Working Hard – Or Hardly Working?

Matt Yglesias challenges Lisa Schiffren‘s assertion that “The doctors, lawyers, engineers, executives, serious small-business owners, top salespeople, and other professionals and entrepreneurs who make this country run work considerably harder than pretty much anyone else (including most of the chattering class, and all politicians).”

Matt counters, reasonably enough, that guys who move furniture for a living work very hard and that “even your basic retail employee needs to be on her feet for hours and hours at a time while ‘executives’ [sit in] comfy chairs.”

There’s no doubt that many low paying jobs require a lot of physical effort.  Indeed, most of them are more physically demanding than most of the jobs that pay very well.

On the other hand, as Matt acknowledges offhandedly, those jobs have very low barriers to entry.  One doesn’t study hard for four years of high school, four years of college, and three to eight years of professional schooling to become a mover or a stockboy or a stenographer.    That’s a lot of work that’s generally put in while deferring income that those who took lesser paying jobs were earning right away.

Another key difference is that people who schlep boxes for a living don’t take their work home with them.  They’re not thinking about better ways to get a piano down the stairs on the weekend or stressing about how much packing tape they’re using on the drive home.

Of course, we don’t pay people based on how hard they work any more than we grade students for how hard they studied.  Ultimately, it’s about how much value others place on your services and how much competition there is for them.  But the idea that an executive isn’t working hard because his chair is confortable is rather silly.

Photo by Flickr user sanden, used under Creative Commons license.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    They’re not thinking about better ways to get a piano down the stairs on the weekend or stressing about how much packing tape they’re using one the drive home.

    Actually, there have been studies, Csikszentmihalyi’s for example, that suggest that the very best people in any field do just that and that they’re happiest if they can make a game of being the very best possible furniture mover or what have you that they can be.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Honestly, I think the more interesting question is whether harder-working doctors, lawyers, etc. earn more than those who don’t work as hard.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Dave: I’m sure there are a handful of movers who do that, just as there are some execs who don’t. I’m thinking about norms.

    But, yes, it would be interesting to compare how hard-working apples compare to less hard-working ones.

  4. LaurenceB says:

    Yglesia’s point, as I understood it, was that folks on the lower end of the economic scale probably work just as hard as those on the upper end – contrary to what Schiffren states.

    Joyner’s point is that even if the mover works just as hard as the insurance executive, it doesn’t necessarily mean they should be compensated equally.

    I don’t see why these two positions are mutually exclusive. I agree with both of them (and I disagree with Schiffren, as Yglesias does).

  5. James Joyner says:

    I don’t see why these two positions are mutually exclusive.

    They’re not. As I say, compensation on “working hard” are only indirectly linked.

    But Schiffren’s point is a different one: That the debate often treats the wealthy as people who have merely somehow lucked into their money and are therefore no more entitled to have it than some randomly chosen secretary or assembly line worker. In fact, most of them worked very hard and made quite a few sacrifices along the way to get where they are.

    Paris Hilton, of course, excepted.

  6. Rick Almeida says:

    They’re not thinking about better ways to get a piano down the stairs on the weekend or stressing about how much packing tape they’re using on the drive home.

    Indeed they’re not, but perhaps one way other to think about “taking work home” is to think about the physical recuperation time it takes in order to function at work the next day. I don’t think every low-skill job exerts a physical toll, but surely some do.

  7. Drew says:

    The fascination with this guy Yglesias continues to elude me. I read the guy from time to time. He can make some interesting points. But sheesh.

    He reminds me of a high school and college friend who was the proverbial pulsating brain type. He obviously was very bright. Straight A’s without a sweat. The guy used to participate in these team answer games, and with his breadth of reading and instant recall memory he obliterated people. Literally answered all the questions for the team; and the other team got about zero points. He was considered a genius. That’s all fine and well.

    He also turned out to have personal biases and reasoning problems that made him almost unemployable. I think he finally found a home in computer science where those could be buried.

