Over Worked

Not me, well, not really, except that in the last three years particularly, as the wheels came off the health, almost any work was too much.

At any rate, I’m one of the lilies of the field, in that my work is not essential to continued life or civilization. Maybe.  I’m not as sure of it as I once was.

When I was young and raised in a socialist ethos, I was told the important thing was to “be good for something” i.e. to do something useful for society.  It was one of the things that kept me from even considering writing as a career.  It wasn’t “useful”.  Translating actually promoted commerce.

This is all bullsh*t more or less, because what you are compelled to do can’t be measured in utilitarian ways, and when you have a vocation, you have a vocation.  Sure, if I’d stayed in Portugal I’d probably be writing in the evenings, after work, but I’d also probably be teaching and have more time off. Maybe.

None of the paths not trodden matters, though, because here I am, where I am. And where I am is as a writer of fiction.  And I might think it’s good for nothing, except I get these letters saying I helped people through chemo, or helped them combat depression, or…  So I’m no longer sure book writing is useless and “just for fun.”  And, btw, guys, if any of you reads this blog, you’ve made me bawl like a baby when I get your emails.  One doesn’t know as one flings stories into the seemingly silent void when they hit.  Finding particularly that stories I wrote while ill or dragging or just because I’d promised were someone’s life-rope is astonishing and more than a little humbling.

As to those of you for whom Sword and Blood — aka oh, Sarah Hoyt, no (yes, I’m doing the sequels, geesh) — is your bedside book, we need to talk.  You might not be living right. (I wrote it in a deep pit of depression.)

But I came across something or other this week that made me sort of drop back in wonder and realize something: everyone still employed is overworked.  That applies to writers too, as the “still employed” is a fast-shrinking label, at least for old pros.

Sure in my case “overworked” is not by my standards, but the fact I have things stacked up into the foreseeable future because I took two years off to moving and being very ill is kind of odd, for a mere midlister.

People with more conventional jobs — my husband, my friends — on the other hand literally have more work than they can set their hands to.  A lot of them have two jobs, or are doing other things on the side.

Part of this is the socialist economy.  No, really.  What happens is that employing someone becomes so expensive you refine cost-to-work so much only the most competent stay on.

And even the competent get laid off as they get older because they’re either not as fast, or are perceived not to be as fast.

What this means is that the people still employed are all — every one I know, at least — shouldering the work of three, while the other two are unemployed and can’t get in.

And we’re not talking massive differences in efficiency (sometimes it’s just luck) just that when you pile on required benefits and protections for workers (all in the best intentions) you make it impossible for the businesses to keep on even “slightly maybe less effective” workers.

My best friend from childhood married a French man, and the last time I talked to her we had a political disagreement.  Must have been 12? years ago.  (Yeah, I miss her.) You see, her son was demonstrating against new French laws that made it easier to fire someone. While he was unemployed, as were most youth.  They were unemployed because the French companies couldn’t fire people who weren’t any good, not once they’d got in.

The kid viewed it as the protections he’d have once he got in.  But of course, what such a policy of “can’t be fired” did what our tenure does.  People would work hard at internships or whatever, but when they were hired they could relax.  Which explains the vibrant French economy.  Never mind.

The thing is that these rule for “protecting workers” sound good.  Minimum wage is a lovely idea, particularly when you’re young and stupid and think you’ll never rise above it.  But you don’t see the other end, where with minimum wage and mandated benefits, you’re costing that employer $30 an hour for…  well… if you’re only worth “minimum wage” are you worth $30?  Or will they just hire one person instead of three, and make that one do the work of three?

Much of the much ballyhooed ‘end of work’ is based on the idea that people are now permanently unemployed because of the increase in automation and blah blah blah.  And it’s stupid.  No, guys, listen, it’s rock bottom stupid.

Not only isn’t our automation that advanced — it’s not, you know? — but even in things where machines made us much more efficient, there wasn’t a real drop in positions.  Not from that.  I mean, I started work when everyone who was anyone had a secretary, though junior members of a company might share one.  They were needed because no executive could type.  I taught myself to type so I could write faster, but seriously, no one would teach me, because “you’ll have a secretary.”

Ironically I tried to get a job as a secretary in the US, and what held me back was the lack of short hand.  (I was stupid and never demanded they test me.  I could write at the rate college professors talked, so I probably could have done it, in my own horrible handwriting, but fast enough.) Who even does short hand now? And where are all those unemployed secretaries?

Computers genuinely displaced a lot of the work secretaries do, so how come there aren’t despondent secretaries roaming the streets?

Well computers also increased communications, and video conferences, and allowed people to work faster, which means they need executive assistants to do different work, like scheduling and organizing, and screening emails.  But they are still there.

That’s the nature of automation.  It changes what you do.  It makes you more efficient.  It allows you to try a different angle.

Unemployment is not the result of automation or efficiency.  Sure, each wave of automation and different technology hurt people.  And some were too old to change/adapt.

But most of them, in the prime working age, just adapt, change.

The permanently unemployed?  those are victims of socialism whose (well intended?) mandates make it impossible to hire anyone who isn’t working at peak efficiency and doing the work of three (at least) people.

This means you only get employed in your prime working years, btw, and anyone who is older, or has health issues gets sidelined.  And don’t ask me how we’re supposed to train the young if we can’t hire them short of peak efficiency.  Unpaid internships, I guess.

The funny thing is that those peculiarities get blamed on the heartlessness of capitalism.

The other funny thing is that being that overworked burns you out fast, which means Atlas is shrugging with increasing frequency and at increasingly early ages.  Fatigue, illness, aging…  No one is a machine.

And the people who would have followed? Well, they never got that beginner job when they were at less than peak efficiency.

Worse, as people find themselves unable to break into the working world or flung out at an early age, they get scared and demand more and more protections and more and more help.  Which burdens the few still working even more.

What can’t go on won’t, but there’s a lot of ruin in a country.  Western Europe has been playing this tune for a good 30 years.  Don’t look down.  It’s a long, long way to fall.

Or we can be Americans.  We can step off, we can go around, we can build over, build around, build under.

We can make use of real efficiencies, of real innovation, to do our job better and in a different way.

I have a suspicion the only way to circumvent this is a future of entrepeneurs and contractors.  Which is scary when you can see the wrong side of fifty within spitting distance.

Even in publishing, where we’ve always been contractors, I’m looking at indie and thinking I have to find time to do that TOO because well… it paid me double what my traditional books did, and besides it’s… it’s safer to have the belt and suspenders. The last two years of peak INefficiency scared me, and showed me how quickly a traditional career can die.  (Thank heavens for bestselling friends and  collaborations.)  But indie careers are never dead.  You can always revive them with a new book.

And for the rest of you, I suspect there are other paths you can take too.  If you look.  In your particularly situation.  (I know of a few of them.)

Yes, this means working even harder when you’re already overworked.  Yes, it means the horribly scary prospect of braving entrepreneurship  (even for writers.  Witchfinder scared me so much I delayed publishing it for six months.) But it means you can’t be flung off and discarded.  And it means that the ridiculous laws that are supposed to take care of you, but are really killing commerce and so by extension you, will become moot.  No one can demand you give yourself minimum wage. They can, alas, demand you guy yourself health insurance and pay both sides of social security.  BUT it’s still different, when you’re working for yourself.

We’re overworked and tired.  We’re sidelined or pushed.  But we must shamble into the future.

Build your path as you go.  Be not afraid.

There’ll be pie in the sky by and by.  To get there you just have to walk through fire.

