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Sixteen Tons

The Puritanical strain of “your worth is determined by your ‘willingness’ to work” is still very strong in America.
“Living at the center of an opioid crisis, and in the aftermath of a decades-long surge in the nation’s disability rolls, Hess had long perceived a resistance to work. He had seen it when he couldn’t find anyone to hire who could pass a drug test and had a driver’s license. Or when someone complained they couldn’t find work, and he knew fast-food restaurants were hiring. Or when he saw someone claiming a disability despite having what he thought was a mild condition. He would come away thinking he worked 60 hours a week — despite a thyroid condition, despite two bankruptcies, despite the depressed local economy — not because he felt like it but because that was who he was. And now here was another person who didn’t want to work.”

I find this sort of thought process problematic.

For background: I’ve worked more than my entire adult life. My first cash payment was for mowing a lawn.  For my first summer job, I cleaned the neighborhood pool, a job I held before I had a worker’s permit.  I got my first work permit as soon as I was able (15 ½, in California, a million years ago). I worked summer jobs, odd jobs, ¾ of full time most of my way through college.  I’ve been unemployed twice, once long enough to collect unemployment insurance to make rent.

Jobs I’ve held include: pool cleaner, household worker, yard worker, cashier/stock boy, data entry clerk, driver/shop floor worker, slaughterhouse worker, food service line worker, food service manager, office dogbody, IT helpdesk worker, IT manager, systems administrator, telecommunications manager.

I have met thousands of people through the jobs that I’ve had.  Very few of them actually were “happy” because of their jobs.  The vast majority of them worked not because working gave their life value, but because working made the parts of their life that gave it value… possible.

I don’t claim that I started working because I had a strong work ethic.  I didn’t.  I started working because I had a $20/week comic book habit and my parents didn’t dole out an allowance for such things.  I didn’t work because I had to do so to survive, I worked because I wanted things that cost money.  Those were the good old days, eh?

There’s something to discuss here, sure.  But I think you’re going down a difficult road when your approach to this conversation is anchored entirely on your own sense of how you interact with your job.

Particularly if you’ve hated every minute of it.  Especially if you’ve always had to work to survive.  This can reset your perceptions to where “hating every moment to survive” is a normal baseline expectation, to say the least.

Maybe “back in the day”, when you expected that your kids would do better than you would, “hating every moment to survive” becomes a workable model, because you’re investing your hope in your own next generation.  “Noble self-sacrifice” can be a powerful reward on its own.  When the kids these days aren’t expecting to do better than their parents (let alone their grandparents), “hating every moment to survive” seems like a particularly, spectacularly bad deal, though.

This isn’t supposed to be a piece about how Millennials are the worst (because they aren’t), so try to refrain from going down into those weeds in the comments, mmmkay?  I don’t want my kids to have to hate every moment to survive, either.

This is also interesting:

“Nearly two-thirds of rural Americans say it’s more common for irresponsible people to receive government help they don’t deserve than for needy people to go without assistance, compared with 48 percent of city residents, according to a recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Rural Americans are also more apt to say poverty is the result of laziness.
“I’M JUST TIRED OF BEING RIPPED OFF BY PEOPLE!” another person said.”

A note to most of America: when you see your fellow Americans on assistance, they are probably not ripping you off.  Not even remotely.

Your contribution to the tax base… very likely… is less than your aggregate benefit.  We run a structural deficit.  We’re not ripping each other off, if anything… we’re ripping off… the high-middle to middle-high earners out of the next generation, who *might* be my kids, but they probably won’t be, either, so you probably can’t even complain “you’re ripping off my kids”.

In any event, “ripping someone off” is a terrible way to look at this in the first place.

This is not only probably true, but particularly true for the rural states, however… just like it’s particularly true that inside every state… the urban areas subsidize the rural ones.

When it comes to most of America… in a very real sense you *are* on assistance. Indirect, but it’s there, under the hood.

If you work in farming, you almost certainly are subsidized by the Food Bill. Even if you produce “luxury” grade food… you’re indirectly subsidized because the vast number of farmers – your competition – are doing mass-produced food production, which means fewer competitors for your high end organic quinoa.