    Yglesias strikes me as similar. But not someone worth spending too much time on wrt public policy. At least from what I’ve seen him write. What does this guy really know?

    Oh, ahem, and to the point. The piano movers of the world, and their champions, always want to castigate “incompetent management,” and complain about relative pay. In a small business I ran many years ago a know-it-all salesman came to me and asked for (well, sort of demanded) managerial authority over a territory. After some consideration I decided to gave it a try.

    A few months later he asked for a meeting. “This is hard.” “My reports don’t do what I want.” “Customers are complaining, the shop doesn’t get things out on time.” “I can’t sleep.” “My guts are churning 24/7.” etc etc “I want to go back to being a salesman.”

    Today, he’s still a salesman.

    Be careful what you wish for. Be careful of simplistic views on matters you do not fully understand. Be careful of being the oh-so-smart Monday Morning QB.

    Uber-snark: that means you, Matt.

  8. Christopher says:

    no-skill vs. skilled work.

    Ditch digging is hard, hard work physically. But practically anyone healthy can do it. Even a weak Dustin Hoffman!

  9. DC Loser says:

    Paris Hilton, of course, excepted.

    James – this brings back memories of the debate on the Estate Tax. If it’s your contention that somehow it’s a good thing that those doctors and lawyers had to work their way up from the bottom, do I suppose you now support a higher Estate Tax?

  10. sam says:

    On the other hand, and more cynically, one could say that folks are compensated in direct proportion to their ability to eff up the enterprise. Joe the Piano Mover, by himself, probably won’t take down Acme International Piano Movers. But President Tuningfork makes a series of bad decisions, and Joe ain’t moving pianos no more. (Case in point: Circuit City…google ‘Cricuit City Divx’ and, more recently, “Circuit City Firing”. Here’s a bit from the WaPo story on the firing:

    Circuit City fired 3,400 employees in stores across the country yesterday, saying they were making too much money and would be replaced by new hires willing to work for less.

    Of course, it turned out that those 3400 were the most experienced and loyal salespeople, and their firing and replacement by inexperienced folks is generally thought to have been one the stupidest management decisions probably ever. They were fired in March 2007; the architect of the strategy was gone in Sept 2007; now in March 2009, CC is gone. And not for anything the hourly workers did or didn’t do, but for the idiocy of management. Needless to say, well-compensated management, as befits their ability, as I said, to eff up the enterprise–in this case, to eff it out of existence.)

  11. Bill H says:

    From whence came the idea that reward should be based on effort? As a former employer of workers, I find that concept utterly absurd. I paid my people based on the amount they produced. I was completely indifferent to how much effort they exerted producing that result, I paid them for the results because it was the results that benefited my company. Their effort didn’t benefit me. If they worked like mules and didn’t produce results they were useless to me. Why would I pay them for working hard and not producing? That’s just nuts.

  12. James Joyner says:

    If it’s your contention that somehow it’s a good thing that those doctors and lawyers had to work their way up from the bottom, do I suppose you now support a higher Estate Tax?

    As annoying as the Paris Hilton’s of the world are, I prefer that outcome to government’s deciding who deserves to keep their money and who doesn’t.

    As a matter of principle, I’m not a fan of inherited wealth. As a matter of principle, I’m opposed to the government’s confiscating people’s money. So the two are in conflict.

    With the estate tax, the federal government is taxing you when you earn the money and again when you die. That strikes me as wrong.

  13. James:

    Well, but the estate tax is imposed on a tiny minority of the population. That does not affect the philosophical argument against it, but ultimately, you made the case quite eloquently the other day that money has to come from somewhere, and what we’re all doing is largely haggling over how much and from whom. If felt you need an extra $30 billion per year (I think that is what it currently brings in) — is there a less socially painful way to get it than taxing estates that are worth more than $3.5 million?

