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Capitalism in a Nutshell

Matt Levine’s newsletter Money Stuff is always excellent and usually funny. (And the poor man knows I think so.) However, this passage from the August 12th dispatch soberly explains one of the main ways the United States’ political system enforces capitalism:

“Loosely speaking, there are two main kinds of income: income from labor, like salaries, and income from capital, like dividends and capital gains. In the U.S., the former is taxed more heavily than the latter, with a top marginal rate of 39.6 percent on ordinary income, versus 20 percent on capital gains and dividends. There are a number of efficiency and fairness arguments in favor of a lower tax rate on capital gains, but there are also those who suspect that an important reason for the difference is that (1) rich people tend to get more of their income from capital than poor people do, (2) rich people tend to prefer to pay lower taxes, and (3) rich people tend to get their preferred policies enacted.”

That Feel When the Brick Saw Earns Six Times Your Wage

“If you look at my body as a tool of the company, I am not receiving the same level of maintenance as this inanimate object [the brick saw]. From the $164.08/mo I pay in health insurance, to the gas and vehicle wear I expend driving around to jobs, to the thousand extra calories I have to eat every day to maintain at such high levels of activity, all the way down to the sunscreen I have to wear every day and the ibuprofen I take to ameliorate the pain caused by the job — all of it is paid for personally by me, from my wages.” — user TRASH_UPLOADER on Reddit

Eat the rich or the rich will eat you. Photo by Nick Mustoe.
Photo by Nick Mustoe.

Plutocrats & Cartels

“The great fortunes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were built on the backs of worker-consumers in primarily inward-looking national contexts. By contrast, today’s plutocrats thrive by selling their goods and services globally; their success is dramatically less connected to the fortunes of their fellow national citizens than was that of previous generations. Moreover, the two signature types of massive wealth accumulation in the early 21st century have been high technology and financial services. Neither of these industries relies on masses of laborers, so their productivity is detached from the health of any particular national middle class. […] While plutocrats sewed up the licit opportunities afforded by the integration of the global economy, they mostly avoided dealing in goods and services that were banned for moral or prudential reasons. By contrast, deviant entrepreneurs realized that arbitraging the moral and regulatory differences that existed in different jurisdictions worldwide presented fantastic business opportunities — with opportunities continuously emerging as the capacities of different states contracted at differing rates.” — Nils Gilman for The American Interest

Simple Versus Easy

Simple things consist of a limited number of intuitively understandable elements. Easy things are, well, easy — they don’t require a lot of effort or education. There is plenty of crossover, but “simple” and “easy” are not the same.

Original photo by Sara Beth Adkins.
Original photo by Sara Beth Adkins.

For example, working retail at Walmart is simple. Almost anyone can do it, which is why it’s a low-paid job — there’s no supply constrain of potential employees to drive up the price. (Side note: price =/= value.) However, working retail at Walmart is a hard job. Being in contact with customers all day is emotionally exhausting, especially when you work for an exploitative company that doesn’t mind employee burnout.

It’s not the worst thing in the world when “simple” and “easy” are conflated, but it’s useful to remember why we have two different words and two different underlying ideas. There are plenty of simple tasks that are expensive because they’re difficult to execute.

I considered making this a longer post, but really, there’s no need. It’s a simple thought, after all ;)

Hourly Pay for Creative Work?

Photo by Graham Richardson.
Photo by Graham Richardson.

There’s a problem with being paid hourly for creative work. Intellectual productivity isn’t based on time, but on quality of output. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can only think really hard and really well for a couple of hours per day, and usually not longer than thirty minutes at a time.

Concentration consumes a lot of energy, and I need frequent breaks to mess around and do nothing in particular. If I billed for that time, I would feel guilty, because I’m not actually putting words to paper or whatever my client is paying me to do. But I need the breaks to recharge in between creating the work.

I asked a mentor what to do about this problem and she suggested charging a day rate instead. So I guess I should figure that out for the next gig.

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