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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Adam Rubin: Personnel pensions on cutting block

Major League Baseball owners, despite boasting $8 billion in annual revenue and climbing, are moving toward eliminating the pension plans of all personnel not wearing big league uniforms, sources told ESPNNewYork.com.

The first attempt to do so, initiated last year by a small-market owner, never came to a vote after Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf chastised his brethren for being petty with the lives of ordinary people given the riches produced by the sport. A vote, which was intended to be kept secret, is now scheduled to take place at owners meetings May 8-9 in New York.

A vote, which had intended to be kept secret, is now scheduled to take place at owners meetings May 8-9 in New York. A majority of owners now favor the abolition of the pension plan, a source said.

A majority of owners now favor the abolition of the pension plan, a source said.

The impact would affect much of the Major League Baseball family: front-office executives, trainers, minor league staff and scouts. Some of those personnel, particularly on the minor league level and in amateur scouting, make less than $40,000 a year and rely on pensions in retirement. ...

MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred acknowledged that candid discussions on the topic have gone on for “several years,” but he disputed that pensions will go away entirely.

“No one is suggesting that pension plans are going to be eliminated,” he said. “What the conversation has been about is allowing individual clubs more flexibility as to what exactly their pension plan is going to look like. Nobody is suggesting there is going to be no plan ... for anybody. The issue is in the current arrangement we essentially mandate a particular type of defined benefit pension plan. The question is whether the individual team should have more flexibility to design a program that is effective to them.”

JE (Jason Epstein) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 06:01 PM | 140 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: mlb, retiree, white sox

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   1. GregD Posted: March 19, 2013 at 07:56 PM (#4391900)
When Jerry Reinsdorf scolds you for being a cheapskate...
   2. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 07:59 PM (#4391901)
major league baseball owners are applying what they are doing or have done with their own organizations. pensions are going the way of the dodo bird (fairly or unfairly)

   3. My guest will be Jermaine Allensworth Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:05 PM (#4391908)
When Jerry Reinsdorf scolds you for being a cheapskate...

When it comes to his employees, there's nothing cheap about him.
   4. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:07 PM (#4391910)
I'm defining these because I didn't know the difference before my finance guy explained it to me:

"defined benefit plan" is what is sounds like. Employees either put down a small amount or none at all, and at the date of retirement get a very specific dollar amount, calculated in many instances years before. This is no matter what the markets have been doing and how the pension money was invested.

"defined contribution plan" is something that does not have a definite benefit at the end. So an employee can put, say, $5,000 per year into it (or whatever he or she wants, within limits) and get out whatever that money is worth in the end. The company invests it as it sees fit, and there's no guarantee of returns. One could theoretically lose money in the end, though with investments of any length and inflation, that's not going to happen.

Companies like the second and don't like the first. Many of them are discontinuing the first, pretending like the second is just as "good" for employees. It isn't. Individual teams should have the right to get the formula for the first type of plan best for them, but not to just throw their employees to the stock market wolves as the second plan does.
   5. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:13 PM (#4391917)
The first attempt to do so, initiated last year by a small-market owner,


Truly they remain baseball's greatest heroes.
   6. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:16 PM (#4391920)
Companies like the second and don't like the first. Many of them are discontinuing the first, pretending like the second is just as "good" for employees.

That depends.

Defined benefit plans are certainly better for long-service employees. But, in a DB system if you work less than the vesting period (typically 5 years) you get nothing. So, for any employee who works less than the vesting period, a DC plan is better.

Even if you vest, if you work 7 years for a company from ages 23-30, you get no benefits until age 65, and those benefits don't keep up with inflation (they're typical a % of your final salary). In a DC plan, your assets should keep growing.

In general, DB plans are better if you work for one company for a long time, DC is better if you work at many different companies.

I've never worked over 5 years for the same company. DB plans would not have been better for me. Even with zero return (which I had on some of my 401(k), that's better than nothing.
   7. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:20 PM (#4391921)
If you're an employer, you would want (I suspect) employees to stick around for awhile. That means they don't have recruitment and training costs for that position. I hear what you're saying about one plan working better for more itinerant workers, but companies should create incentives as much as possible for their workforce to stay with them.

Also, in my experience, a typical DC plan has a vesting period, too.
   8. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:25 PM (#4391926)
erik

employers have accepted that the workforce is now transient. so the effort is to now create an effort where you have as few full-time employees as possible and outsource or contract out everything possible

and a dc vesting period is typically a year, no more

and i am not that interested in arguing my first point with anyone because this is happening, i know it's happening, it's across every industry and businesses cannot move fast enough in that direction.
   9. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:27 PM (#4391929)
I agree with Harveys. It's clearly happening, all over the place. But that doesn't make it right. Childhood obesity, cancer, and diabetes is happening a lot as well.
   10. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:36 PM (#4391940)
Corporations are getting everything they want in an unprecedented way at the moment. They pay less to their employees - wages in inflation-adjusted terms are about the same as in 1989 - and expect more. Productivity is rising in a never-seen-before manner. That's what we get from a slack labor market for the last five years.