155 responses to “Over Worked

  1. The minimum wage is $0.00. Anyone who tries to tell you any different is selling you a bill of goods.

    As far as I can tell, the minimum wage is all about the rich trying to cement their advantage while pretending it’s for the good of the poor. First, there are the union contracts that are indexed to the minimum wage that get at least temporary raises when the minimum wage goes up, but another factor that seems to play in is that those “unpaid internships” that are how a worker builds his resume to the point where he is worth at least minimum wage require connections. Since most “unpaid interns” are worth somewhat less than they’re getting paid, someone usually has to call in a favor to get the would-be intern hired in the first place, and the people who usually have those favors to call in…well, let’s just say that they’re not often the parents of ghetto or rural kids who are trying to be the first in the family to go to college.

    • National minimum wage laws in the USA had their origin in the goal of protecting unionized high wage jobs in the North from wage competition in the South, where lower costs of living meant workers willing to accept lower hourly wages.

      One more instance of Yankees screwing the rest of the country and demanding they be admired for doing so.

      • Don’t forget many of those cheaper southern workers were black. There was an explicit racist argument made for the national minimum wage.

        • Not only that, many of those black southern workers were willing to m ovr North, take jobs there,.and live in conditions those northerners would not accept … because a ghetto in the North was better than living in the South.

          • because a ghetto in the North was better than living in the South.

            Hat in hand:

            You you please make sure all your Northern friends know this? Please? Pretty please? It would really help.

        • Bingo this. Even further, minimum wage laws enable employers not to pay a price for discriminating against portions of the work force. If the worker can’t get the job by lowering his/her price (wage), it can (i) lock out the lower skilled from starting in the work force and (ii) allow employers to select on characteristics other than price/wage and ability (as you have to pay at least minimum wage anyway).

          https://mises.org/library/minimum-wage-discrimination-and-inequality
          does a far better job of explaining it.

    • Unpaid internships are only possible if you have the money to survive an unpaid time period. I had a professor rail against internships, saying that if you were qualified, you should be paid. I took his advice. 🙂

      • SO MUCH THIS. I was forced to take on two internships just to be allowed to graduate. Yeah, they don’t pay you, 99% of the time, in my particular field. And all the ‘good’ internships were in Chicago. And were full time, which of course pretty much precluded any (safe) options of a second job to survive.

        Sadly, my professors–or rather, the one actual graphic design professor–couldn’t grasp why I was upset about this.

        (Ultimately, I managed two “internships”–one at my actual place of work, so I still got paid, and one unpaid at the local paper. Who then HIRED someone to replace me when I left. >.< )

      • “So let me make this abundantly clear. I do the job. And then I get paid.”

        – Captain Mal

        • “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”
          -The Joker

        • Mal still has something to learn here.

          When you’re *really* good at what you do, and by that, I mean ‘perceived as really good’ by your potential customer, you can often get paid BEFORE doing the work. And if not all of it, at least some of it up-front. I had a business mentor once tell me to *always* try to get paid up-front. If nothing else, it reduces the cost of your operations – since you don’t need to buy as much operating capital. And if you’ve already got a cushion (and don’t have to borrow to make the expenses until the job’s done), you just get to pocket that difference. And so ends today’s lesson on being a greedy, money-grubbing capitalist. 😉

      • Most of the interns I’ve worked with haven’t been–qualified, that is. As I said, at $0.00/hour, they were overpaid, because they created more work than they produced. By the time I found a task they were theoretically capable of doing, explained the task to them, checked their work, and talked to them about what they did so they could improve, I could have done it myself about five times over. Two in seven years managed to get over that barrier and at least be doing more work that I could have done in the find/explain/check/talk period, but even they weren’t worth anywhere close to $15.00/hour.

        As I said, we kept these kids on because their parents were friends of the boss’s, and she wanted to help them get to the point where they WERE qualified. Given our record, I guess you can tell we kind of had a mixed bag at that.

        • All those first kid jobs seem to be gone now, the part time work most of us did while we were still in school, like stocking shelves or being a cashier, that didn’t pay much because we weren’t worth much yet, but which taught a heck of a lot.

          Now, those jobs go to adult illegals around here – I can’t exactly blame the employers, who can get an adult for less than minimum wage. But it means that a whole lot of kids don’t get the experience of those first jobs, and it shows when they start in the workplace.

          • This. Completely this. My older son did a year as an ER scribe for $10 an hour, and it taught him more than all his years in school.
            I wish there was something similar with engineer-like work for his brother.

            • Many engineering firms do offer paid internship and/or co-op positions for engineering students. Some of the aerospace companies, too – a cousin spent time at one in conjunction with her human factors engineering major.

              • Yep I can say the big B does. I also had a kinda sorta internship during school and for the year after with a small local firm. Once he learns drafting there are opportunities out there.

                • My mechanical engineering niece has interned for pay, too. One was state gummint DOT, and another (part time during the year) at a company local to her. She gets her MS this summer, so this info is current.

                  • Yeah. I got my MS in 2012 so same. But I think only unpaid I SAW when I was looking was NTSB. Usually paid enough that I could save and then pay for a few months of living expenses. Plus check.with local machine shops. The fact that I taught machining has helped me multiple times.

              • Pharmacy doesn’t. Friend’s kid have gone through it, and oh, what I’ve heard about it from them. The idea is supposed to give them training. Most of the training one had gotten was stocking shelves because the paid employees didn’t like to do it.

              • Yep – last semiconductor company I worked for had a year-long paid internship program for kids from a Canadian university’s EE program: After their third year we picked the ones we wanted, they got a real job in various slots across the company (mine manned the help desk for our design tool software), and we made sure they got exposed to several different departments outside their “base” dept. to get their little engineering minds broadened. Every year when the new interns arrived we threw the departing group a party, and many went back to their 4th year with a “when you graduate” job offer.

                Smartest way to hire new engineers I’ve ever seen.

              • I did a co-op at IBM. Got my first job from it. Also saved up enough to pay for my living expenses for the final semester.

              • Yep. Youngest spawn worked for a local (in Kalamazoo) construction firm for $10/hr as a co-op for two years while he was a civil engineering student at Western Michigan. He got invaluable experience and the Austin Co. made him an offer for a permanent job, but California lured him away….

                Sara, have your son talk to the co-op program director at the school he is in. They have the contacts to get your proto-engineer son a paid job.

              • My brother had a class that was basically an internship equivalent; the school partnered with certain companies who wanted to do a bit of research that required testing more than high-level knowledge. My brother’s group was working on fuel cell prototypes, testing to destruction. I went to his final presentation on the subject, which included a bit on “why now is not a good time to invest in fuel cell technology.” (Given that this was 1997, you can see his point.)

                So technically the pay was in college credits, thus not “unpaid internship.”

            • One of the biggest things I learned was to respect the people doing that kind of work, because it’s awful and hard. And how not to be one of THOSE customers, if you know what I mean.

            • I worked as an intern at Motorola in the early ’70s, and the recruiting, such as it was, was through the electrical engineering open house* at my college. (OK, U of Illinois; at that time a prime exporter of EEs.) This one was near home (folk’s place) and the pay was a bit (15%, maybe) over minimum wage. I did technician type work and got to play with the tech toys operate the equipment. I didn’t pursue Moto for full time largely because California was calling. The follies of youth.

              HP (as then defined) in the 80’s and 90’s would get promising college students between years 2-4 as interns. I don’t know the arrangement, but somehow housing was taken care of, and the pay was OK. I suspect internships were arranged through a number of sympathetic professors. If Younger Son has any professors with connections to his desired industry, a few inquiries might be profitable.

              (*) I had two professors with tight connections to the semiconductor industry. I think this was how Moto showed up at the open house.

            • There was, back in the dark ages when I was a fresh graduate, an absolutely *screaming* need for engineer-majors. Internships were paid, and if you were willing to sign on to work once you got your degree, you were paid *well* for the time.

