I was sitting in my office with my boss and a colleague one day, years ago. My boss had just got done reading some book that was apparently The 5 Love Languages but workforce edition, which explained that different employees will variously respond best to affirmation in terms of remuneration, praise, time off, something else, something else. I stopped hearing words after “remuneration”.
“So which is it for you?,” my boss asked me.
I smiled nervously. Is this some kind of fucking trick?, I thought, where I say ‘remuneration’ and that shows I’m less loyal than someone who says ‘praise’ or, ‘oh I’m just happy to work here’ or…? I wanted to pound the desk with my fist and say, “REMUNERATION!,” but instead I cleared my throat and said, “Ah, remuneration, probably,” in the same tone of voice you’d use to remark on the weather.
It’s not actually as stupid of a question as I thought, looking back. Or if anything about it was stupid, it was the fact that I had maneuvered myself into a position that didn’t really serve my long-term interests, and since that was uncomfortable for me, the idea of more money was the only relevant bandaid. If I could do the same conversation over, knowing what I know now, I’d say something like: I’d like to step down as Campus Director, I’d like to retain some small aspect of my responsibilities, and I’d like to be paid a fraction of what I’m being paid now, but I’ll work from home and only serve a minor role, here. Something that I find especially enjoyable, and that you find especially useful. That’s what I’d like.
But instead, I was unknowingly locked into this assumption: I have to be in this goddamn building eight, ten, twelve hours a day, five and even six days a week; I’m freezing fucking cold even though it’s balmy outside, because Karen is fat, and her office is upstairs where it’s hot, and you gave her the only key to the locked climate control box, and you even told me that if you catch me with my office door open while the AC’s on full blast one more time, you’ll fire me; and while I immensely value the skills and abilities and fast-track promotion situation I’m experiencing here, I’m actually miserable when I drive to work everyday; I literally miss my house, I miss my guitar, I miss writing, I miss my audiobook narration studio, I miss the food in my kitchen, I miss walking around in my neighborhood just because I can, I miss all the other shit that I don’t get to do all day long, every day, because I’m here, occupationally prostituting myself for a position that looks good on paper, and pays actually not that well, with the option of more pay and more advancement, which is even further from what I want to actually be doing with my time and my energy, so if you’re asking me if I want more money, goddamn straight I want more money.
I didn’t want more money, though, I wanted to be happy, and I just didn’t have the wisdom to really customize the available resources to my own preferences at that time.
I had a former CDL student reach out, recently, wanting some help getting into wildland fire seasonal work, which is what we’re out here doing. (I’m in a trailer office, right now, as close as I can get to a propane tent heater, and I’m keeping an eye on the gauges on my equipment which is yowling and burbling right outside the door, and the sun is working on coming up, and the camp is coming to life for another day.) First off, I connected him with my employer, and he rejected that opportunity, saying it’s not enough money.
This is my fourth fire season, and I took a pay cut to come work for these mobile shower folks because it’s an enormous — I mean, enormous — step up in quality of life and certain features that are less obvious to the newbie than the simple fact of a daily rate. I made $375/day with my very first company, and I maneuvered myself into position with a different company that paid $350, because I was able to recognize it as a much better deal overall, and it was. I worked for them for three seasons, bumped my pay up to $400/day, and now switched to these guys where I’m back down to $300/day and it’s worth it, no contest. I mean, if you offered me on one hand a fucked kind of day I mostly don’t want, separated from my partner month after month, working actually pretty hard, with $400 at the end of it — or a glorious day full of time to blog, for instance, and all the things I do want, and hardly any actual work, with my partner getting paid too, our entire barbell gym and both our little dogs here with us, and the ability to just stay put and not be arbitrarily demobed every two weeks, and standby pay when we are demobed, with $300 at the end of it, the choice is obvious, I think.
Anyway, this former student doesn’t know all the ins and outs, he’s just fixated on the daily rate, so I ran into another guy who needs drivers and looks like they worked something out.
The fact is, there are a lot of different ways and reasons to work, and my historically pessimistic take — ‘work as unavoidable economic prostitution’ — was really a brand of victim mentality, and an unawareness that I could get a lot more creative with my skills and options. The point I’m trying to make is: I’ve seen myself as a highly money-driven employee, in times past, but my understanding of all that has grown more nuanced over time. It really is about quality of life, and quality of life is about personal preferences, which vary quite a lot, person to person.
So, I bring all this up to say: what the fuck is going on with welfare? Why can’t we all just agree that it’s a total failure, on the psychological plane, and move on to something better? If we have the ability to understand human psychology in regards to workforce incentives, why aren’t we applying that? Why aren’t more businesses leaning into intentional incentivization, rather than just locking people up in arbitrary rooms for eight hours a day, where they have to show up and leave at arbitrary times, for which they receive arbitrary amounts of money? We have this really cookie cutter approach to employment that mostly, I think, sucks.