    Also, you can construct a philosophical argument that says that inherited money is not really “earned” in the first place, so if you take heiresses, at death, you are not double taxing money they “earned.” I mean, the Hilton money is what, three generations, old?

  14. Davebo says:

    In fact, most of them worked very hard and made quite a few sacrifices along the way to get where they are.

    Paris Hilton Steve Forbes, of course, excepted.

  15. JKB says:

    This argument is over a very unfortunate use of words. Of course, movers work hard, of course, doctors work hard. The difference is in the replaceability or risk taken. The wage-paid mover has little personal financial risk involved in the job, outside of layoff if jobs are slow. Nor is it difficult to train someone up to do his job. His job is not scalable, in that you move one couch, you pretty much have to individually move all the others.

    The doctor, lawyer and engineer are trading on their hard earned knowledge, from both education and experience. Even then if they become a salary employee, they don’t make the fortune of the risk taker. In any case, their work is really not scalable, in that each effort or solution must be tailored to their patient, client or project, although experience can improve efficiency.

    To reap the large rewards, you must either risk your own financial well-being, in the case of small business owners or top sales people, or make lots of money for others who’ve risked their money, in the case of a successful CEO or sales person. Their efforts are scalable, in that the same work that brings in $100 dollars could bring in $10,000 if conditions are right. But is conditions are bad, all the hard work might be for naught.

    And as for running the country…the CEO or doctor can take the afternoon off and not be missed but let the secretary or nurse take an extra 20 minutes at lunch and the place starts falling apart. Yet the secretary or nurse aren’t paid the big bucks. Why, lower threshold for entry and lower personal financial risk.

  16. sam says:

    [T]he CEO or doctor can take the afternoon off and not be missed but let the secretary or nurse take an extra 20 minutes at lunch and the place starts falling apart. Yet the secretary or nurse aren’t paid the big bucks. Why, lower threshold for entry and lower personal financial risk.

    In Michael Porter’s influential book The Competitive Advantage (1985), it is just those folks like the nurse and the secretary who, ultimately, add the value that gives the organization its competitive advantage. See, Value chain analysis. In Porter’s model, it seems the higher up in the organization you go, the less value is added.

  17. Drew says:

    Fabulous, Bernard.

    “Well, but the estate tax is imposed on a tiny minority of the population.”

    Well, King Bernard, how long until you advocate confiscation of the income of the Nigerians, or owners of tire repair shops in the country. Tiny minorities, be they. Ripe targets! And while we are at it, how ’bout those Jews? Put signs on their businesses: Juden. Shut’m down, baby. Ya just can’t beat taking from those ‘tiny minorities’….like shoot’n fish in a barrel…and what’s really cool: its “socially less painful.”

    I’ve never seen a communist masquerading as a libertarian before.

  18. Drew says:

    So Sam –

    When you need your triple by-pass, are you going to let the nurse man the saw that opens your sternum like you were a fish, and the secretary handle the anesthesiology?

  19. Rick DeMent says:

    … “But practically anyone healthy can do it.”

    Indeed. Manual labor jobs have a lifespan that office jobs do not. You can sit at a desk well into your 80’s as long as your mind is sharp. Digging a ditch at 75 not so much. If we expect to wear human bodies out digging ditches we ought be willing to pay for it.

  20. Well, King Bernard,

    Are you insane? I am not a king. I am just making an argument. If I convince the majority of the population, then it may become law. If you convince them of the opposite, then it doesn’t. What is wrong with democracy?

    We can’t have a system of unanimity. Someone will oppose each and every tax, and someone will oppose each and every expenditure. So, we all get together a decide that as much as we may dislike it, we agree that the majority gets to make this sort of decision. Instead of silly, sneering insults, feel free to make a reasoned argument.

    Seriously man, what is wrong with you?

  21. John Cole says:

    But the idea that an executive isn’t working hard because his chair is confortable is rather silly.

    Agreed. Now could you show me where Matt was asserting that executives and white collar workers don’t work hard?

