17 Comments
Dec 12, 2023Liked by Hamilton Nolan

Spot on. This is small potatoes, but I just think of my local CVS, where they replaced most of the cashiers with machines. Did they pass on the savings to customers? (Which would be fair, since we're now doing the labor of checking out and bagging items.) Of course not. The prices haven't gone down; if anything, they've gone up. Meanwhile, those machines just don't work -- you press all the buttons you're supposed to, and it still freezes. Oftentimes, multiple machines have issues at once -- there's an irritating chorus of soulless robo-voices barking, "Help is on the way," and the one employee they still have on hand to deal with these issues has to run back and forth fixing them while customers wait. This is progress? Again, just a small example, but this is what's happening across the board -- squeeze workers, make customers do the work for free (I mean, every customer-service call center now?), make a poorer product or experience, make things shitty for everyone but the investors.

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Dec 12, 2023Liked by Hamilton Nolan

Somewhere along the line we missed the fact that workers are, in fact, investors in the companies they work for. Sure, most workers don't pony up a few billion dollars here and there but what else can workers invest in if they're working 40-50 hours per week?

Managers / executives often have compensation contingent on stock performance or comprised of equity. What if workers were paid, in part, with equity? Say maybe 10, 15, or 20%? They'd have an incentive to figure out better ways to work. Given the massive capitalizations of large companies, equity payments wouldn't really be dilutive. Shit, companies take windfalls all the time and use them for stock buybacks. Sadly, some companies did this with funds related to bailouts and/or COVID relief.

I don't begrudge business founders profiting from their efforts. They've often taken significant personal risks to become successful. But few of them became successful all by their lonesome. And I get why early employees at places like Google end up with life altering wealth. 20+ years ago I left a pretty high paying job to join a startup. My salary was barely 1/3 of my previous job. But I believed in what the company was doing and I believed in my co-workers. I worked long hours but rarely resented the demand. Did I become rich? Nope. We got caught in the dynamics of Y2K and the path to success was no longer dependent on working hard towards the original goal. It was now to reduce short term losses, especially of the VC investors. I lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Would I do it again? Sure.

One big downside of the late 1980-1990s finance and tech boom was the distortion of expectations where you could hit a home run by having equity in the "right" company. For years tech firms suppressed cash comp while offering some equity. That paid off for relatively few people but became the expectation for many more. Eventually employees wised up that being paid scullery wages wasn't paying off, at which point equity became a much smaller component for everyone except executives and outside investors.

I've seen this issue with one of my kids. He's been very successful by almost any measure but spends too much effort debating between the relative merits of vestable shares in a job offer. He's got a good reason - he's an accomplished artist who'd like to just "do art" and sees his current work as the means to being able to "do art" full time.

I've gotten far afield here but to return to my premise, the distinction between workers and investors has been distorted by the perception that workers have no aspirations beyond "the job" and that their contributions of time and effort don't equate to the value of "investors" with deep pockets.

The more I wrote here the more I realized just how fucked up our entire view of the value of work is in this country / age. Thanks for making me think.

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Nicely said. However, shifting the cultural norms away from the Milton Friedman fallacy is equally important. Pop culture, news coverage, business schools can all help to change what is expected of corporations and their leaders. Yes, David Stockman recanted but nobody heard him; it was too late.

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Dec 14, 2023Liked by Hamilton Nolan

"it is very probable that a company could, with the help of AI, continue to increase productivity, while shortening the work week of employees, without cutting wages. Here, it seems, is the most positive and humane use case possible for AI, laid out all pretty right in front of us." Agree so hard!!

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"If you enjoy reading, please become a paid subscriber—a choice that will materially enable this publication to continue to exist, rather than just spiritually encouraging it to exist, as free subscribers "

Dear Hamilton. I now feel guilty by giving you only my spiritual support. Sorry mate but I can't afford to read you as a paid subscriber. Should I stop reading your brilliant articles? Should I stop encouraging your fight? I don't know mate. Perhaps you can help me to elucidate this moral conflict. By the way, keep on fighting mate. Thanks.

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I enjoy dealing with machines more than humans, because machines don't have social cues that I can miss or screw up on. Having said that, self-checkouts are the bane of my existence. I will NOT use them. They don't allow you to do coupons or even be slow. Their klaxon-like signalling to "DO SOMETHING" is very much like a passive-agressive washing machine with it's klaxon DEMANDING YOU GET THE LAUNDRY OR ELSE.

In most places, in December or around stat holidays, people take their PTO ....so it's kinda like a little holiday anyways. Also, on Fridays in the summer, people take PTO again, so you end up being the only working squirrel there. Just make sure if there's a huge emergency, and you fix it, people don't forget.

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My question is, how is the 4-day work week supposed to work for most workers?

I can see how it might go okay for me as a salaried employee; just pay me the same amount, and I can give up a few bathroom breaks, lunch, and chatting with my coworkers to get my work done in 32 hours instead of 40 in even a very busy week. But if I'm an hourly worker, I'm being paid for my time, and if there is nothing to do, I can be sent home and not paid. Are employers expected to be open at all to the idea of increasing hourly pay by 20% so those workers can also enjoy a 32-hour week? And what about people who work for billable hours? That's a real loss of 8 hours per employee per week. There may be easy fixes to these questions that I'm not aware of because I'm not a business owner or expert, I'm just an employee who was until recently hourly, and expected to account for every second of my time at work if I wanted to be paid for it. And 32 hours just isn't 40 hours of time. So my apologies if these are dumb questions.

I love the idea of a 32-hour week as much as anyone. I find 40 hours a week to be archaic and based on an idea that we all have a non-working spouse who is greeting us with dinner prepared every evening and the laundry and grocery shopping and cleaning done, so our leisure time is actually leisurely, except these days, when many workers are either single or part of a double-job family, we're cramming all of the gotta-do's into our "free" time and feeling stressed and burned out. But how would we get to a 32-hour week for everyone?

As a final note, in my opinion, even if the rest of the world goes to a 32-hour week, the US, with its combination of Puritan and plantation work ethic and suspicion of leisure time for "lazy" non-rich people, will be among the last countries to consider it across the board.

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"The nature of a modern corporation is now ..."

Shouldn't that be: "The nature of a modern corporation is not ..."

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