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Tech Is Splitting the U.S. Work Force in Two (nytimes.com)
244 points by colanderman on Feb 5, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 513 comments

I saw this when I arrived in America, and it's the reason I left. I take the bus and seeing literally every day that there were people with families who worried and laughed and were kind who spent 2 hours a day transporting themselves to service or manufacturing industry job when I sat in an air conditioned office making 3x their wages was making me feel terribly guilty. I eventually went back to a country with a social safety net where the working class people on my bus talk about their vacations.

Maybe if the "favored class" Americans took the bus or went to the laundromat like I did for years they'd want poor people to do well too.

I work in tech. My wife does not. We came to the EU and I noticed that I make a good deal less, but she makes more. Even more important, though, instead of me getting lots of vacation time and her getting almost nothing, we both get a month off a year, protected by law (no bullshit "unlimited vacation" policy can take it away). We can finally take proper holidays together.

Life is better here.

> protected by law (no bullshit "unlimited vacation" policy can take it away).

I've worked at two places who had this policy and it was remarkable how many people just burned themselves out by NOT taking a single day of vacation. There was always pressure from management to NOT take vacation, then you add in pressure from your co-workers to continually work late, push to get projects done on time, all at the cost of your sanity and physical well being.

My thought has always been if you're going to join a company who has an "unlimited vacation" policy, it's probably a good indication there's an expectation you're going to work yourself into the ground, then burn out and will need an extended amount of time to get yourself right.

If a company champions this policy during an interview, it's a huge red flag for me.

I viewed this as a red flag too until I landed at a company where the unlimited vacation policy was sincere. It was actually a great experience.

At risk of sounding like a management consultant, it was very much a matter of corporate culture. People at upper levels took vacation regularly and actively encouraged their reports to do so. One-on-ones often included asking about recent and planned time off, and "none, none" produced real pressure to use the policy. The lack of set days did save money when people left, which probably helped it stick around, but I think the initial adoption of 'unlimited' instead of some generous allowance was basically just a matter of not wanting to formally track vacation time. (One other significant point, especially for tech: there wasn't an expectation of having grand plans, and people who weren't taking time off would even be reminded that they didn't need any "good reason" to do so. I've definitely heard of places where taking a month off to hike the Andes is fine, but taking two days to catch up on sleep and errands is frowned on.)

I still don't take "unlimited vacation" seriously when I see companies advertise it; I'd want an account of the real policy, minimally from Glassdoor reviews or preferably from an employee I knew. But I almost never see US companies advertise 20+ days of paid vacation as a starting allowance, so if the goal is to maximize time off I suspect searching for 'real' unlimited might still be the best bet.

This is weird to me, because I work at a UPTO company and most of my co-workers take at least 3-4 weeks off a year of vacation time and they don't have to worry about it cutting into their sick leave. Whereas, I've worked at other companies and you may start at 15 days PTO and it's one bucket for sick time and vacation.

This always throws me off, too.

I've definitely heard horror stories about UPTO meaning "no time off", especially in crunch-happy industries where requests are simply denied. But people criticizing UPTO seem to describe it as an all around bad deal compared to allotted PTO.

Meanwhile, I mostly see companies (even successful, generous-benefits ones) offering extremely restrictive PTO. "Two weeks PTO for all uses, and you gain one extra day every few years" isn't an appealing offer in the slightest. I've definitely watched friends with graduate degrees and many years at one company try to decide whether to work sick or give up pay.

That doesn't make UPTO a reliable offering, but I'm not convinced that it's worse on average than the levels of set PTO on offer in the US.

I think it also exists to save money when it comes time to cash out PTO when somebody leaves.

> I think it also exists to save money when it comes time to cash out PTO when somebody leaves.

Thinking adverserially: what's to stop someone from taking a month off then turning on notice on return?

To add alternate experience to the children of this post, I worked for a company w/ unlimited vacation, and while I took very little vacation, there was no pressure from outside to limit it. Other people tended to work less than I did and took vacation more or less in line with what they would have done elsewhere.

I wouldn't take unlimited vacation as a sign of anything other than "we expect you to be reasonable and we don't want to micro-manage everything." Although if my experience had been different, I might think different.

I currently work for a multinational with an unlimited vacation policy and it's pretty obvious people in places where PTO is protected by law (i.e. not the US) take far more.

It's also yet another way to ensure people who know they can just walk into another job (or that they won't get fired/laid off/never promoted) take loads of vacation, while people who _really_ need to be sure they stay employed or who might be having a harder time at work are always afraid to ask for it.

Buddy of mine worked for a company with unlimited PTO until recently. He would take 2, 3 months off because, as he put it, "I had them over a barrel" (he is extremely good at what he does). His colleagues, for the most part, did not.

> I wouldn't take unlimited vacation as a sign of anything other than "we expect you to be reasonable and we don't want to micro-manage everything."

In truth, though, the sole reason companies use unlimited vacation policy is that, in the US at least, it means unused vacation time does not accrue as a liability on the balance sheet, and companies aren't required to pay out for it if you leave.

It also alleviates the company from ever having to pay out unused vacation time. That is a disadvantage for the employee, but with a tremendous upside.

I also have unlimited PTO and I definitely prefer it. No more worrying about hours, rollover limits, accumulation rate, how far I can go negative, etc. No more wading through vacation schedules wondering if the office is open on New Years Eve.

Same thing with free lunches - yeah, of course it keeps people in the office and possibly causes them to subconsciously work longer. But also...I get a free freaking lunch and I don't have to worry about it.

Perhaps we're just completely opposite. When I have free lunch I just get fat. I also like to squeeze in a workout on my lunch break, and the quiet pressure to stay in the office and have your free lunch opposes that.

If you didn't take much vacation you basically cut your own salary by 10% compared to "limited vacation" though?

Good point, I suppose I did. When considered that way, I wonder of the option value of unlimited was worth it? Hmm.

Good for you! Where in the EU? There is quite a bit of variation in work regulations and norms (e.g. minimum wage and salary variance) depending on the member states.

Ireland - which is a mixed bag in some senses (if nothing else, work culture in tech here is HEAVILY influenced by the US) but still far better than California. Also, I don't mean to toot my horn but I may start a company in a year or two and even though I wouldn't necessarily have picked Ireland in the first place, their comparatively welcoming immigration policy (they have working holiday visas!) means it's where I've built my life.

> Life is better here.

But Europe Socialism bad.

Western European countries hardly take immigrants. When you live in a homogenous, solely middle-class country like Sweden/Denmark/Norway, of course everything seems nice and comfortable.

But America accepts some very poor immigrants and allows them to make money and be lifted up. Those are many of the people you saw on the bus.

This is wildly incorrect. Angela Merkel got in trouble precisely because she accepted so many Syrian refugees. Germany absorbed almost a million refugees in one year, which is an incredible number. On a per capital basis, that would be like the USA accepting 4 million refugees in one year, when in fact net immigration to the USA, of all forms, tends to run at about 10% to 15% of that level.

That is the point isn't it? European countries finally start catching up to the US in the size of their immigrant population, and all of a sudden you're seeing massive social upheaval and populist movements popping up everywhere.

> European countries finally start catching up to the US in the size of their immigrant population,

No. Several European countries have had significant foreign-born populations for a long time.


Those stats count an immigrant from any neighboring Western European country as foreign born. That makes them highly misleading compared to the US. In the US, a person from a different state does not count as an immigrant.

Of course not, but a state is not a country. Germany has 16 states, for example, and the statistics don't count people from different states as immigrants.

However, a person from a neighbouring country (e.g. Mexico) would count as an immigrant in the US.

Just because states are massive in the US doesn't make them equivalent to different countries in Europe, which all have their own language, ethnic background, and culture. A German person moving 350 miles to Italy (from Munich to Venice) is definitely an immigrant, with a completely different background, even though the distance itself isn't even enough to go between Austin and Houston in Texas.

I think GP's point is more that there are many more surrounding countries from which immigration is easier, than in the U.S.

There may be more cultural distance between Austin and Houston than you think :-)

Percent foreign born isn’t really a good metric of the level of racial, ethnic, and religious diversity.

... yeah, I don't think those Syrian refugees are vacationing on the Rhine with OP. He doesn't see them on the bus because they can't even afford the bus he takes...

I have Syrian refugee neighbors, we live almost a stone's throw from the Rhine, they seem fine

It was, I think, correct until relatively recently. Certainly, the countries of Western Europe of the 80s were, for the most part, each very homogeneous.

It's no longer the case (I read today that 1 in 4 Swedish schoolchidren wasn't born in Sweden!), and I wonder very much what that will mean for the future of Europe. The mass influx of Germans, Irish, Scandinavians & Italians in the 19th century radically changed what it meant to be an American, and it seems to me that Europe is about to go through an even larger-scale change.

I think you may only be looking at immigrant based visas in the US. Whereas you need to look at permenant residents (ie green card holders = 13.2M of which 8.9M are eligible for citizenship).

==solely middle-class country==

Isn't it possible that the reason their middle-class is so large is due in some part on political decisions they've made?

I think it is at least worth exploring before we jump to the ethnic breakdown of the country. Political choices are something we can change relatively quickly compared to demographics. The US has a higher GDP per capita than Sweden and Denmark which implies that there is more money to spread around even with a comparatively large immigrant population.

Yes however the demographic diversity in the US makes it less likely for people to want to "spread it" around.

If your entire country is the population of one large US metro and everyone is the same ethnicity and culture, there are fewer cognitive impediments to being empathetic at scale.

==everyone is the same ethnicity and culture==

I think depends on how you define ethnicity and culture.

Sweden foreign-born population - 17.0% [1]

US foreign-born population - 13.7% [2]

[1] https://nordic.businessinsider.com/swedens-foreign-born-popu...

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-data/u-s-...

Using just the census designated measures would be a fine start.

Foreign born population wouldn't begin to address diversity in the US.

In Sweden it might be the case that foreign born population is the only source of ethnic diversity.

Whereas in the US, the people in northern Maine live in a completely different world than the people in Southern Florida.

==Whereas in the US, the people in northern Maine live in a completely different world than the people in Southern Florida.==

And your contention is that Stockholm, Malmo, Kiruna, Haparanda and Skalstugan are all the same?

My contention is that median variability of cultural attributes between those cities is signifcantly less than median variability of cultural attributes in US cities.

That is a fair observation. To clarify, you think that makes it harder to find political solutions because people don't feel they are "in it together"?

Exactly. The easier it is to find differences in your group and another group under the same organization, especially with a weak overarching culture, the less likely those groups will coordinate politically and economically.

US white, non-Hispanic population: 61.3%.... Swedish white, non-Hispanic population: easily 90%+

Ok great. Now segment that further into cultural and lingusitic differences.

The 250,000 "white non-Hispanic" people in Louisiana speaking Creole Patois can't communicate easily with the 200,000 or so "white non-Hispanic" people who speak Appalachian English.

"Race" is a starting point, within which there are so many variances in the US. I've traveled a lot of places, but I've yet to find anywhere in the world as diverse at such a wide scale as that in the US. It's messy, violent, uncertain and magnificent.

And those distinctions existed when the US middle class was far more robust. You still haven’t proven that demographics and not politics is the cause.

==Swedish white, non-Hispanic population: easily 90%+==

Not only is this contention wrong [1], it is completely arbitrary. Ethnicity isn't just how you want to draw lines to prove some point. Sweden has multiple ethnicities within what you call "Swedish white, non-Hispanic". This is observed, most obviously, through different dialects and cultures. Swedes that border Norway are different than Swedes that border Finland.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Sweden

And white people in the U.S. are also not homogeneous. So what?

The U.S. has multiple metropolitan areas that each has a larger population and more ethnic diversity than the smaller European countries. And that's before you even consider the country as a whole.

==The U.S. has multiple metropolitan areas that each has a larger population and more ethnic diversity than the smaller European countries.==

Yes, but that was true when the US had a robust middle class (roughly 1940-2000). I haven't seen any evidence presented that proves demographic diversity is the reason for increased inequality.

