Passive-aggressive economics

I watched my first two episodes of The Office today. It was hilarious... if in a painful way. It was somewhat like watching a train wreck: you know it's awful, yet you can't look away.

I don't know if real people actually have to live out their work lives in such offices. Some people say they do. Some people compare their workplace with the Dilbert comic, and say it's exactly like that. I can't say. I only worked in an office for something like 18 months of my life; it wasn't like that.

But is it possible that a great number of people are experiencing that kind of workplace? That they have a stupid bumbling boss like Michael from The Office, or a pointy-haired one like in Dilbert? And above these half-competent bosses are people who you hardly ever see, people who sometimes come and give you stupid trendy "motivational" pep talks, but who you feel don't really give a rat's ass about you? They pay you as low as they can, and if the going gets tough, whether you've done a good job or not, they'll fire you?

Every caricature probably has a real-life inspiration, or worse. What I'm really asking here is then not so much whether a workplace like that exists - I'm sure there are some - but whether such workplace experience is prevalent. Do most people work in environments like this?

Because if this is prevalent, then I can imagine how progressive taxation and minimum wages and weekly work limits and all that socialist nonsense get their support. Is it possible that people are bitter about their experiences in the workplace, but they feel they are helpless about it, so they imagine themselves taking it out on their bosses in the voting booths? You can tread on me all you like in the workplace, pal, but I have a vote just like you do, and you'll see, I'm gonna vote for the Democrats, I'm gonna stiff you! Go gettem, those overcompensated bastards! If my boss won't provide me with decent working terms, hell, I'm gonna vote for the politician that's gonna force him to, and take away his money, too!

Except that it doesn't work. Voting for politicians who "squeeze the rich" and who set a minimum wage and who limit maximum work hours has impacts of all sorts - it decreases investment, it gets people fired, it reduces the growth of the economy, it increases unemployment - and perhaps most importantly of all: it doesn't remove the bitterness in the workplace. It doesn't change the fact that your boss is a tool; or that they treat you unfairly; or that the company doesn't give a rat's ass about you. It bogs down the economy, and it doesn't change any of what you really care for.

But you got back at the Man. You squeezed your boss. Every day, he's the one squeezing you. The policies you voted for are counter-productive; but it sure feels warm to know that, even if in a small way, you've made the boss feel some of the pain too.


verbatim said…
Sometimes I think you are biased and you don't want to see all variables or you see them linearly(this leads to this and this to this). You exclude human nature and that that they have different preferences (like there are a lot of people which prefer free time over additional working hour). Although I am strong supporter of everything with word "liberal" in front, some things needs to be restricted. Market can't deal with all human related problems and can't supply all goods we need.

Working hours are one of those "must be restricted" (looks like you don't have much experience of this as you work for your own and you set your own schedule but in lot of professions you hardly work on your own). Not the things which are going on today - or you work 4 hours extra (and then at home) or they get rid of you. I want to spend time in nature, cycling, be with family etc and not working additional hours. But can I? No, the only option is to get fired. If I change the job nothing will change really.

If you have unrestricted general working time...what happen? There are always people, especially younger, who "don't have a real life" and are prepared to work all day or would like to make an additional income (for a new car). So boss say to you - look he can work all day, why can't you? If you won't, we don't need you. As nobody wants to be fired they all work longer. That kind of behaviour is already pushing working hours over the reasonable time in Europe. So law has to limit this behaviour to help find the balance between both of preferences. But at the end no one is preventing you to take additional job or to work on your own in your free time.
denis bider said…
Such a boss is stupid; if you're in a situation like that, you should look for a better one.

It is not up to you to tell people who want a new car, or expensive medical treatment, or a roof over their head, and are willing to work hard and long to get it, that they need to work less because otherwise they are impeding your right to enjoy the nature and to go out cycling in the forest.

Likewise, unless you're in an industry that does intrinsically require a big time commitment, your boss has no need to fire you because you don't work 17 hours a day.

If your industry does not intrinsically require people to stay on the job that long, then your boss gets the same value per hour whether you work 6, 8 or 14 hours every day. The boss might actually get the best value per hour if you work only 6 and do it with high focus and concentration. That's true for programmers, I believe.

On the other hand, if your industry does actually have a fundamental property that requires people to stay on the job longer than 8 hours, then either (A) politicians are going to make your industry an exception to the weekly work hours rules, or (B) the industry is going to violate the rule, or (C) the industry is going to crash and cause widespread economic consequences (or else the property is not fundamental).

So, no, I'm very much not with you about limiting the work week. It may be a good idea for people to limit how much we work, but it is not up to some people to make everyone work less because they'd like to enjoy nature. That's passive-aggressive economics again - trying to get something done without doing it directly. The direct solution is for you to enjoy nature along with your job is for you to find a job that respects you as an employee and gives you this latitude. You need not fool yourself that such jobs don't exist. But don't complain if, in such a job, you will be paid less - if you work 6 hours per day, then your results are probably 50-60% of the person who works 12 hours per day, and if that is so, you should be paid 40-50% less. That is the price you pay for enjoying nature.

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