              Of course those hiring were the nuke plants, aerospace industry, chemical plants, and suchlike… competition was stiff. For the available *interns.* Because of said need, and because they saw the writing on the wall that said “you will have no engineers left in fifteen years because the last of them will be retired or dead.” Not totally true, but mostly for the area.

              Might want to check with places like BAE systems if he likes that kind of work (if I recall correctly, they put out a call for engineer trainees about five years back when I was job hunting the oncet).

            • As far as engineering goes, it’s very handy for mechanical engineers to get some practical experience as machinists, or electrical engineers to do actual wiring and such.

              Those entry level positions exist, and will give your engineer a practical edge over the guys who only know CAD/CAM programs.

              • He’s taking electrical, mechanical and aerospace. Concurrently

                • Sheesh! Mind you the first two years are common to almost all engineering majors (or they were when I was scraping by–and I should have co-oped), and ME and AE both have to take the basic courses (or they did), but still. He’s going to have a really cool education; a really strong education.

                • He may want to talk with Boeing as a first post-college job. My brother did that, then went to grad school (which very much appreciated engineers with business experience) on Boeing’s dime, then went to work for a company that got acquired by Aerojet shortly thereafter.

                  He’s a rocket scientist, literally. He was on the team that designed the New Horizons probe. (He’s done quite a few things since then, but that’s the biggest splash.)

        • As a in-house lawyer, we’ve had a couple of interns in the department over the years – primarily a law student who couldn’t find an internship in a law firm (so mostly 1Ls). I (and the more junior attorney who reported to me for at least one of the interns) actually had to work pretty hard to give the intern actual legal experience and educate them enough so they could actually produce usable work (which had to be closely reviewed anyway). I have no idea if the interns were being paid, but I’d agree with the statement at $0/hour they would have been overpaid as they clearly created more net work. That being said, in each case, I’ve gotten nice notes over the years as to how much they learned while working for us and I (and later we) subsequently used the techniques developed with the interns when on-boarding various junior attorneys. So, I guess part of the calculation of an intern’s value should not be just based on the work they do but instead should include what the folks trying to teach them learn in the process.

    • Here in Los Angeles, the unions pushed for the $15 minimum wage. Then, after it passed locally, they pushed for a carveout that exempted anyone who had a union contract that mandated a lower wage.

      • I heard about that. “When I said it should be a law, I didn’t mean for ME!!!” ought to be the official motto of the Left.

      • Yup primarily the unions that cover things like the grocery stores… and the grocery stores that use union staff have been closign left and right since 2007 or so… (how’d that 2006 strike work out for ya, huh?)

        • I saw some protesters at a local Winco once, carrying signs that said the employees were non-union. Kind of stupid, since the deal with Winco is that they’re employee-OWNED, so unionizing to bargain with themselves would be a bit odd.

          • Yeah some of the strikers did actually try to protest at other non-union grocery stores when they did the stupid strike, and it didn’t work very well when they were at the far side of the parking lot on the sidewalk because the property owner said no.

            (as a note, both the Ralph’s and Albertsons near me closed… and the next nearest Albertsons as well… hence why i am really sarcastic about the strike)

          • Probably rent-a-protesters. The unions pay minimum wages and often interfere with unionization efforts.

    • Also securing the advantage of places with high costs of life by throttling the ability of low-cost-of-living places to use their full advantage.

  2. When I was young and raised in a socialist ethos, I was told the important thing was to “be good for something” i.e. to do something useful for society. It was one of the things that kept me from even considering writing as a career. It wasn’t “useful”.

    Intro to Microeconomics, one of the two required “social sciences” classes I had to take for my BS in physics. Maybe not the first day, but certainly the first week: “‘Goods’ are thing people are willing to pay to have. ‘Bads’ are things they’re willing to pay to get rid of.” (I tried to bring up the idea that something could be both–something that some people are willing to pay to have and other people are wiling to pay to get rid of. The instructor wouldn’t buy that so apparently it’s an “on net” thing.)

    People pay you for your ability to string words in a row? A Good.
    The joke about “I’ll pay you to stop”? That would define a Bad.

    • Writing is a good. It does benefit society. For the folk willing to pay for your work it improves their quality of life a little bit. The few hours of enjoyment they get by reading a novel is something that makes their life a little bit better.

      Marx can suck it.

      • My grandad was a bit more blunt about it. “Son, I don’t care if they’ll pay you to teach a pig the alphabet. If they’re paying you, and it ain’t immoral or illegal, it’s a job. It may be sweeping streets, but if you’re a street sweeper, you be the best d*mned street sweeper on this Earth if you can.” Writing counts. You are getting paid for it, willingly (not via taxes!).

        So keep writing, people. The reading public needs its fix. *grin*

        • As the Irish and most Indo-European cultures would have said, poets are responsible for defending natural law and the justice of the land, teaching and reminding their listeners how things are supposed to be, and serving God through exercise of their prophetic/vatic functions. Poets help keep the land fruitful and the universe working.

          And as Sir Philip Sidney said, all fiction writers are exercising a poetic function. Poietes = maker.

          So yes, writing is an important and useful job.

    • He was so very wrong. It happens over and over:

      “Process One generates Waste Product A. How can we get rid of this wretched stuff?”

      “Waste Product A?! Damn, that’s the ideal feedstock for Process Two! How much you got?!”

      It’s great when a problem becomes a solution.

      • Ah, but “Good” and “Bad” (in economic terms) were not set in stone, forever and ever, amen. When you had to get rid of that gunk from coking coal (as one example) and had to pay to burn it off it was a bad. Once people came up with aniline dyes (among the first “useful” chemicals to come out of that stuff) and people were willing to pay for what is now a feedstock in their industry the former bad became a good.

      • Of course, if your friendly government gets involved and slaps a whole lot of regulations on Waste Product A…

        • Yes, like they did on used motor oil. There used to be a small refinery in Abilene, Tx (Pride Oil) that sent a truck around to all the gas stations, mechanic shops, and oil change shops to take their used motor oil. They paid a small sum, I think about a penny a gallon, for it. They re-refined the oil, bottled it and sold it back to the public to use again in their vehicles. It was pretty good oil.

          Then, in the 1990’s along came the Hazardous waste act from Congress that made used oil a hazardous product subject to quite a few onerous regulations. Pride could no longer pay the little shops for their oil. Regulatory costs forced them to charge the shops for them to take it. Other regulatory changes finally forced the Pride Company out of business. A waste product that was once considered a resource is no longer a resource and has to be destroyed/disposed of. Many of those small shops are probably quietly throwing it into landfills now. This was a perfect example of government “help” that made a situation worse.

  3. When I was young and raised in a socialist ethos, I was told the important thing was to “be good for something” i.e. to do something useful for society.

    This is, of course, utter tommyrot. You are required to earn your keep, of course, but that does not require doing anything “good for Society” as such poltroons define Society or good. It merely means providing some service for which others willingly offer you money — either in small groups offering large amounts or large groups offering small amounts or some combination thereof.

    The sentiment expressed overlooks the issue of what good is Society in such a utilitarian perspective? All individuals die eventually and if their only purpose is to advance Society’s interests what is the point? And, of course, who is to decide what is “good” — whether Society is better for pretentious movies movies such as Mamma Mia!* and Florence Foster Jenkins** or whether the funds spent on such productions would be better on high school football, MMA tourneys or soup kitchens for the indigent.

    Then there is the question of “work” that offers no foreseeable benefit to Society, such as that of a couple brothers who, instead of tending to their bicycle shop tinkered with developing a heavier than air flying machine for no purpose beyond their own amusement.