The one good thing about the fake pandemic is that we’ve learned businesses can actually function, in some cases, without locking up employees in arbitrary rooms at arbitrary times in exchange for arbitrary salaries. The people who really got fucked in this whole deal were the “essential workers”, who continued making their pittance at Walmart or fast food, while everyone collecting unemployment got the stimulus bump. Nick and I were doing GOOD, on unemployment — like, really really good. And, to our credit, he continued coaching people on strength as best he was able, and I at least launched this blog. We were both like, “let’s do what we most love to do, and pretend that these unemployment deposits are our paychecks!” It was a sad day when we discontinued benefits in favor of, you know, actually working, and thank god this job, and this season, panned out. I find it personally alarming that we’re talking about a UBI, universal basic income, while continuing to not acknowledge the spectacular failure that is welfare. Now we’re ALL gonna be on welfare? That’s a recipe for us ALL being useless. None of us are actually worth a shit, when we’re disconnected from incentive.
However, I do take issue with how this is normally framed: “Get out and suffer with the rest of us!” We look down our noses at panhandlers and people on welfare, scorning them for not getting a job — not signing up to get locked into an arbitrary room at arbitrary times for arbitrary remuneration. The whole thing needs an overhaul — not just welfare. I wish there was more emphasis, for everyone, from childhood forward, on the accumulation of skills, and the fact that you’re not limited to just one. I think that shift in the psychological terrain would then tend to naturally sort out the incentives issue, both for employers and employees.
That’s how it’s worked for me, anyway — I have this commercial driving skill, and I’m able to sift and sort what employer gets to be the beneficiary of my skill, and they get to sift and sort what to offer and when, in order to secure and retain the kind of operators they want. As good as it sounds, from a down-and-out place, to hear the phrase “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need,” — no. Fuck no. My abilities are tremendous, and valuable, and my needs — my NEEDS, not my desires — are infinitesimal. I don’t even eat that much food, or take up that much space.
I blogged yesterday about how I get that the Millennial generation is catastrophically wounded, and is driving this Marxism bus, and feels deeply unsafe both socially and economically — they feel unsafe spiritually, is the real point — and so that’s established. I’ve spent a bunch of my life thinking I want free money. I’ve been angry that the creative/expressive interests I have are arbitrarily not well remunerated in my society time and place, and I want to write and make music anyway (FYI you can look up my album, Close Call by Hannah Pralle, on YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, etc.), and a UBI would have been just the thing, to my way of thinking, for most of my life. Trucking has been my workaround, because it’s almost like free money, since I enjoy it. Generally, though, I’ve despised the workforce, and the stupid cramped little identity boxes it puts us into. It’s crazy, though, how the thing we think we want isn’t the thing we need. What we need is to feel life force energy flowing through us, towards value fulfillment, eternally, and when that flow is de-incentivized, we stagnate, and that’s the truth.
How do you fix a flawed system (and I don’t say ‘broken’ because I don’t think it’s broken)? I don’t know, but certainly not by having us all incentivized to become more useless than we’re already prone to be, I’m pretty sure. I do not, and will never, understand why the trades have become such a hard sell in this country. Entire swaths of generations growing up thinking that having a skill to trade is some sort of come-down. There’s a former coworker just down the hill from me right now, currently operating a fuel truck on this fire, who can operate and repair diesel trucks, pilot and repair helicopters, and operate and repair bulldozers. That’s maybe an egregious example, but pertinent. He can work whenever he wants, for anyone he wants, and set the terms however he wants. He could make a lot more money than I know he’s making right now, with this particular employer, but he likes it because it’s generally close to home, he gets to do a variety of things he likes, he gets to lean into his own more fledgeling skillsets, and there’s not a lot of pressure. We think it’s all about money but it’s really not. And so when we throw money at problems, they tend not to go away.
So it’s not like I’m saying, Abandon intellectually specialized sub-fields and learn to drive a tractor! “The trades” has been distorted to mean “low smarts jobs for low smarts people”, but I think we could approach actually more of our workforce with a trades mentality, a private sector mentality, which is essentially a free market exchange mentality. A conscious abandonment of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” down-and-out thinking, and a conscious embrace of healthy economic barter. It all takes care of itself, when I have lots of other options because of my skillset, and my employer has lots of other options because of their incentives.
I’ve functioned in academia, I’ve just kind of reserved judgement on the whole tenure track system, but I have to finally say: I think that, for one, is broken. Or, I’d like someone to explain to me how it’s not broken. Government employees who can’t be fired outside of an act of God, same thing. The private sector, to me, functions more like normal dating: you refine your preferences as you go along, having a series of yes/no/maybe experiences, hopefully bringing more and more to the table as you work on yourself as we all naturally do, and then at some point you consider marriage with a prospect who chronically floats your boat.