If you work in mining, you probably are subsidized by lower-than-market licenses for mineral extraction from the feds. If you ranch, you’re probably subsidized by lower grazing fees (cough Cliven Bundy cough). If you work in energy, you benefit by tax incentives to oil, gas, and coal companies. Those are subsidies.

If you do service work in any community where any of those are the common source of employment, you effectively get pass-through subsidies, because all of those folks can afford to pay more for your services because they’re paid partially by federal subsidies.

If you live in a rural community, you’re subsidized by lower rates on telecommunications, because bridging the digital divide was a big project of the last decade.  Goods shipped to your local mom and pop shop (or Wal-Mart, if they’ve already come for your mom-and-pop shop) come on boats that operate on subsidized fuel, through ports that are subsidized by tax money, on rails that are subsidized, to a reasonably close distribution center that is subsidized through a sweetheart deal with a local county tax policy, on a truck that was subsidized by a program to increase owner-operators as they transitioned out of old jobs that were rendered obsolete, on roads that were subsidized… I could keep going.

None of this means urban America isn’t subsidized, too, because it is, so don’t get too high on your high horse, urban America, about how you’re paying the vig for the rural folks.  Yes, we transfer a lot of money to the rural states.

But mostly we don’t want to live there and we still want them around, because we need them doing their thing for our cities to be around, so paying them is something we’d be doing directly if we weren’t subsidizing them, directly or indirectly.  Or they wouldn’t be there… and we’d have food riots.

Urban American is subsidized by the fact that our food is cheaper for us because the rural folks get paid more for it by the feds, which reduces our direct cost – if they had to get paid market rates, they’d have to charge more to us just to break even.  Also a bunch of the rural folks stay there to work, and don’t compete with us for wages.

We’re subsidized by cheaper gas, which comes from the crude that blue collar America probably got out of the ground.  Our power is cheaper because they’re the ones that live with contaminated groundwater from fracking.

Again, you can do turtles all the way down, here.  Are all of these *direct government* subsidies?  No, but it’s pretty easy to draw your system boundaries where it’s convenient for your ideological preferences, so I suggest you stretch ’em a tad to consider that money exists to facilitate the exchange of goods and services, so when we take some from one area of the economy and move it to another, under taxation/spending, it’s not just the first dude that gets the check that benefits from economic activity.

There’s a reason economists default to not liking subsidies: they make all of this vastly more complicated than it would be if none of those subsidies existed in the first place. There’s so many market distortions in place that sorting out the actual true supply/demand price points is incredibly difficult.

But this is where we are.

If you don’t understand how the system works, in practice, or if you’re unrealistic about where your tax money is going in… you’re going to see a justice problem that frankly… probably isn’t there.


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Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution. ...more →

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58 thoughts on “Sixteen Tons

  1. I’ve had a similar work history since I was 14-16: Farm work, printing company, auto assembly, tutoring, and career related work. I work because I enjoy the work and it affords me to do what I want. I’m cool with anyone not working, doing what ever the hell they want to do with their life. I just object to helping fund that lifestyle. Yep, American subsidies are a web of interconnection, yadda yadda yadda, but that’s not really the point. Taking money from others (which was extracted by force) to support your chosen lifestyle of idleness is wrong. Figure out a way to support yourself. There are people who truly need help. If you’re not truly in need, you don’t deserve the assistance-you’re cheating someone who really does.

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    • I think Patrick’s point is more that many people who are “not truly in need” are receiving assistance whether they deserve it or not. Maybe even you, although I don’t know your personal situation enough.

      Who are “truly in need”? There’s probably an “ideal” or absolute level of “truly in need”: A baseline of destitution and inability to help oneself that few probably fall under or fall to. Then there’s a relative level. It’s quite possible that a large number of the very poor people in Big City, for example, could do more than they are currently doing to help themselves–and perhaps they’re not at the absolute baseline. But they are so much worse off than I that I’m not inclined to begrudge them if they seek for assistance.

      There’s also the problem of not knowing another person’s situation. Someone might seem to me to have a lot of resources. But it’s not always easy to judge, especially if one doesn’t know that person.

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  2. Note how in the block quote “not willing to work” get conflated with “can’t pass a drug test.” The test presumably was part of an aborted hiring process, so clearly the individual was trying to get a job.