    *Estimated production cost = $52,000,000
    US Box office gross = $144,130,063
    **Estimated production cost = $29,000,000
    US Box office gross = $27,370,107

    • Mamma Mia! was pretentious? It is just an ABBA musical review.

      • Pinches bridge of nose.

      • No, didn’t you hear Ms Streep? It was ART, you philistine! Without government subsidies for that* you’d be reduced to watching the balletics of second basemen and wide receivers.

        *To be fair, governments typically stupidly subsidize stadiums for football and baseball, both of which employ large numbers of immigrants.

        • Oh horsesh!t…I heard her. Mamma Mia! was the movie was no more art than the Superbowl or even its half-time show.

          I say this as someone who owns all of ABBA’s albums on vinyl original issue except for one that is an 8-Track Tape (I also own them all on CD).

          I also would much rather see it or, until this season when the NFL openly threw in with Meryl and friends.the Superbowl, than nearly all of Ms. Streep’s body of work.

  4. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on this.

    I am a STEM prof at a small, teaching-oriented school. (Yes, I have tenure, but there are also situations where it can be revoked – failing to “perform to expectations” is one). In the fifteen plus years I’ve been here, the amount of paperwork we have to fill out has increased. The amount of hand-holding of students we’re expected to do has increased (every month now, we must sent out “grade reports” listing a predicted grade based on work thus far, number of absences, and our best SWAG as to why the student is earning the grade s/he is, if it’s less than an A). I hate this because a lot of it feels like busy work – I only hear back on the grade reports from students angry because “You said I had three absences and I only had two!!!”

    Also, we’ve had a serious contraction (budget cuts) in support staff and administration, which means instead of having stuff planned out a week in advance we have to have it planned three weeks in advance or more, and if you need something from an office, you need a much longer lead-time than previously. This is a consequence of trying to run super-lean; the cuts made were just a little TOO deep, I think, and it means everyone’s running around like their hair is on fire, every admin who is left is doing 3-4 jobs now, and they’ve hit the point of not doing anything well because they’re trying to do everything.

    And yet, in all of that, even though I have tenure, I now constantly run scared – could I be “Reduced In Force”? Have I kept my skill-set updated enough? Taken on enough (unpaid, “on my own time”) research students? Been willing enough to do (“on my own time,” again) service? I suppose running scared keeps me working and achieving but it’s also wearing and distressing.

    “I have a suspicion the only way to circumvent this is a future of entrepeneurs and contractors.”

    And yet….I have seen people arguing that the only businesses that will be around in the future will be the big chains, that the little mom-and-pops (where most entrepreneurs start up) won’t exist any more. (And that makes me sad, because I’d honestly rather shop at a small, idiosyncratic bookstore than something like Books A Million, or eat at a local coffeeshop instead of the Applebee’s).

    And yeah. I’m closing in on 50 and the idea of being a “contractor” makes me shudder because I imagine it as being like an Uber driver – constantly having to hustle, constantly having to sell myself (something I am bad at), and constantly being in a state of insecurity and having to smile and put up with awful people because they are paying my paycheck.

    And yeah, in a really harsh world, being a prof, even a science prof, is a pretty “useless” career. I don’t know. In bleaker moods I wonder if I could grow/hunt/trap enough food to keep myself alive if it came down to that.

    • I don’t think the people betting on big chains are right. the tech is running the other way.
      Yep. I love teaching almost as much as I love writing and the last time I worked in a community college, I’d have kept the two classes a week, except paperwork made that a full time job (I SWEAR) with most of it unpaid.

      • I wonder if teaching too might someday go to small contractors–perhaps not dissimilar from the days when people hired governesses or tutors for their children.

        I have a friend who’s trying to run a business giving challenging math and computer science lessons to gifted kids bored stiff by the public schools. She’s just started, so it’s still an open question whether she can make a living at it, but she’s at least one example of someone trying that model.

        • I bitterly refer to me closing out my life sitting by a highway offramp, a cardboard sign saying “Will teach t-test for food” in my hand. That’s how I see being a “contractor” to educate today. (And being a governess, from what I’ve read, pretty much sucked – especially if you were not-hideous-enough to attract the attentions of some of the men in the family).

          I love teaching and I enjoy most of my students, but I would kind of hate having to be at the beck and call of just a few people who hired me as a “private contractor” and could, presumably, fire me on a whim.

          I’m a good teacher (I have been told many times how I make even seemingly-dull subjects interesting), but still, I’d hate to have to go out and hustle for my own gigs.

      • This is why I keep resisting all suggestions I become a teacher. Yes, I love teaching. Kids, adults, doesn’t matter. But all the other crap that’s been appended onto teaching professionally (as opposed to at church, where they love you if you can a.) keep people well behaved and b.) make it not deadly dull)…nope, nope, nope.

        • I count myself amazingly lucky/blessed to be at a 1) private school 2) on a long leash [“Here’s the book. Go for it.”] 3) with almost 0 paperwork and 4) students that take responsibility for their actions most of the time. *Shrugs* teenagers.

          • This is a large part of the reason the Institutional Left has gone full bog nuts over Trump’s SecEd nominee Betsy DeVoss. The shackles imposed by the public education administrative state are intended to make sure all kids graduate equally useless. Allowing teachers to establish their own scope and sequence paradigms allows them to act as teachers rather than as interchangeable presenters of the administratively selected indoctrination material.

            Even worse, allowing parental choice as to which school their kids attend risks giving parents the idea that those are their kids rather than chattels of the state they are permitted to rear.

          • Hmmm. I hadn’t considered private school/charter school as an option. (Well. Partly on account of there not really being any of those options where I live. Not that I’d be opposed to moving, no siree, I’m tired of nine month winters…)

      • There are a lot more factors than just tech, however. Ultimately, the size of the business are often driven by what is its’ key competitive advantage:

        – Economies of scale – the businesses for which this is the key to their business plan are the WalMarts of the world. By buying in quantities and aggressively controlling costs, they make it difficult for a mom & pop store to compete with them on price. Costco and other warehouse clubs also probably fall into this category – but they discriminate by catering to people willing to buy certain minimum quantities. Amazon actually is probably here too. Historically, there were some large grocery chains in this category. Vertically integrated organizations can fall in this category too. These folks have resources to invest typically, but those resources are most frequently spent driving costs out of their supply chain. When folks are betting on the large chains, this factor is normally key to their thinking. (In terms of your analogy, these businesses frequently depend on a little bit of money from a lot of people.)

        – Curatation – These folks offer a specific selection which strongly appeals to a more niche audience. Part of their appeal is a perception of higher quality (whether or not that is, in fact, correct). Some of these curation businesses can get quite large, actually, depending on the industry in question. Good examples of this business model are: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Target, Macy’s, Neiman-Marcus, Bloomingdale, etc. By being selective as to what they are willing to offer to the consumer, often having more knowledgeable sales associates, and deliberately offering more “niche” and/or perceived high end products, shopping at these chains is intended to be a far different experience than the low-cost focused competitors. Mom & Pop stores can thrive in this category as long as they do the job of curation well – but so can bigger luxury based chains. (These folks depend on a more money from a reduced group of consumers.) I’d actually put my local Ace Hardware in this category, for example, as their salespeople are ridiculously knowledgeable and helpful. (Bring in a chewed leaf and they can tell you what sort of bug has hit your garden and what you need to buy to stop it.)

