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Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake!
April 30, 2012 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Stephen King on taxing the ultra-rich... including himself. An engaging -and colorful- discussion on taxes for the ultra rich.
posted by dfm500 (219 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don’t want you to apologize for being rich; I want you to acknowledge that in America, we all should have to pay our fair share. That our civics classes never taught us that being American means that—sorry, kiddies—you’re on your own. That those who have received much must be obligated to pay—not to give, not to “cut a check and shut up,” in Governor Christie’s words, but to pay—in the same proportion. That’s called stepping up and not whining about it. That’s called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesn’t cost their beloved rich folks any money.

Well, Mr. King, my hat is off to you -- this is a nice summation of the conversations I have a couple of times every April. Taxes are good; it's how we, the people, get the stuff that we, the people, need. Those things, like roads, that we take for granted.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:43 AM on April 30, 2012 [74 favorites]


It's Stephen King week at Metafilter!
posted by Windigo at 11:46 AM on April 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Damn! A straight-up polemic by one of the best writers in America. My respect for King grows daily.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:47 AM on April 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think its important to distinguish between 'fair' and 'equal' when it comes to taxes. Some people here 'fair' and don't automatically associate that with progressive taxation. They associate it with 'equal' which, while not feudal, is certainly none too progressive.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:48 AM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


*hear
posted by Slackermagee at 11:48 AM on April 30, 2012


I think its important to distinguish between 'fair' and 'equal' when it comes to taxes. Some people here 'fair' and don't automatically associate that with progressive taxation. They associate it with 'equal' which, while not feudal, is certainly none too progressive.

The real issue is that we've gone from "equal" to "anti-progressive," in that Mr. Romney pays less as a percentage of his income than Warren Buffet's secretary.
posted by one_bean at 11:57 AM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


It won’t improve education in Mississippi or Alabama. But what the hell—them li’l crackers ain’t never going to go to Deerfield Academy anyway. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

His tone in this matches up so well to the tone I'm used to seeing in his forwards and notes to his Constant Readers. If you're in a bookstore pick up one of his older items and have a glance at the forward, it's likely to impress with it's candor and convivial tone (despite the fact that he's about to scare the pants off ya in a few short pages).

He's a heck of an author and (so it seems) a decent rich-guy as well.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:59 AM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


The only investment that makes sense for a middle-class American is:
bullets and bullion.

It is coming - mark my words.
posted by Flood at 12:00 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


bouillon, maybe. You can't eat gold.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:03 PM on April 30, 2012 [42 favorites]


Scrooge changed his tune after the ghosts visited him.

Looking forward to King's homage to the Dickens classic, where Sheldon Adelson is visited by the ghost of Bugsy Siegel. "I built Vegas and this is how you treat my country, you fuckin' coglione!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:04 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I had to stop reading at the fat jokes.

Christie is profoundly wrong on this and many other topics. Why resort to playground name calling? Also, John BONNER is a poo-head and Nalin' Palin is a slut with a retard baby. Have we liberals won yet?
posted by munchingzombie at 12:09 PM on April 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


bullets and bullion.

Right. Because when society breaks down, you're going to want large quantities of an extremely dense metal that's essentially useless for almost any practical task. And having bullets will be great when complete pandemonium ensues, since it's great to be anti-social *and* have something worth robbing you for when you need a cohesive relationship with social groups more than you ever did before. You've clearly thought this very realistic scenario through to the smallest detail.
posted by clockzero at 12:11 PM on April 30, 2012 [49 favorites]


So, did he write a check?
posted by HuronBob at 12:14 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the most interesting aspects of the Great Depression is how quickly civil unrest and a revolutionary Zeitgeist spread across The US. Considering the roaring 20's has just ended, you would think people would have more faith in the institutions that had created unparalleled wealth for the Nation but surprising many Americans turned to Communism, Fascism, Nazism and White Nationalism for answers. So I definitely think it could happen again.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:18 PM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


So, did he write a check?

As he points out in the article, he's written several checks.

Also as he points out in the article, even if he, Rmoney, Buffet, Gates and many others continue to write checks above and beyond their taxes, it won't be enough.

This article just furthers the heart I have for Stephen King. Preach on, Brother Stephen, preach on -- even though some of 'em ain't trying to hear you.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:18 PM on April 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


It's Stephen King week at Metafilter!


Yay! Skull-shaped lollipops filled with untold horrors for everyone!
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:22 PM on April 30, 2012 [18 favorites]


Did he write a check?

He's written many. It's much more efficient to have a central government decide how to use the money rather than individual rich people. That way you don't wind up with a society where abandoned pekinese are well taken care of, your local private school has an olympic swimming pool, and a double digit percentage of the population doesn't have reliable access to medical care.

And re: fat jokes - Fat jokes are not ok, but calling Bonner a poo-head is just fine. In general, stick with the gender-neutral bodily fluids and/or anatomy (poo-head, ass face, shitrooster) for insults and you'll be fine, only insulting the target of your insult.
posted by Garm at 12:24 PM on April 30, 2012 [22 favorites]


I didn’t care for the fat jokes either, but I can’t only listen to people if I agree with every single thing they say.
posted by bongo_x at 12:27 PM on April 30, 2012 [41 favorites]


I just picked up Skeleton Crew (from way back in '85!) and in the introduction he makes a fat joke. Seems to be one of his vices.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:32 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


tl;dr

I'll wait for the movie.


I keed! Good article!
posted by mazola at 12:33 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's much more efficient to have a central government decide how to use the money rather than individual rich people.

So, I work at a private school and we solicit donors all the time.

Here's the problem with relying on wealthy donors.

What we really need here more than anything else is an improved cafeteria. Our current cafeteria limits us in a lot of way because of its small size. Furthermore, its the most decrepit building on campus.

When we go out to wealthy donors and ask them to give money to that they give us a "well, what else ya got."

If we mention something "sexy" like technology or sports, we can get some pretty huge checks from them, but when we mention something we actually need, they are tepid to unenthusiastic at best.

We're not even talking about feeding the poor here with our cafeteria - just creating an adequate facility.

As King points out, the very rich don't want to support the things that you need - they want to support the things that they want to support.

To a large extent, that's what turning things over to the private sector means - oligarchs with little sense about what's actually happening on the ground overfunding the things that interest them and ignoring the things that don't.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:44 PM on April 30, 2012 [155 favorites]


"The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing “Disco Inferno” than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar."

Didn't know I'd be picturing that when I left the house this morning.
posted by cashman at 12:50 PM on April 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


Unfortunately most Americans are simply unable to agree that, in some cases, a top-down distribution of collected funds is actually a more appropriate method of allocation than individuals doing what they want. For instance - trusting elected officials, accountable to their constituents, to allocate funds necessary to the maintenance of the public good. It's double-unfortunate that most American's can't even agree that we need a public good or a common good...or at least what those should constitute.
posted by jnnla at 12:54 PM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


What I take from the end of this piece is a plea to save the rich from themselves. Once upon a time, FDR made America safe for capitalism by saving the rich from their own excesses. For the most part they hated him for it, but they kept their heads.

Old-school Republicans like Eisenhower understood how close to the abyss America came. He called right-wingers who wanted to demolish the New Deal "stupid" and considered their efforts doomed to fail. Now, even some Democrats are eager to tear down Social Security and there is a bipartisan embrace of Hoovernomics.

What King understands is the calculus of inequality and the power of resentment. Even if the poor are still better off than most people in the 30s, the chasm of inequality can only widen so much before everything breaks down and the hands idled by capital turn violent.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:59 PM on April 30, 2012 [30 favorites]


He's got my vote.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:06 PM on April 30, 2012


The Long Game is and always was, to defund the social safety net and government functions so much and make interacting with it so tedious and painful and unhelpful that people wonder why we need it at all and then the very same people who kicked the system in the knees will rush in with their friends in private enterprise to pick up the slack (at much higher rates, of course)
posted by The Whelk at 1:09 PM on April 30, 2012 [31 favorites]


Yes indeed. The Long Game means Ireland has to sell off state assets to pay for the bank bailout.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 1:14 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


The percentage of their income poor people return to the economy is overwhelming -- for many, it's 100 percent. For most, it's more than that -- they don't just pay back into the economy, they actively owe money to the economy. And this is bad for poor people, but it doesn't hurt the economy, which, after all, relies on money getting moved around to grow.

Rich people, in the meanwhile, seek to protect their money. They're not typically the financiers of new business -- that's for the hungry. No, they put their money in sure things, and it grows their own money without putting much back into the economy at all. They are sink holes of wealth, bottling up millions of dollars into a separate, rich person economy, which has been carefully constructed only to benefit rich people. The economy will see none of it if they can help it. It's invisible money, and the only way we can get at it is through taxes.

Sorry, rich people. You don't get to grow large on the labor and the resources of this (and other) countries without paying back in. That's the social contract. We give you access to resources on the condition that you recognize it as a debt. You do not get to just steal labor, steal resources, and steal from the economy. And the more you make, the more you have to pay in. That has been the contract from the start, and it keeps getting broken because you have pushed a self-serving mythology that you are getting punished for succeeding.

You're not. When you paying taxes, you're repaying us for your success.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:21 PM on April 30, 2012 [78 favorites]


Metafilter: a slut with a retard baby
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:22 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


a retard baby

Hey, AskMe was ahead of its time and is an excellent resource.
posted by resurrexit at 1:24 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]



So, I work at a private school and we solicit donors all the time.

Here's the problem with relying on wealthy donors.

What we really need here more than anything else is an improved cafeteria. Our current cafeteria limits us in a lot of way because of its small size. Furthermore, its the most decrepit building on campus.

When we go out to wealthy donors and ask them to give money to that they give us a "well, what else ya got."

If we mention something "sexy" like technology or sports, we can get some pretty huge checks from them, but when we mention something we actually need, they are tepid to unenthusiastic at best.

We're not even talking about feeding the poor here with our cafeteria - just creating an adequate facility.

As King points out, the very rich don't want to support the things that you need - they want to support the things that they want to support.

To a large extent, that's what turning things over to the private sector means - oligarchs with little sense about what's actually happening on the ground overfunding the things that interest them and ignoring the things that don't.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:44 PM on April 30 [17 favorites +] [!]



I work in a publicly funded university. Twenty years ago, over 75% of our funding came from the government in a predictable, annual rate. Now 75% comes from donations, tuition, investments, etc.

We're drowning in capital funding but can't afford to hire professors or maintain programs. Nothing is worse for morale than hearing that your pension and benefits are unsustainable while they put up new buildings across the street with targeted capital funds.

This seems to be the education game here, there's always targeted capital funding for projects and buildings, but there's never money for jobs. Hell, a lot of that money still comes from the government, but it's not general revenue. So we get attacks on our contracts, temps, less predictable service for students, and lots of money sunk into glamorous things that aren't related to the staff or core service.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:24 PM on April 30, 2012 [62 favorites]


This seems to be the education game here, there's always targeted capital funding for projects and buildings, but there's never money for job

Well, there's targeted funding for certain construction jobs, provided at the end of the day the name on the building is that of the person who paid for it as opposed to the people who designed it, built it, or work in it.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:30 PM on April 30, 2012


Stagger Lee: This is why I told the alumni program at my school to fold their constant requests for money till they were all sharp edges and, well you know... anyway, I simply do not understand the constant whitewashing of college (public, mind you) campuses by pulling up plants that look great to replace them with other plants. This happened 4 years in a row while I was there. Sounds like the problems is about as bad as I imagined. *sigh*
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:32 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stagger, et. al.

What ever happened to the idea of endowed chairs with the names of donors attached? Is that no longer sexy or something?
posted by Hactar at 1:33 PM on April 30, 2012



Well, there's targeted funding for certain construction jobs, provided at the end of the day the name on the building is that of the person who paid for it as opposed to the people who designed it, built it, or work in it.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:30 PM on April 30 [+] [!]


Capital funding still requires labour, but they use it to circumvent hiring employees. Hires are incorporated into bargaining units and get wages, salaries and layoff protections as designated by their contract.