    Also, the amazing ability to assess another person’s medical condition without bothering with silly things like medical examinations or diagnostic tests.

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    • “Wants to work, but not enough to stop taking illegal drugs long enough to pass a drug test” is only marginally better.

      Also, the amazing ability to assess another person’s medical condition without bothering with silly things like medical examinations or diagnostic tests.

      He can be wrong about any one particular individual, but he’s not wrong about the general phenomenon. Disability claims have doubled in the last twenty years, despite a decline in the kind of heavily physical labor that leads to debilitating injuries.

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  3. Remember, when I receive good subsidies its because I’m a good, hard-working person and when you receive government subsidies its because your a moocher.

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  4. Again, you can do turtles all the way down, here.

    No, you really can’t. It’s true that the federal government is running a deficit, but it’s a small percentage of total government expenditures. On average, Americans are getting subsidized, but most of the bills are getting paid. There are people who pay more in taxes than the government spends on them, and there are people who pay less in taxes than the government spends on them. Yes, everyone gets some kind of gross subsidy, but it’s simply not possible for everyone to get a net subsidy.

    Swagging it out based on the cost of some of the bigger-ticket items (public education, old-age entitlements, military spending), I think the cut-off for being a net tax contributor vs. a net tax recipient is probably around the 70th to 90th percentile of lifetime earnings, with everyone above being a lifetime net contributor and everyone below being a lifetime net recipient.

    That said, I think this largely misses the point. There’s a real and significant difference between, on the one hand, working hard your whole life, doing your best, and despite your good-faith efforts still not being able to make enough to offset the full cost of government spending on your behalf; and on the other hand, not even bothering to do that much and mooching because you can. This isn’t some arbitrary line people draw just because they want to have someone to look down on.

    Also, you have some kind of formatting problem going on.

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    • Formatting problem fixed. WordPress can be *weird*. Lots of unnecessary tags from a copy-past.

      Swagging it out based on the cost of some of the bigger-ticket items (public education, old-age entitlements, military spending), I think the cut-off for being a net tax contributor vs. a net tax recipient is probably around the 70th to 90th percentile of lifetime earnings, with everyone above being a lifetime net contributor and everyone below being a lifetime net recipient.

      If you can find a cite for this, I’d be grateful. I looked for a couple of hours and couldn’t find one that wasn’t gamed in analysis.

      If you’re assigning fixed costs to relative benefits, your analysis is tricky at best. Having a stable society is good for me, and it’s good for some guy like The Big Lebowski, and it’s good for somebody like The Dude.

      But if you just divided up the cost of having a police force and spread it out per capita, that doesn’t account for that *at all*. If we didn’t have a police force and everybody bought their own private security, I’d pay a little, The Dude wouldn’t pay anything, and The Big Lebowski would pay a *lot*, because he has a lot more to protect.

      That said, let’s just assume your 80th percentile is accurate enough to work with.

      The 80th % is $75,000.00 (https://dqydj.com/income-percentile-calculator/) for an individual.

      Okay, so:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_income#States_ranked_by_per_capita_income

      Now, the actual income distribution in each state is important, but in a good number of states only the top 5% or so are going to crack that $70k per individual. That means *the vast majority* of the folks in the state – including the entirety of that state’s middle class and possible some of its upper class – are “net takers” by your measure.

      There’s a real and significant difference between, on the one hand, working hard your whole life, doing your best, and despite your good-faith efforts still not being able to make enough to offset the full cost of government spending on your behalf; and on the other hand, not even bothering to do that much and mooching because you can.

      This is true, but there’s a huge excluded middle in there. Which is my point. Most people think “I’m a hard working person, I don’t get benefits from the government”, no matter what state they are in, and they gripe about folks on the dole.

      Problem is, they are on the dole, even using pretty rough and basic calculations, never mind proportional benefits.

      This isn’t some arbitrary line people draw just because they want to have someone to look down on.

      This is where we disagree. And I really don’t expect that I’m going to change your mind, but fundamentally I think you’re just wrong.

      I think this is very often very much an arbitrary line that people draw specifically because they want someone to look down on. Because the vast majority of people that I see complaining about “moochers” are people who aren’t in the 80%+ of individual income using that $70k number.

      They’re takers – even by the standard you set (which I don’t entirely agree with, because I think it’s probable weighted *in favor* of assigning costs on a per capita basis).

