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What Is A Job? 1

Government can't create jobs because it doesn't know what one is.

By Petrarch  |  March 19, 2012

For all the heat generated by the raging issues of the culture war, what most Americans really care about at the moment is "jobs, jobs, jobs."  Our unemployment statistics are the worst since the Great Depression and that leaves out the millions of suffering people who aren't counted because they're underemployed or have given up hope of ever finding work and stopped looking.

Lefty shill Paul Krugman thinks he knows the solution.  He has been beating this same drum for years now:

The federal government could provide jobs by ... providing jobs. It’s time for at least a small-scale version of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, one that would offer relatively low-paying (but much better than nothing) public-service employment.

Sounds logical, doesn't it?  Even now, government can borrow uncounted trillions, so why not just offer a last-ditch government job to anyone who wants one?  People could still look for better-paying work, but in the meantime, they'd be earning something and staying in the habit of getting up in the morning.

One little problem: in economic terms, most government jobs are not actually jobs - they're transfer payments which don't add to the economy, but rather subtract from it.

So let's talk about what a job actually is, and why an increasing number of apparent jobs aren't.

Job = Productivity

Let's consider Roger, a severely obsessive-compulsive individual who can't help but constantly clean, re-clean, and re-re-clean his house.  His brain is so addled that he can hardly even step out of his front door without being dragged back in to attack some imaginary spot of dirt.

Is he lazy, or is he a hard worker?  Well, if you visited him you'd probably say you never saw anybody work so hard in your life, barely stopping to eat or change clothes, and collapsing every night totally exhausted.

Does Roger have a job?  Well, no, he's "working" for himself and not for pay.

Is Roger doing anything useful?  No - because his house does not in fact need that much cleaning.  His efforts are pretty much a total waste.

Now suppose that some kind hotelier employs poor Roger to clean his hotel.  Being a large hotel, it's not physically possible to overclean it - there is always some room that does, in objective fact, need cleaning.  Roger is even provided with a small room of his own to live in so he doesn't have to commute via the dirty streets, and is provided food from the restaurant kitchen.

Roger is living almost exactly the same life as he did before - working hard cleaning all day - but now he has a job.  Now he is contributing to the economy, doing something that needs to be done and which, by his doing it, society in general is better off.  Value is increased because of Roger's efforts - obviously a clean hotel is worth more to stay in than a roach motel.

There's a counter-example - the famous Maytag repairman of the old TV commercials.  He sits around all day next to the cobweb-covered phone, waiting for a repair call that never comes because Maytag washing machines don't break.

Does he have a job?  Sure - he's being paid to be available for immediate equipment repair.  The joke of the commercial is that Maytags last forever, but we all know that's not true: they do break eventually.  Having someone instantly available to fix them is worth having in and of itself, as a kind of insurance.

We can see that, contrary to popular belief, whether you "have a job" does not directly relate to whether you're constantly in motion "working hard."  You may be producing something worthwhile by your very presence in a chair; you may be producing nothing whatsoever despite constantly running around sweating your buns off.

No Boss Required

It seems easy to say that you "have a job" if you're getting a paycheck, but that's not true either.  Rush Limbaugh created more furore than normal by calling a slut for what she was.  Hordes of offended feminists instantly howled for his head, calling for him to be immediately sacked.

It took them a few days to realize their mistake, but Rush Limbaugh can't be fired.  He has no boss and receives no paychecks, so there's nobody to fire him.  Rush is a businessman: he sells customers a service that is valuable to them.  What he sells is people's ears - millions of people voluntarily choose to listen to his show, and many companies would like to advertise their own wares to his millions of listeners.  They pay Rush to mention their stuff on air in the hopes that Rush fans will choose to buy from them.

The feminists quickly targeted these advertisers to cancel their contracts with Rush, with some success, but there was a predictable result.  Carbonite online backup has been advertising on the Rush Limbaugh Show for many years because it works; loads of Rush fans have signed up for Carbonite's service.  As soon as Carbonite's CEO announced cancelling Rush, what happened?

Since the market opened on Monday through its close today, Carbonite stock (NASDAQ:CARB) has plummeted nearly 12 percent, outpacing the drop of the NASDAQ index in that same time period by nine-and-a-half points. It was also one of the biggest decliners on the NASDAQ on Tuesday.

Investors know that advertising on Rush's program works with the demographic he attracts.  Stopping a successful ad campaign will harm sales and lose money.

Rush Limbaugh may have no boss, but he is absolutely providing an economically valuable service to the companies which advertise with him, well worth the millions of dollars he makes them pay.  Rush may not "have a job" in the normal sense but in economic terms he most certainly does.

So if "having a job" isn't necessarily related to visible work, and isn't necessarily connected with having a boss either, how does this help us create jobs?  We'll get to that, but first, in the next article in this series, we'll explore visible ordinary jobs that are, in economic terms, not jobs at all.