Temporary workers for capital projects are itinerant and on a per contract basis. That's what's more troubling than the name of the building. Our academic (and non-academic) staff are increasingly overworked because we can't afford to fill positions, but we can always afford disposable temps.

That's why targeted funding is so unhealthy. It's allowing us to do increasingly large amounts of work while neglecting our core service and without creating any jobs at all.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:34 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


You don't get to grow large on the labor and the resources of this (and other) countries without paying back in. That's the social contract. We give you access to resources on the condition that you recognize it as a debt. You do not get to just steal labor

"Steal labor"? What are you talking about? Employing someone isn't stealing their labor. The employer pays the employee for the work. If the employee doesn't think it's enough money to be worth doing, the employee won't take the job. The employer doesn't go into some unwritten, invisible "debt." The obligation is discharged as soon as the paycheck is sent.

I happen to agree with Stephen King that taxes on the rich should be raised, but this is for the relatively mundane reason that the government is short on revenues and the rich are a source of more revenues. That's a completely sensible, reality-based argument, which has nothing to do with any mythical "debt" or "social contract."
posted by John Cohen at 1:37 PM on April 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Long Game

Technically that's one of the Bachman books.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:40 PM on April 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


If the employee doesn't think it's enough money to be worth doing, the employee won't take the job.

Oh Christ, I've had so many jobs that weren't worth the money they paid me. But you know, some of us have to eat. And that was a relatively unencumbered young person; toss debt, family and medical bills into the mix and people will jump through any hoop you ask for a handout.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:41 PM on April 30, 2012 [34 favorites]


Technically that's one of the Bachman books.

From one who has read that book, it's a terrifying allusion.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:43 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, so I've decided I like Stephen King. But I haven't read any of his books-where would be a good place to start?
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 1:43 PM on April 30, 2012


Four Past Midnight.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:46 PM on April 30, 2012


Nah I'm just fucking with you. Lots of opinions in this thread.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:48 PM on April 30, 2012


I'm reminded of an Oliver Wendell Holmes quotation: 'I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.'
posted by telegraph at 1:48 PM on April 30, 2012 [30 favorites]


If the employee doesn't think it's enough money to be worth doing, the employee won't take the job.

Only in theoretical economics land and among the ranks of the wealthy does this claim ring true. Without strong unions to make sure the labor markets don't reward workers who undercut their peers earning potential out of narrow self-interest (or some comparable balancing factor), all the leverage is on one side of the employment relationship these days.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:48 PM on April 30, 2012 [31 favorites]


Oh Christ, I've had so many jobs that weren't worth the money they paid me. But you know, some of us have to eat. And that was a relatively unencumbered young person; toss debt, family and medical bills into the mix and people will jump through any hoop you ask for a handout.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:41 PM on April 30 [+] [!]

Obviously the alternative of having no job was worth less than having a crappy job. That's is pretty much how modern economics works, and how medieval economics worked, and how Roman economics worked, and how caveman economics worked.
posted by otto42 at 1:48 PM on April 30, 2012


The employer pays the employee for the work. If the employee doesn't think it's enough money to be worth doing, the employee won't take the job.

These are obviously the words of somebody who has never had to choose between getting paid $6 an hour and getting paid nothing.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:52 PM on April 30, 2012 [50 favorites]


HighTechUnderpants: Start with the short stories, then realize that King kind of changed tone after A) gettiyng off drugs and B) after getting run down by a vehicle while walking.

That said, I'd say you could do much worse than 'Salem's Lot or Pet Cemetery for classic Stephen King. His newer style isn't as apparent in Cell (but perhaps that's why I like it so much). Feel free to memail me, I could go on and on.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:52 PM on April 30, 2012




Obviously the alternative of having no job was worth less than having a crappy job. That's is pretty much how modern economics works, and how medieval economics worked, and how Roman economics worked, and how caveman economics worked.
posted by otto42 at 1:48 PM on April 30 [+] [!]


You started out by just being wrong, and just kept driving down that road into lunacy. I don't even know how else to address that kind of a bizarre statement.

I guess I should have mentioned that while working those unspeakably bad jobs I was able to bathe in debt and come out with seven years worth of history and anthropology courses. I can say with some certainty that none of the things that you said are true, or accepted on any level by any kind of credible scholar anywhere.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:53 PM on April 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


That's is pretty much how modern economics works, and how medieval economics worked, and how Roman economics worked, and how caveman economics worked.

Medieval economies worked by serfdom. Roman economics worked by slavery. I am not sure how caveman economics worked, but I imagine a lot of clubbings were involved.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:53 PM on April 30, 2012 [37 favorites]



The only investment that makes sense for a middle-class American is:
bullets and bullion.
It is coming - mark my words.

posted by Flood

Why is the world in hate again?
Why are we marching up in arms?
Why are the ocean levels rising up?
It's the same old story,
for Two Thousand Twelve,
They Might Be Giants wants nothing to do with yoooouuuuuuu!
posted by JHarris at 2:06 PM on April 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


I guess I should have mentioned that while working those unspeakably bad jobs I was able to bathe in debt and come out with seven years worth of history and anthropology courses. I can say with some certainty that none of the things that you said are true, or accepted on any level by any kind of credible scholar anywhere.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:53 PM on April 30 [+] [!]

So where would you be without those unspeakably bad jobs?

Would you now be history class after maybe taking a break to make some money at a job that paid better?

You are missing a basic point of economics, and therefore, everything else on this thread.

You decided that having a crappy job was better than having no job. No one put a gun to your head. All of your debts, college courses, ambitions, willingness to eat Ramen Noodles, and idiocy you had to endure at your job were taken into consideration. You decided that all that crap was worth enduring instead of not enduring it and doing something else.
posted by otto42 at 2:08 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


No one put a gun to your head.

That's true. I have never been threatened with a gun if I did not have some job, any job, no matter how little it paid, no matter how much I provided in contrast to how little I was paid. I have been threatened with homelessness, starvation, lack of access to medical care, and destroyed credit. But never with a gun.

But, you know, we have zero percent unemployment. Anybody who doesn't have a job has only themselves to blame, and there are so many to go around that we can just pick and choose whatever suits us best.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:14 PM on April 30, 2012 [29 favorites]


So, I work at a private school and we solicit donors all the time.

Here's the problem with relying on wealthy donors.


Working in a private school...QFMFT. Who needs teacher raises? BORING!!! We're currently in the midst of a capital campaign and I've heard the same thing. Of course, we need those donors so I don't begrudge them for wanting to donate to Flashy Staff. But who wants to donate to the Ceiling Fund? Or the Windows Fund? Borrrrring. At least there's tuition and the general fund, I guess.
posted by jmd82 at 2:15 PM on April 30, 2012


otto42: we can critique the system. There are alternatives. Reality is not fixed. Economics as it is practiced today is a religious belief system like any other - there is no inherent truth in it. It only works as long as enough people accept it or are able to be coerced into it by the threat of violence or death.

On a related note, it's sad that there is no real critique of economic dogma from the left - all we've got is the left over identity politics of the 60s.
posted by MillMan at 2:18 PM on April 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


No one put a gun to your head.

Hi, so after that winter of unemployment when I was sleeping on a friend's couch-- in an apartment so poor the only heating was provided by the building's exposed hot water pipe which traced the perimeter of the single room-- and slowly chipping away at his goodwill, after he got fed up and threw me out, after I found myself alone in Chicago with literally not a single piece of furniture, and the first job I could get was a shitty barely-above-minimum-wage one at Blockbuster, where I endured quite a bit of humiliation and actually on more than one occasion had customers smirk to my face at the fact that I had such a shitty job, I'd like to know why I should think you have any idea what the fuck you're talking about.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:20 PM on April 30, 2012 [52 favorites]


Only in theoretical economics land and among the ranks of the wealthy does this claim ring true. Without strong unions to make sure the labor markets don't reward workers who undercut their peers earning potential out of narrow self-interest (or some comparable balancing factor), all the leverage is on one side of the employment relationship these days.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:48 PM on April 30 [1 favorite +] [!]

In theory, strong unions seem like a good idea so that cheap labor does not depress wages for skills that are apparently easy to obtain. It keeps those friggin' Italians right off the boat and all of those ex-sharecroppers from down south from stealin' our jobs at the Studebaker factory. After all, not everyone is going to get $25 a day for doing something that doesn't even require that English be spoken. What is Mr. Studebaker going to do, move the factory to China?
posted by otto42 at 2:24 PM on April 30, 2012


from article: “The governor of New Jersey did not respond to this radical idea, possibly being too busy at the all-you-can-eat cheese buffet at Applebee’s in Jersey City...”

I was so excited to enjoy this article, and he had to ruin it with this crap.
posted by koeselitz at 2:25 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


No one put a gun to your head.

Well, if they did, you would just be making the free choice between taking the job or being shot in the face, right?
posted by mdn at 2:27 PM on April 30, 2012 [55 favorites]


It keeps those friggin' Italians right off the boat and all of those ex-sharecroppers from down south from stealin' our jobs at the Studebaker factory. After all, not everyone is going to get $25 a day for doing something that doesn't even require that English be spoken. What is Mr. Studebaker going to do, move the factory to China?

Is this some sort of elaborate parody? You gave away the game when you likened economic conditions under a slave-based economy in antiquity to that of modern industrial capitalism. I wasn't going to engage, but you're joking, right?
posted by joe lisboa at 2:32 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]



In theory, strong unions seem like a good idea so that cheap labor does not depress wages for skills that are apparently easy to obtain. It keeps those friggin' Italians right off the boat and all of those ex-sharecroppers from down south from stealin' our jobs at the Studebaker factory.
posted by otto42 at 2:24 PM on April 30 [+] [!]

The America union movement was built in immigrant communities. Those are the people that got you the protections and benefits that you still, somewhat, enjoy today. Although we're watching those protections trickle away by the hour.

You have to look at what happened in Chicago at the turn of the century to really understand unionism, politics and economics in America. Whole worlds were torn down and rebuilt there, and these days America is starting to look more like pre 1900 Chicago than post.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:34 PM on April 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


I am not sure how caveman economics worked, but I imagine a lot of clubbings were involved.

To hear Marshall Sahlins tell it, it involved a lot of lazing around.
posted by kenko at 2:39 PM on April 30, 2012


otto42: we can critique the system. There are alternatives. Reality is not fixed. Economics as it is practiced today is a religious belief system like any other - there is no inherent truth in it. It only works as long as enough people accept it or are able to be coerced into it by the threat of violence or death.

On a related note, it's sad that there is no real critique of economic dogma from the left - all we've got is the left over identity politics of the 60s.
posted by MillMan at 2:18 PM on April 30 [+] [!]

Actually, perhaps unlike religion, there are some economic truths. Eventually, or maybe not, the left will realize this and stop trying to repeal these economic truths.

Stories about who has had the worst job aside, and no indictment against having to endure a crappy job given possibly miserable, unavoidable circumstances, one economic truth is that a person will not engage in an arms length commercial transaction if that transaction will make him or her worse off. In a few instances here, miserably employed, and by extension, sheltered, trumps unemployed and homeless.

Less severely, as an example, and maybe more understandably, I chose to be caffeinated this morning and $1.50 poorer. If I would have been $3.00 poorer, I likely would have remained un-caffeinated.
posted by otto42 at 2:44 PM on April 30, 2012


Steal labor? Really? C'mon folks. WTF is with the hysterics?
posted by 2N2222 at 2:44 PM on April 30, 2012


Eventually, or maybe not, the left will realize this and stop trying to repeal these economic truths.

I presume there is some science behind what you say, and you can link to it. As of now, your claims are suspect, as you recently insisted that our current economic system dates back to caveman years.

Steal labor? Really? C'mon folks. WTF is with the hysterics?

I suppose it has a lot to do with being chronically underpaid while my CEO boasts of multi-million dollar golden parachutes and my company boats of record profits. WTF is with your underreaction?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:48 PM on April 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


Ah, those record profit boats. They are yar.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:49 PM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I suppose it has a lot to do with being chronically underpaid while my CEO boasts of multi-million dollar golden parachutes and my company boats of record profits. WTF is with your underreaction?