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      • :

        There’s a real and significant difference between, on the one hand, working hard your whole life, doing your best, and despite your good-faith efforts still not being able to make enough to offset the full cost of government spending on your behalf; and on the other hand, not even bothering to do that much and mooching because you can. This isn’t some arbitrary line people draw just because they want to have someone to look down on.

        :

        This is where we disagree. And I really don’t expect that I’m going to change your mind, but fundamentally I think you’re just wrong.

        I think this is very often very much an arbitrary line that people draw specifically because they want someone to look down on. Because the vast majority of people that I see complaining about “moochers” are people who aren’t in the 80%+ of individual income using that $70k number.

        Couldn’t you both be right? I suspect the psychology behind complaining about moochers is complicated enough so that any given moocher could have a mix of both motivations.

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      • I think this is very often very much an arbitrary line that people draw specifically because they want someone to look down on. Because the vast majority of people that I see complaining about “moochers” are people who aren’t in the 80%+ of individual income using that $70k number.

        Pointing out that the line can be “arbitrary” isn’t an excuse for “no line”… and arguing over where some gray line is doesn’t make every part past “arbitrary” gray either.

        We could talk about the 80%, we could talk about the top 1%… but what does the bottom 1% look like? What does the bottom 5% look like?

        Combining lots of dysfunctions into one person (or family, or even sub-culture) and then insisting that it’s society’s job to deal with a mass of bad outcomes from bad decisions seems expensive and rewarding behavior that should be punished. It also seems like it’s encouraging what should be discouraged.

        My drug dealing cousin on welfare who repeatedly had kids with different fathers, at some point it’s worthwhile to ask how much the government enabled that trainwreck.

        One of the issues we have with an extensive social net is other countries have (mono)cultural values which discourage the permanent use of the same. You’re supposed to climb down off the net, not camp out there.

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  5. I have met thousands of people through the jobs that I’ve had. Very few of them actually were “happy” because of their jobs. The vast majority of them worked not because working gave their life value, but because working made the parts of their life that gave it value… possible.

    One of the reasons for a UBI.

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    • Yeah, it’ll be great when it comes but how will we know when the economy is ready to support it? I wish some economist could write out what it’d look like.
      Like, off the top of my head I’d expect soaring unemployment but also soaring deflation to be the big heralds of a UBI ready economy… I’m sure there are more.

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      • Oh, I know, and I doubt you could do it piecemeal, it would have to be a whole hog shift away from current entitlements to a UBI, with all the attendant work and pain that would cause.

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    • One of the reasons I still think a UBI is the way to go, despite the pain of getting there, is because I truly have a problem with the idea of minimum wage work being viewed as able to live on. The idea of a federal $15 minimum wage offends the hell out of me, because a lot of that work is not worth $15/hour in many markets*. If that is what we feel we need to do, then it’s time to just say fish it, dump all the entitlements and minimum wages and just do straight payments. People who want more than the bare minimum will find jobs, and businesses who want workers will wake up to the fact that you have to offer a wage that clears**.

      *It might fly in places like NYC, SF, Seattle, Chicago, but outside those high priced urban centers, it’ll be bad.

      **This is becoming a problem in the US, and it’s alluded to in the opening paragraphs. If you can’t find people to work, maybe it’s because of poor work ethic, or maybe it’s because you aren’t offering enough money to convince someone to get cleaned up & sober and come work for you. American business has long relied upon that work ethic to get away with offering crap work at crap wages with crap benefits and work conditions. Not everywhere, obviously, but in enough places such that if people were not truly desperate for the work and cash flow, those businesses would have folded long ago for lack of employees.

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      • One of the other reasons I think UBI is a no go is that the left and libertarians might have factions that are theoretically for it but they see it in very different ways. The left does not see UBI has a full scale replacement for the welfare state. Maybe you could scrape unemployment insurance and some disability insurance but I don’t think you could get rid of Medicaid and Medicare or the ACA as is. Many right-leaning supporters of UBI or a negative income tax see it as a replacement for the welfare state.

        Then there are arguments about who gets what. Do kids get UBI?

        DJW at LGM once observed that the modal supporter of UBI is a graduate student or someone with some level of graduate education. This seems right.

