Gene Logsdon and Friends

Pretend Jobs

In Gene's Weekly Posts on October 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm

From GENE LOGSDON

It says here in the paper that it takes 125,000 new jobs every month just to keep up with population growth. No wonder we have so many people holding down unnecessary jobs. There aren’t enough real jobs to go around and besides, we are replacing people with machines as fast as we can to do the real jobs. Rather than trying to eliminate pretend jobs for the sake of efficiency as is now being proposed (lots of pretension in that too), we should be thinking up better quality pretend jobs— imaginative new positions in useless work that are more beneficial to society than the usual run of useless work.

The famous economist, John Maynard Keynes, first thought of this approach many years ago. He proposed, as useless but harmless work, burying tin cans full of money all over the landscape and then letting people without jobs hunt for them and pocket the contents. He claimed this would keep the unemployed occupied and happy without causing any costly harm to society. He didn’t say it, but I suppose if the money were buried out in next year’s corn fields, you could get the soil worked up for planting without burning a whole lot of fuel. Also you could create another bunch of useless jobs hiring people to bury the cash.

Agriculture is full of examples of beneficially useless jobs. Many of the positions in the Extension Service no longer serve any real need or purpose and are finally being cut in the current wave of “austerity.” But if county agents and consumer educators merely repeat work already being done by the private sector, at least such jobholders are not doing destructive work like manufacturing bombs. For awhile, I had a job that paid me for checking newly-installed drainage tile systems to make sure they were put in according to Soil Conservation Service regulations. It never seemed to have occurred to authorities that farmers were not going to deliberately put in drainage systems that did not work. But my job surely contributed more to the social good than if I had been employed to check the operation of roulette wheels at casinos.

The ticklish part of all this is that one man’s pretend job is another man’s real job. The financial conservative today, intent on reducing taxes, generally defines a real job as one that people will willingly pay for (private sector jobs rather than public sector jobs). I believe that definition sanctifies prostitution as good business, doesn’t it? Growing corn is certainly real work, but what about growing corn to make car fuel while people starve?

In case you didn’t notice, the Senate just voted to end direct payments to wealthy farmers. Direct payments are those a farmer receives just because he or she is a farmer, no other strings attached. These payments are despicable, really, and it is high time they were abolished. But again, I am wondering if it is better to shower money on a food producer rather than on a bomb producer. More benefit might come from spreading the direct payment folly out to everyone willing to brandish a hoe productively. How about paying people a hundred dollars a bushel for backyard corn? Backyard corn won’t hurt the environment. People would happily stay at home and garden rather than get killed on the highways so often. And look at the jobs that would be created for the army of inspectors needed to make sure the corn growers didn’t cheat. Food prices would decline with all that corn on the market. There would be an increase of fresh, healthful cornmeal, corn fritters, popcorn, sweet corn, corn chips, pancakes, corn bread, parched corn, tortillas and good old fat-producing corn-fed meat. The countryside would blossom into a beauteous land of peace and plenty with hundreds of new, small farms.

Many parts of Europe have been doing this for years, literally paying small farmers to preserve an oasis of local food and a healthy rural environment. In New England, there are areas where imaginative local government actually pays farmers to keep cows grazing out in the pastures. It attracts tourists and the money pours in. That’s the way to go.

Okay, so I’m being a bit facetious. But underneath I am deadly serious. We should not allow the abstract dictums of money to rule the real world of human life, love and the pursuit of happiness. That means creating more pretend jobs, not fewer.
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  1. Well farmer is a pretend job in Imperial Valley:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/24/science/earth/24water.html

  2. I wouldn’t mind being paid to do my Raindances-even though they didn’t do much good here in Texas this year.

  3. Yes, and here’s the most important line in the whole article (about farmers being paid to send to the big cities the water they would otherwise use to grow crops): “There was nothing here before the water was here. There will be nothing here after it’s gone.” Sending water to LA and San Diego simply allows them to continue to grow in their greasy, smog-ridden, cancerous fashion (I consider LA and San Diego the Nineveh and Tyre of California — can you tell?). And look at that field he’s walking over; what do you think will happen to that land with no water? Yep, dust bowl, here we come!

  4. Great post. I would be happy if the USDA would just quit protecting the big ag boys, but they seem to enjoy harassing small local producers out of business with unnecessary regulations and compliance paperwork. This results in listeria on melons, or salmonella in eggs, that covers half the country in it’s distribution, and of course, the USDA doesn’t have manpower to watch the big guys, because their people are watching for 40 acre farmers selling raw milk to consenting adults in their neighborhood. We like our e. coli in our hamburger, covering 15 states, thank you.

    I read last week that the replacement for subsidies will somehow come from crop insurance programs. It’s always astounded me that farming is reverse welfare: working people paying taxes that go to people whose net worth is more than any working person. The richer you are, the more money the government pays you. When you stop and think about it, it’s kind of funny. The new status symbol is the 4 door, 4 (or 6) wheel drive powerstroke or duramax, and the only farm implement it can pull is the running gear for the combine grain head. Everything else is too damned big! It’s handy to pull the fifth wheel horse trailer, though, or the boat, or the camper. I’m proud to pay taxes.

  5. I am so frustrated with the current state of affairs that I hardly know where to begin. There is plenty of real work to be done rebuilding our roads, schools, water systems, etc.

    But even a pretend job is better than no job.

  6. The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) we used to have here in Sandusky County kept a lot of people out of our jail, taught them valuable skills, and did a lot of good work for a small investment. It’s only been gone completely for about a decade, but the loss is measurable.

  7. Keynes was a very evil man whose backward economic theories that present day economists seem to love are a big reason why we have such a disfunctional economy and society. Gene cited just one more example.

    Pretend jobs and long term no-strings attached unemployment insurance are SURE paths to ultimate bankruptcy.

    1. almost no real work that anyone needs done is accomplished. if any is accomplished it is usually done at an inefficient rate.

    2. the participant learns few useful skills and often gets cynical in the process. this might be a way to get the rum-dums out of the real work force, but is this really something we want to do?

    3. paying people to do useless jobs gives them purchasing power to bid for real goods and services and thereby creates demand but no supply.

    Most government social projects such as this not only fail, but actually acheive just the opposite of what the central planners actually envision. Some examples.

    1. low interest loans and community housing mandates. Envisioned as a way to make housing more affordable. The actual result – a massive housing crisis and lower rates of home ownership.

    2. massive amounts of low cost student loans. Envisioned as a way to make higher education more affordable. the actual result – massive tuition inflation that forces a college graduate to manage $100,000 worth of debt forever, and a college system whose costs are out of control.

    3. farm supports of all varieties. Envisioned as a way to boost farm income. the actual result – massive over-production, poor land stewardship, giganticism in farms, massive population loss in rural areas, etc.

    • Eddy, your three examples are absolutely correct: low cost house loans drove up the cost of houses; low cost student loans drove up tuition; and subsidies to farmers drove up land prices.

  8. What happened to internships? When you could find someone to shadow and learn a useful skill or trade without having to go through years of schooling and still get paid as you learn?

    For some reason we keep throwing money at the problems we have instead of looking for a useful solution. When was the last time you saw someone going door to door selling a service instead of Watchtower or kids selling candy?! No it’s easier to pay them to stay home and raise ten kids on welfare.

    We have a working crisis, all the people willing to work have plenty to do. The rest sit and wait on the mail to run.

  9. “We should not allow the abstract dictums of money to rule the real world of human life, love and the pursuit of happiness.” Sounds like what the voices of young and old, employed and unemployed, veteran and student are saying in Occupy Wall Street rallies across the country.

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