Tenure and government guaranteed employment, on the other hand, seems to function more like this: you tolerate a terrible, disadvantageous relationship for years, or possibly a degrading sequence of disadvantageous relationships, because if you tolerate it for long enough, then you get to compete for your forever-disadvantageous relationship which has nothing at all to recommend it EXCEPT for the fact that they’re legally bound not to break up with you. That’s it! That’s your big pay off. They’re not allowed to break up with me, ever. I might not be happy, I might not be in a city I like or a nation I prefer or a climate I can tolerate — I might like my colleagues or I might detest them. I might be able to afford a nice-ish house, I might not. But I’m SECURE in this, my forever relationship, worth it only in the sense that everything before was even worse. Perfect.
A childhood friend, years ago, earned a four year university degree in photography at a time when digital photography had well and truly “emerged”, and never received a single class, a single credit hour’s worth of instruction, in digital photo capture or editing. She figured all that out on her own, after the fact, as indeed she must in order to function at all, commercially. Why? Because the tenured and close-to-retirement boor who ran the photography department was, first of all, unfireable, and second of all, geriatric, and entirely stuck in his own prejudices. There was even a complete overhaul of the Comms building during this time, with an elaborate budget sufficient to provide all new facilities to spec, and many many voices advocating for the no-brainer step forward into digital photography, and he blocked every single attempt. Nope, 35mm or bust. That’s insane, y’all. That’s insane — what a disservice to my friend and to every single student since, and up until the time when reality finally set in and they overhauled Photography once again, as was inevitable.
Now, the next big elephant in the room is our problem of billionaires and trillionaires. If anything represents an urgent call to redistribute wealth, it’s that, right? Here’s where we get really schizophrenic, unable to decide if wealth and human value correlate or not. Actually, we can’t even decide if human value is a thing. All lives are precious, except these, over here, under these circumstances. Whatever. I oscillate in and out of alarm at the prospect of the trillionaires. Wealth consolidates, power consolidates, and it’s not even about Bezos, right, it’s about motherfucking Rothschilds and stuff. The actual tentacles reaching into and controlling every aspect of our lives. Forgive me if I’m shortsighted but I don’t see how we’re gonna redistribute our way outta that.
But it’s interesting how we view the wealth of governments through a default positive lens, and the wealth of private sector individuals and families through a default negative lens. I mean, they both represent tentacles reaching into and controlling every aspect of our lives. America was founded on this principle of minimally invasive government for the people and by the people, so you’d think the major contention would be that no such stricture exists on NGO’s, but in reality what we’re seeing is a bunch of unskilled Marxist yahoos (I wouldn’t hire them, anyway) that want more government, more tentacles; so if that’s desirable then what’s so bad about the fucking unmitigated tentacles we already have. I’m not personally into a bunch of tentacles, but at least I can call a tentacle a tentacle, regardless of the medulla oblongata it’s attached to.
To redistribute or not: that…is the question? No it isn’t, that’s a false conundrum. I see two big flaws in the way I hear most people talking about this. The first is that private sector trillionaires, or NGO’s, are properly positioned to actually revolutionize entire industries and markets, in ways that the government can’t and also won’t, and those ways can and do benefit us all immensely. I remember the first time I ever saw a US Postal worker delivering a package on a Sunday. It was a package for me, that I’d ordered on Amazon. I was like WHAT IS HAPPENING. Seeing a USPS buggy pull up on a Sunday was like seeing a fish pull up on a bicycle.
Being in and around trucking at the time, I also saw the chronic shortage of drivers go from, like, a bazillion to a gazillion almost overnight, as Bezos essentially reconfigured the entire shipping and transport paradigm to meet Amazon’s needs, and every other major retail outlet followed suit by necessity. Everything changed. I’m old enough to remember growing up in the middle of nowhere, no stores to buy things, my mom ordering a pair of sandals from a catalogue, the sandals coming 6-8 weeks later, not fitting, getting returned, refund applied 6-8 weeks after that, rinse and repeat.
That’s just how it was, unless you lived in a city that had stores. The whole process took six months, damn near. No amount of government could have ever improved this (because it’s not the government’s strong suit to revolutionize industries), nor could business owners on the scale of hundred-thousandaires or even millionaires, most likely. I’m not saying Bezos is a good guy, or that that’s even relevant — I’ll get to that in a second — I’m just saying, when people squawk about Bezos, I’m like, “Oh, I’m sorry, did you make it so that no one’s mother ever has to spend six months being disappointed about a pair of sandals again?” I guess, for some reason, we accept that the government has trillions of dollars (except what they actually have is that much debt, plus a money printer), and we accept sweeping industry reforms initiated by the government, but on some level we’re resistant to NGO’s having trillions of dollars and reforming industries based on considerations of actual supply and demand.