Your CEO actually stole your labor? Or are you just being dramatic?
posted by 2N2222 at 2:50 PM on April 30, 2012


Would you like to try to address me in a different way? You may not be familiar with this, but people don't necessarily respond well to be referred to as hysterical and dramatic.

Unless it is not your intention to actually engage in discussion, but instead to simply dismiss a viewpoint you can't be arsed to try to understand.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:52 PM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


One of the most interesting aspects of the Great Depression is how quickly civil unrest and a revolutionary Zeitgeist spread across The US. Considering the roaring 20's has just ended, you would think people would have more faith in the institutions that had created unparalleled wealth for the Nation but surprising many Americans turned to Communism, Fascism, Nazism and White Nationalism for answers. So I definitely think it could happen again.

It could, I guess. But in the 1930s, Nazism and Communism were shiny new systems that had just won revolutions. There doesn't seem to be anything like that around at the moment (radical Islam is, if anything, a little past its sell-by date). Meanwhile, it's worth remembering just how small the radical movements on the Right and Left really were in the U.S.---big enough for a few riots, not big enough to elect more than an occasional Congressional rep. No, I think much as some weedy self-styled radicals might wish otherwise, the odds of an armed uprising in our lifetime are slightly lower than an extinction-level asteroid collision.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:52 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Talking about Buffets bullshit claim that he feels the rich should pay more is silly. When you sue the IRS and fight every step of the way to avoid your companies paying taxes, when you structure your income in such a way to avoid high income tax you really can't stand up and demand that the rich should pay more. Or rather you can but anyone with enough intelligence to get over their jealousy about not being as rich as the next guy will see Buffet's stance as crap.

King says tax him more? Fine, pay more. I am not saying write another check. I am saying don't chose to accept the tax benefits you gain by your investments, your donations, etc. Without seeing your tax returns your claim that you desire to tax the rich more is empty.

The tax system is far from perfect. Too many people pay too little. Too much gets put on the middle class. Too much is spent from tax dollars (but then who decides what is and isn't appropriate for tax dollars)

Not sure of a better system. A flat or fair tax can sound good but it is far from prefect as well. I am not even saying the so-called "rich" are or are not paying their "fair share" (however that is defined). I am just saying that these rich people calling for more taxes on the rich are often being disingenuous.
posted by 2manyusernames at 2:53 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Without seeing your tax returns your claim that you desire to tax the rich more is empty.

No, you're turning his argument into a personal investigation. Even if King is arrested for tax evasion this evening, that does not say anything about his reasoning.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:57 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


shakespeherian: "Without seeing your tax returns your claim that you desire to tax the rich more is empty.

No, you're turning his argument into a personal investigation. Even if King is arrested for tax evasion this evening, that does not say anything about his reasoning.
"

I am not saying he is guilty of tax evasion. Didn't even hint to that. I said if you come out and demand that the rich should pay more but than you structure your income, make investments, claim all the deductions you are entitled to, take advantage of every tax break/benefit/incentive you are not being true to your belief. Or am I missing something here?
posted by 2manyusernames at 3:04 PM on April 30, 2012


I am just saying that these rich people calling for more taxes on the rich are often being disingenuous.

They may be disingenuous or they may not be but they're still right, they should be taxed more. You're really just attacking the messenger here.
posted by octothorpe at 3:05 PM on April 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


Would you like to try to address me in a different way? You may not be familiar with this, but people don't necessarily respond well to be referred to as hysterical and dramatic.

Unless it is not your intention to actually engage in discussion, but instead to simply dismiss a viewpoint you can't be arsed to try to understand.


So... am I to understand your labor was not actually stolen?

Look, King makes a good point. But it's pretty tiresome that the same old folks who can't be arsed to actually stay on the topic as King makes, and would prefer to steer the thread into the entirely predictable, grar-some and pointless MeFi eat-the-rich rant. There is plenty to criticize about tax policy in the USA without whipping up a heaping helping dose of counterproductive eye rolling hyperbole.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:05 PM on April 30, 2012


And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
posted by garlic at 3:05 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the most interesting aspects of the Great Depression is how quickly civil unrest and a revolutionary Zeitgeist spread across The US. Considering the roaring 20's has just ended, you would think people would have more faith in the institutions that had created unparalleled wealth for the Nation but surprising many Americans turned to Communism, Fascism, Nazism and White Nationalism for answers. So I definitely think it could happen again.

Well, let's give the late 19th-early 20th labor organizers and anarchists their due. Emma Goldman and her peers laid the kindling, the Depression just helped to light the match.

But certainly an effective way to start revolutions is to create a large cohort of disenfranchised people, especially young ones, with nothing to lose. The 1% think they can protect themselves by mass incarceration and surveillance of dissidents; history will see if they're right or not.

Gonna be some fun times ahead.
posted by emjaybee at 3:06 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was just thrilled to learn the King owns several failing radio stations in Bangor, Maine. I demand a remake of News Radio set in one of those stations, with King as the creepy owner that may also be the devil.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:06 PM on April 30, 2012 [19 favorites]


Ah, wait a minute. Perhaps I understand now.

Are you saying that

octothorpe: "I am just saying that these rich people calling for more taxes on the rich are often being disingenuous.

They may be disingenuous or they may not be but they're still right, they should be taxed more. You're really just attacking the messenger here.
"


Ah, Now I see what you and others are saying. I will admit I was wrong.

I think what you are saying is that even if King, Buffet and the rest say one thing but act the opposite doesn't invalidate what they are saying. It may make them hypocrites. It may make them as human as someone who cries out for a limit to any other excess while engaging in it themselves.

That does make sense and I was letting the hypocrisy blind me to that fact.
posted by 2manyusernames at 3:09 PM on April 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


So... am I to understand your labor was not actually stolen?

In a literal sense, tes. People who are not paid a living wage for their labor are having their labor stolen. People who are not paid an equitable wage for their labor are having their labor stolen. People who are denied the opportunity to come to the bargaining table with equal strength are having their labor stolen.

But my larger point is that it is theft because it does not pay back the social debt. That the government has set in place a system that protects business. Gives it a mechanism for hiring employees. Give it tools to grow. Gives it protections against failure. And that to take advantage of these benefits while refusing to pay back to the very government that provides these benefits is theft.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:10 PM on April 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


Medieval economies worked by serfdom. Roman economics worked by slavery.

Actually, the Roman example is much more complicated than this (and more damning). It's a story of how, over a couple hundred years, small agricultural workers were outperformed by neighbors who could buy up relatively cheap slaves (from the various conquests). The small farmers were forced off their land, allowing the large farmers to grow larger, often with various tax concessions (so the land was worth less to the government). The displaced workers moved to the cities, where grain doles kept them more or less pacified (at the government's expense) and left them vulnerable to use by various cynical political operatives as crude mob instruments.

By the time expansion ceased and the supply of slaves began to dry up (and slaves, as a result, became a valuable enough commodity that randomly killing them was thought in bad taste and then became illegal), there was a desperate underclass willing to work for minimal labor to do the agricultural work, allowing the farms to grow even larger. Eventually, the landholders began to withhold labor from the state, since a farm worker who had the option to join the legions might not make money for the landholders anymore, and it became difficult to maintain the army. So the state hired mercenaries, who eventually began tearing off parts of the Western Empire for their own use.

Large agribusiness; bad for Rome, bad for the United States, bad for you.

Do not get me started on Imperial China....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:18 PM on April 30, 2012 [171 favorites]


I chose to be caffeinated this morning and $1.50 poorer. If I would have been $3.00 poorer, I likely would have remained un-caffeinated.

You sir, do not live in Seattle.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:19 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's a completely sensible, reality-based argument, which has nothing to do with any mythical "debt" or "social contract."

The theory of the social contract is all over the Declaration of Independence, so I would hesitate to call it mythical.
posted by ersatz at 3:32 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The comments following King's article beautifully illustrate the brickheaded-ness of our "TL;DR" culture (where "too long" is anything longer than a soundbite), and why no power in the universe can change what somebody wants to believe. Several commenters recommended that King just "shut up and write a check" if he feels so undertaxed, a sentiment he SPECIFICALLY FUCKING ADDRESSES in his article.

I'd like to believe they were just trolls who didn't read the article... yes, I would like to believe that.
posted by Rykey at 3:40 PM on April 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Eventually, or maybe not, the left will realize this and stop trying to repeal these economic truths.

I presume there is some science behind what you say, and you can link to it. As of now, your claims are suspect, as you recently insisted that our current economic system dates back to caveman years."



While there may or may not be scientific evidence that some economic laws are absolute, whatever the case, who cares? There is no scientific evidence to support the truth that we are all born with inalienable rights. I doubt science can prove that killing another human is morally wrong, but who needs science for that.

Certainly if these truths exist without help from scientists, then there can be other truths, including economic ones.

This is the Left's foremost dilemma and source of all of its failings. The inability to comprehend that tinkering with basic economic truths or trying to repeal them wholesale reliably results in disaster.

And before the next person says economic truths are "social constructs" here, as some one invariably does, I will remind you that apparently so is the prohibition against murder.
posted by otto42 at 3:47 PM on April 30, 2012


The comments following King's article beautifully illustrate the brickheaded-ness of our "TL;DR" culture (where "too long" is anything longer than a soundbite), and why no power in the universe can change what somebody wants to believe. Several commenters recommended that King just "shut up and write a check" if he feels so undertaxed, a sentiment he SPECIFICALLY FUCKING ADDRESSES in his article.

I'd like to believe they were just trolls who didn't read the article... yes, I would like to believe that.
posted by Rykey at 3:40 PM on April 30 [1 favorite +] [!]

Mr. King makes a good point. He uses his money to fund libraries of his choosing, the local fire department, and he sends more to the government that legally required to do. This of course begs the question, why are all the other millionaire's and billionaire's spending FUCKING choices less enlightened than Steven King's.

Who is deciding what is enlightened or not, a bunch of OWS kids on Mefi, a Senator from New Jersey, the billionaire's kids from his first wife? Should the billionaire make a large enough donation to fund Amtrak's losses for another quarter, or should he pool that money with a lot of other billionaires to build a space plane to the moon.

We are better off buildings space planes to the moon, unless you guys have some better ideas.
posted by otto42 at 4:02 PM on April 30, 2012


Otto, can you explain what "the social-construct legitimacy of the economic system" has to do with "Stephen King writing an op-ed piece about how it'd be keen if the ultra-rich paid more taxes for a change"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:05 PM on April 30, 2012


Otto, if you're going to quote people, can you put it in italics so people reading you don't just start reading your post like it's something new only to be like, "wait, what the hell, didn't I just read this? oh no wait no he's just not italicizing" because it's very headachey.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:08 PM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


one economic truth is that a person will not engage in an arms length commercial transaction if that transaction will make him or her worse off. In a few instances here, miserably employed, and by extension, sheltered, trumps unemployed and homeless.

So, in other words, as long as someone's worse off than you, you shouldn't complain. Where is the magical dreamland you live in where workers can just up and say "No thanks" to a shit job with shit wages and stroll right into a better job? Not "engaging in a transaction" that makes one worse off implies a sort of absolute freedom of movement in the labor market that just doesn't exist anywhere, least of all in a country with a high unemployment rate.

But hey, we're all just a bunch of OWS kids, right? The fuck do we know.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:11 PM on April 30, 2012 [18 favorites]


This is the Left's foremost dilemma and source of all of its failings. The inability to comprehend that tinkering with basic economic truths or trying to repeal them wholesale reliably results in disaster.

We tinker with economic truths laws all the time--it's called regulation. We know that, left unchecked, any business with a reasonable barrier to entry (let's say... telcos) will swallow its competitors up and act against the interest of society. Therefore we (society's administrative arm i.e. the government) regulate against monopolies and cartels.

This playing field of laws, courts, taxes etc. doesn't exist on a whim. It works for society's benefit. We don't allow businesses to spring up and do whatever they want--it has to be what we, society want. We don't want cheap toys that blow up or food that is contaminated or people to tell us product X does something when it really doesn't. So we regulate and enforce those regulations.