        I will admit that some of the leftie supporters of UBI I know can flare up some personal conservativism in me and feelings on personal choice and decisions and I’m not always sure or proud of why this happens.

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        • Most of the proposals I see are for UBI to replace all direct cash payments, so SS, Disability, food stamps, etc. Medicare/Medicaid are not paying the citizen directly, so don’t fall under that. And if Medicare/Medicaid were to be taken away in favor of a UBI, then the UBI would have to have some kind of program that looked an awful lot like the ACA, where people are required to have insurance, and the UBI provides sufficient additional funding to purchase it, etc.

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      • I don’t think it’s necessarily or even all that often about getting “cleaned up & sober” to come work for you.

        It’s often about all the rearrangements to one’s life. In particular, some of the efforts to make it harder to go on the dole end up being major obstacles go getting off the dole.

        If you’re just barely scraping by on welfare (which it took a couple of months of fighting intransigent bureaucracies to get onto), do you take the risk of
        – buying work clothes
        – arranging paid child care
        – going off welfare
        – buying a month’s transit pass

        to take a job offer that could end up not working out so you get fired after two days on the job, are out all the money you invested above, which you didn’t have so you probably borrowed from a payday lender, and now you’re fighting the welfare bureaucracy for another couple of months to get back on the dole.

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          • Tell me about it – the fact that it can be functionally impossible for a lot of people to get on welfare without the help of a social worker – a professional navigator of dysfunctional bureaucracy – is mind boggling.

            A UBI would hopefully be structured on the basis of income, such that any work you are able to get makes you better off, recognizing that it takes money to earn money.

            So, if you get some hours and earn $600 this month, that takes something less than $600 out of your UBI payment, given that you probably also had to incur expenses to work those hours.

            (Also, on the previous sobriety point – places that have drug tested welfare recipients have generally dropped the program after a short while, having discovered what any drug dealer could have told them: drugs cost money, and welfare recipients don’t have money to spare for drugs. It’s the employed people who take drugs, not the unemployed ones.)

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            • Ideally a UBI would just be an unconditional payment into a bank account that would count as taxable income. You wouldn’t really need to do much about the various welfare programs initially since a lot of folks who currently qualify would no longer do so with that additional income.

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              • Ah, a truly universal income – one that even those earning six or seven figures a year would continue receiving.

                If you have no other income, your marginal tax rate is probably 0%, so you don’t have to pay back any of the UBI, which is good because you probably needed it all.

                I guess if you wanted to make it work out somewhat more like current welfare systems, you could probably structure the income tax system so that if your year’s earnings are over some amount, the UBI part is taxed at 100%.

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              • This seems the easiest path to start working with it. Pick $80 per week(?) to everyone. (Yes we will have to argue over what constitutes everyone.) At the same time lower the minimum wage by $2/hr. Then we can go from there.

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  6. “I don’t claim that I started working because I had a strong work ethic. I didn’t. I started working because I had a $20/week comic book habit and my parents didn’t dole out an allowance for such things. I didn’t work because I had to do so to survive, I worked because I wanted things that cost money.”

    I’d argue that that is actually part of having a strong work ethic… which itself is sort of a strange term. As I see it, there was something you wanted out of life and you took the necessary steps to realize it. I don’t think that necessarily makes the inverse true… that people who don’t realize what they want out of life have a poor work ethic; as you discuss, it is too complicated for that.

    As touches on, what we are really looking at and trying to do is assess people’s priorities and ways of prioritizing. I increasingly find myself thinking — and even saying at times — that I am not really interested in what people tell me about their priorities, wants, and needs and instead focus on what their behaviors, choices, and actions communicated to me about that. This analysis is inherently incomplete so I try to add boulders of salt to whatever conclusions I draw. And I work really hard to do so without layering on value judgements.

    So I’d probably stop short of saying, ““Wants to work, but not enough to stop taking illegal drugs long enough to pass a drug test” is only marginally better.” But I probably would note that there is something worth analyzing with regards to that individual’s priorities if there is work available within their general range of qualification and they have not secured it.

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  7. By the time you work through all the direct and indirect subsidies, it’s nearly impossible to say what areas or groups are receiving more benefits than others. We don’t know what the markets would look like without the subsidies. Can we say for sure that anyone but the person whose income is 100% transfers is being supported by subsidies?

