Mining wage

The dangers of high-status, low-wage jobs – Economist Writing Every Day

This tweet reads first as sarcastic, then as insightful, but give it a few seconds and you’ll realize it’s pointing out a real problem.

There are many reasons why an industry may concentrate in a narrow geographic region. Externally generated increasing returns to scale that is, a firm becomes more productive simply by being in close proximity to other firms producing the same thing, is an observation that goes back to Alfred Marshall. It’s the story of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, not to mention a million other micro-industries. The story of journalism, however, is different, because it is not the opportunities of the capital or labor market, but more precisely the labor himself which is concentrated in a narrow place. The Twitter/LinkedIn/Muckrack bio of “Writer living in Brooklyn” is cliche at this point for a reason. But why are they all in Brooklyn? And why do I feel like I can sum up at least half of them as upper-middle-class white kids who paid full price for an English-adjacent degree from an arts college costly liberals?

Salaries in journalism have fallen to hell as, at the same time, an extreme top tail has emerged whose public reputations have reached flight speed, allowing them to go freelance through Substack and earn considerably higher incomes. These divergent tendencies are rooted in the same phenomenon: a journalist’s dazzling potential to reach the masses. The power law scale of social media means that every post, message or tweet has a chance of going viral, and with it the chance of reaching tens of millions of eyeballs. In other words, it has become easier to reach people, but harder to get paid to reach people.

There’s a status that comes with strangers knowing who you are, what you’ve written, what your core ideas are. It is also a status that is recognized in a disproportionate way. When prominent writers hang out, acknowledging the ideas each carries and communicates to large numbers of people, they build the status that comes with that reach. I’m getting a bit out of my psychological skies here, but I’m willing to bet it feels good, in a way that’s no different from having my research recognized by my academic peers. With less risk of going beyond my own expertise, I’m willing to say that reach, footprint, pageviews and subscribers; the eyeballs that your work generates, is the main source of status within the community of modern journalists.

The problem is not that writing generates status, but rather that status is grossly out of proportion to the salaries they earn in the marketplace. Among other issues, this selects people who value status over wages (often because they are financially secure independent). With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the community has become so geographically concentrated – there are huge rewards to be experienced with the people who recognize and bestow this status the most. This is not a problem in itself until this concentration is part of increased demand for what is already one of the most expensive real estate in the world. I’d bet there are more than a few writers with non-trivial followings whose Brooklyn lifestyle is a net monetary loss every month. It’s bad, but honestly, I think it’s even worse than it sounds.

  1. Status is even less biased than income

I’m tempted to say that status is a zero-sum game, but that’s not really true. A domain or an industry can grow in status as a whole, which improves the situation of all its members. The distribution of status, however, will tend to be even more skewed than the notorious unequal distribution of income, an attribute likely to be observed all the more acutely in a field where attention begets attention – see Annex A, the power-law distribution of retweets. If you think unequal pay is driving people into a frothy rage of perceived injustice, wait until a bunch of Brooklynites find out within three drinks that the friend they’ve always hated has been retweeted by Drake. .

2. Status can’t pay rent

Unlike salaries, status is extremely difficult to exchange directly for goods and services. You need a middleman, like someone desperate to market their latest brand of protein powder or neo-fascist authoritarianism, who will pay you to get your status.

3. 22-year-olds will often accept status instead of pay

Makowsky’s Law of Career Planning: Never bet your entire future on something other people will happily do for free. If you’re curious why unionization has taken the world of journalism by storm in recent years, you don’t have to turn to politics or group signage for an explanation, basic economics will get you there. until the end. If you have an industry where hobbyists can supply you with the inputs you need at 60% of the quality level as professionals, but for 10% of the cost, the tenured professionals in your workforce are going to have life tough. If these incumbents can close the shop through unionization and raise the minimum wage within the profession, the balance will fall to the skilled professionals. You reduce the amount of work provided and end up with higher equilibrium wages for those who manage to get their foot in the door. Of course, this will only increase the favor of those who can getting their foot in Brooklyn’s $3,200/month rental door while dressing fashionably and using “semiotics” correctly in one sentence, but that’s neither here nor there.

4. Status rewards lead to homogeneity

Status rewards encourage geographic concentration, which in turn will intensify herd behavior. If most of your pay is tied to group status, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible with that group. Your social life will become more important than ever. It also means, however, that anything that might risk being looked down upon or ostracized within the group should be avoided whenever possible. Opinions, especially on topics that don’t directly impact your life, will tend to become more and more homogeneous over time. It also means that assumptions born out of reasoned reasoning, i.e. that the next mayor will be super progressive or want to “defund the police”, can take on a life of their own and quickly evolve from an idea voiced out loud. voice in a Brooklyn cocktail bar to a universally accepted truth within an islander. community. This classic breeding phenomenon is globally relevant, as this particular community spends its working hours bringing the news to us.

5. Homogeneity creates rewards for heresy

Even if you can survive on your status and a monthly check from your parents at twenty-two, the same can rarely be said at forty-two. The mortgage needs to be paid, the kid needs braces, and you need to start putting money aside every month so you can die somewhere warm. The only thing you know how to do on a professional level is write, but you can’t find a way to get people to pay you well for what you’ve written.

Solution: write something that people will pay you.

You need to find something that is undersupplied relative to demand. The answer lies in the same homogeneity created in your old neighborhood. You want to get paid: move to a cheap suburb of a mid-sized city and start writing heresy, the more incendiary the better. Accusations of politicians and celebrities. Inexpensive pablum to whip up basement trolls and lists of reasons to never let your kids leave the house. Election conspiracy theories and a new expose on why red wine and chocolate will cure Covid. Corporate public relations expressing the NFL’s deepest commitment to protecting everyone and only the good from now on. Anything someone is willing to pay you to write because no one else will write it for free.

So yeah, a bunch of writers live in Brooklyn and they’re currently a hilarious, seamless monolith of progressive cosplay, often churning out little idea or information, emotionally surviving the return to status of living in a bubble of mutual affirmation and shared. anxiety. All of this would be harmless enough if I weren’t concerned that today’s progressive writers’ commune is also fertile ground for tomorrow’s purveyors of reactionary fear and misinformation.