        – Convenience – This is the 7-11s, all the other variety of “Stop ‘N Robs” of the world, airport retail outlets, etc. They are not the lowest cost – indeed their markup is often much higher than their competitors. They are not necessarily known for having the highest quality merchandise either. Now, the big chains have a slight advantage here (if only for the insurance effect – if a single store gets hit by a riot, act of god or other disaster, they are not out of business and have additional resources to recover) but the reality tends to be that even the big chains are actually franchises run by a series of mom-and-pop type operators (who actually pay little to no attention to minimum wage of the family members working at the establishment).

        Tech alone will not drive a single result. In fact, it is somewhere between difficult to impossible to determine which of the forces above actually drive a given business. Those folks who don’t know why people buy from them and who aren’t doing what they can to differentiate themselves from their competitors along one of these axis is probably doomed, long term. I don’t think that will result in a world with only mega-corporations or in a world with only small establishments. And to me, at least, that is very good news.

        • Sigh. No, you don’t get it. The tech is going to “small and customizable.” It’s not quite there, yet, and Walmart has a heyday. BUT how will that work when you can get just as cheap 3-d printed at home?
          The economics of scale drove Borders and Barnes and Noble too…

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Well…. Yes & No.

            While Borders hurt themselves by not creating an on-line presences & B&N is hurting themselves by an extremely poor web-site, they had other problems that IMO negated their “economies of scale”.

            A big part of their problem was that “what books go on the shelves” was decided by “central command” instead of being decided by people who knew the local markets.

            IE they weren’t hurt by “changing technology” but were hurt by upper management not understanding “who was or was not buy books”.

            • Drak, that central command was necessary for the economies of scale.

              • I had some experience with Borders right as it started to go downhill. When I first worked there, the employees could come up with ideas (like having me draw Pumpkin Spice as a Spice Girl) that would drive sales. The GM could specifically look for authors that suited the area (Englewood, as it happens). One employee decided to have bi-monthly “game days” and the F&SF sections started getting bigger along with the games merchandise and graphic novel sections. Basically, the GM could know the local market and drive sales accordingly.

                By the time I left, Corporate had already mandated standardized signage, and had started cracking down on “unauthorized” author events. From what I heard later, staff were told to “push” certain books that might have nothing to do with what the local folk wanted (or what the staff liked), and a whole lot of other major danger signs. It took another six or seven years, but that’s the sort of behavior that really killed Borders.

                You can still have economies of scale with something that’s locally responsive. But that would have required more imagination than the corporate folk had, who thought a bookstore was interchangeable with a grocery.

          • Both Borders and B&N were and are in a heavily curated business which had certain economies of scale over the local mom and pop bookstores. Maybe curated is the wrong word …branded may be better. In order for a book to be published and be in a book store, by definition (at least historically), that book made it past a curation process. Books themselves are very much branded goods as well … sometimes by author name and sometimes by imprint (Harlequin for example). Some of the traditional curation has broken down, but you recommend books on this blog for a reason. Ditto the book bombs run by another author on his blog, etc. Amazon also curates by sales rank, genre and “people who viewed this book also viewed/purchased” when it comes down to it. The shift to nonbrick and mortar curators does not change at least some of the fundamentals in my view. WalMart toothpaste is likely to remain cheaper than home mixed for a significant period. And when it is not, I expect WalMart to carry the 3D printer feedstocks more cheaply. We are a diverse and picky lot, so predicting we will not end with a monoculture one way or the other almost feels like cheating.

            • I thought Borders was doing better in being able to work agreeably with local indy authors, whose books were available through Ingram. They were a peach, in comparison with Barnes and Noble brick’n’mortar stores. Borders was much more in tune locally than B&B (although one of my Teeny Publishing Bidness authors is going fill-tilt at them, Bless him, he has more energy and clout than I do, businesswise.)

              • Larry did a post when Borders failed. As I remember, he was disgusted by a Borders that had only three copies of his new book in the store for his planned and scheduled and publicized book signing. The local manager said his order for more books was squashed by corporate. Central planning knows best after all.

                • Central planning doesn’t work for the big box stores, at all. But, they keep right at it.

                  It’s all about some wonk back up at HQ, doing a spreadsheet. And, whether or not local market conditions suggest it won’t work, they’ll force crap down the throats of the local store. You can see that shit going on with regards to most of the stockage items at Home Depot, WalMart, and everyone else–Want a low-demand item? Better stock up on it, ‘cos it won’t be there when you go need it. Buy it when you see it.

                  They’re all going to go the way of the dinosaur, and unless they unf**k themselves, Sears won’t be the only casualty of the coming disintermediation wars.

                  • Back when we local hardware stores, they tended to have direct replacement hardware for the existing housing. Big box stores have the least expensive kinda sorta replacement hardware. Door knobs in the house won’t match if all you need is one.

                    • The other problem is that the industry itself militates against modular, replaceable stuff, until you get into the incredibly expensive end of things. Schlage, for example? We built my mom a new place some three-four years ago; the door hardware on all the exterior doors is all stuff I bought at Home Depot, on sale. Saving money, doncha’ know?

                      Go to replace a lockset because it no longer works, and gee, guess what? They don’t make that style any more. Can’t even get replacement guts that will fit the damn exterior bits and bobs.

                      You can’t find true “repairable” hardware until you’re up in the $200.00 a set, wholesale, stuff from Baldwin or one of the other high-price brands. Back in the day, on her old house, there were locksets that could be easily repaired by sticking in replacement parts, but you can’t find those anymore at affordable prices. The whole issue is nuts.

                      The mid-grade lockset is a dying niche. They’ve all gone cheap and cheerful, nothing repairable, just replace the whole damn thing.

                    • And of course, if you need to replace a little part on your front-door lock-set, the closest thing you can get, even from the same manufacturer, won’t cover the same bits of the door on the outside and the stupid original home building company painted the front-door AFTER putting on the hardware, so now to replace one failed part you have to paint the whole @$#^%&^ door…

                      But no, after trying to purchase various models from the manufacturer (attempting to get a compatible internal replacement part at least) and having to return them, I’m not bitter at all…. why do you ask?

                    • …and such is one of the values of a ‘local’ hardware store: knowing the manufacturers and models of components uses by local builders – so homeowners/handyfolk could get the ‘exact replacement’ parts needed. Goes for paints and finishes, sidings, roofing, plumbing bits and pieces, etc.

                      I miss my local hardware stores. We’ve lost 2 in the last decade, and are down to one ‘good’ one, and when it’s owners retire – we’ll be back to either replacing with non-matching parts, or having to special order (if we’re lucky…).

                    • I hope the future comes fast. Imagine going online and buying a 3D printing design for the replacement part you need. Maybe the local hardware store is just a business with industrial strength 3D printing machines.

                    • I would be happy with just an affordable CNC milling machine.

                    • the link works here… anyway, look at the boxzy site. 3d printer, cnc mill, and laser cutter…

                    • Make that “Page not found” when I click on the link in the email notification. When I click on it here it works.

                      Let’s just say you’re using a different definition of “affordable” than I am right now.

                    • $2400 is much more affordable than a $50k used machine.

                  • This is one place where Mom & Pop sized stores that are tech savvy can leverage the ‘store-frontage’ that Amazon / Ebay / Etsy (or any other ‘big-internet’ stores that may pop up) can provide, allowing broader visibility to goods that might not otherwise be profitable to carry (given the local audience). The historical equivalent was ‘mail order catalog’ sales. I’ve been able to find and get quite a number of ‘niche’ market items this way – w/o having to pay the exorbitant prices that a local store would have to charge, in order to cover the carrying costs of the inventory. Going this route (selling niche market goods through the ‘big internet’ stores) isn’t going to be stepped on by the ‘hosting site(s)’ either, as the volumes aren’t high enough for it to be worth their while.