    All this said, work does have value for the soul, which is something that doesn’t get addressed in this article (although Patrick’s obvious pride in his work history does hint at it). People who can work would be better off working. Despite the quote that began this article, it doesn’t address the scenario of the person complaining about lack of work when the local fast-food place is hiring. That’s an important thing. The person who works is almost certainly going to do better than his parents, and the person who doesn’t work is almost certainly going to do worse than his parents, whatever their expectations.

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    • Work does have value for the soul

      I don’t think so.

      Effort has value for the soul. Production for benefit (yours or someone else’s) has value for the soul.

      “Work”, as generally-assumed-to-be-defined in the U.S. (“getting paid to do something”) is not in-and-of-itself better than effort or production.

      From a “good for the sould” perspective, someone who hates flipping burgers but loves kids would be better off volunteering for free to help out in a kindergarten classroom than flipping burgers (even for $15/hr) at some burger joint.

      One of my problems with the “work is good for you” crowd is that they often conflate “getting a salary” with “doing something productive” (and, frankly, a lot of the folks who do participate in the sneering that comes out of this are sneering about the wage, not the effort).

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      • This is what I was getting at with my UBI comment. We are better served by having people doing work they enjoy that contributes to the overall health of society or the economy, than we are just demanding that people work.

        I will, FSM willing, never again work a front desk or counter in a service industry. The one year I spent working a hotel front desk was pure hell, especially compared to the year before, when I was working as a CNC stone cutter*. Cutting stone was arguably harder work, both physically and mentally (cutting stone efficiently is tricky business), but significantly more satisfying than working in a hotel . Someone else would probably feel the opposite. It was good that I did work that hotel job, because I learned much about my temperament and ability to deal with my fellow humans, but I would hate life if I had to work that job long term because nothing else was available.

        *I had to switch jobs because I was starting school and the stone cutting job did not have a flexible enough schedule.

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      • I think that’s a good summary of it.

        The one thing I’ll say to the contrary is that taking care of yourself and not expecting others to provide for you might be good for the soul. Becoming accustomed to getting the things you want without any of the effort that went into providing them seems not to be great for people in my experience. It feels like having some of the things you have because you personally made it happen has a benefit of its own.

        The comic book example is a good one. No kid provides even a bare majority of what he has for himself. They’re basically free-riders. But putting in some work to get something special is a gentle reminder of the value of all the things you have.

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      • As in your exchange with Brandon above, I think there’s room for both sides of this part of the discussion (Patrick and Pinky/Troublesome Frog)* to be right. “Effort” is probably mostly what people are aiming at when they say “work is good for the soul.” But two points:

        1. Work can be a proxy for “effort.” Sometimes. I’m not going to say always. And some work can run you down so much–especially if one have reason to believe that he/she will be in that type of job for the rest of his/her life–that work’s value as a proxy fades and work becomes just a drudgery that one comes to loathe and yet hopes they don’t lose it because then they’ll be in even more dire straits.

        2. Work can give one a sense of full(er) participation in society. Work can confer a sense of pride. The “pride” can be of the bad kind, where one feels compelled to look down on others who can’t or won’t (or some combination of can’t and won’t) work. But it can also be the good sort of pride in which one feels themselves a contributing member of society. We can, and probably should, argue that society oughtn’t be that way and that we should find ways to welcome and empower the jobless among us. In the meantime, though, the “pride” can be a good thing. Not wholly good, but good to a limited extent.

        *I realize Troublesome Frog’s point is different from Pinky’s.

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  8. One of the reasons Loomis at LGM is doubtful on UBI is that he doesn’t think that American culture places a lot of self-worth on work. Lee has mentioned that retirement might have been more appealing to the Greatest Generation above others.

    There are also class distinctions between those who are taught to get jobs (which are often routine and boring) and those who are taught to get careers which are supposed to be psychologically fulfilling along with paying the bills. A lot of hucksterism is telling jobs people to be career people or trying to convince them that they can have careers.

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  9. And just think of all the colored people!

    This is an old point, and a very boring one. You don’t even get into the psychology of why the right Screams Like a StuckPig about getting ripped off… but only by people lower in station than they are.

