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Drove my Chevy to the Levy

Posted by Stanley
on 03.19.11

Having filed state and federal taxes yesterday, I was surprised to see that Virginia moved away from its own electronic-filing website to a goofy patchwork of private-industry tax preparers (basically mirroring what the federal government does, but with fewer options). I fail to see the improvement here.

Admittedly, I may be overly twitchy about this kind of thing, ever since I heard a radio segment a few weeks back featuring the Commonwealth Secretary of Transportation droning on about how "public-private partnerships" will solve all of our transportation woes. Color me skeptical.


 

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Tell The Mineshaft: NickS On Overpaying Older Workers

Posted by LizardBreath
on 03.19.11

As I get into my mid-thirties I'm aware that there are several ways in which my brain just doesn't work as well as it used to. This has me thinking about aging. I'm also struck by the standard expectation that, in the typical career arc, one's salary tends to increase over time. These two things taken together imply that the average person is underpaid for a period of time when they're young, and overpaid for some period of time at the end of their career. There are of course a number of obvious caveats to that generalization, some of which I'll mention at the bottom, but let's accept the premise for the sake of argument.

My first thought is a certain trepidation at the idea of reaching that point myself. There are many conventional milestones of losing one's youth that haven't bothered me, but I expect that I will find it emotionally difficult if/when I reach a point in my career when I am arguably overpaid. I'm curious if the mineshaft has any advice beyond the obvious, and appropriate, "cry me a river."

My second thought is that, while the idea of steadily increasing income doesn't match productivity, it makes a lot of psychological sense. Considering the natural tendencies towards Loss Aversion and the Hedonic Treadmill, it seems like people will be much happier if they see steady incremental gains rather than either big year-to-year swings in income, or drastically increasing income during the 20s and 30s which then begins to tail off at some point in the 40s.

So, from a public policy perspective it seems like it's very useful to have social conventions that promote that sort of career arc. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem necessarily stable. As LB wrote in a recent thread, (http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_11146.html#1290349),
"there's a serious financial incentive to fire older, more expensive [workers] and keep a high turnover of cheap kids churning through the [institution]."

It seems like the case that, as long as it's conventional for all large employers to keep, "older, more expensive workers" through the end of their careers, it doesn't hurt any individual business to do so. But as soon as some companies start looking for ways to avoid doing so it becomes a potential competitive disadvantage for other companies to keep the older social/career structure in place. You can see how bitterly that tension can become in conversations about tenure (either in academia or de facto tenure in public sector jobs) involving people who work in sectors of the economy in which that isn't the norm.

So, if it is a public good to allow for a graceful career arc, what should be done to encourage that. The LB quote above comes from a thread about unions and it seems true that unions have, historically, promoted policies which make it easier for older employees to keep their jobs.

This is often used as an argument against unions -- because it implies a certain economic inefficiency. While that potential inefficiency is real, I'm inclined to think that the psychological value s worth it. But I could certainly be convinced that I'm wrong about that.

In any case, it feels like in this case, as with so many benefits that unions used to pursue, the declining unionization leaves a society in which those benefits are available in a way that is blatantly unequal. Here the stereotype is that, "knowledge industries" are relatively friendly to people wanting to work into old age. In any case I think of Ezra Klein's recent post
(http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/01/too_young_not_to_work_too_old.html)
about the high unemployment rate among people in their 50s and the difficulties they can have finding another job.

Obviously this problem is neither new, nor is the observation that it can be difficult for people to switch jobs late in their career (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYMxrPzMGNg).

So, I ask again, what are the appropriate implications of this line of thinking. My first realization is that it makes me much more sympathetic to transfer payments from the young to the old, and that it would be a terrible idea to have a general increase the age of
eligibility for Social Security -- that seems like it would only exacerbate the inequality between people that have the option to continue working late into their 60s, and those who don't.

Beyond that it seems obvious that it's wildly unpopular for anybody to explicitly advocate for rules which encourage organizations to, "kick their deadwood higher and higher" and to have institutions that are full of people who are older and who may or may not be some combination of overpaid, resistant to institutional change, behind the curve technically, and/or lacking passion for the work. Yet, as unattractive as that sounds (and you can see why I worry about the idea of ending up in this category myself), I also feel like it is incredibly valuable as a society for, to put it bluntly, people to be allowed to be overpaid at some point in their career.

