Much of the field of economics is devoted to analyzing the phenomenon called work. Essentially, there are things you want done, and it is human nature to want other people to do them so you don't have to do them yourself.
Theory of work
When there is a body of work you want done, and a body of bodies you can get to do the work for you, then it's customary to divide the work into the amount that you want each body to do for you. Consequently, each one has a job. A person thus gainfully employed is known by the Yiddish term, schlep.
When there is no other way to induce or trick the schlep to do the work, it's customary to give him something of value. This is called the pay for the work.
But there's always another way. Two of the most commonly used are:
- The schlep gets told that the business survives on informality, and being a stickler on trivial points such as bounced paychecks is a sign of bad teamwork. (Although things got very formal when you arrived ten minutes late last Tuesday.)
- The Vice President in his silk business suit appears in the workplace and declares that this insistence on timely payment disappoints me.
Amount of work
When the Pilgrims colonized America, there were famously only several thousand jobs. Currently, there are 190,000,000 jobs in the United States. No one knows how the number of jobs has increased, because for most of the history of the U.S., there were no jobs programs at all.
During the Bush administration, there were hundreds of jobs programs, but the number of jobs decreased. Everyone knows why this happened; jobs were being "outsourced" and sent "offshore," though no one has ever seen a job pass through Customs, and no one has ever gone to prison for being caught smuggling a job into or out of any country. Even two people carrying a desk across the border would attract suspicion.
Now, the pro-labor Obama administration has turned the tide. It has proposed higher business taxes, new rules for employer-provided health insurance, and certification of unions without those pesky secret ballots. His Secretary of Labor has touted her tighter enforcement of wage-and-hour and job-safety laws. And still no one is hiring. Go figure!
Every government in the world believes that any job done by a foreigner results in exactly one fewer job for a voting citizen. This is why tourists are not allowed to do anything useful during their vacation, even in the case that one's wallet gets stolen, and the most prosperous countries in Latin America throw a fit if you bring along a gadget that might be used productively, such as a computer or a movie camera.
Both Bush and Obama have ministered to a weak economy with "stimulus programs," where the government pays the schleps to do work that either would have been done anyway, or would not have been done anyway. Whichever is the case, you can see the utility of stimulus programs.
Where does the pay come from? Economists believe it is one of the following:
- From our grandchildren
- It is borrowed from Red China, which will never call for repayment, or even for us to abrogate our defense treaties
- The pay isn't real, but the schleps are too stupid to notice.
Another job-creation idea is that there would be more work for the unemployed if the productive people did less of it. The United States pioneered the 40-hour work week; later, France dealt with a recession by mandating a 36-hour work week (18 hours, excluding time spent on smoking breaks and kissing co-workers on the cheeks). It stands to reason that, if you stopped working late, the guy in the back office would put down the copy of Hustler and instantly pick up the slack. Labor unions apply this theory to improve the common good, by frequently ensuring that no one does any work at all.
Countries from Zimbabwe to El Humidor have extended this theory, believing that peasants will have more work if the government ensures that other people do not hoard all the work to themselves. Both countries have broken up entire industries to redistribute work to the little guy (notably, the little guy carrying a sign in support of the Maximum Leader). This conveniently puts jobs under the control of people who know nothing about the business or even about work.
"Good jobs at good wages"
Michael Dukakis was the first U.S. Presidential candidate to advocate "good jobs at good wages," as opposed to the jobs that would exist if he were not President. Even though he never became President, the government has promoted this goal in the following ways:
- It ensures that bad jobs at bad wages--anything under $7.25 an hour--are illegal, even if you and your boss agree to it.
- It sends inspectors into workplaces to ensure compliance, and that every job is safe and that none create a "hostile or threatening" work environment. This is judged by the prudish old maid who doesn't like the centerfold on your wall, the summer intern who is convinced that every sidelong glance means you hate him, the man who wears a dress to work and scares away the customers, and of course the young black man constantly inventing reasons why the rest of you are racists.
