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I don't think the sides here are all that far off, either. But I also think McCoy is right that we all dress up our professional decisions with a lot of other stuff that really doesn't matter all that much. The only way to demonstrate that money isn't the driver is to move at the same, or lower, salary. And, by and large, people don't do that.
Your view of how people change jobs is very different from mine. On the rare occasions where I have looked around for a new job and interviewed, they have asked what my current salary was (or generally hinted about my demands) so that they could match it with a small increase and remove that problem from the equation.
My situation may be unique... I could walk away from my current job today and make 50% more money in a much cheaper city. I don't because of personal considerations and because I like my current job situation more. To say that the fact that there is some extraordinary amount of money (probably 4 times my current salary) that would make me leave my job and take another one is evidence that money is my most important factor is ridiculous.
If someone paid me the same amount of money that I make now, but all I would have to do is stay at home and play with my kids, I would take that job without thinking twice. So, using your logic, that means that my kids (not my salary) drives my choice of job.
Let's say Marissa Mayer told Nate "I want you to be my CSO -- it's a new position I'm creating, but I'm looking for you to not only oversee a content/product department, but I also want your flavor of analysis to become an integral part of our entire BDP, and drive wholesale our company strategy. I don't just want products -- I want the underlying nature and value of those products to also play a role -- on equal footing -- with the decisions I make together with the CIO, CFO, COO, et al".
I mean a pitch where you tell the guy you'll revolutionize the way we do business but we aren't going to pay you all that well to do that is generally a non-starter.
People do not always make the right choices to maximize their happiness. Just because X takes the higher paying job it does not mean that X really cares about money first and foremost - he might have made a bad decision.
Judging from this article by the Public Editor, the existing political writers at the New York Times didn't like Nate coming in and getting facts all over their analysis.
Smug but silly follow-up question: can you guess which company had happier employees? Same industry, same part of the country, just two completely different approaches to how to "compensate" people for a job well done.
While that's true, I feel like Nate Silver is probably pretty far to the "analyze all the variables and come to a rational decision" side of the population.
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