  22. James Joyner says:

    Paris Hilton Steve Forbes, of course, excepted.

    Hilton’s a more famous and annoying example, but there are plenty of them. Steve Forbes, at least, actually runs the magazine his dad founded. So far as I’m aware, Paris Hilton does not run grandpappy’s hotels.

    If felt you need an extra $30 billion per year (I think that is what it currently brings in) — is there a less socially painful way to get it than taxing estates that are worth more than $3.5 million?

    I’m not philosophically opposed to taxing unearned income as income, especially after a certain point. Radically raising the threshold in recent years (from $675,000 when Bush took office to $3.5 million today) has weakened most of the pragmatic arguments against it. 45 percent on the surplus amount strikes me as confiscatory, since it has in fact already been taxed by the original earner, but that is indeed haggling over price.

    I do think, however, that there’s got to be some sort of corporate exclusion that allows keeping a family business — even a massive one — intact so long as it’s not sold off for cash. That could be accomplished through some sort of accounting device such as we apply to stocks and homes, putting taxes in abeyance so long as the item isn’t liquidated.

  23. James Joyner says:

    Now could you show me where Matt was asserting that executives and white collar workers don’t work hard?

    I take that from the sneering tone of “even your basic retail employee needs to be on her feet for hours and hours at a time while ‘executives’ [sit in] comfy chairs.”

  24. John Cole says:

    I take that from the sneering tone of “even your basic retail employee needs to be on her feet for hours and hours at a time while ‘executives’ [sit in] comfy chairs.”

    Which was preceded by the statement regarding “taxing physical labor,” which was even italicized so it wouldn’t be missed (apparently and unsuccessful use of statistics).

    The point being that much of the rhetoric from those who do not like the idea of the tax rates going up insist that they earn more because they work hard, falsely equating “hard work” with income. As someone who was in the military, you should be able to easily understand what Matt’s point was- income is not necessarily tied to hard work. Who works harder- the private digging foxholes all day, strings landline, does duty at the OP, then pulls late night roaming patrol, or the CO who has to spend 22 hours of every day just keeping his company running, going to planning meetings, speaking with junior officers, reporting to higher ups, devising op orders, etc.

    I would argue both work equally hard, but if you were to look at only their take home pay, the captain makes much more. That is the point.

    How much you make isn’t an indication of how hard you work- it is an indication of how much value your work is to society. Likewise, tax rates aren’t based on “how hard” you work. They are based on how much income you have.

    Why you seem to understand Schiffren’s side of the equation but are blind to Yglesias’s side is beyond me.

  25. John Cole says:

    apparently and unsuccessful use of statistics

    Was supposed to read “an unsuccessful use of italics.”

    The price I pay for being “hard at work” with eight windows open while in my “comfy chair.”

    😛

  26. James Joyner says:

    Why you seem to understand Schiffren’s side of the equation but are blind to Yglesias’s side is beyond me.

    No, I get the point. (Apparently, my use of “reasonably enough” was about as effective as Matt’s italics.) I just counter that there’s a lot of “work” that high paid folks do that isn’t recognized as such.

    And, yeah, as the last paragraph of the post notes, we don’t pay based on “work” anyway.

  27. sam says:

    So Sam –

    When you need your triple by-pass, are you going to let the nurse man the saw that opens your sternum like you were a fish, and the secretary handle the anesthesiology?

    Uh, no I’m not Drew. But that wasn’t the point. Porter’s point is that, the doctor and the anesthesiologist are quite rightly valuable, but their value is maximized in virtue of the organization in which they function–and the overall value of that organization, what gives it its competitive edge, is a matter of all the value-adding contributions of its components. Management, here administrators, don’t add as much value as the nurses and the doctors. As Greg House said of Cutty: She assigns parking spaces, I save lives. (BTW, the next time you’re in hospital, let us know if it’s the doctors or the nurses that have more to do with the hour-to-hour comfort of your stay.)

