Labour day: Jobs as a cost?

Today is Labour Day in New Zealand – and given I’ve written about “co-ordination” so recently I can’t do one of those posts where I talk about public holidays as a co-ordination device.  Instead I intend to discuss the costs and benefits of “jobs” – or the costs of benefits of supplying your labour 😉

A lot of people are complaining about there not being enough jobs.  But is it jobs we want, or the income/consumption that comes from them?  As Paul Walker notes in many ways the job is a cost – not a benefit!

We touched on this idea when making fun of the increasing push for compulsion for matters such as savings – here and here.

But this doesn’t feel quite right does it.  As we’ve pointed out in the past when we talk about an economy, and jobs, we are really discussing an issue of co-ordination between individuals.  A job provides us a social group, perhaps even a purpose, and these things give us value.  Stumbling and Mumbling covers this off very nicely.

In this way, the question becomes more complicated – merely giving someone the income that they would receive in a job does not necessarily imply that are better or worse off as:

  1. There is a benefit from no long having to supply our labour – we get to consume “leisure” and don’t have to do something that we may dislike!
  2. There is a lost opportunity from social interaction, and it is unclear what exactly could or would fill this void.  Furthermore, if jobs are currently seen as a means to providing someone purpose in their life – how will someone find purpose if we move into an economy without scarcity that doesn’t require human work.  [Note:  I have a bias here as the novel I’m working on is on this issue 😉 ].

Anyway, happy labour day and all of that!

Side bleg:  I have a preference for writing ‘co-ordinate’ rather than ‘coordinate’ and from what I’ve read both variants mean the same thing and are correct.  But ‘coordinate’ is more common.  Is there anything I’m missing that should know?



8 replies
  1. Millahab
    Millahab says:

    Perhaps purpose in the future will be redefined? More interesting though is what will the purpose of the 70 million or so Chinese males with no female partner do in such an economy? What purpose will they have if they can’t work or have a family?

    Do share more on your novel it sounds interesting!

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      Purpose is an interesting one – and it is really just a fact of life. Tbh, the song Father and Son by Cat Steven’s offers a nice indication of the fact that purpose is something we have to discover through experience, and how fraught it can be trying to target such a thing.

      The novel isn’t interesting, but hopefully one day it will be done! Once I have a draft, I will put it on the blog for people to make fun of and grammar check 😉

  2. VMC
    VMC says:

    I believe that your are much nearer the mark than Paul Walker. Jobs have benefits for many people, far beyond the income they provide. Many people who have no need of the income from working, still continue to work – they actually do like the things they do. And the evidence is that people with jobs, with a similar income to those on welfare, have better lives. Jobs create meaning and purpose for many people, and social benefits as you say. This is not true for everyone, of course – and people will change their views at different points in their life – they might want some maternal/paternal leave for instance. And I find retirement rather pleasant, but still do some contracting for an income I do not need.

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      Paul’s focus on what a job is has to be given a bit of context – people often report on “how many jobs” something will make, when that is only a loose relation to the social value that comes from it. By indicating that there is a cost to working, Paul is trying to point out where this logic is a bit off, which is good!

      Essentially, many people are confusing jobs with the goods and services you can purchase when in employment – and Paul is saying, hold up a second this isn’t quite right!

      The fact is that, when it comes to social interaction and social activities, we don’t know what would evolve in “works place” if suddenly no labour input was required. Now, a world where no labour input is “required” also doesn’t make much sense of itself – as we need an idea of how resources are distributed in such a world. Hence why the entire question becomes fraught. Interesting stuff!

  3. Luc Hansen
    Luc Hansen says:

    Matt, my wife tells me the hyphen is passé.

    Believe me, she knows. She teaches this stuff!

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      I enjoy the hyphen as I don’t need to think about what I’m doing in sentences – given my limited mental capabilities this helps 🙂

      I’m always feeling my age!

  4. jamesz
    jamesz says:

    This is all very absolute and perhaps we should be thinking at the margin. Would someone with a job like to work fewer hours for more money? Almost certainly, so leisure is still normal at the margin. It may even be possible to separate the benefits of ‘having a job’ from the costs of having to work, which avoids the inconsistency between your ideas and Paul’s.

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      Ahh I didn’t think there was a real inconsistency between Paul and Chris’s ideas (which I was just trying to report on) – I think they fit into the same framework. There is just a series of costs and benefits I wouldn’t to list up in a jovial holiday fashion for labour day 🙂

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