    Now, if you wanted to make an interesting point, it would evolve around the similarities between microaggressions and “lazy welfare queens.”

    But that’s a point far more about propaganda, and to understand the propaganda, you need to know who makes it and what they want above all else.

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  10. The view of retail as a single transaction is a very elementary* view of economics.
    Nonetheless, a great many adults subscribe to this view.

    There is a difference between a promo item and a free item.

    Stated differently, if I opened a hamburger stand in a town of 30,000, I probably expect not having to close shop after selling 30,000 hamburgers.

    Generally, people are fairly stupid.
    It would be interested to see the data cited sorted for IQ range.

    ____________________
    * Apologies to any elementary school students who might be reading this, as I certainly do not mean to imply that your reasoning skills are so horribly low.

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  11. Work has value for the individual and the society.

    Qatar, for example, has one of the best UBIs in the world.

    At this point, the UBI seems to be unsustainable.

    Imagine being raised by parents who have never needed to have a job, never needing a job, and then having kids who never needed a job.

    And then, one day, the money stops coming in.

    The closest analogy that I can think of is people with SCID. It’s all well and good so long as you’ve got someone to change your filters for you…

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    • And as a piece of evidence to back this up as a little bit more than a mere assertion:

      Here’s a comment from Maribou from the thread from my second visit to Qatar:

      …so far I’ve found out that half the people living in Qatar are under the age of 20, and that nearly half of Qatari youth suffer from mental illness.

      When it comes to historical examples of people who lived lives of leisure, we don’t have *THAT* many examples but the examples we do have include as many cautionary tales as people who do the like of cataloguing butterflies.

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    • Correct me if I am wrong, but the message from the Qatari ruling family is essentially, ‘Please don’t put us up against the wall in the name of Mohammed; in exchange you don’t have to work to be comfortable: we have the oil money to see to that.”

      That wouldn’t have to be the message that accompanies our UBI. It could be something more like, “You don’t have to be poor in the United States. You don’t have to accept just any working conditions or whatever terrible jobs are in your town. We’ll provide a floor. But it won’t be comfortable; you’ll just be able to barely cover basic bills. But this is America: we’re rich! If you want to do much, much better than the UBI, you should seek opportunity! Offer your labor to those willing to pay, sure, but even better, create value on your own! Start a business! With this and each subsequent check you will also receive a serialized set of instructions for how an individual can navigate and overcome the byzantine set of requirements we have placed on the process of staring an individual business. There is also information about how best to market your existing skills to employers, and about finding resources for skill development. But: there is also a check for $1,000, as there will be from now on. Thank you for choosing America! Now go forth, and find both meaning and prosperity in your life!”

      Or something like that.

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      • Correct me if I am wrong, but the message from the Qatari ruling family is essentially, ‘Please don’t put us up against the wall in the name of Mohammed; in exchange you don’t have to work to be comfortable: we have the oil money to see to that.”

        I don’t know. Not really.

        The Emir (may he live one thousand years) took over the country in a mini-coup against his own father. His dad had a vision of the country that it would be Muslim and stay Muslim and it wouldn’t be tempted by the filthy lucre that the oil offered. Well, he went on vacation one day and his son sent him a telegraph that said something to the effect of “why don’t you consider never coming back, don’t worry, we’ll send you a check”, and started selling oil and natural gas and gave every Qatari a UBI.

        This was extremely popular with pretty much everybody.

        In the same way that the body loves opiods.

        It was only after the money started rolling in that the whole “hey, maybe we should export our Martin Luthers elsewhere” became necessary.

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      • That wouldn’t have to be the message that accompanies our UBI. It could be something more like…

        We don’t get to control that message. The politicians and states who wanted to “help unwed mothers” didn’t realize their actual message was “we’re going to pay you to not get married“.

        I like the theory of UBI, I also very much want to see trials to see how it works in practice. Humans are complicated; human society and interaction is absurdly multi-variable and unintended consequences are the norm. If the practice of UBI is vastly different than the theory I want to learn that at some level less than country-wide.

        It’s real easy to picture UBI being a disaster in spite of the theory; uncontrolled reproduction, massive expansion of dysfunctional behavior, sharp reduction in the work force, etc.