  28. I do think, however, that there’s got to be some sort of corporate exclusion that allows keeping a family business — even a massive one — intact so long as it’s not sold off for cash.

    Does it have to be privately held? How about if you own a controlling interest in a public corporation?

    I agree in principle… and in fact… despite the rhetoric, very few family business or farms are negatively affected. Which is a good thing. Less than 1% I believe, though the numbers are all over the map due to the rapid changes in law over the last few years.

    In addition, there are all sort of techniques to pass through business — the use of trusts, etc. — so that a family that genuinely wants to keep a business operating can almost always do so. Harder is for heirs to inherit and then immediately liquidate. There is a legitimate public policy concern about the cost of tax planning, however, which is a dead weigh on economic growth (though, in the interests of disclosure, my wife is a tax attorney, so helping the wealthy avoid taxes helps keep me living in style).

    Like anything else… it is a question of balance. If you get rid of the estate tax or any other tax, where are you going to either make up revenue or cut spending? And can you sell that package politically?

  29. James Joyner says:

    Does it have to be privately held? How about if you own a controlling interest in a public corporation?

    In that case, I tend to view it as nothing more than stock.

    There is a legitimate public policy concern about the cost of tax planning, however, which is a dead weigh on economic growth

    Yup. Instinctively, I’d like to do away with income taxes altogether and move to a consumption tax. Practically, that’s hard for a variety of reasons and politically it’s likely a non-starter.

    If you get rid of the estate tax or any other tax, where are you going to either make up revenue or cut spending? And can you sell that package politically?

    The latter part’s the problem, obviously. Again, though, as in my previous post, I’m not at all sanguine about simply putting whether other people get to keep their money up to a vote.

  30. How many manual laborers wake up at night worrying about next month’s payroll or accounts payable? Hell, how many are worried about that as they drive home at 5. I know I am when I drive home at 7.

    Until Young Mr. Yglesias has successfully run a business I frankly don’t want to hear another goddamned word about how hard he thinks I work relative to anyone else, or what I am entitled to for taking the risks, putting up the capital, doing the travel, working the extra hours, or, dare I say it, actually doing some things that others cannot. His know-nothingness of what it takes to run a business is just so typical for a coffeehouse commissar wannabe.

  31. Drew says:

    Bernard –

    “Are you insane?”

    Hold on a second, Bernie. Nope. I took my meds today. I’m A-OK. At least for now.

    Bernard, haven’t you figured out that hyperbole and slinging a little mud are my MO? We have to have some fun here, right?? Its too droll and self important otherwise.

    Look, you can’t just come here and make the statement: “they are just a small minority” and “tax their ass off because they are easy pickins” – OK, my words – and not expect a sarcastic rise.

    But now seriously, do you really mean this?

    “If I convince the majority of the population, then it may become law. If you convince them of the opposite, then it doesn’t. What is wrong with democracy?”

    Nothing, Bernard. You miss the point. You will note that I included the slightly sleazy Jewish reference. But is it so far off? What you describe so innocently as “Democracy” is really just thinly disguised mob rule when it is in the context of a group “convinced” (that is, bribed) that they can simply take the property of minorities who have been vilified by opportunistic pols. No??

    Courts protect racial and other minorities from majority injustice. Should minorities based on financial means simply be left to the mobs, to be raped and pillaged?? Surely you can think of better arguments for the taking of property.

    “We can’t have a system of unanimity. Someone will oppose each and every tax, and someone will oppose each and every expenditure. So, we all get together a decide that as much as we may dislike it, we agree that the majority gets to make this sort of decision.”

    Who’s “we,” kemosabe?? Someone must stand up and oppose the tax debate equivalent of “give him a fair trial and then hang him.” When a politician stands up and promises in classic populist snake oil salesman mode: “95% of you will pay no tax, so I’m just taxing those no good rich people for your benefit……are you with me, are you with me??!!” (Let’s burn the town down!!!!) You may find that all well and good – your definition of “democracy” – but I won’t apologize for calling out the crudest, most bald faced demonstration of greed, class envy and callous disregard for property rights and fairness…not even touching on economics.