In a micro example, my wife is job-hunting. She just interviewed at a place in Hartford, who would pay between $30-35k. And they require a bachelor's degree and two years of related experience. Five years ago, those requirements would have justified a salary - at minimum - of $35-40k instead. But they can get the candidate they want at the price they want to pay.

A guy started at my job this year. I started at the same job ten years ago. He is making a little bit LESS than I made then. That's crazy.

Companies pay less, expect more, and grant a lot less in benefits, while raking in record profits. At some point, the job market will come roaring back and labor will be priced more realistically. The best talent would never accept an offer from a cheapskate company. And that's how wages will eventually come back.
   11. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:37 PM (#4391942)
erik

labor remains the single biggest variable cost in most businesses so companies will always be looking for ways to manage that cost

   12. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:40 PM (#4391944)
erik

the best talent is working to start their own businesses. they aren't mucking around getting hired by someone else who is going to rake in the bulk of the profits at their expense
   13. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:41 PM (#4391946)
I agree with Harveys. It's clearly happening, all over the place. But that doesn't make it right. Childhood obesity, cancer, and diabetes is happening a lot as well.

But it's not only the employers driving it. Employees are very willing to hop jobs for slightly higher pay, or just something new to do.
   14. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:41 PM (#4391948)
But do we agree, Harveys, that the pendulum is firmly on the employment side at the moment?
   15. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:41 PM (#4391949)
Companies like the second and don't like the first. Many of them are discontinuing the first, pretending like the second is just as "good" for employees. It isn't. Individual teams should have the right to get the formula for the first type of plan best for them, but not to just throw their employees to the stock market wolves as the second plan does.

Right. Under the first, you get something. Something very valuable and desirable. Under the second, you may get nothing. You're just investing some of your savings in a slightly more convenient way. Sometimes the employer will match some of your contributions, so that's something.

Some might suggest that Social Security should be improved to deal with this, but apparently that is being scaled back too. At least that hasn't yet been turned into another type of "investment account" or whatever.
   16. Joe Kehoskie Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:42 PM (#4391951)
Companies pay less, expect more, and grant a lot less in benefits, while raking in record profits. At some point, the job market will come roaring back and labor will be priced more realistically.

Not if current policies are maintained.
   17. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:46 PM (#4391958)
But do we agree, Harveys, that the pendulum is firmly on the employment side at the moment?

You mean the employers have all the power? Sure.

the best talent is working to start their own businesses. they aren't mucking around getting hired by someone else who is going to rake in the bulk of the profits at their expense

That's an overly broad generalization, Harveys. There are plenty of the "best and brightest" that aren't entrepreneurial, and/or work in areas where you can't "start your own business".
   18. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:46 PM (#4391960)
snapper

actually employees are willing to move to jobs wiht lesser salaries if the employer is willing to be flexible with work schedules or make other non-cost accomodations. and many businesses are saying, 'sure. whatever'
   19. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:48 PM (#4391965)
snapper

actually employees are willing to move to jobs wiht lesser salaries if the employer is willing to be flexible with work schedules or make other non-cost accomodations. and many businesses are saying, 'sure. whatever'


That's true too. But, plenty of people still move for more money. And, why not?
   20. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:48 PM (#4391966)
snapper

law school admissions have cratered. investment banking with its 'pay me maybe' approach has lost its appeal.

nah, if you are really smart you are in a startup area and not scr9wing around with corporate america. the best kids are too smart for that bs

not going to tell me otherwise. seeing the evolution happen. it's great.
   21. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:49 PM (#4391968)
The reverse of what Harveys describes in #18 is what makes the recent Yahoo! move so fascinating. Yahoo! doesn't make enough money; they have too much staff. Layoffs are expensive. So tightening workplace rules, such as compelling people used to working remotely to come in to an office, is a great way to "convince" a lot of the workforce to quit. This saves management millions of dollars, and doesn't have the PR sting of layoffs.
   22. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:50 PM (#4391969)
snapper

because right now the real money to be had working for someone else is in brazil or india and that isn't getting the reaction as china did in its heyday. so again, kids are looking to startups to hit it big
   23. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:51 PM (#4391973)
the best talent is working to start their own businesses. they aren't mucking around getting hired by someone else who is going to rake in the bulk of the profits at their expense

In order to have any financial security, you have to be an entrepreneur. Most of whom fail again and again - we all know what happens to new businesses - until they eventually become a boss. You have to have that special entrepreneurial personality, and you have to be lucky.

This would be highly depressing even without all the student debts people are told are good investments, the uncertainty of constantly shifting health insurance, etc.
   24. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:53 PM (#4391974)
companies are also exploiting that a certain sect of the working public are tied to a certain area. why give out raises if you know someone isn't going to leave and you know the general labor market is soft?

not looking to sound like an 8sshole. just pointing out the dynamic
   25. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:56 PM (#4391980)
If a publicly-held company was paying its workers too much for the area and industry, the shareholders would revolt and fire the CEO. The system is set up to let market forces dictate things like wages and prices. I don't hold you, Harveys, responsible for this. If people agree the system is set up badly, the correct move is to change the system.
   26. Joe Kehoskie Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:00 PM (#4391985)
The system is set up to let market forces dictate things like wages and prices. I don't hold you, Harveys, responsible for this. If people agree the system is set up badly, the correct move is to change the system.

