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Remote work can also be a source of socioeconomic inequality (theconversation.com)
304 points by discocrisco 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 351 comments





All: this article deserves a better discussion than it's gotten so far. It's a rare thing: a new angle on one of the absolutely most-discussed topics here. That's interesting, regardless of where our reactions all land on agree/disagree, like/dislike, us/them and so on.

If you're going to add comments to this thread, can you please engage with the specifics of the article?


This article got its central point not only wrong but patently wrong.

Remote work puts downward pressure on the highest salaries [think globalisation but on a smaller scale — poor countries are main beneficiaries of globalisation]. People with a low amount of opportunities will have more opportunities [upward pressure] and the highest earners will need to compete with higher number of people [downward pressure].

It literally decreases inequality.

The article points out that there is a difference in earnings and higher-earning jobs can be done remotely more often, which is not that valuable insight itself but it is meaningless in the context of inequality. People that have jobs that can't be done remotely are 'constant' in this equation — their situation won't change meaningfully.


Why is it meaningless in the context of inequality? Inequality is a relative measure, so if higher-paying jobs become more lucrative, while lower-paying remain the same, inequality has increased.

You can argue that inequality stemming from that doesn't actually matter, because nobody is worse off - but that's a different argument from whether remote work creates inequality or not.


But that is not what is going to happen. Jobs that can't be done remotely will be +/- constant — that's a simplification as there will be some second-order consequences like movements in real estate prices in both directions. Jobs that can be done remotely will become less lucrative [reasons above]. [There may be some second-order consequences like the unlocking of innovation, but that's speculative and hard to estimate economic impact here].

I have a personal, sad and rather extreme theory — anything that can be done remotely will be commoditized. But that's another story.


Not all work is equally valuable. Not all work is equally doable. Some work requires decades patience and sacrifice before one is competent enough to perform it. Some work is physically or cognitively beyond the vast majority of the population.

It doesn't make sense to expect all jobs to have all the same benefits and privelegdes. Even if we pretend that all humans are fundamentally equal in ability, inequality will always exist, so long as humans are free to make choices in a world of finite resources and time.

Moreso, inequality is not intrinsically bad, for it is a great motivator for the kind of innovation that raises the common floor, which is the more important measure.

If you're able to eat, drink, and shelter during a global pandemic, while your entire country is on lockdown, and your economy has crawled to a standstill, then you're in a pretty good place.


I really can't understand this mindset, it views the system that we have as fundamentally meritocratic and that only hard work matters. This is demonstrably false with a cursory review of how our (the US) education system, economy, and geographic distributions reward and punish people.

This idea is false. Intra-generational mobility in the US is quite strong. Half of people in the 1% are not in the 1% a decade later. About 50% of people move up 1 quintile from their starting quintile of income. I don’t have stats on how this compares to EU or other countries, but this shows a majority American people can move between income quantiles in their lifetime.

[1] https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/inside-the-vault/spr...


This. The US has an abnormally high social mobility, even compared to the EU. You have a better chance of moving to the top 1% here than anywhere else. I'm a Tier 1 FAANG engineer and worked very hard to get here, coming from a middle income family. By first studying hard and building projects to get into a Tier 1 university.

Tier 1 top-talent engineers are just worth multiples more than lower talent people and deserve to reap from their hard work and expertise. It's unfair to me and other FAANGs to say we don't deserve our lifestyle and are silver spoon.


It can be better than EU while still being dismal. Although I'd love to see some stats (not anecdotes) showing that it's better on the whole, because that's certainly not the case for those I know of.

More importantly, measuring it as a single number for the entire country hides a lot of nuance that matters. It's rarely constant across the spectrum, and those at the bottom of it usually see far less social mobility than those higher up. US is pretty good at social mobility for middle class specifically, but really bad for those below that.

Regarding the "silver spoon" bit - why do you take a complaint about inequality to mean that you should be earning less? The way I see it, others should be earning more, and have quality of life closer to mine. And they would, if all that money wasn't collected as economic rent by their employers (in case of small businesses, the chain goes a bit further up, but there's always somebody skimming of wealth generated by other people at the end of it).


That comment that tier 1 top talent engineers is way too universal, to put it kindly. I've worked 20 years as a dev and leader across two tier 1 companies and succeeded, think Faang. I'm maybe from a tier 3 undergrad. Intelligence, hard work, experience are all things that help me, but maybe also hubris, kindness, focus were important too. I was worth a lot because I worked hard and produced a lot. But I've also met way more productive and intelligent and capable people who were not at those tier 1 companies and not from tier 1 universities. It's like the old saw from my youth, if you think you are so great, a super genius, then probably you were not in a selective enough group (whether that is high school, college, grad school, company, life).

It's not as strong as western Europe or Canada so what are you comparing it to? China? Brazil? https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socioeconomic_mobility_in_th...

Also, moving up a quintile is not that great of a move when you have to be in the top 10% to have a nice life in the US.


> it views the system that we have as fundamentally meritocratic

Agreed. There is another dimension to it as well. Labor pricing is set by "replacement cost."

In a country where workers have been made precarious intentionally [1], replacement cost will be much lower than (a) the surplus value created by the worker, (b) the risk a worker bares in work activities.

There is empirical evidence that this is taking place on a grand scale. [2]

[1] https://chomsky.info/20120508/

[2] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jofi.12909


Does this imply there aren’t enough employers, so that collusion among employers is feasible?

Feasible and documented [1], but I think that labor monopsony is only part of the issue.

Why are fast food workers signing non-competes, arbitration clauses, and NDA's [2]. The whole balance of power is out of wack.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/24/apple-goo...

[2] https://www.natlawreview.com/article/state-attorneys-general...


Of course we don't have a proper meritocracy or a significant one, and I don't think the OP or anyone advocating it thinks so. Meritocracy is an ideal to strive for and one we'd probably never fully obtain due to the nature of the universe, randomness, and plain out inequality attached to circumstance. What it does mean is that we should aim to reward based on merit in as many places as is feasible and, one could argue, fair.

I.e.: to each according to his value and ability, not purely according to his need. But do so with compassion. I think a fair bit of what goes wrong when this topic and other related ones come up, is that people that advocate for things such as meritocracy are immediately portrayed as heartless and lacking compassion because they advocate for that thing.


On my part I don't consider all inequalities to be fundamentally reducible to a single dimension, so the primary reason I would consider that "inequality is not intrinsically bad" is not so much that it can be "great motivator" [to innovate, if I interpret that as mainly a way to get more money] than that some characteristics are just both plainly dissimilar and impossible to sort, sometimes not even for single individuals considering their taste, even less so for a whole population.

Now it is still interesting to measure a correlation between the income and the ability to work from home and the practical impacts in our current organizations and in specific situations, but this has to be qualified and interpreted very carefully, because I'm not really sure that the conditions for some are specifically worsened in order to be specifically enhanced for others - at least in normal times. Actually, I'm not sure the conditions are even always necessarily enhanced for those who work from home, for example working exclusively from home might be a bad idea for some people; and some companies may have the idea that working from home forever is the new normal, even without pandemic constraints. In that context, that would be one less choice for the workers, compared to a balanced situation. But that has to be completely contextually qualified: it would seem fair to amortize and compensate even otherwise neutral characteristics (not affirming that WFH ability is usually completely neutral) if they become huge disadvantage in specific situations. Because why bother living in a society otherwise?

So it boils down to choice (and I mean root choices: if you have the choice and choose a work occupation that you find extremely fulfilling, but that you can't practice from home, then usually the lack of choice on the work at home subject is only very secondary compared to your original choice of this activity), and in that regard maybe it should be read as a (potential, and very indirect) symptom of real problems rather than a problem on its own: I agree that the ability for individual choices that matter will be greatly improved by e.g. accessible good quality education and health care systems, and the US seems lacking there. The thing is that even if that does not change at all the wage vs. WFH correlation, the overall situation will still be enhanced if that improve the ability for people to chose their job.


> Not all work is equally valuable. Not all work is equally doable. Some work requires decades patience and sacrifice before one is competent enough to perform it. Some work is physically or cognitively beyond the vast majority of the population.

You're right. Designing shirts that work well in both the board room and discoteca is incredibly strenuous work which is why only people who have the correct inter-cranial skull slope (e.g., Wyatt Koch) can do this work.


I mean... it kinda is. Not only is textile design difficult in and of itself (my mom is a very very good hobbyist seamstress, and it takes a lot of work to make even simple garments that work well and feel good), but getting the supply chain running is very difficult and beyond both the skill and patience of most people. You have to be comfortable with not only sewing, but also factory machinery. My mother wanted to make clothes at one point in her life but decided she couldn't scale because she was not comfortable with the large textile die cutting machines that she would have to use to scale.

I dunno who Wyatt Koch is, but if he has designed a shirt and managed to produce it in such volume and with such materials as to be attractive to men (I assume) with money who want to be comfortable, he should be commended. That is very difficult.


Alternatively he could just use a bunch of money inherited from his family and, by merit of having investment capital and a box of crayons, be able to profit off the people he hires.

Have you ever actually had to hire someone to do something nontrivial?

Statistically speaking, hiring good help is difficult. Hiring good help repeatedly is a skill. Building an entire business in an unfamiliar domain is certainly easier with inherited money, but still requires rare talent. Which is why as another poster pointed out, the 1% has a 50% generational turnover.


Income inequality is not intrinsically bad, but we have too much of it in the US. Let's get the ratio of income between the top decile and bottom decile somewhere below 10:1.

At a certain point the ratio is so high that it cannot be explained by differing abilities, and can only be explained by the structure of the market.

Let's say a brain surgeon makes $2m/year. That makes sense, they are uncommonly talented.

Does it make sense that someone can amass as wealth 50,000 years of brain surgeon economic output ($100bn)? If the distribution of human endowments is Gaussian, as it likely is, this level of wealth accumulation cannot be explained by superior productivity alone.


You're assuming that the returns to talent are linear, when they are not.

Let's say you're hiring a new CEO for Apple; how much is a 0.1% more talented CEO worth? My math says that 0.1% is worth 260 million per year.

Even though the 'best' CEO might only be a tiny bit better than the runner-up, the 'best' runs a much larger company, and makes far more money.

From this, you can see that the returns to the most talented CEOs and executives are more proportional to the scale of the largest enterprises than to the individual's talent.