            • The problem I had with the Borders (and the Barnes and Nobles) nearest me – or that I had access to – was that they often seemed to carry books as an “afterthought” – lots of store space given to various tchotckes. (I also see this at Books A Million, the ONLY nearby bookseller to me any more).

              Also, I think Amazon does do one thing they can’t do – there have been times I wanted a book and was at the Books A Million and asked, and they said, “Oh, no, but we can order it, it will be here in a week.” As it’s an hour’s round trip there for me, and I have Amazon Prime, they lose that sale to Amazon.

              Meh. Probably part of my problem is living in an economically depressed area where most people have a wal-mart budget, so that’s the place that gets the support. (We have lost, I think by my count, four or five small businesses in my town in the past year – and this is a town of about 12,000, so there weren’t that many to begin with. I sew, so losing the quilt shop really stung)

              • Its not just where you are, lots of places are losing lots of small businesses. hopefully that trend will reverse after today.

          • Sarah, you may be overestimating how small this can be if it’s going to manufacture even kitchen gadgets.

            After all, people aren’t going to want or be able to assemble even a toaster oven; they expect to feed in the raw materials and slide out a working toaster. That takes space, especially to work around it.

            Second, let’s look at those raw materials. You’re going to need a lot of them, and most of them are not safe to breathe or handle in the raw state, let alone when they’re being worked.

            There’s more, but I suspect that you’re looking at a neighborhood or apartment building level of distribution, not to an individual / family. And that means customers ordering things.

          • But – and this is a serious question – making what? 3D printers work well for monomaterials, but dissimilar materials presents complications. The simplest I could think of – a disposable razor – would be do-able only if the blades were purchased separately, maybe in a magazine-type stack that was inserted into the machine.

            Then there are complex monomaterials, such as pliers. Could a 3D metal printer make a pair of pliers? One that could be used without coming apart or breaking? Don’t know. Doubt it. Could it, if an annealing process were added? Possibly. But what of cost?

            What if 3D printing is just another component of a fabber? This would use a robot to make and assemble 3D printed items. That would make it easier to work with dissimilar materials and complex objects – but the issue is cost.

            The one fabber I’m surprised we haven’t seen on the market would be a clothing maker. It would require limited feedstock, and turn out custom apparel. The initial cost would be high, but might have a short break-even point for a family.

            • Now. This is not tech we have (yet) it’s tech we can see from here.

              • I’m just thinking such a solution would end up as a fabber rather than “only” a 3D printer, and resemble a small computer-controlled milling machine and maybe run some higher in cost.

                The main thing is the break-even point. I’m quite sure it’s possible to construct a machine that lays down wiring as conductive pathways that’s part of the material it’s manufacturing, and to have multiple material printers, millers, grinders,and even an annealing oven and plating rigs for certain parts. Perfect for a ship, or a space station or colony. But would it be affordable? That includes changing materials due to changing manufacturing.

                Let’s say that it happens like you’re thinking, and we can one day make most of what we need with our home fabbers. That wouldn’t mean the end of retailers. I came close to being there/done that on this. A few short years before 2000, it looked like fuel cells would replace grid power. The numbers looked that good (literally back on the envelop, and calculated in the break room, at our utility). Utilities didn’t freak. Instead, they quietly positioned themselves to adopt the new technology, by acquiring distribution rights for cells and by preparing to distribute gas, which ran the things.

                We don’t have fuel cells now. Gas went up, and the technology didn’t work as well as we thought. But had it worked, today the same companies would be selling and maintaining fuel cells and gas to run them instead of stringing conductors and hanging transformers.

                Retailers would do the same. WallyWorld, if it had a clue (big question there), would simply shift to fabbers, feed stock, and items fabbers couldn’t turn out. They already sell many of them today. The big change is that anything that a home fabber could make cheaply wouldn’t dominate the shelves.

            • There’s a couple companies actually getting into that. You put in your measurements and the garments are made to your size and specifications. It hasn’t caught on widely yet but I’m actually wanting to try it. I say give it another 5 or 10 years and it’ll be more mainstream.

              • clark e myers

                Hasn’t caught on yet for some values of mass market. Levi Strauss offered mass market made to measure priced to access the high end jean market with a high style differentiated product. Dropped it.

                Sep 20, 2012
                Style
                We recently launched our first Made To Order Jeans project inside our Meatpacking store in NYC. Customers now have the opportunity to build a pair of custom made jeans from scratch including the selection of materials, customizing the fit and creating signature design details.

                On the other hand, made to measure suits, often referred to as sourced out of Hong Kong though most aren’t, have long been sold. Slotted between off the rack and full custom made to measure continues to be popular among the remaining dress for work or wear a tie to dining hall set. There is a deliberate effort to confuse buyers about full custom where a typically muslin style unique pattern is created on the customer then the garment is cut from the truly custom pattern and made to measure where the pattern is modified customized if you will but not custom.

                • I would love “made to measure” at a price that wasn’t “You know, hemming is annoying, but the annoyance is less than your premium.” Still waiting.

              • I’ve found one I’m willing to try once this kid is born and it’s worth getting things made to measure. Mostly the ‘office to night out’ end of the spectrum, but if they do well, I could see the notion expanding. I’ve got a long torso and broad shoulders, which makes finding anything that looks good on me… difficult.

              • Oh yes. I have heard very good things about eShakti (dresses and denim) from a friend of mine who has actually purchased their work. They have a $10 customization fee, but once you’ve done that, it covers *all* the changes—if you have custom measurements, then you can change the neckline or hem length with no extra issues. I’m keeping an eye on their stuff because I need new jeans and it will be interesting to have a pair that actually fits correctly (for the first time in my life.)

                • I’m wary about the pants but some of the dresses intrigue me.

                  • I’ve never had pants that fit correctly in my entire life. (Proportional mismatch; nobody makes petite hips with tall legs.) I’m willing to try them just for the novelty. They also have enough request measurements that I think it will new okay. (For jeans. Their pants are… odd.)

    • The idea of being an adjunct is scary, given what I’ve read about the compensations. “Running around with your hair on fire” seems to cover it.

    • Monthly grade reports? At a STEM school? That’s basic math.

      • Exactly. The syllabus should provide all percentages necessary. Only caveat is when they curve. Felt like a crapshoot in some classes because of that.

      • It is what it is. We serve an “underserved” population and a lot of the students don’t totally know how to “college” yet. (And I am in a STEM department at a comprehensive regional university, not a specialized STEM school).

        On the one hand it’s exciting to see a student who is the first in their family to go to college succeed and get accepted to Physician’s Assistant school or something. On the other, it’s frustrating to have someone who never really had a good math class in their life stop your junior-level class dead in the water because they don’t know how to calculate an average, and get belligerent that you should expect such a thing in lab. (that happened to me, once)

    • Mm…there are contractors and contractors. I work as an independent contractor with a company that would have taken me as an employee, but I estimated the salary+benefits didn’t beat what I could make this way. (I might should recalculate given rising health insurance costs but the flexibility I have now is valuable with a baby.)

  5. This is a bit of a tangent but…
    If I had a couple million to throw around, I’d start one of those non-profit restaurants or cafes designed to hire “at risk” teens (aka poor kids w/o dads) and teach them the basic skills of employment: showing up on time, dealing with challenging customers, working on a team, etc. etc.

    This strikes me as an invisible barrier to entry-level work for many among the young.

    • The Secret to Employment (well, at the lowest levels, anyway):

      1. Show up. Every d@mn time.
      2. On time. Every d@man time.
      3. Do the d@mn work. No, it’s not all fun. Do it anyway.

      So many “want to go home on time/early” but don’t care to do the actual work themselves, and then whine that they end up staying later.