Meanwhile, we can observe political decisions over the past 40 years which have had an impact on how worker productivity turns into wages. Examples are a lower the top income tax rate, a stagnant minimum wage, the explosion of stock-based compensation, weakening the estate tax, the weakening of unions, high healthcare costs, etc.

> Yes, but that was true when the US had a robust middle class (roughly 1940-2000).

Not really. Non-hispanic whites + blacks made up 95% of the population as recently as 1970. As of 2010, those two groups combined make up only 75% of the population. There have been radical changes in the demography of the U.S. in the last 50-80 years.

I actually agree with you that changing demographics are not the whole story, but the fact that the U.S. has gone from one (black Americans) to two (added Latin American immigrants — now 16% of the population) racially delineated underclasses does a lot to undermine social cohesion.

Source for U.S. demographics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_racial_and_ethnic_d...

==Non-hispanic whites + blacks made up 95% of the population as recently as 1970==

The large immigrant communities from Italy, Germany and Ireland were not considered "white" when they first came to the US. Only later did that occur as definitions of race have changed over time, usually to serve a political purpose.

==the fact that the U.S. has gone from one (black Americans) to two (added Latin American immigrants — now 16% of the population) racially delineated underclasses does a lot to undermine social cohesion.==

Have you explored the possibility that people's obsession with this is what has actually undermined social cohesion? It has happened before in American history with the Know-Nothing Party.

==Source for U.S. demographics==

Your own source shows "whites" (72.4%) and "blacks" (12.6%) as making up 85% of the population as of 2010. You have decided to further delineate that into "non-hispanic white" which is not an actual race. Also notable that you don't split out the differences of Southern Italians and Northern Irish. Do immigrants from Spain count as white or Hispanic?

Isn't this expected when Sweden has a significantly lower population than the US?

Personally, I believe that rich people will find a way to justify being more rich. If not they'll hire some economists from Harvard to come up with some good excuses.

One argument is the left wing split when the white suburban middle class stopped supporting taxing itself to fund the social safety net.


"Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots." -- Richard Rorty [1997]

"Isn't it possible that the reason their middle-class is so large is due in some part on political decisions they've made?"

The USA previously decided three times to explicitly create its middle class. The New Deal, the Homestead Act, etc. Policy choices which were hard fought and narrowly won.

Wealth and Democracy: How Great Fortunes and Government Created America's Aristocracy by Kevin Phillips


Without active redistribution, accelerating inequity is inevitable.

That the rich get richer is just math. Not a value statement.

Plan accordingly.

Easily disproven statement by looking at real stats [1], where most western european countries are ahead of the US. If you're suggesting those immigrants are not "poor", consider the Syrian crisis, Germany and Sweden were by far the largest takers of syrian refugees in the west, while the US hardly took any syrians at all. In fact, I read somewhere that Sweden in 2015 was the largest taker of refugees per capita from non-neighboring countries EVER.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_net_migra...

That link shows that the US took in twice as many immigrants as the entire EU. Per capita doesn't mean much at this scale- the 5 million the US took the year before don't magically become middle class taxpayers just because a year has passed.

If you look at immigration rates over the past 50 years, the US comes far far ahead.

The US look a majority of its immigrants in the 90s and early 2000s, while Sweden took near-zero immigrants until 10 years ago.

Additionally, many Western European 'immigrants' are actually just people moving between different Western European countries.

You're so far off it's not even funny.

Sorry mate, do your research next time

Which has led to massive issues within Sweden.

An extraordinary 190,000 refugees are now expected to arrive in Sweden this year - double what the agency expected at the start of the year, and more people than live in Uppsala, the country's fourth largest city.

If the predictions are correct, Sweden will take 20,000 asylum applications per million people in 2015, double the rate even of Germany.

The strain is beginning to show everywhere from politics - where the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats are, according to two of the country's eight main polls, now the party with the most support - to finance, where both the central government and municipalities are struggling to find savings to cover the costs.


I don't know about Sweden/Denmark/Norway but this is not true of the Western European country Germany. I'm an American living in Germany. It's shockingly easy to immigrate to here. It takes 5 years to get permanent residency. The process is humane and reasonable. More than half the people I work with are immigrants from all over the world. No one I've asked even considers moving to America because of the nearly non-existent social safety net, the expense of having children, the unwelcoming rhetoric about immigrants, and universally toxic experiences with American government officials (TSA, customs, etc.). That story about things are better in Europe because Europe is culturally homogeneous is not true in Germany. It's also true that there is new conflict/friction within German society because of the heterogeneity. But the presence of immigrants has not in any way made the country less "nice and comfortable". These qualities are the product of the society's belief that everyone should have a reasonable quality of life. People here make a choice to pay more taxes towards that aim and they do this because they believe in it.

This is completely false.

Neither side really "accepts" poor immigrants, the availability of unskilled work visas is extremely limited.

Wow, almost every sentence in your post is at least partially wrong.

Per capita basis, I believe EU countries take on more immigrants than America

I thought that was interesting, so I just checked - the EU as a whole has about 52.5 million people living in countries they were not born in (including other EU countries) and a total population of about 512 million. So that's about 10%. The US has about 44.5 million foreign born in it, with a total population of about 328 million. So that's about 13.5%.

So no, the EU does not have more immigrants than the US per capita. If you remove European citizens moving to other European countries, they don't have as many immigrants by sheer number, either.

There is also a sliding scale in EU. Western European countries like Germany, France, Sweden, Netherlands, take in far more immigrants than Poland, Hungary etc. The point that triggered this whole thread was immigration is the reason America doesn't have the same quality of life as EU. Which is clearly not true, considering Germany and NL takes in very high % of immigrants. Even with your 13 vs 10% is negligible for any meaningful policy differences. US is different not because of immigration, but due to its political bent.

It's possible that the US is different because of the length of time that immigrants have been a part of policy, though.

It's funny that the US is compared to the EU; the US is more similar to and should probably be compared to Canada, India and Australia

I'm having trouble finding a more recent source, but as of 2012 that wasn't close to true. It's actually a larger gap than I expected. I'm going to keep researching to see if I can find more recent numbers. Do you happen to have a more recent source?



Total net migration: 2,324,066

Net migration per 1000 inhabitants: 4.60


Total net migration: 5,007,887

Net migration per 1000 inhabitants: 15.94

> Western European countries hardly take immigrants

I almost died reading this blatant lie.

Without incentives, there is no innovation.

And if everyone is entitled to the same portion of the pie, what’s the incentive to work harder? Seeing your neighbor put in a third of the effort and produce the same economic result is demoralizing.

Trust me, I don't work 3x harder than most of the people I make 3x of. My wife is a teacher and I am in tech, I make 3x her salary. She works way more and spends more of both her physical and emotional labor on her job. I work hard and I do good work, but what she does is not even in the same stratosphere as what I do. I'm not innovating anything, I'm just writing decent code. She's finding new ways to help kids learn. Which sounds more demoralizing?

It's not about how hard you work. It's about how many people can do what you do.

Don't sell yourself short, in tech you have skills that only a small percentage of the population are capable of doing. We might all say "Programming is easy" or "I really only work half the day" but for many people Programming is seen as witchcraft, and for many what would take a skilled developer an hour would take a whole day (or worse, they might just do the task manually).

If your not satisfied with programming you can of course go into teaching, if that's what you think is truly fulfilling.

I think very similiar to ighhh.

It doesn't make it fair that in theory 'everyone' could get into it or that it takes probably much longer for someone to do my job than the other way around (like yes i think i would be able to sell things).

I don't know how we should incentive instead but it doesn't make it fair.

You're just basing your view of what's fair on time spent working/physical labor. If you base your view of what's fair on skillsets, and what one person can do, and what one person can not, it makes more sense.

It's worth asking why your wife doesn't switch to your job, to make 3x the salary. Either

a) she couldn't do it, in which case by extension it boils down to supply and demand, or

b) she doesn't want to do it, because she gets a whole bunch of joy from the job which is invisibly priced into compensation (and which indirectly goes back to supply and demand.)

I don't see the discrepancy as any kind of market failure.

I think there's a big problem with this whole comparison here. You're comparing a career which is almost entirely private-sector (programming) to one which is almost entirely public-sector (teaching). Teachers are mostly employed by local governments, after all, so that profession isn't subject to the market forces which affect private-sector jobs.

The reason teachers aren't paid well isn't because there isn't much demand for them, it's because the local governments choose to pay them poorly, and then they wonder why they can't find enough good teachers.

Companies that don't pay programmers handsomely will soon find themselves without programmers (or with really lousy ones), and then they'll go out of business. This doesn't happen with public schools.

> I don't see the discrepancy as any kind of market failure.

What his story underlines is that teaching young human beings about navigating life is rewarded 3x less than churing out code that fits some business objective.

The market doesn't care about people, it cares about profit. In that system, human life is only important to the degree that it helps market dynamics.

The main problem with teaching is that there's many people who can do it. If you compound the issue with paying teachers $150k a year, not only would the cost of education skyrocket, you would be running into more and more people unemployed but with a degree specifically meant for teaching.

I'm not saying everyone can teach equally. I'm saying most everyone can become qualified to teach. Please don't accuse me of saying teaching is easy. At the very least, a much larger subset can learn to teach than can learn to code.

Many people can learn to program and companies that pay poorly will only be able to hire people who aren't very good and they will go out of business. Finding good teachers is very hard as well but the government will only pay terrible salaries and mostly hire poor teachers. The difference is when the teachers suck and students do poorly, the school doesn't go out of business, they just reduce the budget and it gets worse.

>The difference is when the teachers suck and students do poorly, the school doesn't go out of business, they just reduce the budget and it gets worse.

This is true, but it's become a partisan issue, at least in the U.S, to talk about testing teachers in some way.

I believe a huge problem is finding a way to differentiate a good teacher from a bad teacher if you're not allowed to look at grades/some kind of standardized test. If you can take those into account, as long as a teacher comes into work on time I'm not sure how you could differentiate the good from bad.

An example I like to use is my AP Calc teacher from highschool, who had an average score of 4.7 for her students on the AP test. The average in 2012 was a 2.9 (the year I took it, it seems to be higher now, I can't say to as if they made it easier or if people got better though) [1]. In many school systems though, if your teacher has an average score below the national average, you can't do anything about it.

[1] https://www.totalregistration.net/AP-Exam-Registration-Servi...

Part of the problem with doing that, especially in younger grades, is that so much of it depends on variables outside of a teacher's control. A lot of reading at a young age comes from life experiences. For instance, someone who has never been outside of an inner city is going to have more trouble reading a story about someone sailing on the ocean because they are so far removed from even the most basic plot elements that the things in the story that are actually meant to challenge are not ever gotten to. Additionally, time spent outside of classroom compounds the effectiveness of time spent inside of classroom, but the teacher has no control over that. A teacher can't even control if a student shows up for school or not. Student's performance, especially cross-school comparisons, are nearly worthless and would unfairly punish those that teach at low schools.

I would say you'd have to compare them to similar schools in the area or similar areas in the U.S. Between income range in the surround neighborhoods and population density you should be able to come up with a decent comparison, I would think.

I don't disagree with the letter of your comment, but I take issue with the spirit. Markets are about exchange, and the pricing signal is the aggregate expression of what people value and how scarce it is. Far from being cold and impersonal, they are fully and completely about human values.

OP's wife may place a high intrinsic value on teaching, which serves as a kind of internal subsidy. In that case you'd expect the job to pay less, because more people are being 'subsidized' by their desire to do it.

On the other hand, nobody is burning with desire to be a garbageman. Nobody is a volunteer garbageman, and garbagemen make more money than you might expect (or at least, they did when I was graduating from high school.)

There's a reason glamorous and fun jobs generally don't pay very much. It's not that complicated, and it's not sinister.

> "she gets a whole bunch of joy from the job which is invisibly priced into compensation"

This is a pretty naive statement.