The cult of CEO is deeply troubling to me.

People thought Apple was going to crater after Jobs, and it was fine. It wasn't fine because it has a hyper-capable supreme leader, it was fine because it employs an army of extremely talented hard working people with a reasonably competent leader.

I assure you that Apple has several Tim Cook quality employees earning orders of magnitude less.

It's just so weird to me that we have one group of people priced at replacement cost, and another priced at who knows what? I think you would say they are priced as a multiple on surplus, but I would disagree.


The problem is loss-aversion. Are you willing to risk losing some small percentage of revenue equivalent to many billions of dollars on the bet that Cook's replacement is as good or better? Tim Cook's salary is almost irrelevant; the important question is whether he is the absolute best person for the job.

As an example: how much value did Steve Jobs add during his second tenure at Apple? Did his compensation package make a significant dent in that?

The market for CEOs is a winner-takes-most deal. Similar to what happens with music artists, the top few albums of the year sell more volume than all the rest.


> The problem is loss-aversion.

Great point.

Increased risk aversion explains both the explosive growth of CEO compensation since 1960 and America's unwillingness to do bold and risky but nevertheless profitable things.

Gone are the days of [1].

[1] https://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm


> I assure you that Apple has several Tim Cook quality employees earning orders of magnitude less.

Sure, but do you know exactly who they are? Or are we going to take a multibillion dollar bet on someone who's only probably as good as Tim Cook?


> Does it make sense that someone can amass as wealth 50,000 years of brain surgeon economic output ($100bn)? If the distribution of human endowments is Gaussian, as it likely is, this level of wealth accumulation cannot be explained by superior productivity alone.

Well, yeah, if someone figured out how to operate an 10000 brains at once, then all of a sudden one would think that he ought to make 50000 years worth of brain surgeon economic output in five years.


I like your hypothetical, but I'm going to change it a little.

Let's say Amazon records its warehouse workers and captures data which it can use to train industrial robots at some future date.

Those industrial robots have $X of economic value. Who created that value? Did the workers whose data enabled it? Did the DARPA/NSF funded university system who pushed the techniques to the point of being production-ready? Or was all the value created by the Amazon engineer who blended the established modelling techniques and the data?

It's an honest question about the source of value creation and whether inputs are being priced reasonably, efficiently, or fairly.


Following this line of reasoning, one must be worried about who one ought to pay when one makes a wheel out of dirt. I mean that honestly. As a society, we agree the buck ends somewhere for the most part. That which is freely available or observable knowledge typically doesn't mandate compensative.

Public DARPA knowledge is presumably available to every American citizen (or at least it ought to be, since they presumable paid for it). So is employee behavior.

In general, I'm not sure you should be paid for simply having knowledge. You must apply it. Patents represent a recapture of the process for producing knowledge (however poorly one may argue they do it), but those come with an expiration date too.

That is to say, all knowledge eventually loses its price, and some never had any to begin with.


I think you hit the nail on the head.

DARPA and NSF could very easily attach some IP rights to every project that they fund, but they don't. Maybe they should?

Congress could easily pass a law giving workers an ownership interest in recordings of their work "performance". You can't tape a concert and sell the recording without the musician's permission. Why can you do that with other tasks?

As we speak, there are companies tracking the eye movements of radiologists reviewing charts. I for one think the radiologists should get some ownership stake in the resulting architecture.


Sure it can, because there's different dimensions of the gaussian distribution. Maybe it takes being in the top 1% on 4 different dimensions to amass over $10bn. Using the population of Earth, that means that on average only 90 such individuals exist who are in the 1% on all 4 dimensions. No one believes that intelligence is the only factor in outsized wealth accumulation.

It's clear to me though that outsized individual wealth is derivative of a myriad of different factors.


The top decile and bottom already are below that ratio. ~90k gets you to the top 10%. 10k puts you at the bottom 10% (not a full time worker). The problem is really the wealth of the top 10%.

See the top households:

Net Worth of the 10%, 1%, and .1% Households Percentile Threshold 10% 2% 1% 0.10% Net Worth $1,182,390.36 $5,816,220.17 $10,374,030.10 $43,090,281.00

The top 1% owns 35% of the wealth in this country. the next 9% own 40%. The bottom 50% own 1.67% of the wealth. That's the problem. Most people are paycheck to paycheck with little opportunity for wealth creation / stability. Most of this is inherited wealth; the wealthy today, across not just the US, but the globe, are largely descended from the wealthy of many generations past. There's a great study on the gravity of wealth from the UK:

https://www.cnbc.com/2013/10/30/whats-in-a-name-wealth-and-s...


Sorry, I phrased that wrong, I'm not talking about the numbers exactly at 10% and 90%. I mean the total of 0-10 and the total of 90-100. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_eq...

It's not the people at 90% that are getting way too much money. It's the people above them.


To add to this, forget qualifications and experience. If a job pays well, that in itself is undeniable proof that it has greater value, no justification needed. Capitalism works not because it rewards on someone's definition of merit, but because it rewards doing what people want.

I think the coronavirus has proven this to be false. Many of the so called "essential jobs" are low paid, but the "essential" label is an acknowledgement of their high value to society.

This is similar to the price of water. Yes water is essential but it is readily available and so the price is low. Same for many essential jobs. Turns out a lot of the work necessary to keep civilization ticking is menial and requires no specialization. This is not a statement of the value of the workers (though indirectly it unfortunately often is), only the work they they provide.

They are low paid because in most times anyone can and would be willing to do them. Now, no one wants to do them, so pay will increase if the lockdowns continue.

Why is this controversial? It's the truth, however unfair it seems.

The sad part is that most of the jobs that have great value pay so little. Imagine considering sanitation, seasonal farming, teaching, childcare and other jobs as "low value". Says quite a lot about our values as a society doesn't it?


>> "Benefits not available to low-income workers"

A more accurate statement would be "Benefits not available to low-income jobs"

There are plenty of jobs that simply cannot be done remotely. The more physical the job, the less it can be done remotely. A meat packer at a meat packing plant cannot work from home. A construction worker cannot build houses from a desk. (I'd add nursing, but a large amount of those jobs is paperwork that often can be done remotely.) And there are some very highly-paid jobs that cannot be done from home. Pilots cannot pilot from home (of the few that still have jobs). Surgeons cannot cut. Mechanics cannot turn their wrenches from afar.

And all the IT people. Some of them can login remotely to diagnose network and service problems, but someone always has to have hands on hardware. There is yet to be a robot that can replace a failed cooling fan on a law firm's NAS device. Some, many, of these people are in fact making trips to other peoples' homes to service the equipment that allows them to work at home.


I would also say that even for people that can work remotely, low income may mean worse environment for work at home. Even with three kids I was able to quickly repurpose one of the rooms for home office and get everything needed to work comfortably from home.

As my wife does not need to work we have less problem with kids staying at home. This is currently mostly discussion how to provide healthy environment for them to grow. I know colleagues at work who are not as fortunate and have to share same space with kids with no breather and it is putting a very visible strain on them.


> I would also say that even for people that can work remotely, low income may mean worse environment for work at home. Even with three kids I was able to quickly repurpose one of the rooms for home office and get everything needed to work comfortably from home.

I would think that working from home all the time as a matter of course (as opposed to being forced to, like during a pandemic) would allow lower income people to live further from the expensive cities and, arguably, in much better conditions.

I know that if I could WFH full time I could move to the suburbs (or even to a smaller city) and live in a house bigger and cheaper than my current flat.


It is different when you plan for it and when you are forced to do it.

I actually always wanted to work from home full time and have already worked for 2 years on a contract working fully from home (showing up at the office once per two or three months).

If I knew I would not be at a significant disadvantage searching for WFH contracts vs being available in a major city center I would gladly move outside city. I have three kids and I need to take into account that once I move outside city it might not be possible to move back.


That is a good point. There is a big difference between being forced to work from home, and choosing to work from home. In my case, I've actually been wanting to work from home for a while, and was already preparing for it in some ways, so being forced to work from home was not a hardship at all, but if you aren't prepared for it, I imagine it would be a lot harder.

I’ll chime in from the perspective of nursing. Desk nurses are the minority and are often the “holy grail” of the profession for people looking for better work-life balance.

Acute care employs the majority of RNs with less acute facilities (long-term care, community care) more likely to employ LPNs and unregulated care providers.

Half-jokingly, I’d love to join a start-up developing a remote work nurse-robot.


> I’d love to join a start-up developing a remote work nurse-robot.

Even ignoring the WFH bit, a remotely-controlled 'nursebot' could be the best case. Not only would it prevent communicating disease, but it would reduce stress on nurse's bodies, more precise medication administration (by reducing error + augmenting knowledge).

Although, isn't human contact considered an important part of recovery?

I guess the nursebots would be better in some cases than others.


Even more accurate is "most low income jobs" call centers aren't exactly high income.

Anyway technically the physical jobs can be done remotely if latency isn't a concern but if it is sufficient to remote work the question usually becomes "Why not do the last 10% and fully automate it?"


>> Anyway technically the physical jobs can be done remotely if latency isn't a concern

We all talk about robots, but I have yet to see ANY robot remotely capable of the simplest jobs. At my work, an exaust fan failed overnight. Replacing it is a simple task: a few screws and some basic wiring. Latency isn't the issue. There are no robots with the dexterity to even consider such a job. I'd be amazed if one exists that is capable of navigating the ladders and corners needed to get to the fan. (Flying isn't an option. We are near an airport.)


What you describe is not a "simplest job", definitely not for a robot, but also for an unskilled labour.

I see the way to handle this sort of situation is to embrace "whole node replacement" tactic. I suppose this is already happening in some cases. "Repair robots" is one possible way to accomplish that, but it's not the only way, and in most cases not the cheapest available way.

For example, if a fan has failed in your work laptop, you don't call the technician to fix it in place, you request a replacement laptop and post your failed laptop to your IT support facility.


Node replacement isn't generally a practical option with large machinery or commercial facilities. And even where it could be possible, robots won't be up to the job for many decades. Show me a robot that can extract a badly rusted bolt.

Show me a robot that can FIND a rusty bolt. The act of cleaning, of scrubbing away the dust and dirt from a work area, is beyond AI at the moment. If that rusty bolt has been painted over it might as well not exist.

Shit, and what if it's so badly rusted that you have to drill it out and then use a tap to clear the remaining crud from the threads...