      It makes me think of…. “Everyone wants to go home. The road home runs through Berlin. The sooner we get to Berlin, the sooner we can all go home.” And how poorly that sentiment is understood by some now.

      • Also why the Army of the Potomac liked Grant, even though they (incorrectly) thought that he didn’t care about them.

      • And a job, even a burger-flipping one, can help teach those “secrets”. Moreover, it can give you someone who can testify to future employers, “Yep, Ox always showed up for his shift on time (or called if there was a serious problem), did the job well, and Ox never stole anything from the cash register. You won’t regret hiring Ox.”

        There’s a reason ladders have bottom rungs, and sawing them off isn’t helping anyone. Unpaid internships have sort of taken their place, but as I implied in my comment above, I don’t think they’ve done a good job of it. Partly because it’s hard to motivate yourself to show up on time and do the job well if you know you aren’t getting anything for it.

      • > 1. Show up. Every d@mn time.
        > 2. On time. Every d@mn time.
        > 3. Do the d@mn work.

        One the one hand I keep hearing about how hard it is to find a job. On the other I keep hearing that half of the ones they hire never show up for their first day, or can’t be arsed to show up on time, or simply refuse to work when they are there.

        Then there’s the problem of the ones who won’t take any job where they can’t have their electronic pacifier. Facebook and Twitter are more important than money, I guess.

        One of my clients has given up on want ads and employment services; they’re recruiting from 4-H clubs and other school programs. I need to ask how that’s working out, next time I’m on-site.

        • “Then there’s the problem of the ones who won’t take any job where they can’t have their electronic pacifier.”
          That’s #4- Put the d@mn phone away.

      • Some additional hints and helps to the three above:
        -Be the guy that makes the coffee in the morning.
        -Be the guy that cleans up the coffee pot and cups in the afternoon
        -Never let the words “am I done yet?” slip out of your mouth
        -Don’t wander off when your immediate task is done. Find something else work related to do, or go ask for something else to do.
        -Learn the big picture of what you’re doing. Be someone who picks up things quickly and doesn’t have to be shown every little thing multiple times
        -Work the job, not the clock

        • -Listen politely. Curling your lip in disgust is not considered polite.
          -If you’re interested in moving up, ask what you can do better and what you can help with.
          -Be fucking pleasant to work with, goddammit. If I have to make a choice between the competent asshole and the mostly competent ditz, I’m choosing the ditz.

      • If work was fun, they wouldn’t have to pay someone to do it.

      • Working as a cashier did not teach me much respect for cashiers because of how I was just about the only one to grasp 1 and 2. . . .

      • (Nods)
        I worked at a warehouse for about a year between hiking the Appalachian Trail and grad school.
        There were four people (besides me) working the warehouse floor when I got there. Nine more people were hired while I was there. Of those thirteen people, I outlasted all but five of them.
        What happened?
        Of the people there when I was hired, one was caught stealing product, and two were fired because someone thought they were stealing product. Of the new hires, one was fired because he sold company gasoline, one because he kept getting injured, one because he thought his temporary job working at a haunted house was more important than a long-term job and kept not showing up or showing up late, one moved back to his hometown, and one just had problems with the floor manager and was moved to a store.

      • 1. Show up. Every d@mn time.
        2. On time. Every d@man time.
        3. Do the d@mn work. No, it’s not all fun. Do it anyway.

        Well, that is about 80% of it. But I seem to have managed to stumble over quite a few of the remaining miscellaneous 20% at one time or another. (Linda Ronstadt could sing “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me” and get away with it. I can’t.)

    • It is, even many young with college degrees.

      • I’d say increasingly with college degrees from selective schools given getting in requires so many activities it precludes getting a job in high school.

        • Having a job as a high schooler also indirectly hurts your chances to go to a competitive university because a job means you don’t have time for “important” extra-curricular activities after school.

          • That’s what I meant.

            Interestingly the early you get your first job the more likely you are to become wealthy through good money management.

    • There’s a local high school in the area (specifically in the “bad” part of town) that does this, actually. Kids are expected to show up in business-class attire (and taught what that is), go to classes, and then have internships (there’s that word again!) with local companies that are sponsoring their tuition. The idea is that these kids have never had proper work behavior modeled to them, so they teach it along with everything else.

      The school’s only ten or fifteen years old, so I don’t know the long-term numbers, but honestly, I think they’re doing the right thing even if their students “only” end up in long-term employment.

  6. …astonishing and more than a little humbling.

    Not had any life-saving/life-changing events, but it’s odd how the occasional bit of fluff (“Oh, maybe so&so could use this thing) manages to have tweaked things at the right time. I used to claim I did not work miracles. Now, well, I can’t work big miracles and they don’t happen on demand. But every once in a while… sometimes an accident is not a bad thing.

    And then there can be deliberate helping hands… that do much more than expected. Sometime, probably over $BEVERAGE of your choice, I can relate how an unusual subscription offer turned into an inflection point and someone was confused (they’d say grateful) enough to bestow an honorific on $HOUSEMATE and myself.

  7. None of the paths not trodden matters, though, because here I am, where I am.

    Thank you…for reasons totally unrelated to writing or your blog I really needed to hear that not only today but right now today.

  8. Completely OT, but yet quite pungent:

    “A loaded gun is less dangerous than a Prog– the gun only has ONE trigger.”

    From the Twitter re-feed at the rhjunior webcomic site. And I believe Mr. Hayes may have overlooked, among other things, the M-16 rifle/M-203 grenade launcher combination with which I qualified during my National Guard days.

    And Judge Posner is still a moron.

    • “A loaded gun is less dangerous than a Prog– the gun only has ONE trigger.”

      Although the gun can kill you–in most cases, the triggered Prog just makes you WISH you were dead.

      • triggered Prog just makes you WISH you were dead.

        Nah, I just wish I could legally kill triggered prog…………

  9. I sometimes imagine a political economist of a quarter millennium ago being told that it would be possible for less than 5% of the population to feed everyone else, and export food to other countries. “But . . . what will the rest of the population do? There will be no work for them. They won’t be able to buy food, and they’ll starve; and the farmers won’t be able to sell their crops, and they’ll have to shut down!” And yet vast numbers of ex-farmers found work in factories. Usually factories built in relatively small towns that didn’t have the elaborate guild regulations of places like London, making it possible to use innovative methods of production.

    So now, with factory work going away (though not so much not being done, as being exported to China and India and other Asian countries), we have occupations emerging that no one even imagined in my childhood: computer animator, Web designer, driver for Uber/Lyft. . . .

  10. “Computers genuinely displaced a lot of the work secretaries do, so how come there aren’t despondent secretaries roaming the streets? Well computers also increased communications, and video conferences, and allowed people to work faster, which means they need executive assistants to do different work, like scheduling and organizing, and screening emails. But they are still there.”

    I just saw the movie /Hidden Figures/–about the black lady mathematicians working at NASA in the early 1960s–earlier in the week, and that exact thing is vividly illustrated.

    The movie also reminds us that “computer” originally did not refer to a giant machine, but to /people/. There are a whole gaggle of black ladies working at NASA–in a room signed “Colored Computers”–doing just that…computing.

    Partway through, you see that NASA has ordered and is installing an IBM mainframe. The /de facto/ supervisor of the “Colored Computers”–she has the responsibility but not the pay or title–inquires as to what this thing will do, and is cheerfully informed that it will put her and her crowd (along, presumably, with the “other” computers…) out of work.

    Does she push back? Not a word of it: she finds a way to get ahold of the manuals for the machine, along with a book about programming in FORTRAN, and goes back to her roomful of “colored computers” to explain what is going on and why they need to step up.