If we think minimum wages should be raised (one of the first and best things Tony Blair ever did, that was fiercely opposed by big business) then we can do it. And if we think the top 1% should be taxed 90% or 5% then we can do it.
posted by NailsTheCat at 4:13 PM on April 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


Talking about Buffets bullshit claim that he feels the rich should pay more is silly. When you sue the IRS and fight every step of the way to avoid your companies paying taxes, when you structure your income in such a way to avoid high income tax you really can't stand up and demand that the rich should pay more. Or rather you can but anyone with enough intelligence to get over their jealousy about not being as rich as the next guy will see Buffet's stance as crap.

Something you're forgetting/overlooking/ignoring: jealousy is perfectly understandable. Especially if the people you're jealous of got their advantages through random means.

Because jealousy is understandable, it is not necessarily the case that more intelligence means you get over it. In fact, as I've learned more about the way our culture works, how it got that way, why it stays that way, and how much it sucks, I've become more jealous, not less. Why did the dice decide that, say, Donald Trump is important enough for us to care a whit about who the hell he is? That he shouldn't have to care constantly where his food, housing or health care comes from, but we should?
posted by JHarris at 4:16 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


one economic truth is that a person will not engage in an arms length commercial transaction if that transaction will make him or her worse off. In a few instances here, miserably employed, and by extension, sheltered, trumps unemployed and homeless.

No. No no no no no no. That is not an "economic truth". How often are students going to college and paying for it with loans, only to come out of it saddled with debt and no way to get a job which pays enough to cover the cost of these loans because they have no employable skills?

Or was this not an "arms length commercial transaction"?

Jesus, haven't you ever bought a candy bar or something, ate it, and then thought "oh man, why did I do that, I feel a little ill, I'm worse off for engaging in that arms length commercial transaction"?
posted by King Bee at 4:16 PM on April 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


While there may or may not be scientific evidence that some economic laws are absolute, whatever the case, who cares?

People who prefer their discussions to be based in facts. Listen, it's reasonable to have differences of opinion regarding how economics work. But the moment you start claiming there are absolute laws of economics, it short-circuits reasoned differences of opinion in favor of one side claiming they have the truth while the other doesn't. And when that claim is made, it is not unreasonable to ask that it be demonstrated.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:17 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Steal labor? Really? C'mon folks. WTF is with the hysterics?

Hi, I'm a freelancer, and I have had my labor stolen repeatedly by individuals and corporations. Here's how it works. I contract to do work for them for a price. I do the work. They don't pay me. I bitch and moan and threaten. They don't pay me. Someday, maybe I get all of the invoice. Maybe I get some of the invoice. Maybe I don't get paid at all. Not a goddamned thing I can do about it. And this is not uncommon.

And even before I was a freelancer, I had my labor stolen by employers who would not pay me for all of the hours I worked, or by employers who insisted I clock out before finishing my work. And this is not uncommon, either.

And it's not only low-skill jobs that this happens in. I know someone who has a masters degree and a law degree who just got a new job (after being laid off from his last job, which was his first job as a lawyer) who is ostensibly a C-level officer in the company and who signed a contract for a certain, fair salary. When payday comes, they didn't pay him. He said, hey, I've been doing my job well, and I got bill to pay. So why don't you pay me what I'm contracted for? And his boss said, how much you need to make some minimum payments on your bills. And he says, That's none of your business. You need to cut me a check for my salary. But the boss didn't do it, and my friend didn't quit, even though he is naturally looking for a job.

Why didn't he quit? Health insurance.
posted by vibrotronica at 4:18 PM on April 30, 2012 [41 favorites]


Mr. King makes a good point. He uses his money to fund libraries of his choosing, the local fire department, and he sends more to the government that legally required to do. This of course begs the question, why are all the other millionaire's and billionaire's spending FUCKING choices less enlightened than Steven King's.

Except that that's not his point at all (not his main point, anyhow). His point is that yes, he sends his own money to these places, and that it's great that other wealthy people do too, but that paying taxes is a much better system for addressing the myriad needs of a society than rich people picking and choosing what they want to throw money at.

Did you even read the article? If you didn't, you're doing the same thing I'm pointing out about the commenters. I'm just gonna go ahead and call troll.

And you mean "raises the question," not "begs the question."
posted by Rykey at 4:19 PM on April 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


This of course begs the question, why are all the other millionaire's and billionaire's spending FUCKING choices less enlightened than Steven King's.

"Most people are selfish shits" is pretty much a fact of human nature, sadly.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:21 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do not get me started on Imperial China.... —GenjiandProust

By all means, start!
posted by tychotesla at 4:32 PM on April 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Most people are selfish shits" is pretty much a fact of human nature, sadly.

Homo homini lupus.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:33 PM on April 30, 2012


At this point, anyone who responds to King or Buffett with "well, just write a check and shut up" is just being obtuse, willfully or not.

Taxation to maintain our civilization cannot be predicated on the arbitrary generosity of any group of folks. That's the whole point about a nation having taxes in the first place, ffs.
posted by darkstar at 4:36 PM on April 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


Or perhaps Homo homini Cujo.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:37 PM on April 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've not only had my labor stolen, but my pocket money. My first week at a job for university mktg department, I was asked to contribute to the alumni fund drive. I wasn't an alum and politely declined. Only to be told my new boss would be VERY unhappy if she "didn't get 100% participation" in the drive. So before I even got a paycheck, I turned over 15.00 of my own money to keep my job.

I later complained about that when I quit, but at the time I was in no position to argue. I don't know if anything was ever done about it either.

Shit like that happens all the time.
posted by emjaybee at 4:38 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


otto42: “... one economic truth is that a person will not engage in an arms length commercial transaction if that transaction will make him or her worse off.”

This is clearly and distinctly not true. It's been a watchword of the markets for the past five decades, but it is not true, and it's been proven to us more in the past five years than ever before. The unspoken requirement here is knowledge – knowledge about the product, and knowledge about what benefit means. A person must have knowledge to act in her or his best interest in commercial transactions. Or maybe you'd like to talk to all those people who purchased homes they couldn't afford and then faced foreclosure about whether they were acting in their best interest? Or those traders who bought mortgage-backed securities and lost people's pensions? Knowledge is a pretty essential part of this equation, and opinion can be pretty wild. There are people who believe all sorts of insane things are 'in their best interest.' And those people engage in commercial transactions that are against their better interest every day. Heck, if you want crazy examples, if I go down to the corner and buy a few grams of heroine, that's a commercial transaction, right?

The myth of enlightened self-interest isn't a myth because self-interest is bad. Sure, there are some hand-wringing liberals who will moan about that, fine. But the real reason libertarian capitalists are flatly wrong that the markets will happily regulate themselves is because people are complete idiots, and because universal enlightenment – even where our own interests are concerned – is an impossible dream.
posted by koeselitz at 4:42 PM on April 30, 2012 [21 favorites]


Shit like that happens all the time.

Oh my Goodness, don't even get me started on Hollywood. For every dollar you make, they will try to take two. If you work as an extra in this town right now, it is almost impossible to get work through a casting service. They simply have too many people and too many jobs to fill. So they turn a lot of the work of actually finding people to submit to call-in services. Call-in services cost between $50 and $70 per month. Even if they don't find you work, they'll charge $10. Now, consider that many of them have thousands of people on their lists, which means, even if they do no work at all, they will still make tens of thousands of dollars. Most extras make about $60 per day, which means that an entire day's labor goes just to pay the calling service.

In other words, if the potential extra does not work, they pay. If they only work one day, they pay their entire salary. Many extras never work at all. Now you tell me, is this theft?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:45 PM on April 30, 2012


Do not get me started on Imperial China.... —GenjiandProust

By all means, start!


In short: 3000 years of failed land reform, coupled with a much greater emphasis on (relatively immediate) family than society, leads to an apparently inescapable cycle of concentration of wealth into "connected" hands, followed by societal collapse, warlordism of various sorts, and eventually establishment of central authority generally involving some redistribution of wealth and land. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Obviously, there is a lot more to it, but that's my depressing summary. And, like my Rome summary above, is not without its parallels to the current US problem. As far as I can see, any time wealth begins to concentrate it is an extreme warning sign, and smart societies would do everything they can to rectify it. Because, if they don't do it via lawful means, it will eventually be done at the point of a weapon. The gamble of the ultra-wealthy is that they will be dead before it comes to that. Pity about their kids.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:45 PM on April 30, 2012 [36 favorites]


One thing I've learned from this conversation is that apparently a lot of people fundamentally don't understand how representative democracy works (or is supposed to work). One of the steps in the long game was to eviscerate publicly funded education, and it seems to have been successful!
posted by cell divide at 4:47 PM on April 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


otto42: “... one economic truth is that a person will not engage in an arms length commercial transaction if that transaction will make him or her worse off.”

Assuming they have the means to even enter into meaningful transactions.

If there are no property rights then most people are essentially forced into transactions that are harmful to them, but may be marginally better than simply starving to death.

But you love property rights you say! Yes, but property is wealth and when it all gets concentrated into the hands of a few individuals there are de facto no property rights.

I don't get how libertarians cannot see that medieval feudalism is the inevitable outcome of their economic beliefs.

Anyway, as someone mentioned upthread, any tax cuts should be made or the lowest tax brackets and not the highest. Poor people spend all their money - consumer demand is driven from the bottom, not the top.
posted by GuyZero at 4:58 PM on April 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


But the real reason libertarian capitalists are flatly wrong that the markets will happily regulate themselves is because people are complete idiots

Well, no, it's because there are as many system with positive feedback as negative feedback out there (in the engineering sense of positive and negative feedback). Many markets are winner-takes-all. Most markets "self-regulate" into what most people call a monarchy.
posted by GuyZero at 5:00 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


But the real reason libertarian capitalists are flatly wrong that the markets will happily regulate themselves is because people are complete idiots

I'd venture it might also be because unscrupulous employers aren't exactly forthcoming with what new employees are getting themselves into.

"So, as it says in your contract, you will be expected to work off the clock at a moment's notice. Work conditions will be ultimately hazardous to your health, as it happens you'll be handling a toxic substance known to cause cancer. You pay will frequently be late. I will not let you take time off from work to vote. There's a good chance that on any given day, I will lose my temper and send you home early over some trifling matter. Oh, and expect me to make numerous sexual advances towards you in the course of your job. Sound good? Alright, sign here, please."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:27 PM on April 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Bunny - when a 10,000 people want the same job and they are all equally qualified, and those people then have to pay to be on a list, that means the market is working. Or would you like for someone else to pay your fee, maybe the government or something. I can't imagine anyone having a problem with that. I might just then try to become an extra. 300 million extras.
posted by otto42 at 5:27 PM on April 30, 2012


If 10,000 people are competing for the same job, whose market is working, exactly?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:32 PM on April 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


Bunny - when a 10,000 people want the same job and they are all equally qualified, and those people then have to pay to be on a list, that means the market is working.

No. It actually means they are circumventing California law that says businesses may not charge you as a precondition of employment. Which is one of the jobs of government, part of the social contract: That they not just protect businesses, but also employees.

It might be easier to take your opinion seriously if you had any facts at all to back you up. But, by all means, feel free to tell me your uninformed opinion of how a broken, illegal system that preys on potential employees who are desperate for work is actually a system that works well.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:33 PM on April 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


Happy May 1 everybody!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:35 PM on April 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


I don't get how libertarians cannot see that medieval feudalism is the inevitable outcome of their economic beliefs.

My theory is that they hope to be one of the lords (or at least a treasured sycophant).
posted by MikeKD at 5:37 PM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Bunny - It sounds like the state has made an attempt to tinker with some basic economic truths, and, surprisingly failed. It's almost like some laws have no effect on the market. No doubt tougher laws are called for. Of course the illegal secret extra contact list is going to cost you more to get on then. Not that anyone in Hollywood would take extra cash on the side in exchange for keeping your name on top.
posted by otto42 at 5:53 PM on April 30, 2012


pointless MeFi eat-the-rich rant

I will never tire of Quixotic-Absurdism.
posted by juiceCake at 6:00 PM on April 30, 2012


Guys wait these are basic economic truths, indisputable and irrefutable, like atoms, if you have any problem just refer to the big stone tablets that say we should support the already successful and that nineteenth century labor laws are pure and immutable throughout time and space amen.
posted by The Whelk at 6:03 PM on April 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


But will you tire of drive-by dismissals?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:03 PM on April 30, 2012


Bunny - It sounds like the state has made an attempt to tinker with some basic economic truths, and, surprisingly failed.

