Fakenomics by people other than me

Dear Violet,

So I’ve been thinking: If Ben Stein gets to be a pretend economist* then I get to be a pretend economist. I mean, the fuck is this supposed to mean? (via here and thiswise)

The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I say “generally” because there are exceptions. But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job. Again, there are powerful exceptions and I know some, but when employers are looking to lay off, they lay off the least productive or the most negative. To assure that a worker is not one of them, he should learn how to work and how to get along — not always easy.

This is good example of the sloppy tendency in conservative/libertarian thinking in economics that assigns unduly qualitative dimensions to essentially quantitative ideas. I suspect that this tendency has something with the prejudices that lead right-leaning laypeople to believe the field is more goodly than it is and left-leaning laypeople to believe the field more evil than it is. I will have more to say about this when I say the thing about Daniel Klein which I have not yet said but have promised to say here.

Anyway anyway anyway, creating negative utility** has nothing to do with the “poor personalities” of the distopian socialists who have forced the magic industrialists like John Ben Stein Galt to flee to their island where, notably, I imagine they don’t even need a damn railroad (and this is where I would make joke about The Prisoner, but the only reference points I have are the Iron Maiden song and that Simpsons episode***). But where was I? Right, the idea that the unemployed are workers who would largely create no positive utility for employers is not nearly as offensive as it sounds; simplified, it just means the revenue that worker generates is lower than the cost of that worker’s labor. I suspect this has a lot to do with massive change in a whole bunch of sectors of the economy and exactly nothing to do with employees not saying “sir” and “ma’am” (holy shit I’m not sure I have words for how stupid this is).

Take the newspaper industry for instance: it costs a lot to pay reporters. It costs a lot a lot to maintain bureaus in multiple cities. I’m gonna abridge this and assume we all know nobody read newspapers anymore and certainly not enough people to make it worthwhile to employ lots of reporters. The value of the marginal product has gone down dramatically and it frankly has fuck-all to do with the quality of the reporters. When this happens all over the economy, you end up with a lot of unemployed people. This is a problem! I mean, I don’t have a good answer or anything, but here’s smarter people than me (or Ben Stein) talking about pretty much the same thing.

Of course, in the interest of fairness, I should point out that Ben Stein is half-right in his last sentence that these zero-marginal-product workers need to “learn how to work and get along,” but contra Stein, this means learning skills other than newspapering or sardine canning. There’s always money in the banana stand not-growing corn.

Further fairness: Wikipedia tells me Ben Stein favors increasing taxes on the wealthy which is one better than Greg Mankiw, about whom I have a thing to say that I haven’t yet said much like the above re: Daniel Klein. Stay tuned.

Additionally: if Ben Stein gets to host game shows and be a famous (really just one) character actor then a just universe/thermodynamics dictates that the Beekeeper & Shwartz Variety Hour will be a smashing success or at least a critically-acclaimed cult favorite.

R. Beauregard Schwartz

*Although he appears to be an actual law-degree-having lawyer. Economix 1 Law 0. Your serve, VGB.

**I am creating serious negative utility right now, btw. If you know what I mean. I hope the Jeff Rosen internet doesn’t fire me for this. (confidential to job-I-could-actually-be-fired-from: I am not up inside you today)

***Note, however, that this did not stop me from making an Atlas Shrugged joke.

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