How so? Many people (women even moreso than men in my experience) prioritize fulfilling work over higher paying work. This is observable in, for example, people pursuing careers in saturated industries like journalism, art, or acting, as well as going for "more meaningful" startup jobs instead of FANG jobs.

I personally switched from rocket science to tech and then to a FANG so I could get increased compensation and have a chance of catching up to Bay Area housing prices. My compensation increased 3x in the process. Most of my peers wouldn't do that.

Could you elaborate? If not (b) then it seems she would certainly fall into (a).

It's probably >3x more difficult to find someone with your skills to employ. It may be easy to you but to someone who doesn't know how to program, your work is unimaginably difficult.

I would also argue that writing code is a grind. I would enjoy writing code maybe 2-4 hours a day tops but when you want to get something done and code for 7 hours straight it is really tough to do.

Learning new concepts all the time, emotional waves, errors that can impact companies on a large scale. Programming is really difficult and requires constant engagement in the industry.

Yes its work. But you know what is also work? Cleaning shit from others the whole day.

I also can imagine selling stuff is draining or catering for others.

I'm valuated more because i'm more needed and a company can make more money with me than without me. This still doesn't make it fair.

> This still doesn't make it fair.

You're not taking into account the thousands of hours people have to put in to learning how to program. That's real work and sacrifice. It's not unfair that that investment pays off.

But those people got the chance to do it. They got the lucky direction.

They got the smarts, the parents who read to them, etc.

Maybe, maybe not (I know I didn't have all of those things). It's undeniable they had to work hard to become good programmers though.

Pay isn’t connected to effort of labor though.

It also isn't connected to the value the job brings to society, or even to the long-term impact on the market economy.

This may be true as well. One thing money has going for it, versus impact on society, is that we can measure it.

Might not be a great metric, but we as a society have failed to invent and value a better one.

The teachers' situation is more demoralizing for sure.

Capitalism would explain the difference between a tech worker's pay and a teacher's pay as based on skill and worker scarcity, not on who works the hardest.

Teaching is a straw man. Teachers get paid poorly because (1) Americans don’t actually care about education, as evidenced by the amount teachers make, and (2) it’s a government-based monopoly that prioritizes “benefits” and graft (tenure, etc) over salary

> (1) Americans don’t actually care about education, as evidenced by the amount teachers make

Americans care very much about education but the system we're in doesn't. Kids have no value in a market economy until they have purchase power (or influence on purchase power). In a highly inequal society that means very fancy private schools, for those who can pay. And neglected public schools for the rest. The outlook of a market economy is not 18 years, it's 1 year (and often quarter-to-quarter).

Kids have massive purchasing power, a fact which was discovered by marketers in the 50s and cultivated extensively since then. Marketers back to then discovered they could actually market directly to kids, which wasn’t a thing before and something people take for granted now. In American households kids drive massive percentages of household spending, not just indirectly but directly as well.

> Kids have no value in a market economy until they have purchase power

Market economies are based entirely on investment. Market economies value investment and therefore kids. If people aren’t investing in kids, it’s because of market economy? as a matter of fact Americans invest tons of money in early childhood education and their children at an early age. It’s an American obsession. The problem is that outcomes have little to do with dollars invested. American culture at this point has devolved into pseudo fascist corporation and leisure identity worship, so people don’t even know what education is. Being a “geek” in America now means you watch tv and play video games. Buying your kid a tablet and plopping then down with some STEM edutainment software isn’t education. It’s just unfortunate, miguided ignorance, and we get what we pay for.

>Kids have massive purchasing power, a fact which was discovered by marketers in the 50s and cultivated extensively since then. Marketers back to then discovered they could actually market directly to kids, which wasn’t a thing before and something people take for granted now.

I dunno about "discovered", the 1950s were one of the most radical shifts in American life. Average Children were not running around with "purchasing power" prior to WWII they were working with their parents more than likely in some capacity, the war completely altered the economic landscape of America for a ceiling of better never before seen for the common man since we were the only ones left with infrastructure not bombed to fuck all. My grandparents are poor blacks from the south, that statistically puts them in the demographic set for worst possible outcomes, but they and most of their peers were able to raise large families and buy a house on factory jobs with middle-class wages in the 50s. That kind of wealth distribution opens up a lock of sectors.

>Americans care very much about education but the system we're in doesn't.

This is demonstrably false. If Americans cared about education, they would demand their local governments do a better job of providing it. But they don't. Those governments pay teachers poorly, which doesn't attract quality people to the profession, and the taxpayers just complain about their taxes being too high.

The ones who care about their kids' education enough to pay for it themselves—not just lobby to make others pay for it—and have the resources to do something about it tend to put their kids in private schools. That leaves only those who either lack sufficient resources to pay more or simply don't care.

In any case, we actually spend quite a bit on education, despite arguably worse outcomes than some other countries that spend less. Throwing more money at the problem isn't going to improve anything. The focus needs to be on spending the significant resources already allocated to education more effectively.

The attempts to equalize outcomes regardless of the amount of effort students (and parents) put into their education certainly don't help. Assuming they get their way and everyone is assured of equal pay for equal "effort"—why bother studying if cashiering at a fast-food joint offers about the same quality-of-life as managing a successful company, or performing leading-edge research and development?

Straw men don't exist, my wife does exist.

But you use her in logic based arguments and then appeal to emotion so.... which is it?

Your gripe shouldn’t be with rich people, it should be with Americans en masse, who yelled and screamed all Sunday night in my apartment building about grown men running into each other on TV with such a passion you’d think they were educating their children. And then they’re poor? Boo hoo. Maybe if Americans cared about education, showed passion for it like they do about Football, I would understand. You get paid 3x your wife because Americans care about what you produce, and they don't care about what she produces.

It’s easy to soak the rich but take a look around you, people prioritize everything except the one thing that matters: education.

> But you use her in logic based arguments and then appeal to emotion so.... which is it?

My appeal was to the amount of effort required between jobs.

> And then they’re poor? Boo hoo.

Poor people are allowed to have hobbies and interests just as well as the rich. This sentiment is disgusting and you should be ashamed.

> You get paid 3x your wife because Americans care about what you produce, and they don't care about what she produces.

Trust me, I have worked jobs where I have been paid very, very well where nobody has cared about what I produced except the couple of people who were paying me.

You won’t shame me. You can’t make me feel ashamed of my father, who got my family out of poverty and didn’t even know how to order a beer or a meal at a restaurant until he was 55 because that’s just not how we spent money. Your perspective is rooted in the heights of privilege and entitlement, wherein first world people can live cozy secure lives, entitled to leisure and “hobbies” on the backs of second and third worlders who facelessly supply us cheap goods that our rich should provision for us just because we live in a country that enslaves the world’s poor. That “hobbies” and “leisure” as a human right doesn’t give you pause is disturbing, because if you don’t earn your hobbies and leisure and expect them anyway, you’re a piece of work given what goes on in the world to make our leisure possible. Americans live in a Disney fairyland created by Ronald Reagan and the 1980s. Why should poor people in America be entitled to 50,000 USD when people who work and create the things these poor people say they absolutely need to consume make 5,000 USD. What haught, what arrogance. What willful ignorance. That’s what’s disgusting.

> You can’t make me feel ashamed of my father, who got my family out of poverty and didn’t even know how to order a beer or a meal at a restaurant until he was 55 because that’s just not how we spent money.

I never asked you to feel ashamed for that. I'm asking that you don't require everyone go though the same struggles as revenge.

Get this... I also think the people who are working to create the things that you are talking about should be able to have hobbies. I also think the people making the things that get consumed should be able to make enough to consume them. You are trying to turn my argument in to what you want it to be, not what it clearly is.

You are saying that, because I think people should be able to have better lives, I am saying some people should not have better lives? That doesn't even make sense.

Do better.

Basic premise: it is undignified and immoral to buy things from people who labor tremendously and still live at a different standard of living, and to give those things for free to people here, at our standard of living. That just strikes me as incredibly twisted and immoral.

Imagine the look of those people in China who have to work to produce Tracfones, if they saw their Tracfone just given out to someone here for free, who didn't do anything to earn it? Imagine how they would feel? That feeling is not about revenge, it's about you denying them basic dignity. You're saying to him or her: you're a Chinaman, you have to do work, but we just take your work and give it to people for free. They must be better than you! They don't have to do anything because they're American. But you, you're just an inferior person from China so you have to work.

That's a brutal injustice in my opinion.

No I’m saying that things don’t fall from the sky. People make everything, and basic human dignity and justice demands that no one is just entitled to the fruits of someone else’s labor.

The revenge tack you take is also misguided. This is all about basic human dignity and people feeling like they deserve all this stuff from workers the world over, just because they live in a first world country. Or just because they live period. Being alive doesn’t entitle you to anything, and that’s probably where we disagree, because my guess is you think being alive entitles you to health care, and food and housing. But if that was true, and everyone took that entitlement, then where would all the actual stuff come from? Where? As I said, it’s the height of privilege to act like these things are human rights, because in doing so, you deny the workers who actually produce things common, basic dignity and equality.

I agree with you when it comes to "no one is just entitled to the fruits of someone else's labor". Certainly there is no inherent right to health care, food, housing, or anything else produced and paid for at others' expense. However, you're really confusing the issue by throwing in "on the backs of second and third worlders". It is not their labor which is being taken in order to provide these "entitled" residents of first-world countries their free stuff. They are getting paid for their labor, at rates better than what they could otherwise obtain, and would be strictly worse off if the first-world countries insisted on buying only from those with first-world standards of living. That would eliminate their comparative advantage, and take away what is currently their best option to earn a living and improve their situation. The workers in countries with second- and third-world standards of living are actually the main beneficiaries of this middle-class sense of entitlement; it transfers money from consumers and taxpayers in first-world countries directly into their wallets. If anyone is in a position to complain about having the fruits of their labor stolen away it's the net taxpayers in the first world, the ones actually paying for this "free" food, housing, and health care out of their own earnings.

I just think people who come in late at the party because their kid was sick and they're mentally ill and they live way out in the middle of the country and there's no pie left should at least get a couple apples or something.

My kid is disabled and I have severe anxiety and suffered depression. I live right in the middle of the US. I didn’t start my tech career until 28 because of all that, but I’m doing ok. I live in a big house with good schools.

From what I’ve gathered of non-US (European) tech jobs, I’d never have gotten an opportunity to work as a programmer because I never got a bachelors degree. Maybe it isn’t like that everywhere, but it feels good that a high school dropout can make 6 figures and live in a 2000 square foot house and easily support two kids and a stay at home wife.

I’d also likely never have learned to control my issues and gotten proper treatment if I hadn’t been left almost homeless when my family kicked me out for dropping out of college. As long as things were “good enough”, I poured my heart and soul into noble ventures like my World of Warcraft career (300 days played)! and League of Legends. I know I’m not everyone, in fact I’m likely an exceptional case, none of my friends who grew up similarly to me ended up achieving what I have, but if the safety net was too comfortable I doubt I’d have ever felt the need to climb out of it once I fell into it. I’m personally glad to live in the USA despite its flaws.

It's great that you were able to do that, and I've been to Europe (not where the country I was referring to is located) and I agree with you about the degree.

That said, it's just emotional on my part like I said in the OP. Yeah I knew people who were poor and who probably spent their entire life since that time doing drugs and collecting their assistance checks. (And to be fair I knew people who were rich and probably spent their entire life since that time doing drugs and collecting their monthly allowance. Both are far from the norm of the rich/poor people. They're just specific examples of not caring much about your life beyond it going on.)

I prefer to live in a world where five hundred thousand people are sitting on their asses doing nothing passing the seconds till their death through their own choices than in a world where fifty thousand people are running ragged feeling their bodies waste away not knowing where their time goes through the choices of people who just wanted a nicer lawn. The first world seems like it has more happiness per capita plus the outcome of each is a result of things like effort. The second world seems like it belongs in a SF story about the unchosen ones.

if the safety net was too comfortable I doubt I’d have ever felt the need to climb out of it

Americans have been conditioned into accepting a staggering amount of abuse and into perpetuating that abuse.

