What is a “job?”
By: John Hayward
6/13/2012 05:02 PM
Caroline May at the Daily Caller had an interesting piece about union efforts to organize the unemployed on Wednesday. It seems the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has created an organization called the Union of Unemployed Activists (UCubed), which claims “it now has more than 100,000 jobless activists in their ranks.”
No, I’m not making this up, and I don’t think Caroline May is, either. If she is making this up, she’s really good at it, and the producers of all future Atlas Shrugged movies should hire her as a screenwriter immediately. She even got a quote from UCubed’s executive director, Rick Sloan, who also happens to be the communications director of the IAM: “Our objective is to pull together unemployed Americans in a way that allows them to connect, communicate, and press their political leaders for policies that will get them back to work.”
What sort of policies would that be? Right-to-work laws would be a great start. Collective bargaining increases the price of labor. The modern union survives by using government power to establish monopoly environments for the labor it sells. Union leadership is painfully aware of the exodus of jobs to right-to-work states. South Carolina governor Nikki Haley can tell you all about it.
But no, that’s not what the IAM has in mind for its puppet organization of “jobless activists.” Instead, they would like to see lawmakers seize taxpayer funds, and run Uncle Sam’s melted credit cards a few billion more times, to “recreate the Works Progress Administration, WPA 2.0, which in the 1930s put between 6.5 and 8 million people back to work.”
Ah, “progressives!” Always bursting with fresh ideas, aren’t they? Forward – to 1935!
Meanwhile, unionized teachers in Chicago voted on Tuesday to authorize their first strike in 25 years, unless they get a plump 30 percent raise. They also think they’re being asked to work too many hours. If they don’t get what they want, the strike will hit sometime in the next school year.
This places them at odds with the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, who used to be chief of staff for the Obama White House. An Emanuel spokeswoman tried to make peace, saying “our teachers deserve a raise, but our kids don’t deserve a strike, and taxpayers cannot afford to pay for 30 percent raises.”
These two stories illuminate the great question facing Americans, as they wrestle with public and private-sector unions, command economics, demands for more government “stimulus” spending, and a shrunken workforce: What is a “job?” After all, we can’t efficiently create something we cannot define.
Does a “job” simply involve performing services, in exchange for a paycheck? That’s not a good definition, because it describes any number of activities, including things we certainly don’t have in mind when we speak of “job creation.”
Suppose your neighbor offers to pay you $1000 per day to spend an hour walking his dog. That’s a “job,” right? And a pretty sweet deal to boot! But you might feel a bit nervous about basing your life upon such employment. Who can afford to shell out a thousand bucks for an hour of dog-walking? That guy might pay you once or twice, and then run out of cash.
Well, what if you know for a fact that your neighbor is insanely wealthy, and can easily afford your services indefinitely? You might still feel a bit nervous about making this your sole employment. Why? Because your employment would exist
It was silly of him to offer a thousand dollars a day to walk his dog. There is no true demand for such an overpriced service. He can find plenty of cheaper alternatives. He could also find plenty of other people to accept his absurdly inflated offer, if he tires of you for any reason… or no reason at all. Your dog-walking skills don’t have an intrinsic value of anything like $1000 per hour.
A “job,” therefore, is demand for a commodity, which employees sell. This transaction follows the general laws of supply and demand. It is possible to assess the value of labor, which becomes less attractive when priced above its value.
One of modern liberalism’s defining psychoses is its obsession with denying these simple truths. Liberals regard jobs as a gift, which can be showered upon deserving citizens from a bottomless New Deal cornucopia held by wise and benevolent politicians, but that’s not true. This “gift” must be purchased, and government does not have limitless funds for doing so. Worse, the funds it does have access to are taken from the private sector, which is far better at determining the true value of labor. Every dollar moved into the public sector is a dollar which allocates labor less efficiently.
Likewise, the private sector doesn’t have unlimited resources to pay artificially high prices for labor, due to regulations and mandates. When the cost becomes too great, corners are cut, and expansion plans are canceled.
Some government spending on labor is necessary and proper, of course. The State will always have employees. However, government employment is an expense borne by society, for common benefits that can’t really be provided at a profit. Police and military forces are a good example. The moral and practical rationale for government employment is that some things simply need doing, and society must bear the cost.
Any good businessman will tell you that such expenses should be kept to a minimum. As more jobs are brought wholly or partially under the influence of politics, expenses balloon, and efficiency is diminished. Political influence is anti-competitive, by definition, so the benefits of competition are lost when the public sphere grows. The result is what you see around you today: bloated government spending, a weakened private sector, and towering public debt.
What is a “job?” The definition can either be negotiated in a competitive environment, between free buyers and sellers of labor, or it can be decreed. Political muscle is a poor way of determining how many employees are needed, and how much they should be paid, so that muscle should be flexed sparingly. Unfortunately, this lesson will be lost on the horde of “jobless activists” pressuring politicians for a new New Deal, and unionized public employees who don’t want to think about the realistic demand for their labor.
To read another article by John Hayward, click here.