    When NASA finally has the machine more or less running, they suddenly realize they need people to feed and care for it. Guess who’s waiting in the wings to help? 🙂

    • Twenty years ago there were these businesses called travel agencies which booked almost all corporate travel: airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars. I worry sometimes about feral travel agents roaming back alleys assaulting people demanding to know if they want to go to Disney World or London.

      • There are half a dozen travel agents within a few miles of me. I don’t see the profession dying out soon.

        • Travel sites are great, but they’re a bit like a GPS. They can get you there, but they don’t really know the good shortcuts.

      • Hey, I think I just got a telemarketing call from a feral travel agent (a/k/a unsolicited telemarketing call pitching a Disney vacation in return for answering “a few questions.” No thanks.).

      • Actually, there are still travel agents doing planning for Disney World travel. It is complex enough that paying someone who knows all the pieces is worth it. In fact, it is so worth it that Disney pays the agents to do all the arranging.

    • ****Minor spoilers for Hidden Figures below *******
      [And someone probably ought to add a spoiler alert to the post I’m replying to as well.]

      [Space left deliberately blank]

      For those of us space geeks in the audience (of which I suspect there are more than a few), I will say I found it to be a WONDERFUL movie (despite it having a few PC-friendly messages embedded in it). We went as a family and both daughters were impressed as well – though a little baffled initially as to why there were not female engineers/mathematicians in the Space Task Group room already. That being said, the epilogue scenes show one of the key heroines made her 50+ wedding anniversary as well – so there are some decent traditional-family friendly messages embedded in the movie as well.

      And yes, as a somewhat self-taught programmer, I really loved the character who had stepped up to a supervisory role without getting the credit AND quietly taught herself how to work and debug the computer.

  11. Yeah, I’m one of the ones who wasn’t laid off, and took on more and more work, with no raises and bad hours.Then the company decided that, as layoffs are disheartening, they’d reduce headcount through attrition instead, which means there was no incentive to improve the working conditions.

    The problem with attrition is that you lose all your best people, since they;re the ones who can find new jobs, so a whole lot of outstanding people are gone. (Never mind that it’s also become the norm that the only way to get a raise is to go work someplace else. How effed up is that?) I finally quit last summer, after I realized that, if worst came to worst and I had to sell my house and live in a tiny efficiency apartment, it was still better than staying.

    I feel bad for the people who are still there. I don’t even blame the company officials behind this, they’re trying to deal with a bad situation not of their making; they must reduce expenses drastically and the biggest expense is payroll. And, after a few years, it all could turn around. I just knew I couldn’t make it that long.

  12. I’m one of the overworked and I can see both further staffing cuts and burn out coming in fast. Everyone I know my age and younger has a side hustle. Some of the older people too but I can see the older generations panicking because they need one.

    So, I work while the health holds up and write. Paying off the debt that we were told everybody has so we’re not tied to the same place and the same jobs because yeah, often, the only way to get a pay raise is to go somewhere else.

  13. “And even the competent get laid off as they get older because they’re either not as fast, or are perceived not to be as fast.”

    My lovely wife came out of her second retirement to take a secretarial job at a local university; she’s been on the job just about 2 months now. Already, she’s been promoted to a new position, over her co-workers, all of whom are decades younger than her. Why? They’re neither quick studies, tech savvy, nor fast workers, and have no idea how close they are to the unemployment line. Learn the job, upgrade your skills, and stay head-down in the work: there’s no school like Old School.

  14. clark e myers

    When I was young and raised in a socialist ethos, I was told the important thing was to “be good for something” i.e. to do something useful for society.  It was one of the things that kept me from even considering writing as a career.  It wasn’t “useful”.  Translating actually promoted commerce.
    This is all bullsh*t more or less, because what you are compelled to do can’t be measured in utilitarian ways, and when you have a vocation, you have a vocation.

    As noted above a narrow definition of commodity goes along with a narrow definition of value. I took a pretty good math/economics class with an honors graduate of Patrice Lumumba in the class. The teacher said we will deal with the term commodity as a loosely defined primitive to build better definitions on. We were promptly given the precise and complete definition of a commodity as used at Patrice Lumumba.

    Several of us told the socialist we’d give him lumps if he kept on reciting instead of learning what was on offer. Marxist value theory says the pet rock is not a commodity and there is no reason for a first article premium. This despite the observed extra value Ford dealers extract for first article Raptors or other hot for some values of hot cars.

    My point here is to notice that writing is useful and has been scientifically shown to be useful – though see Mr. Heinlein on the labor theory of value as it might be applied to writing instead of cooking.

    In retrospect Norman Cousins may have been misdiagnosed still “. He read all sorts of funny books, and he discovered that ten minutes of a belly laugh gave him twenty minutes of pain-free sleep. And little by little, as it came to be famously remembered, he laughed himself back to health.”

    • I’ve heard of feminists in the 60s who argued fiercely over whether housework produced surplus value in the Marxist sense.

  15. You’ve brightened my day with your blog posts more times than I can recall.

  16. I baled from working for anyone else … oh, dear – how many years ago now? Oh, yes – the job in the wretched phone bank, which I took for a year when the jobs from the temp agencies became thinner and thinner and finally vanished into the mists. I was in my mid-fifties then, already less … tolerant of being a wage serf, and possibly less inviting to potential employers on that account. Worked at a couple of patchwork writing and office admin jobs – still have one for a long-time client who calls me now and again for some hours of work in his real estate business. Went into partnership with the founder of the Teeny Publishing Bidness, eventually took over most of the work, and bought her out, It’s come to the point where I just can’t strap on that employee drag, Nope, done with that. I’ll write and publish through the Teeny Publishing Bidness, and get by with the income from that and the pension.

  17. IT contracting these days is done through “IT Solutions” companies, who hire people for contracts through placement agencies. I had my first experience working for one last year. All of my co-workers agreed that the company sucked, and couldn’t care less about any of the placed workers. But the general sentiment was that all of the other Solutions companies were just as bad.

    Then we discovered that we’d somehow missed a metric one month when they called each of the staff members in to lay us all off. No explanations. No warnings. No attempts to fix. Just “Welcome to unemployment.”

    • You don’t have to be a contractor to get the ax that way. I got a call (at the beginning of December, no less!) and was told that I didn’t need to come in to work three days later for my one-day-a-week radio job. (One of the folk whose show I ran was livid, I found out later. He liked me a lot.) I had to call back to offer to turn in my key fob when I brought in my charity tree tag gift. (I really hope that child liked it; I put a lot of thought into it.) The severance was a joke and included “job help” through an agency that wouldn’t even do something as simple as give real advice about resume upgrades. (“Here, take this generalized advice” is fairly well worthless when what you want is a fix on your actual resume. The least they could do is take the information given and put it into the correct modern format.)

      • (This was several years ago, BTW. Sorry to imply it was more recent.)

      • yeah, i just had to redo my resume and they soooo still don’t know what to do with freelancers, even out here.

        • I filled out an online application at one firm. It is the only way they accept applications. The program categorized my time working as a self employed handyman as unemployed. I even had a business license for Big Griz Home Repair. Nope showed me as unemployed for four years.

  18. and the image of someone standing at the corner near the freeway with a sign that says “WILL DO SHORTHAND FOR FOOD” won’t go away.

  19. Hey y’all it’s 12:02 PM EST. Donald J. Trump is now President of the United States of America. Thank God.

  20. It is premature to thank G-D for Trump being president, but I have been on my knees praising Him that the only oath Hillary is making involve taking His name in vain.

  21. Congratulations on being efficient in your work. (Yeah, last year’s work.) I’m referring to getting “Tic Toc” in *two* short story collections—and why not since it fits the themes of In Case This Goes Wrong and Mission Tomorrow (which is the one I read it in).