The robot doesn’t need to see it if it has the plans in it’s head.

Does the planned schematic reflect the reality of the installation?

Does the wiring diagram show how the cable bends under its own tension?


Yes, current infrastructure is not designed for automated maintenance, I'm dealing with that in the software world. It will take more time to retrofit the physical world, but it will happen. If things are remote, they get documented better then onsite people running around with their asses on fire.

Woops the original installer didn't do it to plan.

If a whole plant/shop is ram by robots then you wouldn’t need a fan first place!

Because robots are exempt from the laws of thermodynamics. They just aren't capable of overheating, phew.

Not exempt, but more tolerant. A lot of datacenters could run much hotter if not for people that have to service them.

Because typically the last 10% incurs 90% of the costs.

The way I've heard it is 90% of the job can be done in 10 hours, the next 9% in 100, the next 0.9% in 1000, the last 0.1% in 10,000 hours

I'd hazard a guess that hours is replaceable with millions of dollars for a rough gauge.


Providing remote control options is probably the first step to automating the last 10%, too. Once the control and feedback channels are completely digital, it’s just a matter of time until the decision-making is too, at least for jobs where wrong decisions are not too costly.

Anyone who does classified work (including software developers) can't do it at home.

Did Snowden work fully remote as an NSA contractor with classified data?

My recollection is that Snowden worked in remote/satellite facilities such as the Operations Center in Hawaii (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunia_Regional_SIGINT_Operatio...), but not from his house.

Correct -- his house would not have a link to NSANet, nor have anywhere for open storage of classified material. The VERY best he could have hoped for would be a SME-PED and a vault.

No. If he did work at home (which is what I'm assuming you mean by "fully remote") on classified material it was not part of his job, and thus if he billed the US Government for that time it would be timecard fraud. If you have knowledge of this, you should report it to DCAA ( https://www.dcaa.mil/ ).

This is the most powerful snitch energy I've ever seen.

It was clearly a joke response to a joke question.

Reporting Edward Snowden for timecard fraud, while technically it could be a valid infraction, misses the scope of the crimes he is already known to have committed.

Also, the penalty would be on the company that has the agreement with the US Government and not Edward Snowden himself (which could include being barred with doing business with the US Government for 1 year).


Not at all true. However, your department will have to install things like properly certified safes into your house. This may mean bolting things into your concrete basement, etc.

For all practical purposes it is true that classified work will not be done at home for a long period of time -- because doing meaningful classified work over a long period of time requires connectivity to a classified network, which requires a bit of infrastructure and the relevant accrediting authority has stringent requirements for this kind of thing.

I've personally participated in the accreditation of on-site SIPRNET (which operated by DISA at SECRET//NOFORN) enclaves and it is an expensive process that your company will not pay to have done at your house.

In addition, there would need to be daily audits of the security records for things like vaults, rated security room (even without open storage), and a vault for the Type 1 encryption device (which needs its crypto keys updated regularly) -- at the least -- which connects your (or really DISA's leased line) to the peer.


Jobs that are easy to do remotely, are also easy to offshore unless they are sophisticated and require intensive communication to get right.

There are many low income jobs that can be done remotely. And they are, I very rarely talk to a customer rep from the U.S. or buy something that was woven or built here.


I would say it's the reverse. A lot of that can be done remotely. There's just momentum, really big momentum, working against automation.

Education: Jobs exist to give people who aren't geneticists or neurologists something to do.

Diplomacy: Jobs are a past concession for people giving up private wealth for public development.

Defense: No coincidence a lot of jobs work the same as weapon systems. Regardless of nations, a lot of stateless actors today are really dangerous.

Unproven risk: Things can spiral out of control and it takes time for something new, like using genetics or beams to butcher cattle, to become palatable and accepted by the public.

Amortization: What do we do with perfectly working, if inefficient, process and infrastructure if everything is free, there's no demand, and without maintenance bad things leak out of it?

There are plenty of solutions that take out the physicality. I wouldn't bet against it:

What you do is you work on a larger scale. Instead of unbolting a muffler, just shred the entire thing. Cars are a public utility with a free tier. Take the same principle to unmanned private jets.

Take out the entire urban center with a rail system. Catheterization, preventative medicine, therapeutic imaging, genetics applied to chemotherapy, blood thinners.

I would also bet most people will be surprised at the amount of busy work. Kill yourself pumping a barrel of oil, only to drive to the coffee shop to complain about pumping that barrel of oil.


"Pilots cannot pilot from home" ... Google 'drones'

"Surgeons can't cut" ... oh but they can, https://www.therobotreport.com/remote-surgery-via-robots-adv...

Builders can't build... but they can click "Print" https://www.businessinsider.com/3d-homes-that-take-24-hours-...


> "Pilots cannot pilot from home" ... Google 'drones'

Most of pilot training consists of dealing with emergencies. Pilots tend to be highly motivated to be safe because they hit the ground first. There's a saying among pilots that saving themselves saves the passengers.

I wouldn't get on an airplane with a remote pilot.

BTW, in WW2, bringing the chief of maintenance along for the check ride after an overhaul ensured a quality job was done.


Would you buy a package shipped on a plane with a remote pilot? Not all flights carry passengers

That would depend on if you're willing to accept the risk of a malicious hacker taking 50+ over. That would be a "nope" from me.

How many times has that happened to military drones? I'd be more worried about an armed stealth jet than a cargo plane full of rubber dog $ out of Hong Kong

One thing that I find curious about the initial chart of data from Canadian workers (percent who worked some hours at home by income group) is that while the trend is clearly more hours worked at home with more income, I'm not so sure that's an unambiguously good thing.

"Are you able to work an entire day of your 40-hour workweek from home?" is a very different question from "Are you able to work your 45th through 60th hour of work from your home?"

Pre-pandemic, if I'd been asked whether I could work some of my scheduled hours from home, I'd have answered "yes, absolutely" despite additionally spending 40-50 hours per week in the office.

Sometimes, I think it would be refreshing to do something like airline pilot where I'd probably enjoy the job overall but that it was pretty clear there's no expectation that I'd fly an airliner in my non-work time.


> Sometimes, I think it would be refreshing to do something like airline pilot where I'd probably enjoy the job overall but that it was pretty clear there's no expectation that I'd fly an airliner in my non-work time.

Yeah, I've only had jobs that can be done anywhere, which is both good and bad. It gives me flexibility but also expectations.

Sometimes I envy my dentist friends. They make great money, but when they leave at 5:30pm, they are done for the day. Even their continuing education is scheduled into their in-office work day, as one of their benefits. On the flip side, they have to be in that office every day from 8:30 to 5:30. There is very little flexibility.


I sometimes -- well, I used to, heh -- share an office with a labor rep (i.e. someone who works for a union). I sometimes over hear their calls, and one of the last conversations I overheard before the pandemic really stuck with me.

In reference to some kind of changing circumstance that was going to compel their rank and file to spend more time doing some work-related task, the labor rep said, "They're entitled to their time" with a kind of finality I envy.

Absolutely no wiggle room around the question of, "should they be paid for every minute they spend on the clock for someone else's business." The ubiquity of salaried work really gets me sometimes.


That's a very common situation in a shipyard. It always makes me a little envious to know that the trades get paid every single minute here and often work 6 days a week. I do some work items that require a start 2 hours after sunset. The pay is the same 40 hours or 60 hours. You can guess how many engineering hours are post-40....

OTOH, would you rather be paid for every single minute at $40/hour and time-and-a-half for hours over 40 per week, or paid $3000/wk no matter how many hours you actually work? There are tradeoffs on both sides.

I know it's a common refrain when people defend being salaried that they get some wiggle room if they need to take off, or something, but me? I'd prefer the trade-off on something as precious as my time being very explicitly spelled out.

I have a feeling that the trade-off works in favor of the employer vastly more than the worker, in the general case, and probably even in the case where people think they're getting an okay deal.


I have never once been able to leave my salaried job without reaching 40 hours while still receiving the same pay.

Conversely, I’ve never once had to punch a time clock at any of my salaried positions.

None of my employers would ever be able to tell the difference between 38, 39, 40, or 41 hours in any given week (nor has any given any indication they'd care even if I told them the difference).


I have worked primarily for the prime contractor on Department of Navy work. Either at a prime ship repair yard or an AIT. They take time cards very seriously. I'd suspect you might get some wiggle room in the public realm/software, but as someone mentioned below I'd prefer my time/money trade to be explicitly laid out.

> no expectation that I'd fly an airliner in my non-work time.

This is how life is for most of us in Scandinavia, specifically Norway. Overtime is frowned upon and discouraged by the state (do too much of it and you and your employer have committed an offence) and also local culture is to leave the office on time.


It seems from the comments that a lot of the readers here equate "let's look at socioeconomic inequality" with "let's make sure everyone has the same socioeconomic outcome by bringing down the people who earn more." This is... a leap not found in this article. The idea is to make sure that we realize the knock-on effects of changes in the workforce / society and take measures to make sure people who have the ability to succeed aren't sidelined because of it. Seriously, some of these remedies should be fairly uncontroversial here:

-Giving people computers

-Making sure people have access to broadband

-Looking at industries with low income workers and seeing if the governments can nudge them into the WFH model, so they can start to realize some of the positive outcomes that presents, which in some cases would be far more valuable to low-income workers. Imagine if a single mother working for $20k a year at an office could do that work from home?

This topic is ripe for inventive ways to use technology to raise up individuals who have been traditionally left out. But for some reason the 6-fig crowd is reacting negative to a headline that uses the term "socioeconomic inequality."


I agree, we should see this for what it is: an unmet need to make WFH possible for more people and more job functions.

My two cents on how we might "use technology to raise up individuals who have been traditionally left out":

Our company employs 800-1000 "support"/"operations"-type roles, who normally commute to a call-center-esque "office" near Phoenix, AZ.

When COVID-19 happened, our (brilliant) IT team had them set up to work from home in a weekend, since our call center tech stack was based on chrome books, RBAC services, g-suite, and mostly self-hosted or non-proprietary business-specific software. This is not the typical story, but there's no reason it shouldn't be.

In the graphs shared here by the article, sales and operations-type roles are an outlier in terms of percentage of the economy, and percentage of the economy that "has no opportunity" to work from home. So, while the need for support centers is higher than ever, most call centers are letting people go or reducing their hours, because they can't fill their offices to capacity any more. This has a huge impact on those workers, because they are now either unemployed or are unable to make rent.

