Thursday, October 06, 2011
Arnold King posess the right question for our times:
Over at the libertarianish Library of Economics and Liberty
, he asks:
Where are the Servants?
In an economy where some folks are very rich and many folks are unemployed, why are there not more personal servants? Why don't Sergey Brin and Bill Gates have hundreds of people on personal retainer?
I pose this question as a way to think about labor markets and macroeconomics. Some possible answers:
1. It's a supply problem. Nobody wants to be a personal servant. They think that their human capital will depreciate less if they remain unemployed.
2. It's a demand problem. The marginal product of personal servants is very, very low. As Don Boudreaux points out, the impersonal servant of the market delivers us much higher quality goods and services than kings were able to obtain from all of their personal servants.
3. It's a recalculation problem. Gates and Brin cannot figure out what they would do with hundreds of personal retainers. They cannot even find a personal retainer who can figure out what they would do with hundreds of personal retainers.
So why haven't personal servants replaced blue collar manufacturing jobs killed by cheap imports and white collar jobs lost to outsourcing? Clearly, when the economy tanks, people will do most anything for a dollar (pace item 1) and be cheap enough so that the marginal value will be positive (pace item 2).
Which really means that it's a problem of imagination. If it's true that "Gates and Brin cannot figure out what they would do with hundreds of personal retainers" then those billionaires need help! What can we suggest for this duo - and their equally rich friends - do with hundreds of personal retainers? And why limit it to hundreds? Didn't the pharaoh have thousands of people toiling away? How about a Giza-sized pyramid for each billionaire? That would get this economy humming again. Let's do it!
It has the additional benefit of reestablishing clear class distinctions which we have sadly abandoned for about a century. A few extremely rich people. Lots of servants. No middle class. Paradise.
They have their corporations employ the servants. (company car? have the secretary pick up the dry cleaning? Cushy job for the girlfriend?)
Also, Don Boudreaux is a servant of Charles Koch.
We've got machines to do all the stuff servants used to do ... clothes washers and dryers, laundry machines, microwave ovens, easy to prepare food, gas and electric stoves, gas and electric furnaces, water heaters ...
The big two servant services these days are gardening and housecleaning, each of which is still laborious and time consuming, and there are a lot of people employed doing just those two things. You don't have to be ultra-rich to afford a weekly housecleaning or gardening service. But instead of having one person taking all day to clean your house, you get a swarm of workers from an agency who bomb through the house for an hour and are gone.
Those jobs were mechanized away long ago.
No My Man Godfrey for the billionaires.
I don't want servants. I want minions. Preferably evil.
Hey, leave the pyramid builders out of it! Those guys staged the first successful worker strike in recorded history about benefits promised but not delivered. It took many, many years to get that obnoxious mindset and entitlement mentality out of the lower classes. Don't rekindle it!