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.