Keeping up with the FITs, 6/12
Josh Barro on the contretemps at the Post; Cactus on envy; Timothy Taylor on human capital; Virginia Postrel on 1970s memories; Nellie Bowles on the news;
The staff apparently needs a sharp reminder that you do not air your disputes with colleagues in public. You’re supposed to be a team: You keep disagreements internal, and if you find the management or strategy or editorial direction of the organization unacceptable, you leave and work somewhere else. But employees have seen for years at the Post (and The New York Times) that following those practices is optional, so it’s going to take a shock to the system — one that will involve more employee discipline and the departure of employees for whom the chaos culture is an important value. They need to know that if they want to be toxic, they have to go do it at someone else’s newspaper.
…If I ran the Post, I would hand out punishments, including suspensions, like candy, until all this nonsense stopped.
My inclination is to add another iteration of that last sentence, substituting “Ivy League University” for “the Post.”
Note that subsequently the Post did fire the worst offender. That could be more significant even than the recall of Chesa Boudin.
Valorization of envy produces awful people and worse, puts them into power. It doesn’t matter which awful people are produced, but they’re the ones in power so they’re going to create some ideology as a post-hoc justification for their incompetence, whether it’s woke or MAGA. The way to prevent this is a long climb back up the mountain where we encourage explicit competition and accept that in almost everything worth doing, some people are better than others. We stigmatize envious impulses, not necessarily so that they will disappear completely, but so that the people who cannot control those impulses are kept out of power.
This is an example of what David McRaney calls “asymmetric insight,” that is the belief that you understand an adversary’s motives better than they understand themselves. In this case, the suggestion is that progressives are not really motivated to make the world better. Instead, progressives are motivated by envy of talented people, so that they want to punish them. McRaney has a new book coming out soon, for which I have high expectations.
Most asymmetric insights are off base. I hope that is true for what Cactus has to say. But Cactus is not the first person to see a big role for envy in political ideology. There is a classic book by Helmut Schoeck on the topic.
After 10 years, 61% of pay can be attributed to entry-level skills (from formal education), but after 30 years, 60% of pay can be attributed to work experience. Notice also that the pay raises over time are because of the rising role of work experience. . .
thinking in a serious way about whether your current employer is helping to develop the breadth and depth of your work experience human capital–or whether a job with an alternative employer might help you to do so–is likely to be at least as important to your lifetime financial well-being as the decisions you make about financial savings and investment.
“It’s really scary,” a senior Carter administration official told Time in 1980, when inflation hit 13.5% after four years of increases. “This inflation thing is frightening because we do not know what causes it, or what to do about it. The economists go to their computers, plug in the data, and out comes information that says that nothing like this should be happening. It’s very, very scary stuff.”
Trying to use a linear model to analyze a nonlinear process will do that to you. See also John Cochrane on the Phillips Curve.
Nellie Bowles offers her weekly news summary. One item:
Leaked documents posted by Senator Josh Hawley show that the ill-fated Department of Homeland Security Disinformation Board was, indeed, planning to surveil and censor American social media users. They were planning to monitor Americans’ speech on: “the validity and security of elections” and “the origins and effects of COVID-19 vaccines or the efficacy of masks.” That’s right: Question cloth masks, and the Department of Homeland Security would like to have a word with you.
But here’s the part that gave me chills. According to the whistleblower documents, DHS officials were preparing legislation for a “Rumor Control Program of the Department of Homeland Security to Counter Misinformation, Disinformation, and Malinformation.” There was even going to be a public-facing website called “Rumor Control.” I’m thinking of buying the URL.
It appears that DHS Secretary Mayorkas put out a lot of disinformation in his testimony to Congress.
I know it's just using the common turn of phrase, but I wish we'd stop "handing out suspensions" altogether in workplaces. It's a trapping of academia that's creeping into the real world, when we should be shrinking academia and pushing reality back into it.
School children are the only people who should be "suspended". There, you're punishing the child and taking the child out of the environment so they don't detract from other students. But you still have an obligation to try and educate them.
Employers have no such obligation and shouldn't have such an obligation. If an employee's behavior makes them a negative, fire them or reassign them to other duties where they don't detract from the overall enterprise. But punishing employees like they're children at School? Ridiculous.
I would frame the problems Barro describes not as "insubordination" but as a breakdown of compartmentalization norms. A healthy compartmentalization norm both trusts and expects people to follow different rules on-the-job vs off-the-job. The expectation part is that while on the job you must follow professional rules and serve the organizational mission, even if that conflicts with your personal convictions. The trust part is that as long as you do that, your fellow employees and your boss should not police how you act off the job.
I think of compartmentalization norms as an important tool for protecting liberalism, including social/cultural liberalism, in a complex society with deep moral disagreements. Part of the motivation for compartmentalization is justified horror at e.g. Henry Ford's practice of sending inspectors to the homes of Ford employees to make sure they were behaving "uprightly" in their personal lives: the trust part of the norm is what says employers shouldn't do that. And the expectation part of the norm is what lets us say to a pharmacist: feel free to express off the job your personal moral opposition to contraceptive and/or abortifacient medications, but on the job you must dispense those like any others. Or to Kim Davis: feel free to express your personal opposition to same-sex marriage rights off the job, but on the job you must sign same-sex marriage certificates anyway.
Activist employees of the sort who cause Twitter dramas often violate both parts of this norm: they don't expect to have to follow professional rules on the job themselves or to take professional actions that violate their personal convictions, *and* they don't trust co-workers to keep their off-the-job behaviors separate from their professional conduct. Their animating moral convictions are usually very different from those of Henry Ford or an anti-contraceptive pharmacist, but their anti-compartmentalization reasoning is the same, and a healthy compartmentalization norm should push back on that reasoning in the same way.
Yuval Levin would probably say this norm breakdown is rooted in the move from formative to performative institutions: a formative institution naturally checks the expression of personal convictions while a performative one amplifies it. You, I'm guessing, would invoke "the religion that persecutes heretics": i.e. if you believe passionately that yours is the one universal moral Truth with which no decent person can disagree, it gets harder to keep that conviction out of your work life, or to trust that others who do disagree with you can still be good co-workers. Both may be contributing factors, but there may be other more positive ones as well: e.g. this may be an inevitable downside of a world where more people have the financial security to choose jobs based on intangible meaning-making aspects of compensation rather than just the salary and benefits.