Also, to make my premise explicit, I am not making the argument that we should be concerned about older unemployed people for the sake of pity (though I am certainly sympathetic). I am arguing that, assuming that I will earn a given amount of money over my working career that it is better for me psychologically to have it spread out in such a
way that there is a general upwards slope to my earning and that as somebody who is (still) on the younger side of that divide I'm not sure how to negotiate that with society at large (since I may or may not stay with my current employer). I observe that there are many loose conventions that support that but nothing explicit, and I am concerned that society will move away from having that describe a typical career arc.

Am I completely off base on this one?

Here are some caveats:

1) There are two possible definitions of overpaid, relative to a potential replacement or relative to the output of the work. I'm mostly concerned about the former, since the tensions that I'm thinking about will happen any time somebody is a position in which the company could hire somebody else to do the same job for less. At the same time it's worth noting that people can be overpaid by that definition and still be profitable for their employer.

2) I recognize, of course, that productivity isn't just a function of raw mental/physical prowess. I'm much more productive now than I was six years ago, even if my memory isn't as good, because of gains in skill/experience/wisdom. I expect, however, that this won't always be
true. It does point out another potential benefit of having social conventions that push towards the inclusion of older workers -- experience may be valuable to decision making in ways that are broader thanan individual job description.

3) One could make the argument that it's bad for people to be underpaid when they are young, because if they had more money at that stage in their life they could invest it. I find this unconvincing except for the fact that, because of the time value of money, it is
only fair that people be overpaid at the end of their career by more than they were underpaid at the beginning of their career. Beyond that it seems better, for many reasons, to live and work in a society which is set up to be supportive of the natural arc to people's lives than
it is to give people more money up front, and ask them to insure themselves against declining facility in later life.

Nick

(My thoughts under the fold -- LB.)

My thoughts are fervent, but confused. First, the explicit assumption throughout both Nick's post and lots of discourse on this topic that younger workers are objectively preferable to older workers, even assuming the same costs to employ them. While he caveats it, I don't think the caveat is enough -- I think that's nonsense, or at least not something that's generally true outside of heavy manual labor, and treating it as a baseline assumption throws the whole discussion out of whack. I don't know if there's some abstract test of mental functioning on which I'm not at the level I was at twenty-two, but I am a better lawyer every year I work, and expect to keep improving until I retire, die, or get sick in some way that directly impacts mental functioning. I'm as good a lawyer as my boss is in plenty of ways, but she's got fifteen years worth of "I've seen exactly this happen before" on me, and it helps a lot. Experience matters, and I think situations where experience becomes truly obsolete aren't all that common in knowledge-based jobs. (Sometimes -- Yglesias mentioned his mother a while ago, who was a graphic designer in the era where cut&paste involved razorblades and rubber cement -- but even that wouldn't have made all of her experience useless.)

So mostly, I think that older workers are genuinely going to be worth a premium over younger workers. The worry in situations like education is that people who really don't give a damn about results are going to fire their more experienced, more effective, more expensive employees, hire cheap kids to save money, and not care that work product suffers.

Situations where older workers are genuinely less valuable than younger workers are harder. The problem there is what happens to a worker who spends the years from twenty to forty-five doing physical labor, and then becomes unable to function at a worthwhile level in the same job but can't easily retrain for unrelated non-physical work? That's where I think we need unions: the deal being offered that twenty-year-old is unconscionable if he's an at-will employee who gets tossed aside like a used tissue the day he gets a hernia, but it's an unconscionable deal that people will accept if they don't have enough bargaining power on their side.



 

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What's The Difference Between A Female Litigator And A Pit Bull?

Posted by LizardBreath
on 03.18.11

And I don't even wear lipstick, usually.

It's been a funny week -- three or four occasions where I've let my vicious streak loose at opposing counsel. Polite, nothing even a little raised-voice or unprofessional, and generally while smiling broadly and speaking sweetly: I'm not losing my temper in any sort of uncontrolled way. But I'm also not being tactically nasty to achieve some litigation goal, instead, I'm just seeing opportunities to knife people who are annoying me. I generally don't do that -- it's not usually a productive way of amusing oneself. Bland politeness keeps the gears turning much better.

