Where Are All The Good Jobs?

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” – Confucius

I was surfing the web just the other day (do kids still say that? “surfing the web”) and I ran across an add for a book by the head of the Gallup organization titledThe Coming Jobs War. Now, I haven’t read the book, so I will offer no critique. I will quote briefly from the introduction of the book (you can find this on Amazon) as it bears on this post:

The coming world war is an all-out global war for good jobs. As of 2008, the war for good jobs has trumped all other leadership activities because it’s been the cause and the effect of everything else that countries have experienced. This will become even more real in the future as global competition intensifies. If countries fail at creating jobs, their societies will fall apart.

Please, tell me, what is a good job? Better yet, tell yourself (as I’m likely not in the room with you just  now) what you think a good job is. I have my ideas, but it’s best if you have your ideas in your head too.

(Before you ask, yes, I have a good job.)

So what is a good job? Well, some would say it’s a job you enjoy doing. I suppose that’s not a bad answer, but there’s more to work that having fun. We’ve all known people who left one job or another because they weren’t making enough money. They will say something like “I love working here, but I can’t [fill in the blank] on this salary.” So I would say it is good if you enjoy your job, but that may not quite complete the definition of a good job.

I will sometimes play basketball with some friends (rarely these days). When I play, I try to win the game. This will occasionally draw a response of “hey, we’re just out here to have fun” – to which I say “winning is fun”. In the same light, I will say that having a job you enjoy doing is good, but making a good living is also fun, and is probably part of enjoying your job.

Besides, the smiles we get from working don’t always relate to the job we do. Sometimes it is enjoyment enough that our labors, our efforts, our back-breaking work at a job we may not particularly enjoy, result in our families being clothed, fed, housed, educated, and the like. We enjoy that, even if we don’t enjoy our particular activities of employment.

So, having a job you enjoy doing is good, but for a job to be a good job it may also need to pay well, right? Well, maybe.

Some will say that this alone is the definition, that a good job pays well, or has good benefits, or otherwise affords me a life of luxury. Well, I think high pay, benefits, and the ability to afford luxury (or to give it away to the poor) are good things. But pay, in all its various forms, cannot be the only measuring stick – because when we consider remuneration we often consider it wrongly.

That is to say that when we consider our pay we often consider it along with our own desires. It is good to get paid more and bad to get paid less. But pay should be a proxy for productivity. That is, you should get paid in accordance with your productivity, no more, no less. For “simple” jobs this is easier to compute – farmers know how much they produce, as do ranchers, assembly-line workers, and mechanics. We have to hope/trust that the free market helps us find an appropriate level of compensation when our production is less that trivial to compute. (Tell me, if you’re a teacher, just how much is an educated child worth? No, the answer is not “infinity” but it is something, and not necessarily something easy to compute.)

Now, that is not to say that the market is always in balance. With all of these government interferences in freedom, how could it be? You may find yourself at times getting paid less than you produce (can I get an “amen” from the homemakers?). You may find yourself getting paid more than you produce (can I get an “amen” from the bureaucrats?). Still, if you find yourself wanting more pay (you know, so your job can be a “good” job) without increasing your productivity, then you are either saying (a) you are currently underpaid or (b) somebody else should donate their productivity to supplement your consumption. If the answer is (a), then a free market will present you with the opportunity. If the answer is (b), then you’ll get no sympathy here.

So then if high pay is good, and pay should be a proxy for production, then a good job is one that allows you to be highly productive. Now we’re getting somewhere. What is a job that allows you to be highly productive? Well, presumably it is one that is well matched to your skill set. I would produce painfully little if I worked as a mechanic. (Sidebar: any wonder that central planning fails miserably, with its inability to efficiently match skills to jobs?) Beyond matching skills, there is also something to be said for a management structure that allows and promotes the best productivity in its employees – which is variable from job-to-job and employee-to-employee, and is probably hard to define in a few sentences. I simply note it to recognize that there is more to high productivity than simply skills-matching.

Beyond management and skills-matching, their is also your own motivation. You are the greatest driver of how much you produce in the day. That’s also a side note though – I’d be hard-pressed to say that you have a good job if you work hard.

So then, what is a good job? Well, a good job is one that is well matched to your skills and hopefully one that you enjoy doing, and one where remuneration is consistent with production. Do you have a good job? Are you good at what you do? Do you enjoy what you do? Or, if you don’t enjoy it, does it help you to meet the needs of your loved ones? Is pay managed consistently with production?

That last one is again hard to categorize. For the Christian we have a response in difficult times, found in Col 3:23-24 …

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

It’s February of 2012. Election season is upon us (isn’t it always?). During the campaign you will likely hear plenty of talk about creating jobs – and not just any jobs, but good jobs. When you hear those claims, ask yourself some questions. What do the candidates mean when they say good jobs? Chances are they mean high-paying jobs with benefits. But we don’t create those jobs, they happen in response to high production.

Also ask yourself this: what on earth does that candidate know about matching skills of individual workers to individual jobs, and what can a centralized bureaucracy possibly hope to achieve on that front? If their jobs campaign is anything other than the free market, where people are allowed to produce (and retain), and the establishment of pay-for-productivity is clean and efficient, then they have no plan … other than a plan to buy votes.

Now it’s off to work. Off to try to produce well, to “work with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” Hope everybody has a good day at your respective places of employment.

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