    “Instead of silly, sneering insults, feel free to make a reasoned argument.”

    Now, now. I just did. Bernard, your total reliance on the argument: “its a democracy” is completely useless, and can be taken directly to 100% taxation if based upon that principle alone. Or any other extreme view you would like to propose. I noted previously, want to break out the old saw about slavery?? Its a democracy, you know.

    Can YOU make a reasoned argument for an appropriate level, and protection of the minority??

  32. anjin-san says:

    Until Young Mr. Yglesias has successfully run a business I frankly don’t want to hear another goddamned word about how hard he thinks I work relative to anyone else,

    Well, you might want to take the radical step of not reading him if you don’t dig what he has to say.

    Or, perhaps you should be banned from commenting on Obama, since you have never run the federal government, successfully or otherwise 🙂

  33. Drew says:

    Sam –

    “But that wasn’t the point.”

    Yes it is.

    “Porter’s point is that, the doctor and the anesthesiologist are quite rightly valuable, but their value is maximized in virtue of the organization in which they function–and the overall value of that organization, what gives it its competitive edge, is a matter of all the value-adding contributions of its components.”

    True enough. So it would be irrational for those on top not to make sure those not-so-much on top were happy and appropriately comped. It maximizes their interests. In my organizations, at least, they are.

    “Management, here administrators, don’t add as much value as the nurses and the doctors. As Greg House said of Cutty: She assigns parking spaces, I save lives.”

    A classic argument. As an investor, whenever I see an organization dominated by eggheads (sorry, my words – “high level and specialized professionals”) – who all discount management and managerial practices, I run for the hills. They can be fine small businesses…..but very rarely more.

    “BTW, the next time you’re in hospital, let us know if it’s the doctors or the nurses that have more to do with the hour-to-hour comfort of your stay.”

    When I had my cervical fusions I did my research and found – of all places – a world class neuro in my back yard. I asked him: “Nick, why are you here in Naperville, IL??” (He was trained at Miami, and Texas Back Institute) His response: “this is an absolutely great organization that let’s me do my best work.”

    But I guess management doesn’t matter.

    Snark aside, here is totally unsolicited advice for anyone who bothers to read this. If you ever need serious spine surgery (and what spine surgery isn’t serious?) look up Nicholas Mataragas. He’s on the web. There’s plenty of good doctors. But they come in from all over the world to see this guy’s techniques.

    I hope that doesn’t offend our host, James. But that may be the most important thing I ever say here………………

  34. sam says:

    Well, all back and forth aside, I’m glad about your surgery. I hope I have similar success. I’ve got a blown knee to contend with now (in addition to my blown ankle). I’m hoping a knee replacement is not the route….Live a long life, but try not to get old in the process.

  35. Well Drew, I think you make a good point in principle, but I don’t think you can govern by eschewing any approach that in the extreme could lead to tyranny. Slippery slopes just are not that slippery. Taxing estates worth more than $3.5 million is not just a short step away from either (a) slavery or (b) extermination and expropriation.

    Demagoguery is a huge problem in a democracy. People will vote for the man who promises tax cuts to 95% of the population, sure. Though, in the end, he did not get 95% of the vote, and indeed many people in the top 5% (myself included) voted for him knowing full-well we’d be paying more taxes. It is also demagoguery to claim — as have many Republicans — that tax cuts increase revenue, which is the ultimate free lunch promise.

    Anyway, I think there is a useful debate to be had here about demagoguery, the problems of a 50%+1 coalition taxing the other 49.99%, etc. But we won’t get to a productive consensus if we either (a) spend all our time insulting each other or (b) insist that there is a clear moral equivalence between increasing taxes on the wealthy and Auschwitz.

