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Culture War Roundup for the week of October 17, 2022

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This is about layoffs in tech and what they underscore about modern economy.

According to our data, almost half of HR people and recruiters got laid off, as compared to 10% of engineers and only 4% of salespeople.

This passage feels obvious. Of course companies will let go those employees first who contribute little to the bottom line. Of course companies will hold onto their critical resources--engineers and salespeople in this case--until the very worst moment.

But underneath this is a statement about how many bullshit jobs are there in our economy. Jobs that are merely simple busywork. Jobs that exist solely as a way to redistribute the fruits of capitalism from those who have found a way to way to produce for society and those who didn't. It's basically a giant social contract about providing for a rather large part of society that would not otherwise be able to sustain itself.

If anything, this speaks of how deep our humanism runs. Instead of sawing off the sickly branch, we embrace it with care, doing so in a way that doesn't over-infringe on the patient's dignity (Consider how powerful a mark of status it is to provide for the weak and poor--now this status-marker has been democratized).

Thus we learn something practical: don't take anything HR says or does too seriously. They play an unpopular, minor role in the fabric of a company, relegated to the equivalent of keeping the litter box clean: ensuring legal compliance, tackling on/off-boarding paperwork, and organizing company celebrations. That, and be wary of HR departments that seem to outgrow their function. A fat, active HR department is a sign that a company isn't allocating its funds efficiently. Or that it usurps power from more important departments, eg. the power to design and run the hiring process (they should only take care of the mechanical parts; the candidate qualification process should be in the hands of subject-matter experts). Either way, it's a bad sign.

Just because HR etc. are the least productive of all employees, that doesn't actually mean the job they do is 'bullshit', just no longer economical in the current environment. I mean, corporations are generally not in the business of making frivolous expenditures. A comparable example might be agriculture. In favourable economic conditions for farmers, for instance if the price of bread rises, farmers/landowners will put 'marginal' fields to work; that is, fields which don't usually yield enough to be profitable except in good (for the landowners) times. When these fields are no longer profitable and fall out of work, that doesn't mean they were 'bullshit fields', it's just that they only operate profitably in certain conditions. The same could said of certain employees or even departments; they only make economic sense in good times.

I think BS jobs are called as such not because they are useless but because they provide status/compensation not in proportion to how difficult the job is. And people inherently feel there is something "bullshit" about that, labor theory of value and all.

Without rampant credentialism the average bricklayer would have the alternative choice of becoming thhe average email sender.

People are very sensitive to class warfare being committed against them.

Without rampant credentialism the average bricklayer would have the alternative choice of becoming thhe average email sender.

I have worked with bricklayers and I have worked with email senders. This statement is simply untrue. E-mail senders are probably doing a less-highly skilled job on the whole than bricklayers, but they are doing a job which absolutely requires skills that most bricklayers do not have. E-mail senders need to be computer literate, they need to be fluent in English with good spelling and grammar, they need a certain amount of trustworthiness with potentially confidential information(and knowing how to handle confidential information is a skill!) and cybersecurity skills(basic stuff like "set a password and don't write it on the device" is not basic to bricklayers), and they need to be able to understand their role within the company and what they can and can't promise to the people they will be communicating with(not a problem for bricklayers in non-supervisory positions because they don't communicate with customers). They also need a certain level of "ability to fit into a white collar employment scenario", where it's assumed that they can take their work home with them(bricklayers, like most other construction trades, are assumed to be drunk and unreachable when off the clock) at least at critical times, they need to be able to be paid every two weeks via direct deposit(bricklayers expect a physical check every Friday at quitting time, because this is industry standard for construction), they need to communicate effectively about when they're not able to be at work or to complete a particular task and to resolve disputes by reference to a third party mediator(neither of these are expectations for construction workers, although plenty of individual construction workers are capable of doing them).

Requiring a college degree is a very cheap(for the company) filter for people who fit that description much better than a typical construction worker. Yes, even if that degree is in underwater basketweaving or whatever, it usually means that a person is computer literate, English fluent and capable of good spelling and grammar, can clearly communicate, is capable of doing work outside of the office setting when necessary, can follow directions for computer use and information handling, and probably comes from a class background where basic white collar behavioral norms like "tell someone when you won't show up" and "bring problems with a coworker to your boss instead of just angrily confronting them" are widespread. People who hire bricklayers have a different set of filters they use to seek out people who have the skills to be bricklayers, of course, because the ability to use computers and spell English is irrelevant to that job, but the ability to build things according to measurements is not.

assumed to be drunk and unreachable when off the clock

I work in cyber-security and have worked long and hard to establish that assumption, thank you very much!