Sure. If you believe that "people are going to fuck over other people and that's all there is to it" is a basic economic truth. And, you know something, without the rule of law, that does seem to be how things work. It's a pretty basic economic truth that a percentage of the people in my building, were they not constrained by locks on my doors and the fact that I can call the police, would kill me just to steal my iPhone.

That it, by the way, an argument for the rule of law, not against it. And when these laws are violated, we don't say, well, it sounds like somebody tried to control a basic economic truth and failed.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:05 PM on April 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


"If the law can be broken, it's not working and must be done away with" is my favorite libertarian meme.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:07 PM on April 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


From what I can see, a lot of the nonsense (and that's what it is) in this thread is wholly unsubstantiated assumption. Which, in a nutshell, explains the entire libertarian ethos. Well, that, and the blatant refusal to acknowledge history as a thing that actually happened. You know, in the past.
posted by IvoShandor at 6:10 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


No. It actually means they are circumventing California law that says businesses may not charge you as a precondition of employment.

Wait, who pays you when you do work? The production or the listing agency?

If it's the production, then there's nothing wrong, provided they're not making you use the service as a literal condition of employment (although it may be a de facto requirement, which is a different argument). If the production is paying you, then the listing agency is merely providing you with a paid service.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:10 PM on April 30, 2012


Careful bunny that sounds dangerously like we're all in this together and communality of humanity to protect itself and care for each other and that is so very wrong cause then I can't imagine myself as a proud noble warrior top a cliff with the wind in my cape and I might have to think about other people and how I've been helped and that makes me uncomfortable :(
posted by The Whelk at 6:10 PM on April 30, 2012 [19 favorites]


I say this with due consideration: It's impossible to be both enlightened and a libertarian.
posted by maxwelton at 6:12 PM on April 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


"If the law can be broken, it's not working and must be done away with" is my favorite libertarian meme.

Well, in fairness, the idea is, if the law is unenforceable, then it's worthless. I can pass a law saying you must paint your house blue, but if I don't verify and enforce the law with a negative consequence (e.g. A fine) or an inducement (e.g. A tax break for owners of blue houses), then what was the point of passing it?

Then you start asking questions like, "Is the cost of enforcing this law more than the benefit of having it at all?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:16 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the production is paying you, then the listing agency is merely providing you with a paid service.

That's actually not how it works. It was the case that Central Casting tried to make a few years ago, as they used to charge fees to people who joined their service -- we don't actually pay, that's the production companies. But there was a law passed in 2009 called the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act. This law forbids talent representatives from charging fees to clients in exchange for the promise of securing employment. The workaround is that calling services claim they are not a representative of their clients, but instead a service for their client, and so the service fee is reasonable.

In fact, without a calling service, it is not possible to get meaningful employment as a background actor. They have become the de-facto representative of their clients, doing substantially the same job that Central Casting used to do. If you cannot get a job without using a calling service, then whatever you pay to the calling service becomes a precondition of employment.

I am sure this loophole will be closed sometime soon. The trouble is that it preys mostly on people who are very new to the business, and don't know the law, and so don't complain, and the people who are in a position to complain typically aren't affected by it. I hope the SAG-AFTRA merger will mean that the conditions of background talent are watched more closely, because any system that abuses an actor should be of concern to other actors, whether it directly affects them or not.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:20 PM on April 30, 2012


Well, in fairness, the idea is, if the law is unenforceable, then it's worthless.

Is it? Because I usually see this bandied about to say "because this law did not prevent a crime from happening, in this isolated instance I've cherry-picked, it's worthless".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:20 PM on April 30, 2012


We've been doing "trickle down" economics for 30 years at least. We've been supporting big business and big owners/management.

What has that bought for us? Downsizing, benefit reduction or elimination, outsourcing, and LAWS THAT MAKE IT NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE TO CREATE NEW INDUSTRY FROM THE BOTTOM UP! As if my little shit industry is even competitive.

Big business has the market cornered in every way conceivable. They own the government, they make the laws there is no fair or equitable anything.
posted by snsranch at 6:21 PM on April 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


Until the pre-crime unit is up and running, it's going to be pretty hard to prevent crimes from happening.

RED BALL. RED BALL.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:22 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


The state seems to have some wonderful intentions. There does not seem to be anything immoral about keeping a list or requiring a fee to be on it. The state says it is illegal, but what is that worth? The state says it is illegal to buy and sell weed, but there isn't apparently anything immoral about that type of transaction, assuming two adults are involved.

Great example bunny as to why economic truths can't be wished away with the good intentions of liberals
posted by otto42 at 6:27 PM on April 30, 2012


We have many ways of looking at this whole issue of taxing the rich. I think it's structurally necessary.

For the most part, our species extracts resources, processes them, and delivers them, allowing a flow of novel goods and services to reach the consumer. At every step during this flow, there is a contrary flow of tokens of value we call money, which is exchanged for the resources. Without adequate taxation, the flow of money will tend to pool around the origins of the resources - oil companies will accumulate the money, for example. Adequate taxation restores a beneficial flow of goods and services because it recycles the equal and opposite flow of money back into the economy.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:27 PM on April 30, 2012


Great example bunny as to why economic truths can't be wished away with the good intentions of liberals

But they can be prosecuted away with good policework. And, yes, there is something immoral about charging poor people for work without any guarantee of work. Unless your morality starts and ends with "whatever I can get away with is fine."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:29 PM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm not saying the law is not police able, I'm saying there does not need to be a law. The law creates lists that are too expensive for you to get on. The list is illegal but not immoral, so there is not going to be a limit for what some people are willing to pay.

Instead of outlawing lists, make them all legal. How long could it possibly take for the useless list makers go out of business. I'm sure extras have a lot of free time between shoots to compare notes as to which list is worth the money.
posted by otto42 at 6:49 PM on April 30, 2012


One thing that King gets wrong on page three is the myth that the USA is particularly meritocratic or that there is a high level of social dynamism. In actual fact, the class you are born into in the USA is a greyer determinant of your final life outcomes than in many countries.
posted by wilful at 6:53 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure extras have a lot of free time between shoots to compare notes as to which list is worth the money.

And I am sure you are speaking about something you have never investigated, and I am curious as to why you feel comfortable doing so? Do you just presume that you have expertise because of your vast understanding of caveman economics?

Anyway, the extra discussion is a bit off topic, and I am astonished it has become a point of contention. Apparently, there is nothing that can be done to the working poor that cannot be justified as moral and right so long as it benefits the wealthy.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:55 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Economic truths" is not going to fly. When you guys talk about economic truths you're talking about a reductio ad absurdum that econ 101 profs use so they can get through their first three lectures.

It's the old "assume a can opener" joke.

" A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island, with nothing to eat. A can of soup washes ashore. The physicist says, "Let's smash the can open with a rock." The chemist says, "Let's build a fire and heat the can first." The economist says, "Let's assume that we have a can-opener..." "
posted by Trochanter at 7:27 PM on April 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


Libertarians. Sigh.

Look, you want a perfect market? That requires some assumptions. When the real world doesn't follow those assumptions the theory doesn't produce the optimum result.

Its like some dumbass saying that the internal angles of a triangle always add up to 180 degrees. Would you agree with that simple statement? Well, you'd be wrong. On a sphere or other curved surface things work rather differently.

You have to specify your assumptions and verify that they are true before you make any deductions.

(On preview what Trochanter said)
posted by Chekhovian at 7:31 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


The law is not helping the working poor. The law creates a two tier system whereby those that can pay any price will, and those that can't, do not get to work.

I don't need to know anything about the industry. There are some pretty simple economic truths that are applicable in every instance. You are waiting for the state to protect the limited value of your franchise and it will never happen. People pay for preferential treatment all the time, whether at six flags or taking a client to lunch. The act of payment for preferential treatment is not immoral so passing a law is not going to change behavior. It is only going to distort the market for your services. The distortion is to your detriment since it favors the haves.



Moreover, and you are not going to like to hear this, but your need for a job as an extra to make ends meet does not supercede the want of a job as an extra by someone who is only doing it as a hobby, or for fun, or for any other reason.
posted by otto42 at 7:31 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are some pretty simple economic truths that are applicable in every instance.

You keep saying this, and I am impressed at how comfortable you are being so often wrong.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:36 PM on April 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


So what about blackmail? Should that not be illegal? Because if the victim (sorry, 'client') pays, then obviously they judge that to be a good use of money. It's really just a transaction between two consenting adults.

Are you seriously saying that coercion isn't a thing unless a 'gun to your head' aka a threat of physical violence is present? If so, why that line?
posted by Garm at 8:00 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


One question. Does anyone here actually think that King or Buffett make the tax rules? And assuming that the tax laws changed, does anyone here think that they wouldn't simply pay their larger share? They are not hypocrites until they are faced with the new laws, new percentages and actually go out of their way to avoid them. Maybe they are hypocrites because they think that it will never happen? Okay I'll give you that in theory. But I honestly don't think that's the truth. Maybe I'm just naive. But I think not. I also think it's refreshing to hear a multi-millionaire say such a thing. It's a condition of the world that we live in now. More power to them.
posted by Splunge at 8:12 PM on April 30, 2012


otto42: "I don't need to know anything about the industry. There are some pretty simple economic truths that are applicable in every instance."

Again, no, this is not true. Not even Milton Friedman thought this was true. Economics is not a small set of absolute laws that function in all cases, and the free market does not always reduce costs or increase efficiency or do away with cruft.

I like sniping at liberals as much as you do, but doing it at the expense of reason is not the way.
posted by koeselitz at 8:17 PM on April 30, 2012


Instead of outlawing lists, make them all legal. How long could it possibly take for the useless list makers go out of business. I'm sure extras have a lot of free time between shoots to compare notes as to which list is worth the money.

Troll. Nuke it from space.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:39 PM on April 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


In case it wasn't clear, "orbit" is much too close for this kind of an operation.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:41 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh hey a new song about this from Kim Boekbinder
posted by The Whelk at 9:00 PM on April 30, 2012


Meh, Bob Roberts is the definitive version.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:03 PM on April 30, 2012


This thread makes me profoundly sad. I don't want to live in a "dog eat dog world, not enough dog to go around" society. I don't want to live in a world in which I don't give a shit about anyone in trouble because it hasn't happened to me (yet). I don't want to then rewrite the rules when it benefits me (aka, lousy welfare recipients except when I need food stamps crowd).

I was only able to go to college because of Pell Grants, Stafford loans, and scholarships. If I were a teenager today, there's no way I'd be able to afford an education. (Despite the help, I had to work 35 hours a week to afford it.) While I'm benefitting from it today, my Fortune 100 company is as well. To say that companies do it all on their own is silly: how rich would these corporations be if they had to train their workforce from the ground up? How would they have gotten such great productivity gains? (Not to mention the infrastructure of roads, utilities, etc.)

While I'm not crazy about Stephen King as a writer, I loved his article: as Americans, as citizens of any country, we should be working on strengthening our society as a whole, not eschewing anything that does not personally benefit us. Good on him on exposing the hypocrisy.
posted by sfkiddo at 9:16 PM on April 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


when was the last time you saw a dog eat a dog anyway.
posted by The Whelk at 9:26 PM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


My favorite bit:
The U.S. senators and representatives who refuse even to consider raising taxes on the rich—they squall like scalded babies (usually on Fox News) every time the subject comes up—are not, by and large, superrich themselves, although many are millionaires and all have had the equivalent of Obamacare for years. They simply idolize the rich. Don’t ask me why; I don’t get it either, since most rich people are as boring as old, dead dog shit. The Mitch McConnells and John Boehners and Eric Cantors just can’t seem to help themselves. These guys and their right-wing supporters regard deep pockets like Christy Walton and Sheldon Adelson the way little girls regard Justin Bieber … which is to say, with wide eyes, slack jaws, and the drool of adoration dripping from their chins. I’ve gotten the same reaction myself, even though I’m only “baby rich” compared with some of these guys, who float serenely over the lives of the struggling middle class like blimps made of thousand-dollar bills.
Like Stephen King, I have long wondered why so many chickens continue to vote - and with such enthusiasm! - for Colonel Sanders.
posted by flabdablet at 9:51 PM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Money can buy happiness, you just have to spend it the right way.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:45 PM on April 30, 2012


Our laws, our courts, our police, and most of all our democracy itself are items of extraordinary value bought by our taxes. They are worth our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. To have to pay only a small part of our incomes for them is an extraordinary bargain.