Come on, dude. Accusing people who disagree with you of having been brainwashed is a pretty weak discussion strategy.

At least people can overcome abuse and thrive off of it. I don't know a single person who had an extremely cushy childhood who is 'on fire' for anything or striving for greatness.

You need adversity to be great. Not all adversity is abuse. The American dream is about overcoming and flourishing to the limits of your will power, taxing people who have succeeded to provide succor to people who don't care about themselves is corrosive to the national spirit. Come visit some time, I'll show you around.

And yet despite all the talk about the American Dream, social mobility in the US is uncommonly low amongst the Western democracies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_mobility#/media/File:Th...

The US is right there with deindustrialized Britain and Italy with its massive North-South divide. These are not exactly models to emulate.

>I don't know a single person who had an extremely cushy childhood who is 'on fire' for anything or striving for greatness.

You could argue our current president had a pretty cushy childhood. Not sure if he's 'on fire' or 'striving for greatness' though.

Social mobility is heavily determined by a combination of race, IQ, gender, social-class, where you were born, and physical / mental health. All of that is dictated by luck when you are born. Our ego tries to convince us that we're "self made" but for the most part life is determined by "luck of the draw".

>You could argue our current president had a pretty cushy childhood.

I think this kind of proves my point, people with cushy childhoods seem to turn out not great. I'd imagine he'd be a more effective leader if he spent more time overcoming adversity.


Please keep this sort of flamebait far away from HN.


> Paris is burning. New York is not.

And Occupy movement happened on Mars.

Did you actually go to Zucotti park?

I went back in 09 and it was effectively equivalent in my mind to a big swap meet or a hippie craft faire. Light years of difference between that an firebombing riots.

If Paris is burning, New York is a room full of gasoline.

I think that is a very weird conclusion. In Europe, because there is a safety net, there is mostly nothing to "climb out of". Working a menial job and/or playing video games before going on to university or getting a career is mostly ordinary. At least half the people I work with don't have bachelors degrees. The US actually has as high, and often higher, amounts of degrees per capita compared to European countries. Also none of my friends who were into computers growing up are doing badly relatively speaking. Which is largely a factor of the tech industry and not society.

Perhaps you wouldn't have had the same opportunities without a degree in Europe but have you considered the possibility that had you been in Europe it also would have been significantly more affordable and easier to get a degree given your situation?

Universal healthcare, for example, might have allowed your mental health issues to be addressed sooner. And even if they were addressed some people just need more time to complete their education. My sister really struggled with college due to her anxiety and depression and a four-year plan just wasn't going to work for her situation. Unfortunately, college is so expensive there is a lot of pressure to finish as soon as possible. Like you, she dropped out. Now she's in the most difficult situation: the burden of the student loans without the benefit of the piece of paper.

That doesn't happen in Europe. The affordability of university in Europe allows people who need a bit more time to figure things out or to work through their own personal struggles to actually complete the program. And even if someone drops out they aren't left with an unmanageable amount of debt that will follow them for the rest of their life.

The "safety nets" in Europe allow young 20-somethings the flexibility to figure things out for themselves without completely screwing up their future financially. I think we really underestimate the value of that flexibility for a young person in the United States.

I think about this a lot. If I were born in Europe, I would get a degree in mathematics and skate by doing easy work.

I was born American, I saw my chance for greatness, and I'm working on it. I'm currently a few years into my career - I've made a few hundred thousand for myself and at least a few million for my employers/society-writ-large, and I know that if I were European, I'd still be in school.

For me, the American system did a much better job of aligning my interests with society's interest.

So why didn't your friends go and prosper? The safety net was too good?

The flip side is say, those, who, because there was no safety net, did not or were not able to turn their lives around the way you did and fell on really, really hard times - who didn't make it.

This is a pretty negative outlook on humanity. People do things for reasons other than making money.

Also seeing your boss put in a third the effort and produce 10 times the paycheck is also demoralizing...

Temper this with the understanding that many workers don't have a good view of what their boss actually does and just assume that their boss puts in a third of the effort, when in fact he might put in much much more and the situation may also be difficult to fathom. https://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=3156692

Seeing your boss do it teaches you to become the boss.

Seeing your neighbor do it teaches you to switch jobs and work 1/3 as hard.

The reason this doesn't work is the same incentives people are discussing. If there are high-paying easy jobs, people will demand them and theoretically the wages will fall until demand for the job tapers off.

All of this is a bit unfair though, because "having a social safety net where poor people can have vacations and a happy life" is a lot different than the myopic, mean-spirited conservative reply of "but my neighbor is a lazy jerk who makes more than me!"

Do most bosses make 10x the pay? I think that's highly unlikely. Maybe you meant CEO?

I'm 90% sure that my boss makes about 1.2x what I make.

Of course they do. They’re called hobbies.

But do they take massive risks without potential massive reward? A lot wouldn’t.

Unless they’re under the rule of a dictator and their life is threatened. That’s an incentive.

Most people who can take "massive risks" end up, at worst, in the same situation as the average American if they fail. The average American, on the other hand, can't take those risks at all because they could end up homeless or with mountains of medical debt. Reducing how far you can fall would allow for more risks to be taken.

Wouldn't? Or can't given the lack of safety nets?

If the worst-case scenario is starting over perhaps the risk isn't so "massive." But when the worst-case scenario is starving then it's certainly a massive risk.

I don’t think the poster above suggested that everyone is entitled to the same portion of the pie, so I’m not sure why you made that leap

It’s a standard technique to stop the discussion. As soon as someone mentions inequality just shout “socialism” and “incentives “. Never mind that nobody argues that everybody should get exactly the same but the question is how much more of the pie the top should get and whether their share should keep increasing.

You have access to “the top” through resourcefulness and risk taking.

But if one is not inclined to be that type, I’m not sure what ensures them to the rewards of those willing to do so?

Only a couple of minutes ago you were saying that effort was the measure, not resources or risk. Which are entirely different concepts. I don't really see the point of arguing if we don't even have common understanding of different words.

>You have access to “the top” through resourcefulness and risk taking

You forgot generational wealth.

In the U.S. the class into which you are born determines the class you'll reach more than any other factor. Overwhelmingly. It's not even close.

So, it's doubtful that poor people's problem is that they just don't take enough risks.

> In the U.S. the class into which you are born determines the class you'll reach more than any other factor. Overwhelmingly. It's not even close.

Interesting...I've always thought of the US as being more of a meritocracy than the UK and Europe in general. I mean that is what the American dream is all about right?

Nope, I think in pretty much all states, property taxes fund schools in that district. So if your parents have an expensive home, it gathers lots of property tax, which goes mostly to the school in that neighborhood.

> American Dream

The so-called American Dream of social mobility does not exist anymore. It's a relic from the 50s, where a single income from a modest job could support an entire family, with a summer vacation every year.

The more modern examples of rags-to-riches bootstrapping-my-own-widget business are atypical.

The middle class is disappearing and it's not because they are upward bound.

> ...in pretty much all states, property taxes fund schools in that district...

Not in California. Public schools in CA get an essentially-uniform fee (from the state) based on attendance - about $40/day/child.

This helps make things more equal, and it is laudable.

Richer districts, however, have the ability to raise special property taxes, and use gifts from their wealthy residents, to supply extra services for their schools (like music/arts teachers, equipment, and facilities). So, even with a basically "equal" public system, rich districts end up with more.

'Per Thomas Piketty roughly 60% of America's wealth is inherited, meaning most of America's riches are owned by people who didn't work for them.'



Americans do.

The cultural script that the playing field is inherently fairer than anywhere else is what makes them accept bad conditions without question.

Indeed. Turns out the US in the 21st century is quite far from the top of the list of best places to make the American Dream a reality.

It certainly isn’t. The pressure to get to a good school starts very early and most of the time a good school is equivalent to having money.

>In the U.S. the class into which you are born determines the class you'll reach more than any other factor. Overwhelmingly. It's not even close.

Who would downvote this, the data isn't even remotely controversial.


You also have access to the top through just being born a certain person. Is that not demoralizing to others? Why would they try?

This is a bit of a strawman argument: the parent post does not claim that everyone should have the same share of the pie, but that one should get a minimal share rather than nothing.

But does that incentive need to be so huge? Would innovation not happen anymore when the incentive was reduced to say 1%, 10% or 25% etc?

My motivation for doing what I do (which I'd classify as innovative) is not (just) the money. The money is nice too, but I don't think I could work in e.g. finance because I like technology and developing new stuff.

>but I don't think I could work in e.g. finance because I like technology and developing new stuff.

Right, most people don't want to work in finance. They do so because of the money. And generally financial CEOs/CFOs are smart enough to only pay workers what they have to. So the incentives are probably priced appropriately.

"Innovation" always takes a ton of muck work that has very little glory. I work at a chip company. For every engineer doing cutting edge work, you have 10 people doing very unsexy support tasks that are 100% necessary. These are roles people do because they pay well, not because they are interesting.

If I didn't get paid I would still be writing code, and a good deal more complicated, but I probably wouldn't care to make the output something users needed.

As for reducing the incentives, that is already done quite heavily: the US income tax about 1/3. With that you should be able to create a very effective safety line, it is not the successfuls fault it is pissed away on political corruption and a wasteful war on drugs/minorities.

Do you think that in the US that your effort put in is always reflected in your economic result? That those with lower economic results are only those who put in less effort than their neighbor?

you may be driven by spite and jealousy, but thats you buddy, don't project it on the rest of us.

Well, then, surely, most of the innovation is coming from the poorest people.

I don't think anyone's suggesting everyone get the same portion. I just think that if you work 40 hours (or 35, or whatever we determine is "fulltime"), you should be able to support you and your dependents without going bankrupt if you get cancer.

> Seeing your neighbor put in a third of the effort and produce the same economic result is demoralizing.

Sorry to hear you are neighbors with a hedge fund manager. Do you have someone who inherited wealth on the other side of you too? That would be hell. ;)

As others have said, tons of people work harder than me but make less than me. My wife works at least as hard as I do for less pay.

It's less about how hard you work and more about what you know. But sometimes it's even less than that -- it's about perceived value rather than actual value. You could lose an important secretary and the business might lose a lot of money but often that isn't perceived like that.

I think you're creating a false dichotomy: either you accept a large gulf between those who have/have not and innovation or you create a society with a more even distribution and no innovation. As I read comments to socio-economic posts from people in various parts of Europe, it seems as though Germany, France, etc. are developing a middle way.

As a native to the US, I think we really need to pay more attention to the middle way. We could use a little more social harmony.

Did your incentives create the system or did the system create you incentives? I think that's a worthwhile thought to reflect on.

Why does every conversation about social safety nets or a more equitable distribution of wealth involve a rebuttal by one group that goes directly to fulminant communism, the likes of which has never existed?

And, how does that same group--that is supposedly so concerned about fairness--see as fair, a status quo which favors capital over labor to an untenable degree?

It’s just a technique. Don’t allow for nuance but take everything to the extreme and the discussion is closed.

Because of internalized anti-Russia propaganda. If the person is young enough to have not been around during the Cold War, they just internalized it from their parents instead of the Government.

>>incentives >>linus torvalds

Ah yes, because any critique of the american system must mean that the poster supports full on communism.

I think the idea that free-market capitalism drives innovation is not something you can take for granted at all. How many companies making copycat apps that serve no purpose or complete bullshit like Juicero get millions in funding?

You literally gave an example for why free-market capitalism supports innovation; e.g. the product was stupid and the market rejected it.

The market rejecting a product has nothing to do with innovation. It's people saying I can't afford this or I don't value this at the price you're selling it at, or even I don't like the politics of someone that works for you. But it says nothing about if a product is innovative or not.