Call center software is really old, and its antiquity is currently holding these companies back in a way that hurts their bottom lines. If you can package this call-center-in-a-chromebook as a service, you can simultaneously reduce inequality and make the economy more efficient, by enabling a remote WFH call center job, for companies who hire support/ops roles in the 1000s+.


> Giving people computers

Better is simply giving people money which they can use for their highest priorities, which may not be computers.

> Access to broadband

Competitive internet is available in larger metropolitan areas. If there's a mandate for some or all companies to provide access in rural areas, that must be subsidized by increased prices in metropolitan areas. This was accepted in the US for the bulk of the 20th century for the phone system, and resulted in amazing scientific discoveries from Bell Labs.

One alternative to a rural internet bandwidth subsidy would be subsidizing relocation. Rather than encouraging people to continue to live where jobs are scarce and services are expensive, we could encourage them to move to where labor is scarce and services are competitively priced.

> governments can nudge them into the WFH model

What's the transition cost for switching from in-office to at-home employees? If it's not an issue of transition cost, I don't think the government should be in the business of subsidizing in-home employment on an ongoing basis. It would distort the market, discouraging jobs from hair dresser to dental assistant, thereby making those services more expensive (relatively).


Employers should provide computers to employees who are WFH. It's the cost of doing business. Schools need to provide students with computers or computer access, as well; the coronavirus has certainly thrown a wrench into traditional distribution methods.

Competitive internet in the US is almost an oxymoron. I have two choices here, and they magically always set the same price, which is no cheaper now than ten years ago. I can walk to a cocktail, a pour-over coffee, boutiques, and my choice of macaron or Parisian-style croissant, but I cannot get cheap and high-bandwidth internet.

Subsidizing relocation is not the best alternative. Farming regions already suffer from a shortage of labor. It would be far better for one of a family to be able to get a good tech job while another in the family farms than the current state of affairs, where I know a farmer who actually commutes by his private plane to his second job as a college instructor. Farming is important, because food is important. No other service is expensive there, unless you want a Brazilian keratin treatment or something. Relocating the last of America's farmers is not a great answer.

Last, I will get my teeth looked at as soon as it's possible, whether I'm WFH or not. You only get one set of adult teeth.


What does it mean to suffer from a shortage of labor? As an economist, it's hard to understand that phrase. I usually take it to mean that an employer doesn't want to pay the prevailing wage, or dislikes the trend of wage increases. Given that understanding, there most intense "shortage" is where labor is most expensive. That means in the city, and for highly skilled workers.

As for your teeth, I suggest an early morning appointment. Aerosolized virus can live in the air for quite some time, which is what you get when you use a high speed drill in someone's mouth. It's unclear what viral load you'd get from being the next patient in the chair, but I wouldn't want to be the guinea pig.


Not enough people to do they available work.

If the youth leave and don’t come back, rural areas slowly die.


I think the cause is the other way around. The villages disappear because there's no work to do, not that there's no people to do work.

Modern agriculture, mining, and manufacturing don't employ many people. We already subsidize farmers to not grow so much that they flood the market. It's reasonable that production capacity should shrink and prices rise. Some prices are currently propped up by regulation.


The economics of subsidies are one thing but...

I grew up in a rural area with family farms.

The farms are viable businesses that feed people.

Farmers kids go away to school and few of them return to be farmers, and it’s hard to bring in workers (commute times, lack of housing) so despite there being work, people leave. Technology and automation have played a role but there is more work than people


> more work than people

That's true for all industries with increasing wages. Pay more. Charge more.


"Competitive internet is available in larger metropolitan areas." I'd debate the competitive qualifier.

True. Some large metros are effectively owned by a monopoly. I'm lucky to live in a city with competitive broadband.

> -Giving people computers

> -Making sure people have access to broadband

There should be a Rural Broadbandification Project set into motion so everybody gets fiber. This also has the advantage that it requires lots of labor like digging ditches.

It also has the advantage that it would allow some of these high earners to move from turbo-high cost of living areas to much lower ones.


I like the idea, as a kind of spiritual successor to the Federal Aid Highway Act (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Aid_Highway_Act_of_195...), but for a different kind of transportation.

I don't know if our congress could ever come together on something like this in 2020, but I'm sure some highly specific implementation could be found that everyone could more or less agree to. Is there any existing project or group campaigning for this idea?


That sounds like yet another wealth transfer from metro areas to rural areas. I understand that the US government is structured that way, by the creation of the Senate, but as a city-dweller, I'm not a fan.

I'd rather pay for people to move, perhaps subsidizing housing where other services have competition and jobs are plentiful.


Having at least some distributed population is a national asset in the event of conflict. Not to mention some people need to live in rural areas due to the nature of their work.

Also, what’s it worth to you to enable rural America to have a similar enough lifestyle to you that you’re both more likely to consider yourselves the same sort of Americans? National cohesion is worth something.


I think there are enough decently-sized metropolitan areas that we'd be distributed well enough.

> National cohesion is worth something

There's been this bizarre fairytale of the noble yeoman running through American history, as if that were the true national identity. It's never been less true than today. I think a healthy unemployment benefit and permissive neighborhood zoning policies are sufficient to help them transition. If they're not willing to change, maybe their children will be.


What in particular do you disagree with about the idea of the noble yeoman?

I'm not saying I think every rural person fits this image, but there's some percent that do, at least as I think about it.


That it's relevant, given it's such a tiny portion of the population, or that it's an ideal at all. To me the national identity is a 2nd generation immigrant living in a large metro area. That's what I think of as an American.

According to the statistics [1], second generation immigrants are only about 11% of the United States. (6% adult second-generation, 5% still children.)

About 19% of the population lives in rural areas [2].

https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/02/07/second-generation...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rural_areas_in_the_United_Stat...


Not surprisingly, that 11% (plus whatever % is the 1st generation) forms the majority of who I know. It's interesting how people clique.

Less than 2% of the US population is involved in agriculture. We've got more immigrants than farmers.


> wealth transfer from metro areas to rural areas

I live in the Rust Belt, and when I visited San Francisco, it was like visiting a different planet.

I find it hard to believe that wealth transfer from metro to rural is larger than wealth transfer in the opposite direction.

Why does $HOT_TECHBRO_STARTUP invariably choose to locate its offices in the ultra-tight real estate and labor markets of SF, NYC or Austin when there are plenty of small cities who desperately need an employer like them, since they're full of factory ruins, empty storefronts, hordes of unemployed workers, and all the most promising young people leave as soon as they finish high school or college?


Because businesses have gravity and naturally condense into gravity wells. Why is the oil industry (executive and R&D) so heavily centered in Houston, or finance so heavily centered in New York? Why don't some of those giant banks move their headquarters to (fill in your struggling town) where they need the jobs?

The reason is that businesses aren't charities. The people who work in the industry benefit enormously from proximity to a bunch of other people in their industry.

I grew up in the midwest, but I moved (with my family) to the Bay Area a couple years ago, and it's been like rocket fuel to my career and income. It's hard to even describe how advantageous it is when your social network naturally includes so many people in your industry - when your neighbor works at Google, and the other parents at your preschool work Stripe and Apple, and when your friends from the gym work at Github... etc. It's just nuts.

Most people, once they've lived some place a little while and established a network, don't really want to leave. So then when they start their business they launch it with a few friends who are all here and either worked with them at their last business or are part of that extended social network, and of course they all live in the Bay Area already so they just stay because why move?

I understand the frustration of geographic inequality of jobs, but honestly the hot startups are not who you should target if you want to inject some vitality into a struggling city. By far the better way forward is to combine a mix of training/education, public investment, and attracting some mid-size business to help seed the local market. As one example, this is roughly what they did in Chattanooga, TN, and have turned it into a small but nice little tech outpost.


As someone who originally is from the Rust Belt (Pittsburgh), ended up moving to LA, then SF, then NYC, then Austin: one reason is that VCs congregate in the valley and need to make board meetings. I did a startup in Pittsburgh (though it’s been 11 years...) and you just don’t get the same opportunity to raise.

Another is that folks jump between companies often, and don’t want to move to do it. If you want to attract talent from a FAANG, the people who work there are probably already in these areas and won’t want to move.

I love my hometown dearly but I spent most of my life there. I’d rather be elsewhere.


> I find it hard to believe that wealth transfer from metro to rural is larger than wealth transfer in the opposite direction.

Why do you find this hard to believe? I'm curious to learn what wealth transfer from rural to urban metros you're considering, since I'm not aware of many (any?). Rural communities have struggled and are increasingly subsidized by metro areas in the US:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/six-charts-illustrate-di...


> Why does $HOT_TECHBRO_STARTUP invariably choose to locate its offices in the ultra-tight real estate and labor markets of SF, NYC or Austin

Because it's cool and the $TECHBRO wants to live somewhere cool.

As for those of us doing engineering instead of $TECHBRO software:

Because I can't drive 10 minutes to go talk to my PCB assembler in the lab to help figure out something that is failing.

Because I can't have a realtime chat with my injection molder in front of the machine about the fact that my last order was crap so let's make some adjustments.

Because I don't have a choice of colocation facilities which have different connectivity guarantees.

Because I can't go grab lunch with a friend who happens to also do RF design, drug development, mechanical engineering, etc. and pick their brains (and vice versa).

Outsourcing is only useful when you're in production (and I'd argue it's less useful than people think). If I'm doing engineering R&D, I tend to insource as much as possible and keep the rest local where I can keep an eye on it.


> hard to believe

Check the data. It's readily available from various government agencies. As you say, companies invariably locate in cities.

What facts from your experience formed your belief?


> There should be a Rural Broadbandification Project set into motion so everybody gets fiber. This also has the advantage that it requires lots of labor like digging ditches.

I’m not very convinced by this. 100 years ago you could employ a lot of people to dig a ditch because labour and spades were cheap. Today, I think you can’t realistically give people spades and I worry the large efficient digging machines would be too expensive or in short supply to start a massive campaign of ditch digging. They also require training. But maybe I’m wrong.

> It also has the advantage that it would allow some of these high earners to move from turbo-high cost of living areas to much lower ones.