UC Berkeley's Brad DeLong on taxes
.
posted by Sand Reckoner at 12:24 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, with all this left wing vitriol directed at obese right-wing pundits and politicians who accuse the destitute in this country of getting more than they deserve, some of you are mad at fat jokes? Are you fucking serious?
posted by hellslinger at 12:25 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


After years of practice, I can be mad at many things at the same time.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:30 AM on May 1, 2012 [15 favorites]


An anthropologist proposed a game to the kids in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the kids that who ever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run they all took each others hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that as one could have had all the fruits for himself they said: ''UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?''

Mwana wa mnzako ngwako yemwe, ukachenjera manja udya naye
posted by DreamerFi at 12:36 AM on May 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Eat less, get more exercise, and focus your anger on things with a larger ROI: you'll be happier.
posted by hellslinger at 12:38 AM on May 1, 2012


If anything, I need to eat more. But thanks for the advice!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:46 AM on May 1, 2012


Eat less, get more exercise, and focus your anger on things with a larger ROI: you'll be happier.

Excuse me if I'm not certain the person who pops into a thread at the last minute to express sneering, drive-by amazement at something completely unsurprising is the best source for life advice.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:55 AM on May 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


In fact, without a calling service, it is not possible to get meaningful employment as a background actor. They have become the de-facto representative of their clients, doing substantially the same job that Central Casting used to do. If you cannot get a job without using a calling service, then whatever you pay to the calling service becomes a precondition of employment.

OK, outlaw this practice. You think the benefits will flow towards extras? They won't. Fewer extras will get hired, and banning extra lists will mean more money for...casting directors. Face it, as an extra you've probably heard the crew members refer to you as a 'moveable prop.' That's what extras are: decoration so the background of the shot doesn't look empty. It pays around $60 for what is often a 12-hour day (albeit with free food) because the job basically consists of turning up in appropriate clothes or being given some by wardrobe, and then sitting or standing around or walking across the set on cue, over and over.

You work only one day in the month, the fee may eat up your pay - but you got a screen credit to add to your resume, which is the real currency in Hollywood. Work several days, or have a great look or some other distinctive quality, maybe you get upgraded and given a line and suddenly you're a day player or possibly even a featured player. Fail to show up on time, miss your mark continually, or fail to pay attention to the 1st or 2nd AD's calls and slow down the schedule, word will goes back to the agency about who's there to work and who's there for a chat.

Yes, it's tedious and unforgiving work, and only those credits on your headshot and IMDB listing, and the people you meet that can get your the next gig, make it worth even bothering to show up. But as you said above, there are simply too many people in LA (and NY, and any other city with a lot of film/tv production) that want to be on camera and too many gigs specifying 'send me 50 people, contemporary nightclub.' They call 100 people, only 70 are available; without a listing fee of some sort you'll be lucky if more than 25 of them turn up. Most actors have no compunction about dropping a background gig if they get an audition call instead, and this is just a fact productions have to put up with. It works much the same way for crew; if you don't know enough people, you pay for a list of what's going into production and make a lot of calls to production managers. Do a good job often enough and you start getting referrals instead.

This article describes the sort of scams the 2009 law is designed to prevent - actors being charged thousands of dollars in bullshit fees for photography and web promotion that is going to have exactly zero effect on their job prospects; the company that made the Friday video for Rebecca Black is sailing perilously close to these winds. For the unforgiving economies of scale of casting background actors, not much will change. Background players are a commodity and if the administration overhead gets more expensive, then it will just accelerate the push towards CG background replacement, stock footage with standard lens sets/lighting maps, or specialty background service companies that send their own bus, their own crafty (even less networking with the 'talent', if that were possible), and their own cattle driver 3rd AD. Overhead has always been the driver of new services and technology in the film business. If I can't spend $1000 on background players in a scene, I'll try 5 different technical solutions that cost less, or change the scene so it takes place in a booth instead of the middle of busy restaurant, or change the shots so that I use only half as many bodies.

If the marginal cost of hiring background players goes up, the quantity demanded will fall, and it's not like there's a supply shortage to begin with. Look at it from the production side; every extra person on the set has a cost in both money and time. If the production value isn't self-evident, there are always alternatives.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:58 AM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's like you almost know what you're talking about, and then you just don't.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:05 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nice first post, D.

Metafilter: Stephen King + economic policy = Nerdstorm Twenty Twelve
posted by Huck500 at 6:23 AM on May 1, 2012


when was the last time you saw a dog eat a dog anyway.
posted by The Whelk


About 1990, when a deranged chocolate lab my parents owned sniffed out the grave of a dog that'd been buried on the property some time before. It was profoundly unpleasant.
posted by COBRA! at 7:34 AM on May 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Bunny, was that directed at anigbrowl? Her post seemed pretty cogent to me, and I've worked on both sides of the camera. But I haven't ever worked as a casting director or third AD, so what am I missing?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:34 AM on May 1, 2012


But will you tire of drive-by dismissals?

No idea. I'll let you know if I ever do have an idea. But someone ranting about non-existant ranting is indeed something I will never tire of. It's disingenuous to cast some of the posts in this thread an an "eat the rich rant". It's wonderfully absurd though, as noted.

when was the last time you saw a dog eat a dog anyway.

In the metaphoric sense, quite often. In the literal sense, a few years ago when Bailey, a Rottweiler we had, ate a couple of her own offspring, the reasons for which are often debated.
posted by juiceCake at 7:47 AM on May 1, 2012


It's wonderfully absurd though, as noted.

Oh man, it seems I completely misunderstood your post earlier. My apologies.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:33 AM on May 1, 2012


Awful aspects of spring
posted by flabdablet at 9:20 AM on May 1, 2012


Here's the problem with relying on wealthy donors.

In 1990 or '91 at Tufts University the university president -- a French nutritionist -- complained about big donors because they all want a building with their name on it, and you had to wait for them to die before you could use their money for financial aid. This was, and is, harsh but true.

Nearly the same point was made in a Boston Globe architectural piece that discussed how so many Boston-area campuses were clashing fields of ugliness because most big-money donors not only wanted their name on a building, but wanted the building to be *ahem* distinctive.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:21 AM on May 1, 2012


anigbrowl, I think that comparing the economic/employment logistics of the entertainment industry to the economic/employment logistics to any other industry is probably a mistake, as there is a third factor (read: "tons of people who want to Be Famous at any cost") that means that the entertainment business works with a unique form of Insane Troll Logic that doesn't as such apply to the rest of the world, at least in conversations about "typical" economic/employment trends.

And I am saying this as a theater professional of 15+ years.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:25 AM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


In 1990 or '91 at Tufts University the university president -- a French nutritionist -- complained about big donors because they all want a building with their name on it, and you had to wait for them to die before you could use their money for financial aid. This was, and is, harsh but true.

When they reboot Columbo this will be the basis for the first (and hopefully last) episode where of course, someone doesn't want to wait for the big donor to die, so he or she doesn't.
posted by juiceCake at 9:41 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


When they reboot Columbo

Stop right there. Get out.
posted by bongo_x at 10:20 AM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


comparing the...entertainment industry...to any other industry is probably a mistake, as there is a third factor (read: "tons of people who want to Be Famous at any cost") that means that the entertainment business works with a unique form of Insane Troll Logic

Sadly such hidden motivations seem to be quite frequent in a few other fields, academia especially. There are some people that will endure the STOOPIDIST shit for the shot at a professorship. The hurdles toward being a n MD are pretty high too, but at least you can make a bunch of money once you get there, 15 years later.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:36 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


True that, Chekhovian. Entertainment, academia, and sports may be similar in that regard.

But I'm sure you'll agree that the employment/economic logistics for those fields are all different from, say, service jobs or marketing or banking.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:47 AM on May 1, 2012


Lots of people have a powerful innate drive to be physicists, visual artists, chefs at fancy restaurants, teachers, veterinarians, musicians, journalists, novelists, firefighters, cops, even librarians.... The sad truth is that there are tons of people who are capable of doing these jobs, and who are willing to make huge personal sacrifices to do them (even to the point of working for free) so they're always going to be a tough way to make a living.
posted by miyabo at 10:50 AM on May 1, 2012


Do people understand my larger point, though, that using an in-depth analysis of the specifics of employment as a movie extra may be too specialized a case to use as an example of the workings of "how to get a job" in general?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:11 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


But I haven't ever worked as a casting director or third AD, so what am I missing?

Background talent don't work for IMDB credits; you almost never get credit for doing background. Background talent don't put their background work on the resumes. It's so passingly rare for background to be given lines of dialogue that the idea that you might get to be a feature player as a result is like hoping to get struck by lightning. Background are not "human furniture;" that's a startlingly contemptuous way to refer to the job. If a background worker skips out on doing their job because they have an audition, that's it, they're done with whatever service they work for; people who do this work maybe one job and then never again, so there is no need for a "filing fee" to keep them honest. The article anigbrowl links to explicitly states that the law was put in place in part to address Central Casting charging background money for getting photos taken, and says nothing about Rebecca Black-syle scams; perhaps that might fall under the law, but was not the point of the law, as anigbrowl claims. Background pays $65-some-odd for an 8-hour day only if you're non-union (it pays quite a bit more if you're union, and there are quite a few television shows that only use union background); even then, if you work 12 hours it jumps up considerably. So many little details are wrong and I believe anigbrowl has some connection with the industry, but not in this area, and it doesn't help the discussion to come and and just Cliff Clavin for a while, talking as though you are an expert in this area when, in fact, you are getting facts wrong again and again.

anigbrowl is probably right that the people in production have contempt for and don't actually understand what background talent does. He or she sure seems to. But as to the first question anigbrowl asked: If calling services stop charging $10 to $25 just to have background on their list, will it save background money? Yes, of course it will. That's $10 to $25 that the actors won't have to pay, and calling services will not make money unless they get their actors jobs. There are plenty of calling services that don't charge unless you work -- almost all the better ones. So it's preposterous to claim that this would just somehow magically end up making casting directors more money. It just means that calling services that have a business model that depends on making money from people without doing anything for them would go out of business, and those who actually know how to get consistent work for their roster would be fine, and Central Casting might have to go back to doing what they claim to do, instead of letting calling services be a de facto adjunct to their official casting jobs.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:49 AM on May 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Background are not "human furniture;" that's a startlingly contemptuous way to refer to the job.

Have you ever been on crew, or been responsible for budgets or shooting schedules? I'm guessing not. You try to refute most of my claims by distorting them, although I tried to be sympathetic to your position by observing that what ought to be an 8 hour job often metamorphoses into 12.

anigbrowl is probably right that the people in production have contempt for and don't actually understand what background talent does.

True enough. I've often wondered what is so important that I need to keep yelling 'quiet on set' at the top of my voice and threaten to eject people that don't understand the difference between putting their cellphones on silent and actually turning them off. Luckily there are exceptions to this trend. They don't go in for complaints that movie stars are grossly overpaid and make no difference whatsoever to the performance of a film at the boxoffice, though.

But as to the first question anigbrowl asked: If calling services stop charging $10 to $25 just to have background on their list, will it save background money? Yes, of course it will. That's $10 to $25 that the actors won't have to pay, and calling services will not make money unless they get their actors jobs. There are plenty of calling services that don't charge unless you work -- almost all the better ones. So it's preposterous to claim that this would just somehow magically end up making casting directors more money.