Innovation includes factors like actually being able to manufacture the product at a price people are willing to pay. If something is worth at most $10, coming up with a novel way to do it for less than $10 is innovative; coming up with a way to do it for $1000 is just wasting time.

It's easy to come up with crazy, impractical ideas. The essence of innovation is turning those ideas into sustainable, marketable, and thus profitable products.

Are you suggesting that there is no middle ground between barbaric US-style capitalism and forced redistribution of wealth?

the barbaric US already has forced redistribution of wealth.

> And if everyone is entitled to the same portion of the pie, what’s the incentive to work harder?

Huge strawman. Who's arguing for total and absolute equality of our outcomes?

I live in one of those "safety net" countries. We aren't all entitled to the same share of the pie, it's just that hard-working people don't have to go hungry or work 2 jobs just to get by, or at least not that often. People can get a very good and valued education without going into debt, and cancer doesn't make you go poor.

I get a greater share of the pie than most of my friends, because I was wise at choosing degree, and worked harder at it, and also I was lucky enough to be born with some mild gifts. But when friend's parents get sick, the families don't have to go into debt to get a great treatment.

I can't be expected to know how the economy and society will change, and whether they will leave me stranded after a bubble bursts or something. We can't all be great economists; not that they get it right either. I'll work my ass off to avoid that, but I'm glad to know my compatriots have my back (to some extent), as I have theirs now.

This is becoming more common, but has been true for a long time.

I remember working at the mall as a student in mid-90s, you could see that the key to being moderately successful in that environment was maintaining a car. Without a car, you couldn't move up to a management role (as you'd often have to come in early/late when bus transit was least effective), couldn't get a second job that paid more and you couldn't go to school to gtfo of retail.

If I put in my time, if I learn valuable skills, if I make smart choices, if I choose to do something complex over something menial, then I would want to see myself doing better than people who did not choose to do those things, no matter how nice and kind they may be.

Anything else, would be unfair and make me question the point of my efforts.

This assumes that poor people don't put in time, have valuable skills, make smart choices, or do complex work.

It also assumes that they had the choices better than the position they have.

There's also another assumption that the protections social safety nets completely eliminate incentive to put in effort. GP didn't say they moved to a nonexistant land where everyone is paid the exact same.

> This assumes that poor people don't put in time, have valuable skills, make smart choices, or do complex work.

This work can also be physically hard, and be dangerous.

Someone else does not have to do badly for you to do better.

As an individual I am hardly responsible for others doing badly.

In a society that rewards hoarding the finite capital that exists, you sort of are.

Most people didn't have the choice you did.

My choices were nothing special: Pay attention in school, do my homework, get good grades, pick a meaningful hobby, don't drink or do drugs, don't beat up other kids for fun, read books, work in a retail store, stay away from drama, get into a decent college and choose a good major, do internships, network, pick up recommendations, get interviews at tech companies, get tech job, start paying debts, save and invest money, move and get better tech job, save and invest more money, pay more debts, keep learning new skills, get even better tech job, pay off debt, save and invest even MORE money, get promotion, save and invest TONS of money... by now you can see compounding effects are kicking in and not much can stop me. All this from a poor boy born in Raleigh.

> My choices were nothing special: Pay attention in school, do my homework, get good grades, pick a meaningful hobby, don't drink or do drugs, don't beat up other kids for fun, read books, work in a retail store, stay away from drama

I concede that the rest of this list is choices you made, but I wonder how much of the part I quoted can be attributed to actual, conscious choice on your part.

Me personally, I'm in tech by pure luck. Because my mother let me watch Star Trek as a kid, because my father arranged for a PC in our house, because they gave me essentially unlimited and unsupervised time in front of it, and because I lucked out with education reform that transferred me out of the worst class in primary school to the best one in secondary school - only because of that, I picked up programming as a hobby. My job, my knowledge and my material situation are pretty much directly attributable to this. It wasn't my choice.

A lot of people think that their success was entirely by their own efforts. I'm with you, there was a lot of luck involved.

Things that contributed to my success that I had nothing to do with:

I'm white. I was born in the US. I'm male. I have a reasonably high IQ. My parents were middle class. I was raised in a medium sized town on the west coast. I was interested in computers and an early adopter. I stumbled into jobs that let me use that interest and make a successful career out of it.

Certainly I made some good decisions along the way, but in different circumstances I could have turned out completely differently.

A lot of those things are conscious choices... I suppose getting good grades is tough if you are not intelligent and were born with a bad brain, or paying attention might be tough if you had ADD.

Some of it may just be a result of having decent parents that instill good values in you, like warning you about hanging with the wrong crowds or teaching you right from wrong or showing you interesting stuff.

I guess if one is looking for an excuse for their shitty upbringing, your parents are the first place to start, not society. Maybe if someone is a shitty parent we should be more aggressive about taking their kids away, instead of letting them reach maturity in their sorry state where it becomes increasingly harder and more expensive to get them back on their feet. Maybe people shouldn't be entitled to raising their kids automatically if they can't demonstrate they'll be a good parent. It may be the only way to solve the problem of poor and underemployed people breeding out of control and creating more poor and underemployed.

> A lot of those things are conscious choices... I suppose getting good grades is tough if you are not intelligent and were born with a bad brain, or paying attention might be tough if you had ADD.

Or you were surrounded by such people, or the teachers and your parents didn't successfully convince you that school is important. Or the teachers were plain bad. Or you had too much resistance to bullshit.

> I guess if one is looking for an excuse for their shitty upbringing, your parents are the first place to start, not society.

Yeah, probably, and they could recursively pawn off half of the blame to their parents. My point here wasn't to assign blame, though, but to point out that the factors most impactful in one's economic prosperity are essentially beyond one's control. Blaming people born into poverty, or set on a course for poverty early in their childhood, or thrown into poverty by totally random factors, is not fair.

I believe that society has a duty to reduce this variance that's beyond individual control. To an extent, it does already, but we need to do more. It's in our own best interests - happy society is a stable society, and the more opportunities people have, the more productive and innovative the whole. There will be poor people and rich people for as long as you can rank and sort people by some attribute - i.e. forever. But that doesn't mean the poor must suffer.

> Maybe people shouldn't be entitled to raising their kids automatically if they can't demonstrate they'll be a good parent.

That's... hard. Right now, I think it would lead to much more suffering than it would help.

> It may be the only way to solve the problem of poor and underemployed people breeding out of control and creating more poor and underemployed.

That's not how it happens, though. It's not the individuals, and especially not poor people, that create underemployment, it's the market that does. Gainfully employed people end up unemployed, because the job market moved in some direction, raising some people to prosperity nearly by accident (like me and tech; I learned to program out of my own intrinsic drives, I didn't even consider profitability of this until way into my university years), and grounding others.

Also, if we want to create a society of people successful in the market, then there's a whole disconnect between choices they need to make, and the choices society teaches them. What society teaches is: be helpful, be hardworking, conscientious, moral. What to do to succeed on the market: always look for reward, cut corners, be comfortable about scamming people and making the world worse, be amoral. The question is, if we're blaming people for making poor economic choices, are we really willing to entertain a society in which people make right economic choices?

>get into a decent college and choose a good major

If by good major you mean computer science, then this choice alone is already extremely special. Only 3% of students choose computer science.

When I came to America I had nothing: no social network, no college degree, no money!

But America is a place full of opportunity and so after 10 years here and a lot of work I can look back and say that am much happier than I ever was in Europe since the day I got here! The deal is simple: work hard and the sky is the limit.

I started a family, have worked at Fortune 20 companies in management positions, bought a house a couple years ago. I am gonna retire at 50.

I hated living in Europe, the socialism makes people dead on the inside and there is no upward mobility for people that weren’t born into the right circumstances with the right degree’s and relationships :(

America has been excellent to me and I have done my best to do my part of the deal!

It’s not for everyone of course, there is some nice things about Europe and their socialism too...but overall I hated it simple because of what it does to people’s spirits.

America sure has its own problems...but IMO Europe is off much worse

Statistically speaking, you're wrong; class mobility in Western Europe is equal to or better than in the US.

Good thing you found a country where the culture might have helped you do things you didn't feel like doing back home, but don talk about it as though your personal experience is universal to all, because the numbers tell otherwise.

The issue with most of the studies that say this is how they measure mobility. If the focus is on the ability to move up in income percentiles, then it's an unfair comparison.

Why? Because while it sounds nice to say "avg german child moves from top 50% to top 65% while avg american only moves from top 50% to top 55%", American salaries are much higher, and cost of housing is on par or lower than Europe, so top 55% is a much higher financial increase for the American.

Huh, I'd actually never noticed this.

Now that you say it, I see a lot of these comparisons talking about odds of a person born in one quartile/quintile ending up in a different bucket as an adult. Often, it's specifically cited as the chance of a person moving between the highest and lowest buckets. Which on reflection is actually a composite measure of income variability, inequality, and societal wealth.

Running those stats alongside a Gini coefficient would help somewhat, since lower coefficients imply more similar gaps between adjacent buckets. But even that's not enough on several levels. It wouldn't distinguish where inequality falls, particularly patterns like the US and Singapore with large variation inside the outer buckets, so a Lorenz curve would be more useful. It also doesn't clarify the raw size of the changes - position in society matters, but it also matters whether a ten-percentile jump is a 10% gain in purchasing power or a 100% gain.

I'm a bit embarrassed, really. That's a massive gap in the utility of those stats, and I never even considered how many different things the same numbers could mean.

It's something I didn't realize until recently myself. There are several things Europe does better than the US in, but earning power is not one of them.

I am aware of the numbers...but I don’t think they paint the whole picture.

But that’s besides the point, the point I was trying to make is that America worked much better for a person like me.

Likewise I can imagine a place like Europe working better for some folks.

If only people had free mobility...maybe everybody could just love in a place that works for them

If you are so inclined, can you explain what the whole picture shows?

You always need to augment your quantitative data with qualitative data.

I intended to provide more of the later

> If only people had free mobility...maybe everybody could just love in a place that works for them

It would be nice to have free mobility + something like a low-level UBI, for people who really need to be helped and not fall through the cracks. A rather low UBI that focused on just ensuring the basic necessities of life would most likely be quite affordable (e.g. in terms of overall tax burden, or fraction of GDP), and probably wouldn't even be perceived as "socialism". Then we'd probably see places like Europe lose a lot of their former attractiveness as they'd be left trying to manage their unwieldly, dinosaur-socialist states, as anyone with even the tiniest shred of ambition and initiative left would immediately flee for the more open parts of the world.

I know HN loves politics but I made my original post in the spirit of seeing replies like yours where it's less about ascertaining which side is "best" and more speaking about your lived experience and things you liked and didn't. It's great that you've been there so long and are defending the values the US has because (I suppose) they match those that have always been yours.

I think that's exactly the discussion we should have re: this tech/non-tech divide. Whether what we want is to help our neighbors, or live near only people who can (and choose to) help themselves. And there's definitely people in both camps and you know where you are because you live through both, like you and I did, and get an uncomfortable or bleak feeling at some point, not because of watching election talk or economic lectures.

Also I'm actually Canadian so I don't know where the thread's obsession with communism and Sweden or wherever has come from. The poor people on the bus from my OP see the same sky you guys do ;-)

How is this wholesome content even getting downvoted?

I don't know, I upvoted it... I think it's good other immigrants are giving their perspective. Personally I was a cultural mismatch and that's why I left... that doesn't mean nobody has these particular values or that everybody shares mine.

Probably due to the strong political and moral statement in the middle. "in Europe, the socialism makes people dead on the inside" definitely requires some justification. Without that digression it's a great comment about the potential upside that exists in America.

Thanks for the feedback...let me elaborate on that a bit more then:

I was born and raised in Europe and lived there 30 years.

What I will share here is from personal expierence and will be a generalization (because there is of course always exceptions).

What I meant by dead inside is that people there don’t do anything with the safety and freedom socialism provides. They don’t spend more time with their kids or follow the arts. People had no dreams or ambitions :(

There first thing that struck me coming to America was that not only did everyone have a dream, but they were actively pursuing it.

