How A Dog Is Not A Job

So, yes it is true and the case that guilt and, alas, shame pay me their customary nuisance visits when someone accosts me on the train or on the street and, in a quavering voice, maunders on about how he needs (for he is usually male) a little spare change “just 50p” so he can make it into a hostel “tonight” (it’s always for just tonight) and get a shower and a bed because ‘”it’s cold sleeping out on the street” in London. I can just about hold my breath for it, very quickly, becomes beyond doubt that he does need the refreshing graces of a shower. What kind of society or god (Fortuna? Where the hell is she nowadays?) rewards some people with flash Ferraris and others with nights on cement underneath bleak wintry stars.

Then I start to think: wait a minute, isn’t this guy white? Isn’t he English? Wasn’t he born and raised in one of the most affluent places in the world? Hell even, he’s no older than forty at a stretch and sometimes definitely in his early twenties. Why is he out for alms in one of the richest cities in the world in his own country; a place where hundreds of thousands of foreigners (Aussies, South Americans, Africans, Polish, French, you name it they have come to seek the golden fleece) and perhaps millions have succeeded in building a working life having, in many cases, been born with a rustier spoon in the mouth? The real question is: what sort of person would rather get a dog than a job and does he deserve sympathy and my money? I sound cold and heartless, traits less becoming of a humane being, but I have come to the realisation that some people simply need to make an effort and get a job. For yelping out loud, this is not Spain (unemployment 27%). Makes me wanna bark: “If you need money, get a job! If you need company, get a girlfriend!”. Then get a dog.


Cute is All For One and One For All

Here’s a problem. The average European graduate is reckoned to earn €123,000 more over a typical working life than the non-graduate. The degree costs €35,000 so over say a 35 year working life (age 27 to 62), that works out at €1600 a year in today’s money if we assume an inflation rate of two percent. At a four percent inflation rate, the real value of extra earnings is down to approximately €1000 a year. Doesn’t sound a lot for four or more years at University. And if you consider that, since we are talking averages, some people will do much better but many will do much worse, then for many graduates that degree is just not worth it. I speak economically but admit there may be superior qualitative benefits to earning a degree. Speaking economically, it is more useful to know the distribution of earnings but on this cute point the common average is silent.

Here’s a problem. Nine of ten citizens in Country A earn €10,000 a year and the tenth €1m (don’t think how). The average is €109,000. Meanwhile, all ten citizens in Country B earn €90,000 a year so the average is €90,000, that is, almost 18% lower than Country A. Which country would you rather work in given exposure to the same global market of goods and services? That cute question is rather a doddle to answer.

Here’s the rub: people err when, in isolation, they compare one country’s GDP per capita (e.g. the US) to another country’s (e.g. Sweden or Germany). This information is, not quite but almost, useless unless we know the distribution of incomes and productivity. Yes, the concept of distribution is more difficult for most people to understand but so are the rules of love and that hasn’t stopped people chasing cute people.

Here’s another rub. The linked article above makes a seriously good point about providing the young (and I suppose any other willing person) with skills training. So even if extra education may not pay off in a better paying job for one individual, for the country, skilled labour is a boon for productivity and competitiveness. This is only one example when individuals acting in their own perceived best interests do worse than working together. Working to a common good is not communism. It’s cute.