    From my perspective, I think an “undue burden” test — qualitative though it is — is worth considering. Are the wealthy — and again, for better or ill, I guess I am in that category — hurting? Are they hurting as much as working families making $42k a year? If the choice is my kids getting stuck with the bill for our spending or me and my wife getting stuck with higher taxes, that’s actually an easy choice. I’ll pay extra now.

    I wish we could cut spending… but spending is social security, medicare, medicaid, defense, and interest on the debt. Everything else — all the earmarks and moose DNA studies and overhead projectors — taken together is pretty small potatoes. I don’t think we can do much about cutting Social Security for political reasons. I would oppose significant cuts in health care spending absent massive reforms in the whole sector, which again is tremendously difficult to achieve. I think we could trim defense a little… but not enough to make a real difference if we want to maintain our current foreign policy commitments. So… there you go. We have to pay our bills, and the only question is who pays them. And from my perspective, there is room for the wealthy — who admittedly already pay much more than their fair share — to contribute a bit more.

  36. Super says:

    I think you’re missing the part of demand/supply and controlling the market. Take medical doctors, family practitioner, fairly brain dead job.
    They’re not thinking about more efficient and cost efficient health care and ways to keep people out of the clinic on the drive home.
    I still have to figure out why on earth I have to pay a MD $200 to get a prescription for under the counter allergies (Allegra). In fact for 90% of the population and health issues we would do just fine with a nurse (and common sense) for most of our issues. Furthermore, join the rest of the world and let people go to med school straight after high school (saves ~100k in costs by removing BS degree). Educate more MDs, increase competition and the costs of health care will go down, increase competition and inform me about the prices.

    Another key difference is that people who schlep boxes for a living don’t take their work home with them. They’re not thinking about better ways to get a piano down the stairs on the weekend or stressing about how much packing tape they’re using on the drive home.

  37. bains says:

    I still have to figure out why on earth I have to pay a MD $200 to get a prescription for under the counter allergies (Allegra).

    Are you willing to sign a document holding harmless the MD who, with only perfunctory questioning signs off on that prescription? Or extend to the mid-wife the same indemnity for delivering your child? How about extending it to the engineer who visits your house for an hour to evaluate structural ramifications of your upcoming kitchen remodel?

    Another key difference is that people who schlep boxes for a living don’t take their work home with them. They’re not thinking about better ways to get a piano down the stairs on the weekend…

    I don’t know the percentages, and admittedly it could be small, but there are ‘piano schleppers’ who think, over the weekends, how they could provide more efficient schlepping at a marketable price.

    There are doctors that started off as EMT’s, there are engineers that started off building houses, and there are lawyers that started off as defendants.

  38. steve s says:

    Another key difference is that people who schlep boxes for a living don’t take their work home with them.

    Tell that to my younger brother, who got lower back problems after ~6 mos on the job as a mover in Jacksonville.

  39. steve s says:

    Or, perhaps you should be banned from commenting on Obama, since you have never run the federal government, successfully or otherwise 🙂
    Posted by anjin-san | March 9, 2009 | 05:55 pm | Permalink

    Ouch! Anjin-san wins Comment of the Week.

  40. steve s says:

    You know, I like that logical form.

    (daydreams…

    GOP Base Wacko: “Evolushun and Global Warming are teh devil! Scientists are all telling Librul Lies! I didn’t come from no monkey! Burning 450 trillion tons of coal can’t possibly have any affect on anything!”

    Scientific Community: “Until you have successfully run a research lab, written grants, hired, postdocs, performed experiments, and written up the scientific papers, we frankly don’t want to hear another goddam word about what you think about our results…”)

    Yeah…I could get used to that kind of logic… 🙂

  41. John Cole says:

    How many manual laborers wake up at night worrying about next month’s payroll or accounts payable? Hell, how many are worried about that as they drive home at 5. I know I am when I drive home at 7.