I'm not sure what's going on. I don't feel as if I were particularly stressed or upset about anything, but maybe I am.


 

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Or just cold and heartless.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.18.11

A friend of Jammies has a new love interest, and they stayed up until 5 am IMing. This is the perennial hallmark of someone you get all swoony over, right? You stay up until 5 am chatting with them? Or dates that last for days?

I'm pretty sure I have never gotten so caught up talking with a new love interest that I stayed up until 5 am engrossed in conversation. I think I am maybe just not a very passionate person.


 

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Stories That Might As Well Be From The Onion

Posted by LizardBreath
on 03.18.11

All this one needs is to close its first sentence with "disappointed researchers report."


 

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Guest Post - Witt on Public Schools

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.17.11

Public schools in the suburbs spend a ton of time and money making sure poorer kids from the city don't illegally attend school their districts. You couldn't ask for a more perfect example of how local funding of education intensifies the punishment for kids who lose the birth lottery and happen to be born in the wrong place.

I can't get over how sad it is to have parents and neighbors acting as informants. The article doesn't mention it, but this is an extremely white school district, and odds are high that the "Philadelphia" students being referred to are black.

To get their kids into suburban schools, some parents provide school officials with false records or say their kids live with relatives in the area when they don't. But that isn't always a fool-proof plan, said Byron McCook, director of child accounting in the Radnor School District.
A dozen students from Philadelphia were caught attending Radnor schools this year, he said.
"Sometimes mail gets returned, and that's when we do a follow-up," he said. "When we initially enroll students, we see inconsistencies in the application, which raises a red flag."
Local residents have also helped keep the number of nonresidents down, McCook added.
"We don't have too much of an issue because a lot of people know each other in the community," he said.
"We find out from various sources and neighbors who observe cars dropping students off at the bus stop."

Additional stats


 

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This is a new containment vessel.

Posted by Apostropher
on 03.16.11

The So, Tokyo thread is over 900 comments and the Fukushima situation doesn't appear to be moving toward resolution any time soon, so I'm encasing the old thread in cement and moving the discussion to this one. Everybody try to remain calm.


 

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Meanwhile in the Maghreb...

Posted by Stanley
on 03.16.11

...things look bleak. Even a cursory glance over the history of US interventions in foreign countries makes me squeamish about getting too involved anywhere. The last ten years of intervening in Iraq and Afghanistan have only bolstered that wariness.

So I'm really rather uneasy with the discussion of a no-fly zone in Libya.


 

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Filed Under: Cry Me a River

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.15.11

Liz Spigot sends along an article relevant to our ongoing discussion of how wealthy wealthy is. Millionaires need $7.5 million to feel rich, poor things. (At the link, on the sidebar, there's another link to a story titled "Don't Envy the Super-rich, They Are Miserable". Yes, it's hard to say if the super-rich or the super-poor have it worse.) I've heard elsewhere that most people claim they need about 20% more than they have in order to be happy, and also that in actuality there's a threshold of getting your basic needs met, below which more money makes you more happy, but above which it doesn't.


 

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I think they call it Hatlanta?

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.15.11

Got back last night from spending the weekend with a close friend in Atlanta. It's a charming city. She took me around Midtown, Little 5 points, and Decatur. What was really notable in those neighborhoods is how integrated the middle and upper economic classes are, in stark contrast to central Texas, north Florida, or Michigan. It's possible it's just being in the right neighborhoods of any big city. I bought a fantastic onyx necklace that I love very much and a striped pillow that reminds me of a prom dress.


 

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Fri-eee Day-eee Fri-eee Day-eee

Posted by Apostropher
on 03.13.11

I'm feeling John Cole's sentiment right about now. If I think too much about what just happened (and continues to happen) in Japan, I really might just curl up in a ball and rock back and forth for several days, and I don't have the vacation time built up to do that. So instead, I give you this music video that is positively filled with high-end orthodontic care, and the story behind it (credit for which should rightfully go to Josh and Ben, respectively). Just in case you had any lingering doubts about the specific location of Friday vis-à-vis the remaining six days of the week.


 

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