Category Archives: Work

Free The Slave? Not So Fast!

The prominence of slavery was a reality for all but the tiny slice of recorded history we call the present.  But mankind appears to have rejected this practice  in modern Western Civilization, which, given the stock from which I come myself, probably saves me from being one… which is good.

But fortunately for us lazies and unfortunates another kind of slave has emerged.   This new slave is cheap, works hard day and night, never complains, and separates us by leaps and bounds from the toils, cares, and harsh realities that were ever present in the lives of our ancestors.  But, best of all, this slave is willing to be enslaved, and needs no crusader on his behalf… until lately.

The slave of which I speak is “energy”.  This slave looks like a washing machine, a dishwasher, air conditioner, automobile and so on. And for those who in the past needed armies of slaves for building pyramids and harvesting crops and so on, those armies now look like bulldozers, cranes, and combines.

Also, we generally associate slavery with back-breaking labor.  But this slave does much more than that. It will take us 2000 miles in a few hours, or pump blood through our bodies while another heart is installed, and much more. Let’s see our mental image of a slave do that!

There’s an old Chinese proverb that supposedly goes like this: “If you want to know about water, don’t ask a fish”. Everyone alive today has benefited so much from this slave, and in so many ways,  we now take “him” for granted.  It’s almost as if this slave is as sure to us as tomorrow’s sunrise, and as plentiful and certain too.

Perhaps life immersed in a world filled with the benefits of energy explains why so many, who daily depend on this willing slave for life as we know it, also believe that it can be done away with, and life as only we few humans in history have experienced it, will continue unchanged.

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Filed under Economics, Harsh Reality, Politics, Words, Work, Worldview

Static Snapshots Reveal Nothing About Economics.

A young man went to a grocery store one night to buy food.  He left with a loaf of bread and a stack of bologna, because, well, that was all he could afford.  He then went home to his apartment which was furnished with aluminum lawn furniture.  His bed was a cushion from an outdoor lounge chair as well.  He kept it on the floor of his closet where he slept.  He worked at night, you see, and couldn’t afford curtains.  Needless to say, he was poor.

But this true story is only a snapshot.  To examine only this snapshot tells us virtually nothing except for those “present” circumstances.   In this case for example, the young man had done poorly in school.  But his poor performance had nothing to do with any of the usual culprits that are trotted out.  It was because he thought it more important to “hang out” with his friends.  By his own later-in-life admission, his meager circumstances were not the result of something so vague as rich white men’s greed, but of his own laziness.

The story also says nothing of his future.  In time this person managed to get his act together and buckle down.  He went to school, read, and worked hard.  In time his fortunes changed.  He learned a skill that paid well, got married, had children, and is now living a comfortable middle-class life.

This is why snapshots aren’t worth much beyond fueling emotional “causes”.  Life, economies, fortunes, circumstances; they are all dynamic, not static.  The vast majority of young people fortunate enough to live in free-market systems begin their lives with very modest means, which actually build character.  Left alone, with equal opportunity and the right mindset, they will find their way out of those circumstances if they are willing to make sacrifices, work hard, roll with the punches that are certainly coming their way, and live ethically… and the sooner one starts the better.

The young man in this story, if you haven’t guessed, is me.  I suppose I could have blamed my circumstances on social injustice, or the 1%, or some other shadowy boogie man meant to send me cowering into the arms of the socialist.  But my real enemy resided in my own skin.  It still does.

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Filed under Economics, Harsh Reality, Human Nature, Morality, Work, Worldview

Can’t We All Just Have A Utopian Style Economy?

Some time back I told a group of ten year olds that I had hidden a bag of candy.  I passed out maps that I assured them would lead to the treasure, but I purposely withheld the beginning point.  They began walking around, turning this way and that, counting their steps, as they each dutifully followed the map .  Not one of them asked for that key piece of information that would have unlocked it.  This surprised me for some reason.  In the end no one found the candy. So I ate it myself… In front of them.

There is a lesson here in economics.  Where one begins in the study of economics will determine where he ends up.

When most hear the word “economy” they think of the availability of jobs, money and so on.  But the starting point of economics is man, namely, answering the question, how will he act, good or not so great, under given circumstances?  With this answer in hand it then attempts to answer another question, how do we enlist our fellow man to participate in our own benefit?

While capitalism begins with the more negative view that man is only interested in himself, and from selfish motives will work, improvise, innovate, trade, think, risk, explore and other things that make for a good economy, communism is based on an assumption that man is more altruistic. It assumes he will do these same things with the same zeal in return for his fair share of resources, however much some wealthy, innately-benevolent leader decides that is.

That this hasn’t ever worked is a testament to the faultiness of communism’s premise.  That it will ever be attempted  is a testament to the validity of capitalism’s premise regarding man’s condition… well, that and his resilience to the truth regarding that sad condition.

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Filed under Economic Science, Economics, Equality, fairness, Harsh Reality, Human Nature, Morality, Work, Worldview

Economics = Blackmail

Our existence confronts us with certain harsh realities. We’re so use to them that we don’t even think about them that much. While all people relish the thought of a paradise, our current reality reminds us that this is not it. For one we all die. Some get sick and die, others get old and die, and the laws of physics kill others in accidents, car crashes, bullet wounds and such.

When we face the science of economics this is no less true. If I lie on the sofa and never get up, I will die from lack of water. I must have water to live. Simple I know, but still, it’s a harsh reality that isn’t often considered. I have to procure water, either by getting off my fat lazy rear-end and getting it myself, coercing someone else to get it for me, or I could always do without and die.

The number one implication here is that our existence requires the exertion of effort by someone in order for it to continue. There is this sort of cosmic blackmail in play. We either exert the effort to put a log on the fire or be cold. That’s blackmail, though we don’t always see it as such.

The Hell of economics, when all the fluff is blown away, is that we want the resources without the exertion. As it turns out, the more complex economics become, the more it becomes about somehow coercing someone else to put the log on the fire, bring us a glass of water, and a sandwich too since you’re up. Such coercion can be managed so long as the sloths remain a fraction of the workers. But when the sofa gets crowded and the workers get tired, or hop onto the sofa too, economics breaks down… and then people start getting cold and thirsty as they fight over who ought to pay the extortion.

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Filed under Economics, Harsh Reality, Human Nature, Morality, Work, Worldview

How Did It Ever Come To Be That You Get Your Healthcare Through Your Employer?

The late Milton Friedman explains this quite well:

“We have become so accustomed to employer-provided medical care that we regard it as part of the natural order. Yet it is thoroughly illogical.  Why single out medical care?  Food is more essential to life than medical care.  Why not exempt the cost of food from taxes if provided by the employer?  Why not return to the much-reviled company store when workers were in effect paid in kind rather than in cash?

The revival of the company store for medicine has less to do with logic than pure chance.  It is a wonderful example of how one bad government policy leads to another.  During World War II, the government financed much wartime spending by printing money while, at the same time. Imposing wage and price controls.  The resulting repressed inflation produced shortages of many goods and services, including labor.  Firms competing to acquire labor at government-controlled wages started to offer medical care as a fringe benefit.  That benefit proved particularly attractive to workers and spread rapidly.”

Pay particular attention to Friedman’s point that printing money and imposing price controls caused shortages.  Why is that?   If you don’t know, it is my hope that if you’re reading these short posts for awhile, in time, such will be second nature.

H/T The Nullspace

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Filed under Business, Economic Science, Economics, Government, Human Nature, Milton Friedman, Pay, Politics, Work