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  12. (Starting an original thread because I thought of linking to this while reading the OP, but this is also with @oscar-gordon’s comments on UBI in mind,)

    Noah Smith has been doing a lot of tweeting of late on what he sees as the problem with (what he sees as) the Left’s soft-on-work approach to social benefits/insurance. Ironically, at the same time, something of a schism has formed on the left, especially in the view of the socialistish left, between tech/business-friendly liberals and liberaltarians who it is thought advance a UBI in order to defuse worker organization and resistance and lessen the degree of responsibility that falls to business for social welfare in a world driven by business and technology that could decouple from the need for human labor at an radically accelerated pace at any moment, and leftists who see worker organization and resistance as the essential dynamic of political liberation from the domination of capital.

    But back to Smith. At a basic level, and typically idiosyncratically, he has staked out a strong anti-UBI position on the neoliberal left. He strongly prefers a job guarantee. He has two essential reasons for this, though he presents them both in a I’m-not-saying-I’m-just-saying mode of positive political analysis rather than normative argument against UBI (something I see around here fairly often). That is to say, it’s not that he thinks that individuals should have skills as unemployment (or de-benefited) insurance or that people should b allowed to loaf and still eat, but that “individuals” strongly hold these beliefs, and therefore a UBI is a very, very tough sell given prevailing social attitudes. For my part, I wish he would switch to the normative mode, because a) then we could find out what he really thinks, and b) he might be wrong in his punditry, but if he really doesn’t think individuals deserve a UBI, he at least won’t be wrong inasmuch as if that’s his opinion, that’s his opinion.

    Anyway, here is a link to the first in his (I think) latest tweet-storm on this, which itself refers back to any earlier one covering similar questions: https://twitter.com/Noahpinion/status/892447789505957888.

    I had a few responses in the form of quote-retweets to some of these points:

    https://twitter.com/MikeDrewWhat/status/892567962686828544
    https://twitter.com/MikeDrewWhat/status/892567656712347648
    https://twitter.com/MikeDrewWhat/status/892567433873174528

    …And, just venting frustration with his “Some people are saying”-style of argumentation:
    https://twitter.com/MikeDrewWhat/status/892567113763868674

    Hope this is of interest to some, or at least seen as relevant.

    Also: sorry for the (long) absence. I will try to make this not a perfunctory return.

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  13. The Puritanical strain of “your worth is determined by your ‘willingness’ to work” is still very strong in America…

    I find this sort of thought process problematic.

    I do not disagree, but I also think that you could modify this pretty easily to get to a place where you can say something meaningful about someone’s worth. For instance, by changing it to “your willingness to work times your ability to contribute divided by the amount that you expect to take from society.”

    So, a person who had tremendous talents (as in the ability to develop new medical treatments or invent new technologies that make us all richer) and a willingness to apply those talents in prodigious amounts and who asked for very little in terms of personal consumption (say because he or she donated most of their earnings to charity), we would probably call that person a great humanitarian. And a person who was some combination of lazy and/or supremely untalented, but who demanded lots from society would be morally suspect. Of course if that person’s inability to contribute or draw on society was due to some medical condition that would be a mitigant and we’d say that person is morally neutral.

    I agree that trying to cast people as makers or moochers based solely on their membership in some broad demographic category or by where they fall on the spectrum of taxable income is a lost cause. We all do exist within a inextricably linked web of subsidies and penalties placed on just about every aspect of human behavior. But the macro constraints don’t have to stop us from saying something about individual behavior at the micro level. And that doesn’t mean we have to go out of our way to reward those who work and work hard and punish those who slack. The world has a way of doing that on it’s own. Expose people to the costs of their actions, give the slower folks a chance for remedial action, and you’ll find that a whole lot of social policy (not all, but a whole lot) takes care of itself. And when a whole lot takes care of itself, that leaves us with more resources to direct at the folks who really need them.

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    • This is an interesting lens to view it through. I’m curious if we include among the contributions and takings things like decency, kindness, and assholishness. These things are difficult if not impossible to quantify and many not produce tangible outcomes, but I personally think they matter.

      When I think big picture about the goals I set for myself and my children, I often boil it down to the world being a better place for my/their having been in it. Obviously, how we define “better” is the sticky widget there but, for me at least, our interactions with others is a big part of it.

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