Examples: 1. the barber where I got my first haircut was playing in a rock band and about to head out for a 4 month tour.

2. A friends girlfriend went from being waitress to becoming CEO of a organization everybody here knows

3. Lots of friend of mine are active as mentor for local underprivileged kids on the weekends

I come from a small town where you’d think there is a community and people support each other...but socialism erodes those ties. I have never seen anyone do something good for their neighbors in Europe...it’s the governments job to do so...which leads to nobody lifting a finger.

In Europe people actively try to prevent you from raising from the middle class by talking you down and being unsupportive. Additionally the government doesn’t waste a day to put another bump on the road to keep you where you are.

But to their defense they do a decent job of helping people at the bottom to get closer to the middle class

It sounds like you are assuming that your situation applies everywhere in Europe, which seems unlikely to me.

Like I disclosed upfront: I am generalizing based on my personal expierence

Please share you personal story too though so we get a better picture

Nah I'm from the US. I would just expect European culture to be at least as varied as US culture.

In some ways it is, in others it’s not. Much like the US really.

Because it sounds like anti-socialist pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps propaganda. It's not wholesome because it's not how things work for most people. The commenter could be very lucky or (more likely) very blind to real privileges they benefited from in their story. But their story fits a narrative that allows people to feel comfortable with their wealth while poverty is rampant around them, so such people find it "wholesome".

That seems like an extreme reaction. I don't think you're supposed to downvote someone's lived experience just because it doesn't apply to everyone. (Those few personal stories that do apply to everyone are pretty boring, usually involving bodily functions.)

It would be nice if more people could experience such things. That makes the story good, not bad. It is something we want to maximize, not minimize.

Personal stories are fine, bit they should limit their conclusions to themselves and not project or over generalize upon others, at least not without pointing to data or a well tested model that backs up their assertions. Statements like "socialism makes people dead inside" are as vaccuous as the same assertion would be if applied to capitalism.

The US of A actually has the worst social mobility of OECD countries.


I see you're downvoted, so I upvoted you, though it might not be enough.

I hear the west coast is like that. I work out of New York, and it feels a lot more egalitarian with a variety of different types of jobs.

> I eventually went back to a country with a social safety net where the working class people on my bus talk about their vacations.

I sincerely wish that everyone who wanted socialism just went to a socialist country instead of trying to import it here, and I really appreciate that you did. Thank you! We can admire and appreciate each other from afar. (100% genuine, well intended comment here). My family came to the US from a socialist country, seeking freedom and capitalism. I have no idea what to do now that socialism is arriving here.

Poor people could do well in America if they made economic decisions that led to them accumulating wealth.

This is the United States sentiment of "you should make your own way" when 99% of the time it's all luck.

It's luck based on what race you were born as, gender, social class, geography, family situation, and mental / physical health you end up with. If you're a middle-class white guy from the suburbs of a major metro your "social mobility" into a "tech job in SV" is a bit higher than most people.

Our egos like to think we're responsible for all of our success when most of the time it's luck.

Yeah, about as much as you could win a fortune in a casino if only you made the decisions that lead the fruit symbols on the slot machine to line up.

This view is severely underestimating the role played by path dependence (e.g. your environment, wealth of your parents) and pure luck.

Ah yes, poor because they are not smart. Because the US is a perfect meritocracy. This is ludicrously off the mark and shows how out of touch people really are about how the world works for others.

Having grown up poor I'd say it's not that poor people are not as smart, it's that they are extremely anti-intellectual. I tried my hardest to get family/friends/community into computers (or really any intellectual pursuit). Resistance was extreme to say the least. Reading a book is looked down upon. Computers are for "nerds". I used too many "five dollar words"...

If you want a real view of the situation you have to place some blame on the people making choices holding themselves back. It's not that easy to see if you didn't grow up in that environment though.

Intellectuals can be poor and/or make bad choices too. I know plenty of smart people who are struggling to make ends meet (me included, to a certain extent, and I make 2-3x more than a lot of these people).

But you're right that there is a culture of anti-intellectualism amongst a certain segment of poor people.

But that means that most kids who grow up in that culture are going to absorb those same influences. It doesn't seem fair to then blame them for the society they came from.

I'm definitely not blaming them for anything, if anything that's the parent comment. I would love to find a way to encourage people in those environments. I think some things have been successful at improving that. Sesame Street, as one example (at least according to some documentaries I've watched).

I will say, though, that I went to an average public school and did my best not to draw too much attention to myself because I was one of the smarter kids and would sometimes be picked on. Not usually too bad, but enough that I went through periods of depression during my high school years.

It probably stunted my trajectory (along with some other choices I made) in my career, but I'm doing well enough. It helps that I was naturally interested in computers, which ended up being a route to well-paying jobs, but if I was naturally interested in art more (and I sure doodled my fair share and have released games with art that I've made in the past), I might be one of those poor people that people such as the parent assume to be anti-intellectual today.

Hell, I know a super talented artist and animator that ended up taking a programmer boot camp years later in order to get a better paying job, and it just makes me feel sad, because he deserves to be paid well for following his passion for being as talented as he is, but this world is not set up for that, unfortunately.

You shouldn't blame them, but the exit from poverty is clearly marked STEM and it's really up to the individual to take it. Having come from this culture, the best advice I can give is that focusing on individual responsibility is most helpful. There's general a lot of self-pity and "us vs them" mentality when really the problem is more "us vs us". If you haven't heard of it, check out crab bucket mentality. It's very real and the only way I can see to escape it is to put all of your faith into yourself and your own plans.

It's remarkable this isn't the subject of discussion ever. I'm not saying this would lead to anything productive, but at the same time, it's at the absolute core of the problem.

Maybe if the "favored class" Americans took the bus or went to the laundromat like I did for years they'd want poor people to do well too.

You're making two assumptions: (1) There's a favored class, and (2) The favored class does not want poor people to do well. Both assumptions are wrong.

Yeah, it's not as if America is like some episode of 'Star Trek' where one group of a planet's inhabitants consider themselves superior because their skin is of one particular hue, and historically have used that as an excuse to exploit and oppress the other groups.

In places like Amsterdam the poor get a free car (Canta) and a free washing machine (Miele) from the city. It's good that they don't endure hardship, but it also doesn't give them the perspective that you experienced and they may never have enough incentive to make their life better. If people in Amsterdam had to go to the laundromat that could give them the push to find a good job so that they can earn a nice washing machine.

> In places like Amsterdam the poor get a free car (Canta)

What? A Canta isn't a 'free car' for poor people. It's a mobility vehicle, which you apply for if you're eligible.

As for the washing machine thing: the only thing I found with 5 minutes of google-fu was that there's a on-loan system for people who are already dependent on government grants to be given one if their old one fails (and a few additional requirements). Furthermore: there are barely any laundromats in the Netherlands; it's not part of our culture at all. Hell, I'd be surprised if there are more than 50 in the entirety of Amsterdam (population 800K-900K), and those that are present would probably be near the centre where the hostels are, rather than in the suburbs where the poorer people live.

I don't know if that really makes sense. By that logic, the more miserable we make life for poor people, the more motivation they will have to get out of that life.

A good social safety net means that poor people are not so busy trying to survive that they actually have the opportunity to improve their lot in life if they so choose. If you're not burning up 4 hours a day commuting and several hours a week washing clothes, you have more time to read to your children, or take some community college classes.

There will be people who decide that a life relying on the safety net is fine for them. Is that a worse thing than there being no safety net and people who have to drive to succeed are largely prevented from doing so? Or people who are working hard getting their lives destroyed due to one streak of bad luck?

A safety net should not become a hammock.

Sure, you don't want to design a system that lays benefits on so thick that it creates a strong disincentive to work. But any worthwhile safety net is going to have some level of abuse, which is a tradeoff that has to be managed with rules/enforcement/management. On the flip side, any system that allows unfettered capitalism will be abused by the unethical. So you create a system of regulations to ensure a fair market, while knowing that some people/companies are going to find ways to abuse the system anyway.

The point of the safety net in my opinion is to ensure equality of opportunity, not equality of ends. So you want to strive to ensure that children have an opportunity to learn and become productive members of society, in spite of the circumstances of their parents. You want to make sure that people who experience bad luck such as unplanned illness, economic downturns, natural disasters, etc. are not left totally destitute.

Why not?

If "hammock" means a place you just comfortably rest in, then why should it?

Or, turn it around: Why should you take the results of my work and give them to someone who won't (not can't) work? Why should someone who deliberately chooses not to try be considered entitled to me supporting them?

Someone who needs help? Sure, let's help them. Someone who just wants to be lazy? It's really unclear why they are more entitled to my money than I am.

The problem is that as a society we believe that people need to work 40 hours a week to survive.

We replace people with robots and retain the same output. We are more productive than ever before, yet work the same amount. Physical and uneducated work is being replaced by automation, yet we expect these people replaced by robots to find jobs to survive where there are now none.

I don't believe in Universal Basic Income though, we live in a society and it is our duty to contribute to that society. I think the answer is that we need to move towards a shorter workday. Raise wages and shorten work hours. People used to work 12 hours a day, now we work 8, why not move to a 6 hour workday? Eventually we may move into a post-scarcity society where all our basic needs are automated and work becomes an optional extra, but we're not at that point yet.

> I don't believe in Universal Basic Income though, we live in a society and it is our duty to contribute to that society.

There are plenty of things people do that are valuable to society yet are not captured in the GDP, and are thus not highly valued by contemporary society. They range from visiting and looking after elder parents, playing with your children, writing poetry etc. Then there are undervalued activities which, due to being undervalued, are often rejected by people who would be good at them but can't afford a sacrifice (e.g. teaching, various kinds of social work, etc).

As the marginal cost of production asymptotes towards nil, peoples' sense of self worth from work (which is largely a modern belief anyway dating from the middle of the industrial revolution) can be sloughed off.

> I think the answer is that we need to move towards a shorter workday. Raise wages and shorten work hours.

I agree that we should do this urgently, but beware a belief in the "lump of labor fallacy".

Also, because people currently do develop a sense of self worth from their work, we should be investing heavily in helping people readjust to the loss of economic value in their work. For example governments offer retraining programs, but while a 20 year old coal miner may be able to find a job repairing trucks or writing reactive web apps, a 60 year old coal miner, who after two years of training becomes a 62 year old auto mechanic or web developer, will struggle to find employment. These people (both at 20 and 60) need assistance that also preserves their dignity.

I knew a guy who worked 6 months a year doing contract work and then spent the other 6 months on hobbies and personal projects.

I remember asking him if he gets bored during those 6 months not working and he said to me "I don't base my life enjoyment off of making someone else money". That advice has really stuck to me and its really cool to see the electronics projects he builds in those 6 months.

My father had a co-worker who did this. 8 months in the DC office doing construction cost management consulting, 4 months in Montana hunting (he was into falconry, archery, and conservation of all the natural resources needed to sustain his hobbies).

He also used to raise his birds in the office (when they were newly hatched) - that was pretty darn cool as a 1st grader.

That sounds pretty pleasurable.

IIRC that second six months is the true classical definition of a life of leisure.

I have done similar things and it generally isn't. Or it is getting very hard to make it so.

Western society has become much more hierarchical in recent years. It is harder and harder to find any "cracks in system" on a fundamental level. Even if you would consider leisure to be neutral, and not in need of meaning, most people aren't even starting from a neutral point. So if you do something else you end up being underprivileged rather than in leisure.

I think you misunderstand what I mean by classical definition of leisure.

This kind of runs through it:




Bonus material (wider in scope, though):


Not unlikely, which is why I wrote somewhat vaguely. Ironically I don't have time to read your resources at the moment. My point is that there just isn't that much room for other things these days. So many things, from a $5 coffee to housing, is based on the idea that everyone is working all the time. You can of course quit working, pay the same rent and lock yourself in a room trying to forget the outside world until you can't. But I am not sure that is a road to happiness either. I mean, many people can barely achieve "weekend glory" these days.