I generally find these arguments compelling but I just looked and I can’t find much evidence of a significant benefit. Partly I think this could be a lack of studies or me misreading the data, or that it is just difficult to measure (and there are different things to measure too, eg the FTC defines broadband as >= 200kbps, which is I think not generally what is referred to when people talk about improving rural broadband). Do you know of any studies into whether improving rural broadband actually has these beneficial effects?


It's a good idea to bring broadband to the rural areas but don't forget about major cities like London. I live in Zone 1 and I can't even get fiber internet. Let alone faster internet than 16mbit. There is a lot work to be done in countries like United Kingdom.

Everyone probably doesn’t need fiber to their homes. Good 5G access without onerous caps is probably a reasonable alternative.

Tech has been stymied by the fact that bandwidth has been constrained at 10Mbps or less for 2 decades. My 10 year old computer is more than powerful enough to handle any networking in the last decade. Without that impetus, there is nothing driving computers forward.

Every time we jump in consumer bandwidth by an order of magnitude, we launch some new technology that we couldn't even dream of before.


As far as I understand it, 5G doesn't have a wide reach, so it doesn't save that much when compared to aerial fiber.

It is not the role of government to encourage working from home. It is also not the role of government to wipe your butt or provide you with toilet paper.

What are these individuals who are 'traditionally left out' exactly? You mean people with idiot parents or no parents?

We can easily fix that, but that'd involve oops, actually facing reality and wanting to solve problems instead of engaging in cries for re-distribution of resources someone else has created.


> Imagine if a single mother working for $20k a year at an office could do that work from home?

Imagine if we applied this same kind of get-it-done thinking to wondering why there were so many women raising children on their own without support from the child's father?


Well, whatever the reason, the number has been falling steadily, so is there a need to do anything?

But then we'd have to have a lot of politically and religiously uncomfortable conversations about contraception, birth control, and other forms of family planning. Not to mention sexual education.

Well, we'd have to have lots of politically uncomfortable conversations about what manhood is and what our economy is providing at the lower end, too. One reason for so many unwed mothers is that "having a kid" is certainly part of 'manhood' as defined today, but "being married without a good job" is not. So guys wait to get a good job (spoiler alert: not in the cards) before marrying, and if not married, there's less incentive to be exclusive & involved.

This is one big reason marriage rates are lower among poorer Americans. It's not bad that a guy wants a good job before he gets married -- it's bad that he's never gonna get one and his kid is going fatherless while he pursues that pipe dream.


I agree. An example from my personal experience is Saiva Siddhanta that recommends couples remain married and only separate in cases of abuse.

While I agree with your point, in a spirit of fairness, I think a lot of people are tired of being bludgeoned with "implication" rhetoric. "Socioeconomic inequality" is a pretty loaded term and some people use it to make others feel guilty or attempt a sweeping indictment of the society we live in. Many economists and sociologists use it more in the sense of this article, but it's not surprising that such an overloaded term sets some people off.

I agree. A less antagonistic title would be "How to Expand the Benefits of Remote Work To All." While it is literally true that socioeconomic inequality is increasing, it is increasing because one side is better off in a way that takes nothing away from the other side.

The most interesting part (to me) is not touched on in the article - if expensive jobs can be done remotely from Gary, Indiana, they're not going to go to Gary natives who are currently underemployed, but to the same small crowd of well-off people who are just going to move to Gary, driving prices there up. I think this is the inequality that is interesting and matters.

But Gary, Indiana has a lot more room. In addition, the new well-off people will need coffee, and cars, and groceries, and be able to pay for them. This will rejuvenate other jobs. With more people with money who can now afford tickets and buy merchandise, maybe more bands will start playing in Gary, Indiana, improving the music scene. With more people with more disposable income, maybe some of them will be interested in local artwork. Now artists can move and live in Gary, Indiana.

In addition, well-off people are interested in making sure their kids get a good education. So maybe they start pushing the city to improve public education. In addition, the increased home values and increased businesses are likely to result in greater increase in tax revenue, allowing more money to go to education.

And the nice part is that Gary, Indiana got these benefits without having to try to bribe a large corporation to open an office with tax giveaways.

You may or may not have more inequality, but I would argue that the people in Gary would be better off.


How is it different than trickle down economics? Won’t those coffee shops just be starbucks and grocery stores be Whole Foods and all the profit from them returned to shareholders?

"Trickle down economics" is just an internet slur for supply side economics. It certainly can work out well. A job at Whole Foods would pay a currently unemployed resident of Gary, Indiana a good amount more than he is making at present.

That's a pretty limited perspective. Economic growth doesn't benefit every business and every individual proportionally.

I know people in the Bay Area who are worse off now than they were in first dotcom burst because while software engineers might make 300% now of what they made in 2002, an auto mechanic doesn't. For many, wage growth didn't even keep up with the cost of living.


What's the alternative? Everything stays the same? How would that help their economy?

Absolutely agree that their local economy would get better.

I think the jobs would go to the most capable and there are capable people everywhere, but not all are willing to relocate to such places ad California or New York. You do see a lot more smart people in these areas because this is where they were all attracted to like magnets by high paying jobs. If a bit less high paying jobs become available no matter where one lives how many people would be willing to relocate?

I think the most absurd thing that is happening is the high rents and low quality living standards that people are putting up with because of the companies that they need to relocate for. And the havoc they produce for the needed locals who can’t afford to live where they have been working all along.

If people in Gary Indiana get these jobs then the local economy would go up for the rest of the people.


I think a lot of smart or upper middle class people would still want to live near other smart or upper middle class people even if jobs were remote.

Humans are social animals and I think it's common for people in privileged positions to want to associate with others like themselves.


People do cluster like that, but organically with more options could always be better. The US has a few large places, Cali and NY for example, and these are already more expensive than they’re worth

The suggestion that governments can close the remote working gap is not very well thought out. A large percentage of low income work is service work that requires physical presence. You can’t make the typical burger joint remote friendly without automating all the jobs away.

The most sane idea is infastructure availability as a limit but well skill/training is the usual bottlrneck.

Of course remote work may potentially indirectly boost in person work wages long term. Akin to how McDonalds needs to pay more than minimium wage than a gas station for unskilled labor due to the differing intensity and implcit perk of idle time in the latter case.


Maybe they can't close the gap, but governments sure can support remote work. Roads are necessities for work, and they're maintained by the government. If internet (that doesn't make every other sentence "sorry, could you repeat that?") became a necessity, then the government could invest in the series of tubes.

They are miserable people who want to make things worse for remote workers because if everybody can't have something then nobody can.

Can you please not take HN threads further into flamewar and/or do the ideological battle thing here?

(Btw, I appreciate that your comments have improved away from this direction in general.)


Can we not do these straw man arguments?

I am a remote worker. I'm certainly not for making my own life worse.

Surely we can see a mismatch, however, when there are people who are considered essential enough to risk their lives, but not considered essential enough to be paid enough to own their own home or car. I think there are a lot of non-remote jobs which can't be done remotely, but I do think we could pay those workers more.


... even if letting the people who can work remotely do so is a net win overall for everybody when you consider the reduced environmental impact.

And if continued forever, reduced pressure on high housing costs, which currently hit lower income earners very hard.

That’s purely a regulation issue. We could easily have more affordable housing by increasing supply. If you move people from one area to another without changing supply, you’re just gonna cause issues in the next area.

But if the "one area" is one of ~10 expensive cities and the "another" is 100s of smaller cities, suburbs and large towns, it's much easier to build to meet the change.

Theoretically but that’s just a burueacratic hurdle. Struggling towns would likely build if they knew people would come in but could get stonewalled by local people too. (Don’t let in them city slickers!)

The issue is regulation. And I think it’d be better if we just allowed for taller buildings in some of these areas rather than sprawling out everything. Many people don’t want a SFH with a little yard and are happy with an apartment.


[flagged]


Nah, I think he is pointing out that if more remote work becomes the norm, urban areas will see an exodus to more rural, cheaper areas to live, and the demand for living spaces will decrease lowering the costs of rent in urban areas where most poor people live.

No he's saying that less commuting will help the environment and that that's worth sacrificing poor people's jobs. I'm saying I disagree because if the goal were maximizing some kind of utility function then I have an even better solution.

Re your point: obviously you're unfamiliar with the effects of white flight to the suburbs on inner cities. White people (read: wealthy people) have already made that migration in the 50s and 60s and took all of tax revenue with them, leading to places like Detroit and South side Chicago. It was only during the 2000s that they've migrated back to cities. Heading back to the suburbs will repeat history that's literally only 50 years old.

Edit: alright which part am I wrong about mr downvoter


> less commuting will help the environment and that that's worth sacrificing poor people's jobs

No, he's saying that if some people work from home and some other people don't, fewer people will commute, the environment we all share will benefit, but people who can't work from home can still do their jobs. (Source: am the one who said it)


Great. Now map out for me what happens to counties that get the bulk of their tax revenue from property taxes and then use that tax revenue to preserve and improve the environs of that county? Just think about it for two seconds: how good is park beautification on one side of the train tracks vs the other? Is that because of commuting or something else?

>, but people who can't work from home can still do their jobs

seeing as how service jobs can't be done from home this prompts the question: for whom exactly are these people going to be providing services when all of the remote workers have fled to the suburbs? so will they actually be able to "do their jobs"?


Houses get cleaned and other service jobs get done in suburbs too.

but now the poor people have to commute to the suburbs completely negating the environmental benefits lol

If they're unable to move, that's 100% right. If they're able to move, even if it's just closer, it could still be a win.

so now we're down to "devs move to suburbs and poor people move a little closer" in order to improve the world? and you still don't think that this disproportionately hurts poor people? do i really have to do more work to show you how this is galaxy brain thinking?

If poor people are currently living in expensive, cramped housing because they’re forced like many others to all commute every day to the same few spots on the Earth we call big cities and we replace that with a system where much more land becomes easy to use to for housing because we’re not going to worship for 8 hours every day at the work temple, I think it’s quite possible that the poor and middle class are both substantially helped.

If your concern is that both are helped but the poor are helped slightly less and conclude from that that means we shouldn’t do it, well, that’s one approach I suppose.


>where much more land becomes easy to use to for housing

what are these revolutionary changes that will make the wild wild west more hospitable? is it public transportation? is it more investment in local schools? is it small walkable main streets? none of these things will happen the way you imagine they will. how do i know that? can i predict the future? am i a city planner? no. you're repeating everything that everyone said ~50 years ago when rich people migrated away from cities. i've already brought this up elsewhere in this thread. like seriously just take a step back and pattern match for 2 seconds.