    They are lying awake trying to figure out how they are going to buy clothes for their kid as the school year approaches and trying to figure out whether or not they can afford to get their kid braces and how they are going to replace tires on their car before the annually mandated inspection and whether or not they are going to get laid off and if they do how will they pay their mortgage.

    Seriously- do you all really not know anyone outside of your own income level?

  42. Drew says:

    Sam –

    “Live a long life, but try not to get old in the process.”

    Words to live by. Good luck with your knee. No matter how good the carver, its never the same.

  43. Drew says:

    Bernard – Point by point..

    “I think you make a good point in principle, but I don’t think you can govern by eschewing any approach that in the extreme could lead to tyranny.”

    I understand. But you and I had a go-round about the growth of non-defense spending. At the rate it has been growing, and you add on Obama’s budget, my concerns about out of control spending, I think, are valid in spades. That of course, leads to funding (taxing) and tyranny. I always relate issues like this to running businesses. And the “don’t worry be happy” approach is how I’ve seen businesses get into trouble. Blink, and you have a problem.

    “Demagoguery is a huge problem in a democracy. People will vote for the man who promises tax cuts to 95% of the population, sure.”

    Ever since William Jennings Bryan.

    “It is also demagoguery to claim — as have many Republicans — that tax cuts increase revenue, which is the ultimate free lunch promise.”

    I dispute that, but its for another day.

    “Anyway, I think there is a useful debate to be had here about demagoguery, the problems of a 50%+1 coalition taxing the other 49.99%, etc. But we won’t get to a productive consensus if we either (a) spend all our time insulting each other or (b) insist that there is a clear moral equivalence between increasing taxes on the wealthy and Auschwitz.”

    I said it was a sleazy, snarky response, Bernard….for effect. But it was your words: “after all, they are a small minority” that started it. Do you really believe, that if given an opening Team Obama would not have us at 70% marginal rates? That would be a disaster. Here’s a much more benign approach to the point: democracy and tax policy is like 5 wolves and a lamb deciding what’s for dinner.

    “From my perspective, I think an “undue burden” test — qualitative though it is — is worth considering. Are the wealthy — and again, for better or ill, I guess I am in that category — hurting? Are they hurting as much as working families making $42k a year? If the choice is my kids getting stuck with the bill for our spending or me and my wife getting stuck with higher taxes, that’s actually an easy choice. I’ll pay extra now.”

    Here is our point of departure. First, is there an underlying reason family A vs family B is hurting? Avoiding that argument to be “nice” is a problem. And again, I have seen this in businesses for about 18 years now. If you simply capitulate, and fund the spending (“after all, we are a democracy” or “we just have to pay our bills”) then I flat damned guarantee you spending will not be corralled. I guar-own-tee.

    “I wish we could cut spending… but spending is social security, medicare, medicaid, defense, and interest on the debt. Everything else — all the earmarks and moose DNA studies and overhead projectors — taken together is pretty small potatoes. I don’t think we can do much about cutting Social Security for political reasons. I would oppose significant cuts in health care spending absent massive reforms in the whole sector, which again is tremendously difficult to achieve. I think we could trim defense a little… but not enough to make a real difference if we want to maintain our current foreign policy commitments. So… there you go. We have to pay our bills.”

    See comment above. In previous posts I have snidely remarked that if a manager gave me that response (and they do) I would find a competent one. All I am trying to point out is that it appears that the only entity on the face of the earth that doesn’t have to deal with budgetary realities is government. Talk about tyranny.

    “the only question is who pays them. And from my perspective, there is room for the wealthy — who admittedly already pay much more than their fair share — to contribute a bit more.”

    That’s fine. That’s a qualitative judgment. But seriously:

    1) What is the definition of “a bit more.”
    2) Does “a bit more” have an outer bound?

    Once you have laid the predicate you have, I can’t see how “a bit more” has any upper bound.

    Afterthought: In your worldview, what is the maximum fraction of a person’s gross income that should be turned over to the state?

    Regards,