I think I get what you're saying, now. Sounds like more of a critique of North American/protestant work ethic coupled with our acclimating to convenience.

I think that's probably a whole other subject to be tackled.

Aristotle's core point above would be along the lines of:

Relaxation (in order to) -> Work (in order to) -> Leisure (the goal, for its own sake)

Leisure and relaxation being entirely different activities, or lack thereof.

Maybe think of leisure in this case being the activity of passion/deep interest or communal good or else that might not come in returns that pay for any other aspect of your life directly. Work being the activity (that you may well enjoy enough, or have interest in) that pays for everything and allows you time and/or resources for leisure. Relaxation is what helps you essentially stay sane and healthy in order to follow through with the rest.

So it seems like you aren't taking on peoples' ability for leisure, but NA society's values that prevent it [for most people].

Right. I am saying that if you take time off you end up being at odds with much of society. You realize that many things, even leisure activities, now only exists in relation to work. And after not working for a while few of these things are exciting anymore.

So I am not saying it isn't a good idea. Just that it is hard from a practical perspective. Which is why younger people who take sabbaticals often end up in e.g. Asia.

I don't think it needs to be that grand of a scale to fulfill the reasoning.

OP's example was a fellow taking time off and exercising his other interests in electronics by learning and experimenting.

Another example might be a hobby. A hobby is a great example of a leisure activity as its [usually] done completely for its own sake. For instance, a sheet metal worker who spends much of their time off work playing in an amateur cricket league [however unlikely and obscure an image that might be].

I don't think I understand, though, how you mean it puts anyone at odds with society. Could you elaborate?

To take the example at hand, for many young(ish) people taking time off work to learn electronics wouldn't necessary be a nice experience. Because their lives exist to a large extent in relation to work. They have moved to a new city, because of work. Where the live in a small apartment, to be close to work. They have friends, from work. And they have coffee on their way to work, to talk about work or even to do work.

They couldn't just take time off and have a similar life. By leaving work they would lose a lot of the connection to their de facto lives. It wouldn't be worth living in an expensive city, in a small apartment and have expensive coffee "just" to learn electronics. Increasingly the things in people's lives aren't "neutral". Their small apartments are made for going to work from, not necessarily for doing things in. But you can't necessarily move either without losing context.

On the other hand if you are already established. You have a house, a family, friends outside work and whatever else you need, it isn't necessarily that hard to go down in the basement and learn electronics instead of going to work for six months out of the year. Because your environment is "neutral" and exists whether you go to work short-term or not. A lot of people aren't really established like that though.

To me, your example sounds more like a lifestyle choice, my friend.

My advice to the person in question would be to pull your head out of work and sample a little more of that big city while you're paying so much to be there.

There's no reason why every moment of time that isn't paid for by work to be spent on work, outside of that being a choice (given our current example, which sounds like a well-enough-to-do tech worker).

Personally, I couldn't live that way, and I'm probably filling out a few of your checkboxes above. I like the people I work with, but I value [and fear] time too much to give it all into my job—be it tasks, networking, socializing, whatever.

The example you extended sounds more like a problem of agency than one of [a lack of] leisure.

> The example you extended sounds more like a problem of agency than one of [a lack of] leisure.

It is. But you can't just take time of work, not replace it with anything and expect to be able to have some sort of leisure. At least not in my experience. I don't live in a big city anymore, but that doesn't really fix things. The equation is as hard as in a city, just in a different way. That is why people like 'bunnie' who do electronics as a passion end up in Asia. There are just so much easier to live and so many more things to do. People who stay e.g. in the US end up moving around different small to medium size cities instead looking for something that makes sense.

I think you're misunderstanding what I've been saying about leisure, then. I've not suggested you take time off work, nor to fill your time with nothing.

Work is additive, "free" time is not subtractive.

I don't understand any else of what you're saying. Electronics is something you can do anywhere, and I'd argue there's a gaping need in much of the spaces in between towns and cities in North America...

I think you're just discussing personal preferences at the end there.

I guess it is hard to explain if you haven't experienced it.

It is just that doing electronics on the weekend when you are tired from work, you don't have enough time to finish even part of something, in a place where parts are expensive or you have to wait weeks for delivery isn't that enjoyable.

Doing electronics in a place where you don't have to worry about rent, you have plenty of time, there are plenty of other things to do, parts are cheap and there is a community is a totally different thing.

Far more people are going to enjoy the second scenario.

Here is an article about Shenzhen [0]. The middle part is about people doing electronics for fun. This is probably around a year before Scotty, in the article, started Strange Parts on youtube.

[0] https://www.popsci.com/shenzhen-china-global-community

Does this guy have a family and kids? I worked with a guy who does a similar thing. In fact his contract just ended. The only reason he said he’s able to is because he’s older, single, and doesn’t have kids.

He has a boyfriend and no kids so I guess a high paying programming contract is easily enough to cover his needs.

I have an old college classmate who does this with a twist: he has a number, and when he hits that number he stops for the rest of the year. Last time I spoke with him that was about six months.

any link to projects ?

It was just stuff like building power supplies and little Tesla coils. Every few weeks I'd get sent cool videos like a lightbulb being wirelessly lit up by the coil.

Seems like everyone "knows a guy" that does that but when I attempted the same thing it failed miserably. I took a paltry three months off and then every recruiter and hiring manager was immediately suspicious of me when I started going on interviews again. They all suspected I was in jail or something. Meanwhile, I literally just took three months to catch up on my life.

In my current role, I could probably work 3 days a week and meet my same obligations. Our scrum master could be fired and nobody would even notice.

Higher wages with shorter work hours would be a great step in the right direction. I believe Keynes even suggested it.

But, a post-scarcity society, where labor is nearly valueless, still requires everyone have their needs met regardless of what they "own". But in that future as through all the past, most people are born owning little more than their labor.

So a post-scarcity society does not just require the technology we are approaching. It also requires a radically different perception of ownership. This is the harder problem.

In the language of today, it means a person without property and whose labor will always be essentially valueless, gets the produce of someone else's robots, ownership of which will be passed down though generations. Changing this is close to unthinkable in current society.

But unless this massive social shift emerges, it appears that larger and larger portions of society will be converted into a euphemistically renamed servant class where their labor has not intrinsic value except prestige or amusement value to the person hiring.

Pardon the following if it's upsetting, but I notice our current path is to add more and more store clerks, waiters, maids, sign spinners etc. Not because machines/systems can't do theses things (amazon, self serve restaurants, billboards) but because the customer enjoys/gets a kick out of them.

On the current path, what would have become a post-scarcity society will instead have vast numbers of such people earning their minimum requirements at such jobs. Plus perhaps homeless people permanently converted into a prison workforce.

> Higher wages with shorter work hours would be a great step in the right direction. I believe Keynes even suggested it.

No he didn’t. He suggested we’d have chosen to work fewer hours and have more leisure because we could afford both greater consumption and greater leisure than were possible when he wrote. Higher wages than now, with shorter work hours than now is possible only with growth in economic productivity so we can produce more (goods, services) with less (material input, labour). We can’t just decide to work 20 hours a week and maintain our current standard of living by fiat.

Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (1930)


The parent's point was we have made those strides in productivity, but the wages were denied us.

Measured in 1960 US$ the UK’s GDP per capita was 1181[1]. In 2016 US$ U.K. GDP per capita was 40,341[2]. Even if we assume the 2016 dollar is worth half as much as the 1960 one because of inflation the average U.K. resident is 15 times better off. If people wanted to live in 1960s houses with what people in the 1960s would have considered a lavish standard of living they could do it easily by working half the year, or having a part time job. The 1960s were already a hell of a lot better than 1930, when the essay was written.

If you want to live in the paradise Keynes described you can. That’s what the financial independence, retire early subculture is about[3]. Work for 20 years and retire instead of 40 or 50. Or those people who contract half the year and spend half of it in Thailand. If we wanted to take more of our compensation in leisure we absolutely could. People choose not to. They need to keep up with the Jones.




> Even if we assume the 2016 dollar is worth half as much as the 1960 one because of inflation...

Try one-eighth as much.


> Converted amount ($100 base) $810.83

run that through an inflation calculator and you'll be unpleasantly surprised.

We have made those strides in productivity and they all went to rent seeking and taxation/regulation of small businesses and personal conduct (see also $150 red light cameras and $350,000 school admin salaries)

$150 for going on red light I have no problem with, do it few times and have driver's license revoked temporarily (as in Switzerland, on top of massive fee). That's how innocent people are killed, be it pedestrians or other drivers, by arrogant/DUI folks.

I understand that on empty roads at 3am in the middle of nowhere there are no consequences whatsoever, but generally that's a big infraction. Just watch few car crash compilations, ignoring lights is like 50% of the reason and the results are often very grim

You might be assuming the cameras work as they do in Switzerland.

In the US a common scenario is a private company installs the cameras for free and gets to collect most of the revenue. They adjust the yellow timing downward so that you don't have time to stop between the light turning yellow and it going to red. Then they send tickets in the mail to people who ran the light. Then if you do a study proving that they adjusted the timing downward to unsafe levels as a state sponsored scam, you get arrested and fined for "unlicensed practice of engineering".

So then why am I getting red light tickets at 3am on empty roads. Why is the state fine capped at $30 and the "processing fee" $120?

Being Swiss, you give the American government too much credit. The government absolutely does not care about safety.

Is there really such a thing as a post-scarcity society? Certain things will always be scarce. Beachfront real estate. Penthouses. Apartments next to a park or downtown. Sure we can get arguably get to a point where energy, food, and maybe small to medium sized items are free but if Jill Smith wants 400 cars where is she going to put them? Even if we all beam into cyberspace there will not be unlimited storage nor unlimited computation. There will still need to be a way to either get more from the powers that be for special needs or it will be traded leading back to have and have-nots.

Parent (and the article, although it fails to clearly draw the obvious link) could more accurately be said to be referring to a post-labor scarcity society.

In other words, a society where there is more labor available than we actually need to fulfill demand (caveat: in high-productivity industries).

To illustrate, take the article's example: the shift from an agricultural to industrial economy. Someone walks off a farm, they get employment in a factor. That factory worker can make 10-100 widgets / hr based on their labor.

Now look at the post-industrial economy we live in now. In software and heavily automated industries, the same single laborer can make 10-1,000,000 "copies" of their work product.

It seems fairly obvious there would be a breaking point at which productivity is so high that it disengages from driving demand. One worker can only buy so much, and his or her fellows can't buy anything because they're not employed.

This gets even more "extreme" when we talk about digital artifacts ... once the initial labor of creating a piece of music, or film, or game, or program is expended, the cost of infinitely reproducing copies of those approaches zero in many cases.

Good point. Especially as we move towards digital distribution.

Film reels required manufacturing, assembly, installing, and operation, even if the content was already paid for.

Digital video? Revenue goes directly to the owner, minus some capital costs, but critically almost no labor cost.

Amen to that - more than this, I worry that "we" didn't decide anything, but rather that keeping people in a state of imagined scarcity proved handy for preserving the status quo in terms of concentration of power.

What would a population do if people were able to act freely and do the things they cared about? How many folks would be fighting climate change but are _instead_ doing Dumb Shit That Doesn't Matter (most jobs) because we have to pay bills?

How many people work a job that is at best a net neutral to society, and at worst parasitic, because it personally enriches them, but makes everyone else poorer? How many are doing that only because they decided to buy a house close to work, so now they have a pile of debt, so now they _have_ to spend their time working for the last owner of the house instead of for themselves?

Why do we make it so goddamned hard to live cheap? Want university? That'll be an arm and a leg. Want a house? Expect to pay many, many years of income for it. Decide you're ok with a small home and riding your bike or taking the bus? Screw you, that's illegal, build a damn parking spot and make sure you meet minimum size reqs and oh btw you're not allowed to build in this old neighborhood because the existing homeowners' cartel made it illegal.

