Well how about that, looks like my snarky post was discovered by the big league valley blog mafia, dragging a couple new readers my way. Go figure. I've gotten some emails and comments. Might as well address a few of them, paraphrasing below:
Who the hell are you, I bet Jason Calacanis has done more in this weekend than you've done in your life, he's rich, you're not, blah blah blah.
Well, I'm not sure we've met, do I know you? Click the about link if you're bored. I've done a few things in life that are pretty interesting, but that's not the point, methinks. I do know what the f*ck I'm talking about when it comes to economics, however, hence my comments. Test me.
Here's a few criticisms:
Your thinking is all old-economy, too 20th century. Jason's talking to the community of tech entrepreneurs, startup executives, and the like. It's not all about making widgets.
Jason's email was called the 120% Solution. He did define the problem as the current macro trend facing the US economy. He even said it wasn't the worst crisis that our country has ever faced. I didn't generalize, he did.
So he offered a solution. And that solution wasn't just the part about working an extra 20%, that was only a part of the reccomendation. The other part involved ratcheting back
The reality is on a macro level those two things just aren't compatible. That's why calling it a solution was so funny to me. It's a recipe for complete disaster. It's pouring gasoline on a fire.
At least as far as the economics part went the main argument boils down roughly to this sentence: "Hi America. You have a big problem now, caused by overcapacity and slackening demand. I recommend drastically increasing capacity and slashing demand further."
My argument is, well, no, that's a really bad idea.
And I can explain why.
But the advice could have well made sense if it was a little more specific.
It's not bad advice for a young knowledge worker, or startup CEO. Presumably
that's the audience of the email, and the readers of Valleywag, and the excuse for some tunnel vision.
But one commenter said this, essentially questioning my assumption that working an extra 20% is about more than just a raw increase in production, saying this:
I think he has a very specific idea of what we should be toiling for: not producing more factory goods, but innovating services and improving the tech infrastructure.
Well he should have said that. He didn't. Based on what he said my assumption is correct, in the aggregate.
Most people in the economy are not engaged in work that involves innovating services or improving the tech infrastructure. It's a big world out there.
And it's not just factories, though there are quite a few of those. How about ironwork riggers, carpenters, floor sanding guys, fast food workers, airline flight attendents, sandwich makers, supermarket butchers. I could go on and on.
It's not realistic to expect these people to make the widget better by working another 20%. They're going to sand 20% more floors, or make 20% more sandwiches. That's the bulk of the economy, that's America. That's the world.
The vast majority of the labor force is not in the business of innovating anything.
Even in the knowledge worker set, it's not a panacea. Should advertising executives work 20% more to make more ads, or to make their ads more clever?
Maybe they should. Personally, I'd advise that they do. I work my ass off. If you're reading this maybe you do too. Maybe Jason's email would make for great life coaching.
But what's that going to do for our economic slump? The advice is going to make it worse.
If you're not talking about a solution to macro problems you don't say stuff like this, straight from Jason's email:
Many intelligent people I’ve been speaking with believe that the
economic crisis facing our country today is our biggest challenge
since America’s inception… I’ve been thinking a lot of what got us into this mess and how we might be able to get out of it. What follows are my extremely basic thoughts on what has caused the problem and what the solution might be.
Sorry guys. This conversation is about macroeconomics. If you're going to talk about macroeconomics and you don't know what the f*ck you're talking about don't be shocked when you're called out on it.
How can you really argue that working harder is bad for the economy. How can everyone working a little harder be a bad thing?
There's nothing wrong with this as en ethos or philosophy. I happen to agree
strongly with it. It's good advice. In fact in my response I said that this
is one of those things that's counterintuitive, it might be a good idea for
EACH of the people that does it, but if everyone does it then everyone is
worse off. I love those kinds of paradoxes, I geek out on them in my spare
time, just for fun, examples here or here.
But it's also worth noting that the solution was the combination of two main (bad) ideas, increased work
(without any sense of what "work" means for most people) and reduced demand.
On a macro level, as a "solution" for the current "problem" it's just
On a personal level, and highly qualified and prefaced, it's
great advice. In many ways Jason wrote the same email
about three weeks prior, except
instead of a solution to Americas problems it was a prescription for what a
startup founder should be doing right now
It was basically the same prescription. I actually replied to that one and said it was
smart and really insightful and thanked for writing it, it was thought
provoking. Then the same basic concepts applied more generally as a macroeconomic solution made me think damm, this is retarded.
Not everything can be generalized from the personal experience of being a
tech innovator, being smarter or more creative than average, and being an
owner or manager. Most people aren't those things, and most of the economy
doesn't work that way.
First email was great, the other one made me want to
write 1500 words in response.
No really, how can people working harder and more efficiently at their jobs destroy jobs? That makes no sense.
I said it was counterintuitive. That doesn't make it wrong. There are at least 80+ years of economics devoted to actually studying and understanding concepts like this. You know, by actually studying them, using math, testing assumptions. Not going with a Colbert-esque "gut feeling."
It's much easier just to refer to John Mayard Keynes on this exact issue
as he's the genius, I'm just some guy who's actually read the stuff.
But it shouldn't be that hard to grasp. Let's simplify further.
If one guy can do the work of two, the second guy is surplus and unemployed.
A leads to B.
Which part of the above is confusing?
This holds unless there's demand for twice as much work to be done, and people willing to pay for the extra output, so both guys keep their jobs, but the world
gets more out of them. The obvious criticism would be that if one man can do the work of two, that's good. That's more efficient and thus a goal, it's a good thing for the economy.
Well the obvious response is good for whom? Certainly not the guy who just got surplused. I'll refer back to Keynes, who demonstrated quite convincingly that the economy can just contract and exclude huge numbers of people and idle large quantities of resources, and that this is not self-correcting.
The trick is to get the second guy working. Having half the world's population unemployed and starving is a market failure. And just to be clear it's not only bad for the half that's starving, it's bad in general. The rich and owners of capital fare better under full employment as well.
This argument is pragmatic, not socialist. Every business owner presumably is not just concerned about the cost of their own employees. I don't know a business that doesn't require customers. You can't speak to broader issues without having some sense of both the supply and demand side.
If one man can do same work two used to do, and both men can continue to work because this improvement in efficiency translates to more demand then it leads to more wealth. That's called economic growth, that's what Jason thinks he's advocating in that email.
But his prescription has two sides. The combination of the two of them is
what makes it a disaster. If we could convince everyone to work 120% more
and spend 120% more, we'd be closer to the right track.
But on the level of macroeconomics, or when presented as a solution to the massive economic crisis we face (which as I pointed out above, wasn't me over generalizing, the idea that this was a solution to a national or global problem was the main thesis of his argument) the two main points are working at cross purpose.
The "solution" is encouraging more production and less demand for that production. Those two things are incompatible.
The analysis and recommendation are deeply unsound.