> he's saying ... that that's worth sacrificing poor people's jobs

I'm not sure we read the same comment - I didn't read anything about sacrificing anyone's jobs.


Every time there's an article on hn highlighting how a vulnerable/at risk/marginalized group of people is being put further at risk the typical response is exactly yours: selfish instead of charitable.

They're not miserable people simply because you don't get to have another luxury. They're circumspect and compassionate for not simply being complacent and instead exploring all of the effects. You do realize the authors themselves benefit from remote work right?

Guess what: if the world is going to improve for poor people then we rich people are going to have to forgo some luxuries; reagonomics/"rising tide raises all ships" doesn't work (how well are the poor people in SF doing?). Casting aspersions on people (authors here) for sounding the alarms on yet another impending structural shift that will further weaken the poor is a special kind of immoral.


> Guess what: if the world is going to improve for poor people then we rich people are going to have to forgo some luxuries; reagonomics/"rising tide raises all ships" doesn't work (how well are the poor people in SF doing?).

How does rich people forgoing luxuries help poor people? Moreover, the poor people in SF are doing a hell of a lot better than many parts of the world. I lived in Africa for two years and a minimum wage worker in the US would be considered almost unimaginably wealthy.

Poor is relative, and the working class in America would be doing great if not for the massive inflation in college, housing, and healthcare prices. And what do all three have in common? You guessed it, the government! It should be no surprise to anyone that the natural result of pumping absurd amounts of money into these sectors (student loans, government subsidized mortgages, medicare/medicaid) is inflated prices.


I think if the world is going to improve for poor people, then individuals who aren't poor are going to have to learn how to not oversimplify reality into simplistic narratives for their own mental comfort. If you admit that reagonomic "rising tide rise all ships" rhetoric is structurally flawed (which is certainly true), then I think you can probably make the next step towards understanding that unless you have four commas in your bank account, you do not have enough clout to change the structure of the current socioeconomic system. And from there, you can probably make the next step towards understanding that it's built that way for a reason, that the hierarchical aggregation of socioeconomic capital towards the top of the hierarchy was designed intentionally.

There are two ways you can close the gap between low-income, in-person work, and high-income, remote work:

1. The straw man you're suggesting: get rid of remote work. This is obviously not universally possible.

2. Pay in-person workers more. Because you know, if someone is essential enough to die for their work, maybe they are also essential enough to be included in the American dream of owning their own home and car.


I never suggested the straw man you mentioned in 1. You made that up on my behalf to argue against, which is weird.

You said:

> A large percentage of low income work is service work that requires physical presence. You can’t make the typical burger joint remote friendly without automating all the jobs away.

If you don't think anyone disagrees with this, then why did you say it?

And if you do think people disagree with this, then you're making the straw man argument I said you were.


A few things: Addressing point 1, the commenter never said anything like that.

Addressing point 2, right now the US economy imperfectly applies wages to an individual worker based on the demand for their skills. If their skills become more scarce or they develop better skills their wages should increase. If we say pay them more without changing the demand or the skills they have who will pay them more? Where will the money come from?

The simple answer might be to pay the CEO less but their value is also set on Market rates for their skills and demand, so if a chain paid the CEO less they would leave and go somewhere were they got paid more. Then that chain would have to higher someone else for more than the reduced rate of the previous CEO.

I also like the idea of paying people at the bottom of the economy more, but the government shouldn't just mandate some people make more and other people make less. We must find a way to either change the skill level or demand for those employees.

Artificially changing demand for low skilled employees is a bit scary because it incentivizes investments in automation. I would be helpful if a demand increase plan lead to a technological innovation the reduced the need for any of those workers. In my opinion investing in the skills of low wage employees is the best way to solve income inequality.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts.


> A few things: Addressing point 1, the commenter never said anything like that.

Sure, the commenter didn't think anyone was proposing getting rid of all remote work. He just went out of his way to say that we can't get rid of all remote work, because obvious things like that need to be stated on a thread about pay inequality.

> Addressing point 2, right now the US economy imperfectly applies wages to an individual worker based on the demand for their skills. If their skills become more scarce or they develop better skills their wages should increase. If we say pay them more without changing the demand or the skills they have who will pay them more? Where will the money come from?

Pay at the top.

> The simple answer might be to pay the CEO less but their value is also set on Market rates for their skills and demand, so if a chain paid the CEO less they would leave and go somewhere were they got paid more.

Then let them go.

If all the benefits of the CEOs innovation just go to the CEO, then why should anyone else care if the CEO innovates? And it's not just the benefits of the CEO's innovation that go to the CEO, it's the benefits of the innovation of everyone at the company. You seem convinced that CEOs provide more value to the economy than they suck out of the economy, but this is not at all evident.

> Then that chain would have to higher someone else for more than the reduced rate of the previous CEO.

I'm not sure why you think they would have to pay more.

A lot of this handwaving fear about how we have to pay CEOs or we'll lose them, is to prevent a free market which agrees what a CEO is worth from deciding a lower value. But if everyone realizes that people amassing un-spendably large hordes of wealth is not actually a net benefit to society, then the free market is quite capable of pegging the value of a CEO much lower than it currently is.

This is particularly true in the US: we can peg the pay of CEOs significantly lower than they are, while still paying CEOs more than any other nation in the world. Of the Forbes 11 richest people in the world, 9 are in the US.

Pegging the pay of top earners within a company to bottom earners in the company means that CEOs always still have incentive to grow their companies, because they get paid more if they do.

> I also like the idea of paying people at the bottom of the economy more, but the government shouldn't just mandate some people make more and other people make less. We must find a way to either change the skill level or demand for those employees.

This won't help low-income workers. As long as we allow some people to determine their own pay with complete impunity, they'll always decide to pay themselves and not others whenever possible. That's what the incentives cause them to do.

> Artificially changing demand for low skilled employees is a bit scary because it incentivizes investments in automation.

I don't see a benefit in work for the sake of work. If a machine can do something as well as a human, a machine should do it. I don't want to see a future where we keep people doing work that machines could do. I'd rather see a world where machines do all the work, and everyone benefits from that work.

A future where machines do all the work is only scary if you only allow economic models which prevent everyone from benefiting from automation.


Based on your reply I feel like we have fundamentally different world views that can't be resolved in HN comments, but I feel like I understand your view better than I did before. Best of luck to you, thanks for a thoughtful reply.

> Pay in-person workers more.

Which in turn means whatever those workers are providing will cost more. In most of the jobs under discussion, labor costs are a large fraction of overall costs, so raising labor costs means making the overall good or service more expensive. And nobody wants to pay more--not even the workers themselves, who are also paying for similar services from other workers.

You left out the actual correct answer, which is a combination of:

3. Increase the productivity of individual workers. That means the workers are producing more value per unit of work.

4. Make the workers entrepreneurs. That means they are now owners of the capital constituted by their increased productivity and skills, so they capture more of the value they create.

In short: workers need to stop thinking of themselves as workers, and start thinking of themselves as owners of capital, since that's the better bargaining position to be in.


> Which in turn means whatever those workers are providing will cost more.

That's one possibility. Obviously it's one we should avoid. Yes, we have noticed the skulls[1]. Please give me the courtesy of not assuming you've noticed obvious things that I haven't.

Another possibility, is we stop paying people at the top literally millions of times as much money as the people at the bottom. An easy way to do this would be to cap income of the top earners in a company at, say, 1,000 times income of their lowest-paid workers.

Reagan liked to say that there's a trickle down effect--that a rising tide lifts all boats. But Reagan also said, "Trust, but verify." So surely fans of Reagan won't object to making sure that profits do actually trickle down?

Neither of the solutions you propose work:

> 3. Increase the productivity of individual workers. That means the workers are producing more value per unit of work.

This doesn't help workers in any way, because CEOs will just pat themselves on the back for increasing productivity, lay off the no-longer-needed workers, and pay themselves more. There's no incentive for them to pass on any of these profits to their workers.

> 4. Make the workers entrepreneurs. That means they are now owners of the capital constituted by their increased productivity and skills, so they capture more of the value they create.

This is a great idea, as long as they operate on an actual free market, not a market where the terms are completely controlled by a large corporation so that they're just miscategorized employees of that corporation. I would be happy to see taxi drivers empowered to start their own taxi companies, for example, on a free market, not one where they have to pay rent to Uber or Lyft. But I get the feeling that's not what you're actually proposing.

If what you're actually proposing is a gig economy on platforms controlled by central companies, then any value you think is going to go into the pockets of workers, is just going to go into the pockets of the rent-seeking platforms. The only empowerment workers get is the power to pay for their own health insurance.

[1] https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/04/07/yes-we-have-noticed-th...


> Obviously it's one we should avoid.

You can't. You don't get to dictate what something costs.

> we stop paying people at the top literally millions of times as much money as the people at the bottom

You can't do this either unless you own stock in the company and can vote on the compensation it pays.

> An easy way to do this would be to cap income of the top earners in a company at, say, 1,000 times income of their lowest-paid workers.

And watch all your innovators and wealth creators go away along with all the parasites.

PG nailed this years ago in his essay on inequality. He said there are two ways for someone to get rich: by making something people want (wealth creation and innovation), or by gaming the system. Any "fix" for inequality that attacks the first and second kind of person indiscriminately, as your proposed rule does (how do you know whether the top earner at a company is that way because he gamed the system, or because he is using the enormous leverage of productivity tools--like, oh, just to pick one at random, computer programming--to actually be that much better at making something people want?) will just impoverish your country: yes, people might be more equal, but only because they're now all equally poor.

> Neither of the solutions you propose work

I didn't propose either of them in isolation. I proposed both of them together.

> CEOs will just pat themselves on the back for increasing productivity, lay off the no-longer-needed workers, and pay themselves more. There's no incentive for them to pass on any of these profits to their workers.

There is if the workers aren't employees, which is what I am proposing. See below.

CEOs only have the ability to get away with what you describe because "workers" think of themselves as "workers"--they think "all I want is a fair day's pay for a fair day's work". And just by thinking that way, they give up all of their bargaining power. Basically, what they're asking is for someone else to take all of the business risk--what's a "fair day's pay for a fair day's work" if nobody wants to buy the product?--yet still want to share in the same upside. But upside and risk go together: if you want more upside, you need to take more risk. That's what entrepreneurs have to do. You can't have it both ways.