Preposterous, eh? As you said earlier:

If you work as an extra in this town right now, it is almost impossible to get work through a casting service. They simply have too many people and too many jobs to fill. So they turn a lot of the work of actually finding people to submit to call-in services. Call-in services cost between $50 and $70 per month. Even if they don't find you work, they'll charge $10.

and

In fact, without a calling service, it is not possible to get meaningful employment as a background actor. They have become the de-facto representative of their clients, doing substantially the same job that Central Casting used to do. If you cannot get a job without using a calling service, then whatever you pay to the calling service becomes a precondition of employment.

Now you're saying that there are plenty of calling services that don't charge unless you work - 'almost all the better ones' - and this is your proof that additional regulation won't lead to any upward pressure on costs. That is illogical. Calling services have overhead too, as described. If 'the better ones' get by without charging fees when you don't work, what's the problem? If, as you originally claimed, it's not possible to get regular extra work without subscribing to such a service, doesn't it strike you that they must be providing some utility to production companies?

I used to share your attitude about how tough and unfair it all is, and how callous and indifferent producers are. It's natural to have a degree of tunnel vision about your own department and figure that the other department's 'don't get it,' especially since nobody likes being hounded by a overwrought AD or production manager. But learning to look at things from a producer's standpoint is both easier and more rewarding.

~
Do people understand my larger point, though, that using an in-depth analysis of the specifics of employment as a movie extra may be too specialized a case to use as an example of the workings of "how to get a job" in general?

I don't think it's all that different, actually, just more obvious. Every individual movie/tv show/short film is like a small business, and they follow remarkably similar patterns of industrial production. Background acting is the unskilled labor of the on-camera world This is not to say that individual background actors lack skill; one has to start somewhere. It's just that the economics of hiring and employment conditions are made much more obvious in the entertainment industry by the very short timeframes (and resultant repetition) relative to more conventional employment.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:41 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


.....'kay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:44 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey so how about that Stephen King getting taxed, is what
posted by shakespeherian at 1:48 PM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


anigbrowl, I don't try to wax eloquent about whatever the hell you do on the set, because I have not done it. Maybe you should stick to discussing things you actually have some experience with, and not just start talking with expertise about things you have only what seems to be vaguest passing familiarity with.

If anybody wishes to further discuss background work, they can memail me. It's not the subject of this thread.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:51 PM on May 1, 2012


Amazingly enough, Bunny, I have done my share of background as well. I spent about a decade working in the film industry, and the only reason I'm not living in LA now is to do with strong family ties in Northern California. But clearly, there's nothing I could possibly teach you.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:28 PM on May 1, 2012


An appeal to authority isn't going to work with me. You have been consistently wrong in your statements about background work. And I don't mean small errors. I mean wrong and dismissive in a way that leads me to believe that "your share" hasn't provided you enough experience to really have anything to teach me.

You know, it's one thing to just be wrong about something. We all have bad information sometimew. But to not only be wrong, but then be stubborn about it, and then to insist you have some undocumented experience that should set you in place as a teacher?

Trust me, if your statements had been factual, accurate, contemporay, and fair, I would be at your knees begging for wisdom. But this town is full of people who have, on and off, done key grip, or foodie, or some other specialized task and who insist it makes the experts at everything, and who relentlessly pass on bad information. And it's bad for the business.

You want to teach me something? Start with what you know, that is contemporary, and you have real expertise at. Because, believe it or not, I have done my share of background for 20 years, here, Texas, and in Minneapolis, and you have yet to establish any bona fides. And background talent gets fucked with enough without some pompous know it all explaining that the simply must pay a monthly fee to be listed, without guarantee of work, because they are so unreliable that if they don't do that, they just won't show up.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:37 PM on May 1, 2012


Yeah I agree, let's raise taxes on the rich!
posted by shakespeherian at 2:39 PM on May 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


NO I WANT TO TALK ABOUT BACKGROUND WORK.

Jesus, do I not want to talk about background work anymore.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:47 PM on May 1, 2012


Tell me about the David Bowie dream again.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:49 PM on May 1, 2012


David Bowie is lying on his back in a desert. He can't get up. And I'm not helping him. Why is that?
posted by GuyZero at 2:55 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because the jean genie lives on his back
posted by The Whelk at 2:56 PM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Let me tell you about David Bowie.
[Leon shoots Holden with a gun he had pulled out under the table]
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:58 PM on May 1, 2012


Dude, Holden shot first.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:59 PM on May 1, 2012


OK, so seriously, about movie extras, I know nothing about it and make no claims to know about it but from your description it seems like a situation where there is a surplus of workers and rent-seeking information brokers. The rent-seeking happens because regulations on worker pay keep the wages from dropping lower to where you'd expect them to be in a completely unregulated market.

The situation seems pretty simple at a high level. Yes, it's exploitative, but I guess the arms-length relationship of the studios and the information brokers keeps it in a legal grey area.

So while I am generally OK with regulation, regulations tends to beget more regulations. Unlike libertarians, I'm generally OK with that.
posted by GuyZero at 3:04 PM on May 1, 2012


Tacking away from the recent issues:
regulations tends to beget more regulations

Unfortunately rather true...economics as a system "tends toward complexity". You make the rules, the first thing wall street types try to do is game the system. You make rules to counter their exploits, they find new ones.

Its a lot like Operating Systems. There isn't really a perfect option, and periodic updates/virus scans are necessary.

The sensible option isn't just to turn off your firewall and uninstall your antivirus software.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:34 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


An appeal to authority isn't going to work with me.

It seems to be your main mode of argument, along with saying that the subject is off-topic for the thread despite being the person who introduced it and argued it at length before I showed up. This isn't the first time you've introduced views about your own line of work into a thread and then declared them off-topic when they were challenged, eg your recent assertions that highly paid stars have no demonstrable impact on the box-office performance of a film.

You know, it's one thing to just be wrong about something. We all have bad information sometimew. But to not only be wrong, but then be stubborn about it, and then to insist you have some undocumented experience that should set you in place as a teacher?

Pot, kettle...

Trust me, if your statements had been factual, accurate, contemporay, and fair, I would be at your knees begging for wisdom. But this town is full of people who have, on and off, done key grip, or foodie, or some other specialized task and who insist it makes the experts at everything, and who relentlessly pass on bad information. And it's bad for the business.

Sure you would. Well, my most frequent role has been as production sound mixer , but I've also been (in no particular order, but on multiple occasions) a boom operator, 1st AC, set decorator, 1st and second AD, production manager, editor, post supervisor, gaffer, grip, extra, day and featured player and screenwriter. I've worked on 10 features, some 50 shorts or TV episodes, and I forget how many commercials/industrials.

For the benefit of others reading, being a day player means having a line but usually only in one or two scenes: you're being paid 'by the day' instead of having a contract. Being a featured player means you have a line in a scene featuring one of the leads.

Its a lot like Operating Systems. There isn't really a perfect option, and periodic updates/virus scans are necessary.

The sensible option isn't just to turn off your firewall and uninstall your antivirus software.


An excellent analogy. Of course, there's a tradeoff between security, stability, and performance.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:06 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


STOP TALKING ABOUT IT
FOR THE EVERFUCKING LOVE OF CHRIST
posted by shakespeherian at 4:14 PM on May 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


Of course, there's a tradeoff between security, stability, and performance.

True, Kings and Dictators can get shit done. But you ain't going like how they steal your everything, violate your privacy, etc.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:18 PM on May 1, 2012


There is such a thing as a happy medium. I'm fine with a regulatory state, but not the point of paralysis. Consider the high-speed rail project in California: I love rail and have been an enthusiastic supporter of this for years, but as of last November the revised draft plan has doubled in cost from $43 billion to 98.5 billion, and the completion date for phase 1 has been pushed back from 2020 to 2033. After a rather negative public response, a new plan was issued last month that would cost only $68 billion and go into (limited) operation by 2023 with completion by 2029. The new plan saves money by not running high speed track into San Francisco or Los Angeles and instead high speed trains will share rail with existing commuter trains. Currently, it takes about 80 minutes to go from San Francisco to San Jose via Caltrain, and they plan to have this route electrified by 2020.

My theory is that it's easier to get people to pay taxes (as Californians have already voted to do for $43 billion of this) when the putative benefits arrive within the foreseeable future. The idea that it going to take another 20 years to get end-to-end rail transportation between two of California's largest cities makes my brain hurt.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:00 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is such a thing as a happy medium. I'm fine with a regulatory state, but not the point of paralysis.

We can work on the governmental type:OS type analogies, but I suspect that it would be too heated even in comparison with the present state of this thread.

In any case, our current system is like the computer your grandmother calls you to fix, too laden with viruses and spyware to run any programs, the internet browser has 80 unnecessary toolbars that are probably just to violate your privacy, the login password is written on a sticky note attached to the monitor (along with all the bank account info and such)...I can keep going.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:31 PM on May 1, 2012


Excuse me if I'm not certain the person who pops into a thread at the last minute to express sneering, drive-by amazement at something completely unsurprising is the best source for life advice.

Add 'sarcastic' to that list of astute observations, and you might just get that book deal you've been trolling metafilter in wait for.
posted by hellslinger at 11:15 PM on May 1, 2012


Speaking of pots and kettles.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:28 AM on May 2, 2012


Its a lot like Operating Systems. Pt II.

Most of the problems would vanish if we all switched back to 386s. No internet for easy virus distribution etc. Of course, you don't get much benefit out of your 386 either.

You could say that the 386 is the libertarian option.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:36 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Steal labor? Really? C'mon folks. WTF is with the hysterics?

What do you call this if not a picture of labor being stolen? Starting in the late 70s or so, worker productivity has been decoupled from earnings. We aren't rewarded for working harder or being more productive anymore.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:16 AM on May 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is the best thing by Stephen King that I have ever read.

I also must admit this is the only thing by Stephen King I've ever read.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:17 AM on May 2, 2012


Speaking Parts is swell movie about the art of film background acting in the 20th century, and other things.
posted by ovvl at 4:20 PM on May 2, 2012


What do you call this if not a picture of labor being stolen? Starting in the late 70s or so, worker productivity has been decoupled from earnings. We aren't rewarded for working harder or being more productive anymore.

A lot of those productivity gains have come from the widespread use of computers in the workplace. The divergence starts around the same time that the IBM PC was put on the market.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:17 PM on May 2, 2012


anigbrowl: “A lot of those productivity gains have come from the widespread use of computers in the workplace. The divergence starts around the same time that the IBM PC was put on the market.”

That doesn't make any sense. Because of computers, the company makes more money, and workers make less. Does that make sense to you?

Also, I'm not sure correlation indicates that it was actually computers that did it in this case. There have been a lot of things that have happened in the past decades as far as labor laws, minimum wage, etc. There are many factors, and I'm not sure we can assume computers caused the divergence.
posted by koeselitz at 11:13 PM on May 2, 2012


the company makes more money, and workers make less.

Its more like workers get assigned more work without the commensurate pay raises. And whole decently paying fields of work get wiped out and absorbed into other jobs and those people probably have to find new jobs that aren't as highly paying for them. We used to have draftsman to draw up thinks, secretaries to type things up, etc etc. Now all those middle class jobs are done by you on your own computer.

I'm not sure we can assume computers caused the divergence

Seems like I've seen plenty of analysis of the IT revolution and whatnot. All the post Reagan union busting has played a major role too, don't get me wrong, but a lot of mid-level professions simply don't exist anymore.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:21 PM on May 2, 2012


Bunny - when a 10,000 people want the same job and they are all equally qualified, and those people then have to pay to be on a list, that means the market is working.

No, it means something is wrong and a middle market has developed. In a pure market, wages would drop until the number of people seeking jibs matches the number of slots. if the number of slots climbs, or the number of willing extras falls, then wages will rise until we reach a match.

Here, for some reason, the wages are being propped up, so a middle market has come into play to effectively depress wages. The question is why are the wages be propped up.

Note: I am not against minimum wage, but this can happen. The better fix, of course, is to increase the number of jobs so you really don't need a minimum wage, competition for labor would keep wages up.

