willing to work. And what they also want is an end to a political class that calls social insurance paid for by workers (SS/MC/unemployment) "entitlements", but hands out billions of dollars to wall street banks without any new oversight, and this is just necessary.

In one survey of opinions from protestors, there were about as many people who supported tea-party-ish demands as supported "radical redistribution of income" or "overthrow of the capitalism."

If you think these people are mostly anti-capitalist, you are badly misinformed.

To answer the question, of course I would hire some of the protestors if they were qualified for a job I had on offer. I don't consider expressing one's quite reasonable political opinion to be a major negative.

Ian Brown writes:
In one survey of opinions from protestors, there were about as many people who supported tea-party-ish demands as supported "radical redistribution of income" or "overthrow of the capitalism."

If you think these people are mostly anti-capitalist, you are badly misinformed.

When you say "about" I assume that means it leaned slightly to the overthrow of capitalist side. Half is a lot. Trading corporatism for popualism isn't really a gain for me.

PrometheeFeu writes:

1. If you were an employer, would you hire someone like you?

Yes.

2. Really?

Yes!

Let's add some details:

First, I disagree about the "can't do attitude". It is basically incompatible with the "initiative" and "determination" traits you mention above. I think they are showing a "can do" attitude. I doubt somebody with a "can't do" attitude would bother showing up for a protest.

Non-conformity and defiance I would highly value because I am in an industry (software) in which things are constantly moving very fast and everything is very complex. Your product managers know what is working with the users and they can tell you when your idea is bad. Your software engineers know when something is going to blow up the product or just be much more expensive to implement than expected. It's tempting as the boss to say: "Just do it." But often it's the wrong thing to do because you are missing key knowledge that is difficult to pass along. Having your employees say "No. This is a bad idea. I'm not doing this." (Or probably in a slightly more conciliatory way) is a great way to prevent you from ignoring the very Hayekian knowledge you are missing. Of course, this is when good team-work comes into play. Someone who is an obstructionist jerk is detrimental. But someone who will both stand his ground AND listen to reason is a very valuable employee. (Assuming they have good ideas of course)

As for the tendency to blame others, I also disagree with you. Last I checked, I as a tax-payer am on the hook for a ton of money that was handed over to bankers. Complaining about banks using politicians to steal your money is not a tendency to blame others. It's a tendency to refuse to lie down and take it when someone else screws up. When you are trying to figure out what went wrong when a project failed, you don't want Bob to deflect blame on to Jack. But you also don't want Bob to take the blame just to avoid blaming Jack. That's not just true for disciplinary purposes. It's even more important when you are trying to figure out how to not fail next time.

PrometheeFeu writes:

Apparently attention to detail is not my strong suite. I am not a protester.

Dain writes:

"What they want is an economy that works, and provides jobs to those who are able and willing to work."

This sounds good as a generic and broad grievance directed at society, but I'm trying to connect this to the experience of actually looking for "an economy that works" at the personal level. Nobody searches Monster.com or Craigslist and laments that there's no work for someone "able and willing," presumably such as the person scouring the internet. No, what they see is that employers seek people with listed skills, and hopefully try to obtain them.

I can't imagine that most of the time spent at OWS wouldn't be better spent acquiring said skills.

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