> I get the feeling that's not what you're actually proposing.

You're wrong. Something like a taxi driver starting his own company is exactly what I am proposing. But I am proposing it for all workers, not just taxi drivers. For example, under what I am proposing, there would be no such thing as an assembly line worker in an auto plant: every one of those workers would be an owner (or part owner, if a bunch of them got together) of a company that sold the service of assembly line labor.


Okay, maybe I've misunderstood you. I'll try to hear you out. Are you basically proposing worker-owned cooperatives?

> Are you basically proposing worker-owned cooperatives?

From what I know about them, they would be one example of what I am talking about, yes, since as I understand it, the cooperative makes all the business decisions--what products to build and sell, how much of what to produce, where to locate the factory, what supply chains to rely on, etc.

But I'm not just proposing that we adopt something that already exists, or tweak something that already exists a little. I suspect that if all, or even a significant majority, of people who are currently working for wages adopted the mentality I describe, the entire economy of the planet would look very different.


From the sound of it, you're just proposing that people at the bottom have to play the free market better on a large scale, and you aren't giving much in the way of specifics of how they would do that.

One property of free markets it that they're unstable: as soon as any company gains enough power, they use that power to create rules and make the market unfree. Lobbying and laws are one way, monopolies and trusts are another. CEOs have no compunction about lobbying or taking bail-outs. You aren't really a successful company until you've pulled the ladder up behind you. And if CEOs aren't bound by free markets, it's foolish for workers to play by the rules when nobody else is.

In this terminology where every person is a business owner, then unions are trusts, worker-owned cooperatives are just companies owning the means of production, etc. If you're willing to let workers break the free market in their favor the same way CEOs break the markets in their favor, then this idea that everyone should own their own company is just linguistic gymnastics about worker-favored structures that already exist.


> you're just proposing that people at the bottom have to play the free market better on a large scale

If they want to capture more of the value they create, yes. The fact that for increased upside you need to take on increased risk, which is what underlies my proposal, is just a fact (one that is often unpleasant, which is why it is often swept under the rug), not a proposal by me or anyone else.

> One property of free markets it that they're unstable: as soon as any company gains enough power, they use that power to create rules and make the market unfree

In a free market, nobody can "create rules" as you describe. The process of "creating rules" that you describe only exists in the first place because the government has the power to make the market not free, by prohibiting transactions that people would otherwise choose to engage in, or by forcing people to engage in transactions they would otherwise not choose to engage in. And as you correctly note, the government exercises this power, not for the benefit of the people in general, but for the benefit of special interests.

> If you're willing to let workers break the free market in their favor the same way CEOs break the markets in their favor

No, what I would propose is that nobody be allowed to break the free market. But I understand that's a lot to propose, since people are extremely unwilling to give up the fantasy that they can somehow get the government to use its power for the benefit of the people as a whole instead of for special interests.


Since there is no limit on the ceiling, but there is a limit to the floor, things that increase economic opportunity tend to decrease equality. Things that reduce economic opportunity tend to increase equality.

See e.g. Steven Pinker:

"...the most effective ways of reducing inequality are epidemics, massive wars, violent revolutions and state collapse."

https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/twenty-questions-steven-p...


I always argue caution about revolution to help the poor, as there are plenty of examples where revolution killed as many poor people as it did aristocrats.

Possibly the least flame war worthy example is the French Revolution. While the popular image is of the great terror killing off nobles, the reality is that most of the killings in Paris were either politicians or unfortunate merchants who refused to sell their goods at state mandated prices (at a loss) and were denounced.

And that’s not even including the 160,000 mostly poor soldiers killed in the Vendée after peasants revolted against forced conscription, nor the extra 40,000 civilians killed in the brutal reprisals after the war was over.

And the kicker? Not only did France eventually get a different king, but most nobles were able re-buy their old estates, and the government even went deeper into debt to compensate various nobles for their confiscated land.


I'd say it's very hard to find any violent revolutions that improved a society. It's pretty much a long line of tragedies.

I count throwing out a foreign oppressor, like the American revolution or the Czech "velvet revolution" as a separate category. Those can be good.


Vietnam gained independence from France, might not be much better but I would say colonialism in general follows this. Or would that fall under "violent revolutions that throwing out a foreign oppressor".

Yeah, I don't count sending the French home as the kind of revolution I talk about.

If the decades of war and communism that followed were an improvement can be debated, but it's a quite separate issue.


>I count throwing out a foreign oppressor, like the American revolution

The revolutionaries were British citizens, just like the soldiers they faced. Sure, England shipped in more soldiers, but neither side was more foreign than the other.


Call it a war of independence, if you prefer.

I think the important part is that the overthrown regime was based outside the (new) country, and was no longer a factor in the internal politics.


It's worth casting a critical eye on the American Revolution, too.

https://www.gwern.net/Mistakes#the-american-revolution


There were plenty of violent revolutions that stopped early enough to make gains. (At around the French one, England had a few.)

But any revolution that lasts enough to make into the popular definition of the word will cost more than it gains.


> At around the French one, England had a few.

The USA had one too.


I don't think independence wars are on the same category. They are much more likely to be beneficial, and having a well defined enemy, much less likely to grow unbounded.

It's also an enemy that can go home when they lose.

Afterwards you don't have to choose between coexisting with them, or killing them.


The central point of the Velvet revolution was that it was non violent; also it was not about foreign oppresor primarily, we were oppresing ourselves very well without much help needed.

My impression is that once it was clear the Soviet Union would not rescue the regime, it had lost it's power base, and was doomed.

Yes, but that was the last resort, after the regime's own army and secret police got overwhelmed.

By the time the Velvet Revolution started, Poland was already after it's semi-free election, Hungary dismantled the heavily protected border with Austria, and the Berlin wall fell. But still, part of the local communist army had a contingency plan, 2 MiG-29 jets going supersonic, as low as they could, above the 300000+ protesters in Letna park. Thank god they didn't go through with it. Sources in Czech: https://www.seznamzpravy.cz/clanek/stacil-by-prelet-stihacky... https://www.parlamentnilisty.cz/zpravy/Havel-vzpominal-Staci...

> I'd say it's very hard to find any violent revolutions that improved a society.

The reign of terror in France may not have improved France, but it did scare the European aristocracy, and ended up indirectly giving a lot of political and economic rights to the general population. Aristocrats very quickly realized that they did not want a repeat of that performance in their home countries.

The Soviet Union, especially under Lenin and Stalin was no picnic, but it scared the West shitless, thus forcing it to concede rights, benefits, and legislature to labour movements, to prevent full-scale communism. Social democracy, as an institution, can credit much of its existence to the communist revolution.

People with power over you never give anything up, unless they are scared. Violent revolutions tend to make neighboring oligarchs quite scared.


You are right about the US being scared shirtless about communism, though I'm not convinced labour rights etc were as a direct result.

Also look at all the damage the US did to other societies in the name of preventing "red danger" - the repercussions of which are still being felt in some countries.


The burden of proof is on you, most institution of French social democracy where created in the thirty years following the soviet revolution; without knowing I think it's the same in the rest of western Europe.

Communist Romania. Things improved immensely. And that was definitely not a foreign oppressor. I'm sure there are others, but yeah generally it's rare.

That's a decent counterexample.

Though maybe people didn't revolt before, since ultimately the Soviets would roll in the tanks if they ever toppled Ceaușescu.


Yeah, hard to say. The USSR was still alive for two more years but probably too busy by the end of '89 to care much about such foreign affairs as it was likely crumbling from the inside. But it's hard to know. I think what's more likely is that Ceaușescu would have kept going long after Soviet collapse if he hadn't been killed, probably into a multi generational cult of personality dictatorial communist state. Basically another North Korea. I'm so glad they killed that monstrous piece of shit. Best Christmas present for Romanians ever. If NK or China ever follows suit, I imagine a similar outcome. Some people are better off dead.

Yeah, I'm somewhat familiar with the utter madness and evil of that regime...

Thanks for making me a little less sure of my universal revolution theory :)


> I always argue caution about revolution to help the poor, as there are plenty of examples where revolution killed as many poor people as it did aristocrats.

Std pareto curve. population of 100. 10 are aristocratic. 90 lower class. if you net equal losses, population 80 and you have increased equality. This is a simplification.


Right, but they didn't net equal losses. The vast majority of people killed in the French Revolution were from the Third Estate.

It doesnt have to be equal, just outside the existing curve. Again, conceptually, 1:9 from 100 is an improvement for some abstract measure of equality.

Given the fact that everyone ended up worse off after, this is kind of a pointless thing to attempt to point out.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Revolution#Long-term_im...

Just skimming this, it seems the french and the entire world was left better-off actually


Fair enough, but I think we could both agree that the revolution was only beneficial because it changed the old system into something more malleable and predictable. The throne is an unstable thing, as is the man in it, and only subject to change on unpredictable whims.

If you already exist in a system that is pliable, like a democracy, revolution really wouldn't bring you any of the benefits the French revolution did in the centuries that followed. You'd really only get the downsides.

Let's not forget the context of the conversation here an talk about completely different circumstances.


I don't follow what you mean about context, you brought up a bad example and you're moving goal-posts.

There have been numerous revolutions with positive benefits to the world at large as well as to the society/culture in which they took place. I would chance to say that the majority were net-positive. If you find yourself scared of revolution, you should maybe take an introspective moment and ponder why the poor and downtrodden of the world (or just in your own country) would consider you their enemy.


I'm pointing out that the long-term gain from a revolution is not a by product of the revolution itself, but from the pre and post conditions. The revolution was necessary to effect those changes, but it was the difference in condition that lead to the benefit.

Unless you are planning to massively alter the political (IE not have a democracy anymore) or economic system (IE not have capitalism anymore), a revolution does more harm than good, because you are only getting the short-term byproducts which are predominately bad. If the political and economic system remains largely the same, then a revolution is just a period of time where people are committing violence or protesting instead of making things.


In the French revolution every one think it was mainly the aristos that went to the Guillotine.

In fact most of the deaths happened out in the countryside, Infernal Columns, Revolutionary Weddings (masss drownings of clergy) and the Revolt in the Vendee.


Obviously revolution is terrible because of the enormous amounts of human suffering.