You can build a modest home for ~$40,000. It's expensive because we made it (mostly) illegal to build new homes anywhere near jobs. Not only that, instead of putting homes where they're cheap to serve (close to electric, water, etc) we push everyone out to the middle of nowhere where it's massively expensive to provide services. Not to mention that instead of relying on your feet and a $300 bicycle to get around you now need a gigantic money incinerator (a car) for basic mobility.

God help you if you get sick or hurt. A broken wrist could bankrupt plenty of people in the wrong circumstances.

How many people make six figures (yes, that's a lot of money relatively speaking - try leaving SF before sneering) and still manage to somehow worry about money? How the fuck did we decide this was the best way to build a society? Why did we make everything so goddamn expensive?

Building supplies and calories are cheap after all - practically free.

Maybe it's because keeping a population in fear ensures they can't organize to better their situation at the cost of tearing down existing power structures.

Here's another perspective you might not be accounting for. Currently, people who work elite jobs tend to live around people with elite interests. If you're an upper class developer, you'll live in a neighborhood with other developers, lawyers, doctors, white-collar workers.

If somehow housing were made affordable everywhere, how would that pattern be maintained? By definition, there would be nothing stopping "Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel" (from The Simpsons) from moving to Mountain View, CA.

So you end up with a situation where elite software engineers are trying to sleep, because they have work tomorrow, and Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel is keeping them awake by blowing up fireworks or firing his shotgun at 2am. What recourse do you have? You can't kick Cletus out--that would violate all sorts of human rights and so on.

So when you look at it this way, higher price housing is almost inevitable. Before you can have any realistic hope of addressing it, you need to figure out what to do with Cletus!

Thanks for pointing out a motivation for density restrictions that isn't purely cartel-ish. I appreciate the perspective.

I'm not sure what to do about Cletus, to be honest. I'd like to say "enforce the laws about making tons of noise and discharging weapons" but I know that can be a fool's errand in some cases. After all, I was a loud student once.

Ultimately I think that neighborhoods near the core of cities need to grow (densify), as they did for most of history, and the existing homeowners can enjoy the consolation of watching their home become substantially more valuable as a result of somebody wanting to put 10 apartments there instead of one house. It's telling that in many places the most desirable neighbourhoods are the ones built _before_ current laws made them illegal.

'course, I just bought a house in the country, so we'll see how that goes.

Also, Cletus was a caricature... Poor people can be quiet and rich people can be loud.

You make rules based on behaviour, call the police and if eventually he can't pay his fines, confiscates his house?

I've spent a lot of time living in poorer areas and I can tell you from experience, noise ordinances are not effective. It'll take months or years for Cletus to work his way through the court system for noise pollution, and in the meantime, he's not going to be very happy with his neighbors for reporting him. You'd better hope he doesn't do something in retaliation! Oh, and while you're twiddling your thumbs waiting for his eviction, ten more will move in down the street. You know, because you magically made all the houses $40,000.

It's not that simple though - if you read the article it talks about how

1: High paying jobs aren't really increasing in number but are becoming ever better paid and 2: Low paying jobs are exploding in number but not in wages paid.

So part of the problem is that there aren't many mid level jobs that get people in and help them then increase. Tech doesn't really automate the stuff that's not super low level (like cleaning toilets, or mopping floors), and it doesn't do stuff at the high end (M&A banking, negotiating policy, writing code). But it eats a ton of stuff in the middle.

How do we incentivize atuomation at the extreme ends?

Interestingly, working fewer hours a year was typical in pre-industrial society[1].

1: https://groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/users/rauch/worktime/hours_...

I think a three day weekend with a "day of service" is a much better solution.

Working 8 hours a day already leaves enough downtime in my schedule to get bored, but not enough to turn that boredom into something productive. 6 hours would be outright hell.

The problem is, the extra two hours don't really provide me with any compelling new opportunities to contribute! That's barely enough time to get at a school and volunteer and get back to work. Barely enough time to get into the flow of things if I'm volunteer programming. Etc.

But an entire additional day off of work would be great. I could commit to do real things. I could bake so much bread for the church's food shelter. I could build an entire web app using the city's open data to help people avoid tickets. I could spend an entire day in a classroom. Etc.

If you distribute service days evenly and treat them like "just another business function" for businesses, then you could pretty much replace the teaching aspect of higher ed with volunteers. 2-3 people prep+lecture+office hours one day a week, 2-3 people are spending all their service hours helping design curriculum, 2-3 people do a day of grading each week. A <10 person team can teach an entire university course @ 1 day per person per week. Multiply across the whole city, every company. Universal 4 year higher education for "free". And there's still tens of millions of volunteer days per week left over for all the other stuff.

I'd prefer the shorter days. A 6 hour day would leave more time for daily exercise and cooking healthy food for dinner and lunch the next day. I would probably also feel more relaxed on the weekend to work on personal programming projects.

That's fair. There are probably a lot of ways to structure this.

People can contribute in many ways, I don't agree that only contributions that furthers someone else's economic goals should be judged worthy.

That said, I don't think we will see shortening of the workday without some sort of incentive for employers. From their point of view, why not simply make more money? Indeed, for many boards of directors profits is the only goal.

IMHO, this is where a basic income would fit in. Perhaps when people are allowed more freedom of movement they will find novel ways to contribute to society.

The problem with moving from 8 hours to 6 hours is that there will always be workers willing to do 10 hours or even 12 hours. These workers end up producing 50-100% more with about the same overhead. If you have a worker that will work 12 hours, you only need to pay for one health insurance plan as opposed to having to pay for two insurance plans if you need to get two 6-hour employees.

On top of that, the 12-hour employee is accruing experience at twice the speed of the 6-hour employee. For some fields, putting in the additional hours can make the employee willing to work more hours more productive on a per hour basis. Obviously this doesn't apply to all professions, but for many professions it does apply to some degree.

You'd basically have to outlaw working more than 6 hours to keep overachievers from taking all the good jobs.

So, basically how things are today?

With regard to health insurance specifically, the way to solve that is moving the burden of healthcare from the employer to the state.

Our productivity has indeed grown immensely, but, for good or for bad, instead of making things cheaper we're directing all our free resources to making them better.

Instead of cheaper cars we're making safer cars, instead of cheaper houses we're building bigger houses, and so on.

A very large percentage of free resources are being hoarded in wealth and cash piles, would you actually claim a company like Apple is directing all of it's free resources to making better products? Why the stock buybacks and 200 billion pile?

It's a mistake to think of money as resources--as if money is something we dig out of the ground and need in order to make our machines run. No-one eats cash. Whatever could be done if Apple spent its cash, could be done if Apple didn't spend its cash. Money's only purpose is to incentivize people to do things, so you're basically asking Apple to play king and start directing society. I'd prefer they just sit on their money rather than that!

That's capital. It gets given back to investors, who invest it elsewhere. They don't just stick it under the mattress. It is moved from Apple to a place where it can be put to use. With a buyback (or dividend) apple is saying "we ran out of productive ways to spend this money"

Even if they did just keep a few billion dollars of physical cash in a vault somewhere, that would just increase the purchasing power of the remainder. The total value of all currency in circulation (all forms combined) tends toward the total value of all of the goods available for purchase.

Taking money out of circulation is a bit like making a loan to everyone in proportion to the amount of currency they hold; when you do decide to put it back into circulation, that increase in value (deflation) represents the interest you receive on the loan.

If work hours were shortened and productivity remained the same, wages would be reduced by a proportional amount.

But I DON'T work just 40 hours a week. I work more like 50-55 hours most weeks. I LIKE my work, and I don't want to do less.

I agree that the belief that we must work 40 hours a week in order to be a good person lies at the root of many of society's problems. And I do think that people ought to contribute to society. But somehow that does not lead me away from the idea of a Universal Basic Income, but instead leads me to believe that something roughly that shape is what we need to save society.

I guess the key difference is who defines "contribute to society". If it is employers, then we need a system where as many people as possible must report to an employer who controls how they spend their time. (Requiring people to get paid a salary seems to do that quite effectively.) If it is the government that defines how one ought to "contribute to society" then we get mandated work programs. But if you believe that each individual is the best judge of how they ought to "contribute to society" then it leads to the belief that we should order society such that as many individuals as possible have a choice about how they spend their time. Some variant of UBI seems to me like a good way to achieve that goal in a society no longer tightly constrained by scarcity.

What about people who want to work? Their productivity increases even further, they make more money and inequity increases.

Or are you suggesting we ban working?

Or are you suggesting we ban working?

Well, with a sufficiently progressive tax, you might choose to stop volunteering your time for what will be diminishing returns in income.

> Well, with a sufficiently progressive tax, you might choose to stop volunteering your time for what will be diminishing returns in income.

A solution that incentivizes successful people to hold themselves back from fulfilling their potential is going to make society poorer overall. If you want to redistribute wealth, you should incentivize the creation of wealth so you have enough to move around.

You are assuming all work is paid work. The majority of people would find very productive things to do, and yes, higher income should be taxed more.

Possibly! I don't know enough about economics to say one way or another.

Ok, fair point.

But as someone already mentioned, would we want someone like Elon Musk to not work?

Just because you don’t have to work doesn’t mean you wouldn’t want to anyway - perhaps money is not the only motivation for working when your basic needs are met.

But this theoretical Elon Musk would need to raise capital, correct? Would people who provide the capital still be taxed so much they don't find it worthwhile?

If not, you've just created a class who is going to be making a ton more money than anyone else.

There are plenty of employers who hire part time and often people need to work more than one job as a result.

Partial basic income would fit right into that if it helps people afford to work one job instead of two, or move to part time.

> We replace people with robots and retain the same output

That's not how manufacturing works. Most manufacturing still requires human input because robots aren't very flexible. You have to build an entire line around a robot which means you adapt slowly to changes in the market.

What is your evidence that UBI reduces people’s contribution to society? If you’re referring to people not “working” in the traditional sense, not all contributions map nicely to economic output.

Exactly, the UBI would enable people to be paid for often non paying contributions like open source contributions, keeping park lands clean, creating educational content online and lots of other things. If I was paid a UBI I would still spend most of my time contributing but I would just do the things I see value in without having to worry about how will I make someone pay for this.

Oh come on. If I was paid UBI I'd sit at home playing video games all day and so would everyone else I know.

I'm curious how you plan to have a less-than-40-hour workweek while still having living wages? It's going to be hard enough to get the capitalists on board with just paying people who do work they find inferior enough to live.

I don't see how this tracks. Particularly in relation to many of the jobs going away, productivity isn't inversely related to hours worked. People working 6 hours instead of 8 will get three quarters as much done. How would their wages go up?

If you are proposing the government cover the difference, then you're effectively proposing a bastardized version of UBI with an employment requirement, and payout that is proportional to current economic advantage. I'm not even sure it wouldn't cost more than current UBI proposals given that proportionality.

I don't understand why you would be in favor of this, but think UBI was bad. Or how it could possibly work, if it wasn't the government paying for it.

I think the argument is that most people are truly only attaining maximum productivity for 5-6 hours in a day, so why are they even there for the extra 2-3? If you make $100/hr for 8 hours but are only productive for 5 of those hours, your employer is really paying you $160/hr. Why are we wasting employees time and employers money?

This is very IT-centric point of view, where mostly creative work can be done in various speeds, depending on effectivity and motivation in given time. I know its definitely valid for me and colleagues.

Imagine tons of other jobs where this simply doesn't apply - doctors, teachers, bureaucrats, farmers, drivers, shop/restaurant crew, people working in tourism, many factory jobs and probably tons of other types of jobs. Yes, I just mentioned more than 90% of the world population.

We can gradually improve efficiency of probably every single job out there, but simply slashing 30% will have very direct negative consequences on output for most people, in many cases directly proportional. Now who wants to take 30% pay cut?

People working 6 hours will get slightly more than three quarters done. People lose steam through the day.

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