Second thing: the scariest part of wealth and power consolidation in the hands of a few is not that the rest of us are just somehow poorer, as a result — it’s the question of whether or not it’s connected to some diabolical scheme, and if it is, then…we want the government to protect us from that? There’s a lot to unpack here. The first part of my statement — the worry that rich people make us poorer. Seems to make sense of the surface but I’m not sure it does. Let’s say I make $100k a year, and I have the option to either bump that to $200k a year if Bezos makes an extra trillion, or stay at $100k if Bezos loses a trillion. Turns out, I don’t actually give a shit what Jeff Bezos makes per year, I only give a shit what I make per year relative to my expenses and desires, which are incidentally all much more affordable now thanks to Jeff Bezos, who has also created a situation in which I’m even more outrageously employable and competitive with my skillset than I even was before. That guy can be rich; I’ll allow it.
I’ve definitely fiddle-faddled with ideas like wealth caps, wealth ratio restrictions (between lowest paid tier and highest paid tier), things like that, and I’m not educated or intelligent enough to offer a definite yay or nay on any of that. Doesn’t seem like the closest alligator to the boat, to me, in a world where we can’t even acknowledge that welfare and economic uselessness hurts people. That brings me back to the diabolical scheme angle, and I touched on this briefly in my ‘Rona blog: we’ve always conceptualized national governments to be the biggest pieces on the chess board, but now they’re seeming almost dwarfed compared to NGO’s. If each of these consolidations of wealth represents a pyramid, either private or public sector, then of course the apexes of each pyramid have more in common with one another than they do with their constituents.
I don’t like that Bill Gates is gallivanting around the world, medically experimenting on helpless poor people, any more than you do, and the fact that he’s unelected and therefore un-impeachable is frankly horrifying. He literally just wealthed his way into it, and apparently no one can stop him. I don’t want the government to redistribute his wealth, I want the government to protect us from him vaccination/depopulation agenda. Why doesn’t the government protect us from him? Oh, because he’s the apex of one pyramid (possibly the middle section of an even larger one, amiright), and the government is another, so they’re buddies. So it’s almost like…I want private sector wealth consolidations to experience natural market limitations as they ingeniously machinate forward, raising their own financial ceiling, which raises the floor too, and I want governments to protect my rights from private sector entities running rampant meanwhile. It’s almost as if that’s what I want.
It’s amazing to me that the rideshare industry boom offered lots of desirable 1099 work for lots of people, yet career busybodies in California want to force rideshare companies to make drivers employees instead of contractors, and offer them benefits. If that’s such a great business model, it would have already happened, or it would happen now and rise up and gain a stronger foothold. It doesn’t, because it can’t, because it’s not as good of a business model. That’s not the kind of government protection I’m talking about.
If, worst case scenario, all the apexes of all the pyramids are linked or likely linked in some kind of cabal arrangement, which actually acts as the referee for who gets to have a place at the table, then that’s not going to get sorted out on the policy level lollllll. If they’re not, and the paradigm is more this sort of evolving tug of war between private and public sectors, I’d rather grow the private sector and shrink the public sector, personally, which is one thing Trump’s initiated and which people are having conniptions about. Anyone who’s ever dealt with the TSA should be able to acknowledge that, you know, sometimes government programs need an overhaul, or to be eliminated outright and replaced by private sector competitors. I think a billionaire or trillionaire in the private sector can be of some use to me personally, in my outlook and income and opportunities. I don’t hate them for their wealth. I don’t like them for their wealth either. I really don’t care, just evolve your own industry and we’ll all benefit one way or the other. Millionaires and billionaires in the public sector are mostly just people using public sector resources in privately advantageous ways, through nepotism and graft, entirely bypassing the whole “creating broad-scale opportunity” step of the equation, which is less enchanting. The way we spend OPM (other people’s money) is different than how we spend what we interpret as our own.
So, life is not really about money, it’s about advantageous versus disadvantageous situations that we create for ourselves, with money as a big piece of the puzzle. Nick has a lot of sober friends who, in lieu of being actually parented, had money thrown at them all their lives, and became nearly incorrigible junkies as a result. It’s damn sure not money that helps addicts get on their feet. It’s not the Taj Mahal, when you go to those AA meetings. I grew up on the Rez, where a lot of Federal money gets thrown around and no economy, no opportunity, no thriving, ever results. What would help? I don’t know, but not money, or not only money. Responsiveness to the immediate reality always seems like a good start, which by definition, a UBI is not.
I always forget to actually solicit comments, but in the case of this blog, I’d especially love to hear what anyone thinks. I don’t have a strong grasp of this material, but it’s interesting to me and obviously important. Fire away, if you have a thought!