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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 185 of Steven Pinker’s 2018 book, Enlightenment Now:

With the shift from a manufacturing to a service economy, many social critics have expressed nostalgia for the era of factories, mines, and mills, probably because they never worked in one.

DBx: Most people mistakenly suppose that the economy ‘creates’ jobs without taking heed of the preferences that workers have for different kinds of jobs – without paying any attention to the manner in which workers are willing to trade-off one aspect of employment, such as wages, for other aspects, such as job safety. The notion that most people seem to have about employment is that jobs of certain kinds mysteriously exist, and then workers must accept these jobs as they are. In this ‘understanding,’ the only hope for workers to have better pay and safer working conditions is for government to forcibly improve these conditions.

But in fact workers do care about the conditions in which they work. And the wealthier workers become, the less willing they are to toil in the relatively unpleasant and poor conditions that their fathers and mothers gladly accepted. Employers have no choice but to respond to these preferences, for market competition reveals and gives these preferences force in reality.


The tale often told by the economically and historically uninformed is this stirring one: The good guys (governments and labor-unions) heroically stand up to the bad guys (crass and greedy business owners) in order to help the helpless little guys (workers). As an account of rising real wages and improved working conditions, this tale is almost total nonsense. But people love simple morality tales featuring heroes and villains confronting each other without any ambiguity over who is good and who is bad. And so this tale will never be displaced in the popular and political mind by the far less stirring – but in fact far more interesting – account of the economic forces that actually did, and continue to, improve wages and working conditions for ordinary people.


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