- To know where to send the inspectors, it requires registration of all employers. Radio commentator Mark Levin hired a professional from New York, and when the forms from New York State rolled out of his fax machine, regretted aloud that he had not tried Pakistan instead.
- Certain professions are entirely regulated. Notoriously, no one can become a licensed hairdresser in the District of Columbia without taking a long course in grooming white people's hair, and no one can become a cabbie in New York City without certification that his dialect is inscrutable.
The Humphrey-Hawkins Act gives the Federal Reserve the duty to promote "full employment." The only way it could do this is by making the value of the dollar go to hell. But don't worry, it also has the legal duty to defend the value of the dollar.
When a person cannot find work, he ceases to be a schlep and becomes a client, eligible to receive unemployment compensation. He will live a lifestyle to which the British have assigned the excellent term, being on the suck.
Regularly, and especially leading up to an election, Congress increases the amount of compensation available. In 2009, despite the immediate success of the Obama stimulus, Congress proposed 14 extra weeks of compensation for workers in states with high unemployment. This gave Congressmen from low-unemployment states the chance to shed tears in the hearing room; ultimately, they got 14 extra weeks, the high-unemployment states got 20 extra weeks, and the bidding ended. Workers throughout America can now get pay for over a year without working, and your Congressman proved he cares about your plight.
If this seems like a perfect con, there is a catch. The former schlep must report to the unemployment office periodically to prove he is looking for a new job. In most cases, he must prove he has gone to a certain number of job interviews every week. A typical job interview goes something like this:
- Employer: Well, then, what are your skills?
- Schlep: I glue together phonograph records.
- Employer: We don't produce phonograph records. No one does any more. What else can you do?
- Schlep: I'm very good with phonograph records. And my old job paid $15 an hour. That's what I'm worth.
Oddly, most such interviews do not lead to employment, and the schlep has no choice but to continue receiving benefits. On the third of the month, a new check will arrive, the schlep will be buying everyone drinks at the bar, and they will have to listen to him complain that "there isn't any work."
Historical origin of work
One day a long time ago, the great Pharaoh decided that his golden age should end, because it was boring. He achieved this by killing all the gods he had enslaved to plough his fields. He killed them dead, and they were dead forever. (That also explains why there's only one god these days, God.)
Anyway, after Pharaoh killed off all them goddies, he started to get old, and his subjects started to get hungry, and Pharaoh put them to work in the fields. He told them it was an aphrodisiac, and they believed him until he started laughing. Ever since then, commoners have known from birth that work is for suckers.
It is because work was formalized in Biblical times that the economic terms surrounding work are described using Yiddish terms.
Work by region
Economists analyze the phenomenon of work by dividing the world into regions: Richie-Bitches, European Maggots, and Sand-Diggers.
For this, the workers expect health benefits and new snow scrapers. In Canada, workers tend to spend much of their work time throwing crumpled pieces of paper at each other and apologizing profusely. Occasionally, a game of "Balled-up Vital Document Hockey" is started. The victors of these games often expect tickets to the next game of their favorite hockey team.
Economists use the term Second World to refer to the countries in which the Second World War was fought; roughly, the remnants of the old Soviet Union. In these struggling countries, which have at least cast off their yoke of central planning (freeing up time from the former "day job"), work consists mostly of scouring the Black Market for useful goods on the cheap, and reselling them for blue jeans or Marlboros without keeping any paperwork.
In the former Soviet satellite countries in Eastern Europe, work involves moving rocks, spitting on uranium to make it decay faster, or herding chickens into a pen with no walls. The pay is in pieces of toilet paper with the Russian currency sign on them. You can trade this paper for more of the same paper, and a stack of it was recently worth 3 American cents.
In the Third World (or as they are now known, the developing nations), work consists of various ways of combining utter absence of capital with total lack of job skills and dearth of usable raw materials. This takes the following forms:
- Dirt farming: scraping a monoculture cash crop out of drought-ridden soil for a multi-national corporation
- Assembling products that the assemblers will never actually be able to buy.
Work here pays about US$1 per week, which is usually enough to either feed or clothe a family of four.