Why do you think the policy of many countries is more concerned with debt and inflation than employment? Business likes unemployment. It makes labor cheaper. They hate minimum wage, because they end up in effect paying a middle market.
posted by eriko at 4:01 AM on May 3, 2012


Can someone PLEASE explain what the HELL the market concerning film extras has to do with Stephen King's taxes before I flag this whole thread from orbit???
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:13 AM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


the HELL the market concerning film extras

Certainly it sounds as if it disproves the "Rational Actor" hypothesis...but that doesn't seem to be what the concerned parties are arguing. More like whose Movie-Wang is longer.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:26 AM on May 3, 2012


That doesn't make any sense. Because of computers, the company makes more money, and workers make less. Does that make sense to you?

Yes. think about the time it takes to do a company's payroll. Doing it by hand or with calculators might take , say, 5 human bookkeepers a week, or one man-month. Doing it with a database and a spreadsheet might take one human 3 days. Productivity has increased tenfold, but even if you pay that lone bookkeeper twice as much as before (for learning all those useful computer skills) her pay will still fall far short of the productivity increase.

Think about people downloading digital copies of music and movies. There are ever more copies of such things coming into existence, but very little human labor is involved because the marginal cost of copying digital information is close to zero. It isn't any more labor-intensive to copy 1000 files from one hard disk to another than it is to copy one, even though the quantity of information transferred (and productivity gained) is much higher in the former case.

Or take a more mundane example. I hire people to saw wood at precise angles on my construction site. Worker A is issued a manual miter saw. Worker B has an electric miter saw. Now say I pay them $100 each for a day of work. Worker A is going to cut maybe 96 pieces of lumber during that time, at 5 minutes per cut on average. Worker B could do about 480 pieces, at 1 minute per cut. His productivity is almost 5 times higher than that of Worker A. Worker A is arguably putting in much more effort since he's sawing manually, but then you could say that Worker B is lifting many more pieces of lumber onto the electrical saw, so he's working hard too, just at lifting rather than sawing. Let's assume the physical effort is equivalent, they're putting in the same time, and getting the same pay. Is there any reason Worker B should get paid more? It's true his productivity is higher, but that's because of the power tool I gave him to work with. If I swap them around the next day and have Worker B use the manual saw and Worker A use the electrical one, their productivity will change accordingly even though they're doing the same amount of work.

I've thought about this a good bit over the last few months, as we bought an old house which has needed some fixing up, and I used to work in construction so I have been doing a lot of the smaller jobs myself. I enjoy working with my hands and often prefer to use a manual tool if it's practical - it's good exercise for both muscular work and hand-eye coordination, and I like the way you can feel things about the wood or whatever you're working on through the tool. On the other hand, my time is limited so so some repetitive tasks call for a power tool. I don't want to be one of those people that just buys more and more tools that only do one thing each, since won't be fixing up the house forever, so the way I think about whether to buy a tool rather than borrowing or renting it is how the price of the tool stacks up against the amount of time I expect to save with it. Ideally I should make that calculation based on how much I could earn doing something else (my opportunity cost), but in practice I a) like doing this sort of work to some extent and b) live in the house, getting far more benefit than if I were working on someone's else's property - so I usually calculate based on an imaginary wage of $10/hour. Employers who operate factories or supply tools for workers on building site or in an office are in fundamentally the same position: they weigh the cost of the equipment (and training or supplies or whatever) against the increased productivity that comes from its use. If a large gain in productivity is the result of the employer's investment in a more effective tool, as above, then shouldn't the person who made the investment derive the reward from it?

Arguably, employees whoa re paid by piecework are in a better situation to cash in on technological advances, because they can negotiate for a share of each piece produced, thus splitting the benefit of improved technology with the employer to some extent. They have a strong incentive to become expert with the technology or even advise their employer about what equipment will yield the best results - best being a mix of output, reliability, and safety. But unions seem to hate the idea of piecework, although there is some evidence that it results in higher real earnings in the long run.

Technology is far from the only factor, but I don't see how you can possibly have a discussion about productivity and pay without taking it into account. I remember when I was growing up and my Dad bought his first two power tools - it was a really big deal. Many kinds of work are a great deal less labor-intensive than they used to be. It's understood that the wide availability of consumer appliances like washing machines and so forth provided homemakers with a great deal more time and contributed to the decline in domestic service as a major area of employment, along with whole areas of enterprise like laundry work and so forth. The only difference between that and what happened in the 80s is that the domestic services sector was dominated by women, whereas the productivity shifts that began in the 80s had a much greater impact on men.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:16 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


anigbrowl: “Yes. think about the time it takes to do a company's payroll. Doing it by hand or with calculators might take , say, 5 human bookkeepers a week, or one man-month. Doing it with a database and a spreadsheet might take one human 3 days. Productivity has increased tenfold, but even if you pay that lone bookkeeper twice as much as before (for learning all those useful computer skills) her pay will still fall far short of the productivity increase.”

It seems like mathematically this still doesn't make sense to me. I think you're inserting a "by the hour" where there shouldn't be one.

Like, before, you paid five bookkeepers $500 to do the company's payroll over the month. Now, it only takes one bookkeeper to do that work. If you pay her $500 to do it in two days, her pay has increased vastly. Right? But that has not happened. People accomplish more, but get paid less. And even flatly by the hour, they get paid less.

Payroll is also a bad example, because it's not obviously tied to the market. Say that fifty years ago, it took ten workers a month to build ten widgets, earning a company $10,000, and as payment the company gave them each $800. Now, with computers and machines, it takes one worker two days to build ten widgets to earn the company $10,000. But instead of getting $800 in two days, that same person has to work the whole month, and they don't even get $800 for it. The math here doesn't make any sense.
posted by koeselitz at 4:16 PM on May 3, 2012


(Maybe I just don't understand; I'd be very happy if there's a mistake somewhere there, and somebody can explain it to me.)
posted by koeselitz at 4:17 PM on May 3, 2012


I really think you should read the rest of my comment above, which addresses these questions ,with numbers.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:34 PM on May 3, 2012


I did. The problem is that you're introducing by-the-hour or by-the-day pay into the equation. Those don't enter into productivity or its relation to pay.
posted by koeselitz at 9:32 PM on May 3, 2012


Those don't enter into productivity or its relation to pay.

Now I'm confused. Your productivity is just the value of what you produce in a given time period. Your pay is the total compensation you receive in that period. All he's saying (and all Marx ever said too), is that sufficient capital investment allows you to dramatically increase the productive value generated in that time period. The spoils of that boost can then either be allocated to management or to labor. How is this confusing?
posted by Chekhovian at 10:39 PM on May 3, 2012


I did. The problem is that you're introducing by-the-hour or by-the-day pay into the equation. Those don't enter into productivity or its relation to pay.

But lots of people are paid by the hour or the day, and their productivity might well increase without the person necessarily working any harder, as described above. I picked the example of sawing lumber because that's something I do frequently enough know roughly how long it takes, and in the past I've often been paid to perform such repetitive task for the whole day. My personal productivity varies wildly depending on what sort of tools I have available. Likewise you could compare the productivity of someone moving cartons of goods in a warehouse or supermarket by hand vs. with a pallet truck or a forklift. (Calculating this sort of thing in my head has always been my technique for avoiding boredom when obliged to engage in otherwise mindless tasks.)

You seem to think that productivity is synonymous with 'worker effort,' as if the effect of technology or organization infrastructure had been subtracted out. Near the beginning of Smith's Wealth of Nations, the author discusses the example of a pin factory, where division of labor enables much greater productivity than if each individual were to perform all ~20 steps of manufacturing a pin on their own. Smith acknowledges that the downside of this is that it's boring to do the same thing all day, whether that's pulling wire or attaching the pinheads or whatever (and he champions the idea of employer-paid holidays and education as short- and long-term solutions to this problem). Productivity is a measure of output, not of input.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:19 PM on May 4, 2012


anigbrowl: “Productivity is a measure of output, not of input.”

Right – and output has nothing to do with the hours it takes to create the output. So I'm kind of still confused about how hours enter into this. On a very basic level, in every single situation, employees are paid on a per-product basis. Companies may attempt to obscure this by breaking that up into an hourly wage, but the company itself is not getting paid by the hour. It is getting paid for a product.

“Likewise you could compare the productivity of someone moving cartons of goods in a warehouse or supermarket by hand vs. with a pallet truck or a forklift.”

Right. I guess what I'm asking is this – why don't they get paid the same amount of money for the same amount of work, since the company is bringing in the same amount of money either way? This seems unfair.
posted by koeselitz at 4:15 PM on May 4, 2012


To be precise, I mean: why don't they get paid the same amount of money for moving the same number of cartons, no matter how they do it?
posted by koeselitz at 4:16 PM on May 4, 2012


Like, before, you paid five bookkeepers $500 to do the company's payroll over the month. Now, it only takes one bookkeeper to do that work. If you pay her $500 to do it in two days, her pay has increased vastly. Right? But that has not happened. People accomplish more, but get paid less. And even flatly by the hour, they get paid less.

That's because the spreadsheet or software is doing all the work now. What if a contractor says they'll do it for $50. Do you still pay an employee $500? In 10 years from now if all a human does is spend 5 seconds clicking a button to do the entire payroll, do you still pay them $500?
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:50 PM on May 4, 2012


On a very basic level, in every single situation, employees are paid on a per-product basis.

This is what I referred to above as piecework, and I pointed out that most unions hate this concept and demand workers be paid by time rather than output.

To be precise, I mean: why don't they get paid the same amount of money for moving the same number of cartons, no matter how they do it?

Because the employer is the one who pays for the forklift that allows them to move pallets containing 20 cartons.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:03 PM on May 4, 2012


Because the employer is the one who pays for the forklift that allows them to move pallets containing 20 cartons.

If it helps, koeselitz, a left-wing response here might point out that the employer paid for the forklift using profits generated by their employees, who do the actual work of moving pallets around. They don't get paid the same amount of money for moving the same number of cartons because, in capitalism, the person who owns the forklift (the employer) gets to lay claim to the extra wealth that the employees produce by using it. That's the essence of the system. (I'm oversimplifying, of course, but situations like this are at the heart of Marx's analysis of capitalism.)
posted by twirlip at 6:30 PM on May 5, 2012


Joey Michaels: "What we really need here more than anything else is an improved cafeteria. Our current cafeteria limits us in a lot of way because of its small size. Furthermore, its the most decrepit building on campus.

When we go out to wealthy donors and ask them to give money to that they give us a "well, what else ya got."

If we mention something "sexy" like technology or sports, we can get some pretty huge checks from them, but when we mention something we actually need, they are tepid to unenthusiastic at best.
"

I'm not very rich but if I ever were, I'd never earmark my donations (or whatever you call it in charity). Although as someone who loves to eat and has fond memories of cafeterias, If I were rich and inclined to donate to your school, Joey Michael's, I'd fund the crap out of that cafeteria, put up a giant sign calling it the Death. A Licious Cafetorium or whatever and be as happy as a puppy.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:44 AM on May 9, 2012


Joey Michaels: "But it's pretty tiresome that the same old folks who can't be arsed to actually stay on the topic as King makes, and would prefer to steer the thread into the entirely predictable, grar-some and pointless MeFi eat-the-rich rant."

I think it's because we all see that it's pointless, at this stage, to believe we have any hope or chance or seeing real economic reform and a return to something like income equality at a reasonable level.

I mean, I imagine the rich taste terrible.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:02 AM on May 9, 2012


I'm not very rich but if I ever were, I'd never earmark my donations (or whatever you call it in charity).

The problem is the phenomenon that SOME rich people actually think they got their wealth because of some inherent personal quality (business acumen, great intelligence, spiritual righteousness, or whatever), rather than luck being a major factor (timing, location, contacts, well-off parents, etc.)

The result is that some very wealthy people easily convince themselves that they can figure out how better to allocate their philanthropic gift than the administrators of the charity themselves. I mean, after all, if those administrator guys knew best how to spend the money, they'd be rich, too, right?

Call it the Donald Trump Syndrome, where material wealth is taken for granted as being a marker for intelligence and wisdom.
posted by darkstar at 12:08 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I imagine the rich taste terrible

But they're probably very well marbled.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:55 PM on May 10, 2012


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