But if we're trying to compare the impact on rich vs poor we should probably use per capita numbers because there are far more poor than rich.


This is why 'inequality' is such a bad thing to measure. Make sure the lowest rungs of society have enough to live on and the opportunity to move up.

There's one way to make everyone equal: kill everyone. Inasmuch as these revolutions have made people more equal, it has largely been due to how effectively they did exactly that.


In practice though, during this epidemic we're seeing inequality rise; over 10 million people lost their jobs, the stock market has boomed after a short dip, the middle class who can work from home is earning a living as usual, whilst the poor have had to blow through what little savings they have whilst angry landlords are breathing down their neck because they haven't gotten their rent yet. And while this is going on, some Karens (m/f) have taken up their guns demanding their hairdressers get back to work.

It's the hairdressers that want to get back to work.

I thought Karens were the ones ratting people out for people getting illegal haircuts.

But we are in the midst of a pandemic, and income inequality seems to be increasing even faster.

I don't think that's true. The companies still operating are massively increasing wages, and the government's massively increased unemployment benefits. Both things are structured to be temporary in principle, but I expect that a significant residual of both will end up having to be made permanent.

I'm not sure where you're getting the increased wages bit from; a significant number of companies have been forced to cut wages or furlough their employees. Maybe some people are getting raises, but that is very very far from the norm.

Grocery and supermarket chains all seem to be giving significant hazard pay. Furloughs and pay cuts are AFAIK heavily concentrated in the jobs that pay more than entry-level retail.

Name 3 other examples of industries that are routinely paying hazard pay or have otherwise increased wages.

Every grocery store I’ve heard of is getting $2 an hour extra per paycheck. That’s $320 extra per month, before taxes, if you’re working full time.

That’s unlikely to cover the cost of getting tested for COVID-19, let alone any treatment or deductibles. Not sure how that qualifies as “significant.”


Funny you mention that. Krogers, the largest super market in the US, announced today they are ending 'hazard' pay. Lasted for little over a month.

Question is are the poor getting relatively richer after the revolution or are the rich becoming part of the poor?

We see a similar effect with many traits. For example with widespread malnutrition height is environmentally determined, but with good nutrition it’s mostly genetic.

come on, it's really not that complicated. just pay people a fair wage.

Who defines what a fair wage is?

Whatever enables a dignified existence. It doesn't require much imagination to figure out what's included in that.

Does it include children? How many is considered dignified? Some people have to have 3 just to keep the population steady.

If so, is it appropriate for a childless 18-year-old on minimum wage to earn that much (he could probably lease a Ferrari or retire at 38)

Is it appropriate for a company to pay a childless person less than a person with children? Why? What if he’s sterile?

Seems very tricky to me.


In my country, Sweden, we have a very generous child welfare and parental leave. I have no children though. By your logic I should be envious and bitter? But I'm proud. It's called solidarity and having a healthy society benefits a childless me as well.

It's not tricky, and has been going on for the last fifty years or so just fine.


That's not the same as a minimum wage that is high enough for people to raise three children.

We were talking about wages, not state benefits.

State benefits are a much better way to address income inequality or poverty than minimum wages are.


Well, if the businesses and corporations doesn't want to pay the taxes to fund it, they obviously have to fund it instead.

I like how the premise of this argument is that it's somehow horrible to pay someone too much. How horrible that an 18 year old be able to afford more than the rent on a crappy apartment. The more you empower young people with a livable wage the less of an influence their parent's money or lack of is on their life.

Just pick a floor that's good enough for everyone, accept that will be people with low expenses who will be "overpaid", and stop trying to figure out what every individual deserves.


I don’t think we produce enough for every minimum wage worker to earn enough to have 2-3 kids and raise them in a dignified manner (or the equivalent in Ferraris and hedonism). Kids are really, really expensive.

[flagged]


I don't think it's particularly inscrutable.

Pay a wage which is high enough to attract the talent that you need and which still leaves the company with a profit at the end. If there's a wide range that satisfies both of these conditions (and in markets with minimum wages, is legal to pay), then choose to offer a pay rate that best balances getting/keeping the talent you want vs the profitability.

If someone else can do my same job as effectively as me for half the rate, I'd expect my company to switch, just the same way as I'd happily take a 1/2 off coupon on the purchase of my next car, house, computer, or even groceries.


What if the other person costs less because they're being paid under the table? Unfortunately, that's been the case in a lot of lower income and manual labor jobs.

Construction and landscaping are notable examples. If the buyer only cares about cost, and the government adds 20-50% to the cost of wages, then the employer who bypasses the government thrives.

The double standard that enables many of our labor challenges is that people want a higher minimum wage, tend to oppose enforcement, and buy the cheapest option regardless of legality.

Laws that are helpful when fully enforced are destructive when partially enforced.

By the same token, if that next computer you buy is cheaper because it was built in a country with cheaper to implement labor laws than the ones you voted for in your country, how is that ethical?


> What if the other person costs less because they're being paid under the table? Unfortunately, that's been the case in a lot of lower income and manual labor jobs.

> Construction and landscaping are notable examples. If the buyer only cares about cost, and the government adds 20-50% to the cost of wages, then the employer who bypasses the government thrives.

This complicates the landscape, but this is a problem which should be addressed separately. If the system of taxing and enforcement effectively incentivises evading them and disincentivises law obedience, then taxing and enforcement system is messed up.


I agree that government is not automatically = good, it is corruptible. and I do think it sucks that computers are built in places with unethical labor laws.

To make matters far worse, the government subsidizes low-wage employers with the income based social programs in place, and tampers with supply to keep wages in check.

We have nothing close to a free market for labor. Unfortunately, it's called a free market, and so people think the market is ineffective.

Construction was a high paying job until unrestricted labor drove down wages. (Unenforced labor laws meant contractors hiring illegal workers could undercut bids. No payroll taxes, no workman's comp insurance, no chance of legal companies competing.)

Fair wages depend on fair markets, and the labor market at the lower income end of the spectrum is anything but fair.


I sort of agree with this on the condition that "tampering with supply to keep wages in check" includes union-busting. If unions and other forms of labor power were not suppressed by a government owned by Capital, then we would have a chance to see the "free market" potentially arrive at some of the same outcomes that socialists seek, such as worker co-ownership of firms and fair profit distribution. However, it's a bit paradoxical because one of the mechanisms by which these changes would occur is by labor power overturning a lot of the rules of capitalism. A system which did not allow this to happen would still be unjust, supporting the status quo through its so-called laissez-faire neutrality.

I don't think that is an ideological aim of capitalism. It is just an emergent behaviour.

In any case, it is a genuine question from someone living in a decent welfare state and happy to continue to do so. I don't really care to engage in debates of who has the moral high ground, just the practical question, if you have an answer.


I'm sorry, I misunderstood your tone as challenging, like "who is anyone to say what is fair or not?"

technically in the U.S. there is a federal (nation-wide) minimum wage, then there are minimum wages for each state. I am not sure how they are defined, e.g. the federal one is certainly not automatically pegged to inflation. there is a movement to raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour but even that is hard or impossible to live on in many areas.


The effects of raising minimum wages are twofold: long-term businesses will invest more in automation as it will be more profitable; short-term they might fire one or two people who might make sense at 12 but say now at 15 it does not. Actually think about how it affects different size business, large corporations can easily afford the automation, fire many people as they have many others. A small business having to fire someone is more drastic. In the end, you might have big corporation owners doing better, and impoverished small business owners, while not really improving the situation of the employees.

arguably, a business that pays someone less than a living wage doesn't deserve to operate, just as a business that can't exist without using slaves doesn't deserve to operate

Yeah but those people still have to eat no? Bad job is better than no job (Granted, not talking about extremely bad)

> one of the functions of the ideological arm of capitalism is to argue that determining fair wage for a low-ranked laborer is so inscrutable that only "the market" can do it fairly, ...

You have not interpreted the comment correctly. This is deterministic. A capitalistic system or game has naturally emergent behaviors, but the propaganda excusing and defending the reluctance to add egalitarian rules is very much deterministic.


In a free market, the market does.

In most actual cases, some combination of a sort of free market, monopolies over labor (unions) and capital (large corporations), and government regulation does.


It would be better to say the market sets wages to maximize efficiency. With wages being price signals people are supposed to respond to in choosing and changing jobs.

The "fairness" view assumes everyone is born into their jobs somehow and stuck there. If people could choose any job they wanted, fairness is irrelevant because everyone has an equal choice. This is obviously an ideal, but then the opposite extreme is unrealistic too.


the models of market fairness work perfectly in a world where people could simply choose not to work, and where everyone has the ability to work to qualify for any job.

however in the real world people are forced to work by a need to survive, which puts disempowered people in a position to be exploited. and there is unequal access to education, to the leisure time to participate in education, and to the material security required to have a brain that is able to focus on education, so not everyone will be able to even make an attempt to qualify for every job. not to mention the fact that there is unequal access to the networking and connections, and to the non-merit-based "qualifications" that bring certain people to power (e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. all the isms).

so exploitation and injustice abounds in an unregulated system which tends to entrench and concentrate power within the hands of those who already have it


I've never heard of "models of market fairness", it sounds silly. I called the extreme where fairness was irrelevant an ideal. I take it you agree with that point. Though I don't see that much of what you are saying is particularly crushing to the ideal. In "the real world" one also doesn't need to switch jobs every day like a day trader changing stocks.

I also take it you concede that pursuing fairness leads to reduced efficiency? You can't very well serve two optimals.


> I also take it you concede that pursuing fairness leads to reduced efficiency?

Efficiency of what? Yes, it reduces the efficiency by which overall wealth is created (whatever that means). And yes, it enhances the effiency by which a society provides for the needs of all.


Would it be similar to say "factories worsen inequality by mostly helping high-income earners" (consider England during the Industrial Revolution)? New technology increases our productivity.

Historically, that's what happened. The average wage went down because less training was required despite more people being employed. Revenues went way up, quickly.

Many (now) mass-produced goods also became much cheaper than when they were artisanally hand-crafted.

Further, the extent to which material quality of life has improved since the industrial revolution implies that the drop in prices has exceeded the drop in wages by orders of magnitude.

There were a few mill owners murdered by workers they'd put out of work in the industrial revolution. People breaking in to mills and smashing machines was quite common too. People in fear for their livelihood will often fight back.

`New technology increases our productivity`

I have doubts about that sometimes.


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