What do you want to determine wages and prices if not the market?
   27. zonk Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:01 PM (#4391986)
employers have accepted that the workforce is now transient. so the effort is to now create an effort where you have as few full-time employees as possible and outsource or contract out everything possible

and a dc vesting period is typically a year, no more

and i am not that interested in arguing my first point with anyone because this is happening, i know it's happening, it's across every industry and businesses cannot move fast enough in that direction.


But I do think it's a chicken-and-egg thing.... Did the workforce become transient and employers follow suit in crafting benefit plans -- or -- benefit plans (and let's layer into that, just the general way that employers viewed workforces) more or less lead to employers dealing with a transient workforce?

I'm not trying to play 'pile on the big bad, uncaring employers here'.... but my personal opinion is that it's more the latter than the former. Defined pension plans have been on the wane in non-unionized industries longer than I think the workforce has become transient... so employers have reaped what they've sown.

I've been with my company for 13 years now... When I started, the company's defined plan had been frozen for about 5 -- and was completely axed a few years later. At that point - a ton of the people I've worked with had been there forever (some for better, some for worse) -- but the point is that it wasn't a transient workforce. It is now.

We're a very large, publicly traded company operating in a virtually non-union space... and what ought to really frighten the hell out of the shareholders (who, I'm certain, have no clue this is the case) -- I could utterly, absolutely, and wholly rip the heart out of a 3-4 billion in revenue/~12k worldwide workforce by convincing no more than a few dozen people to exit with me. That's not an exaggeration -- I'm not saying the lights would go out the next day, but it would only be a matter of weeks before significant pain would be felt against revenue streams, and mere months before organic growth and NPD would cease almost entirely. That's what happens when you have such a transient workforce -- you end up leaning heavily on a dwindling few... I'm quite sure that 20 years ago - no one could have said (with any degree of truth) what I'm saying here simply because there were enough veterans around who knew enough to fill in gaps...
   28. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:04 PM (#4391988)
To back off on the Marxism a bit:

We should address "living wage" concerns with a higher minimum wage.
We should mandate the companies provide decent retirement benefits.
We should expand - not raid - Social Security and Medicare.

Besides the moral question:

"Is it acceptable that in the richest nation in the history of the world for people to work hard or for people to have a long career and not be able to afford the necessities of life?"

is another, deeper one:

"Is it best for companies to employ workers who can afford, and thus bolster the market for, the company's products?"

   29. Joe Kehoskie Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:05 PM (#4391989)
I could utterly, absolutely, and wholly rip the heart out of a 3-4 billion in revenue/~12k worldwide workforce by convincing no more than a few dozen people to exit with me. That's not an exaggeration -- I'm not saying the lights would go out the next day, but it would only be a matter of weeks before significant pain would be felt against revenue streams, and mere months before organic growth and NPD would cease almost entirely.

If true, and it seems dubious that it is, aren't you and your colleagues dumb for hanging around rather than forming a competitor company?
   30. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:06 PM (#4391992)
snapper

law school admissions have cratered. investment banking with its 'pay me maybe' approach has lost its appeal.

nah, if you are really smart you are in a startup area and not scr9wing around with corporate america. the best kids are too smart for that bs

not going to tell me otherwise. seeing the evolution happen. it's great.


Except that most "startups" are basically producing vaporware, and just hoping to be bought out by large corporations, so the founders can cash in. Very, very few are interested in actually producing anything, or creating jobs for Americans.

Quite frankly, the smart move today is to go work for the gov't. If I was a new grad, I'd try to get a job at the Federal Reserve, or Treasury Dept. You can easily make into the low six figures, with great benefits, almost no risk of being laid off, and retire at 55 with a great pension.
   31. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:07 PM (#4391994)
zonk

it's possible. mergers have failed because the resident knowledge didn't stay at companies being merged.

but in today's market i bet i could find enough consultants/independent contractors to fill you and your pals depatures well enough to spackle the gaps to be able to keep things together and then get back to regular speed in 4-6 months. and in the interim hire some eager fresh faces, have them coached up by the mercenaries, and now i have younger and cheaper employees delighted to be in key positions

so my guess is that your leadership isn't that concerned.

   32. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:09 PM (#4391997)
snapper

the govt has been bleeding jobs for years now. and thanks to sequestration pay cuts and furloughs abound. and the states jobs losses have been even more severe which has been a drag on the unemployment number improving

the govt job heyday has also passed. for now at least.

   33. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:10 PM (#4391999)
We should address "living wage" concerns with a higher minimum wage.
We should mandate the companies provide decent retirement benefits.
We should expand - not raid - Social Security and Medicare.


If you raise the cost of labor too much, jobs will disappear. Not to mention the fact that companies often go bankrupt and can't pay the retirement benefits anyway.

We can't pay for the SS and Medicare liabilities already incurred. They will be cut b/c they have to be.

I'm not unsympathetic to your issues, but the idea that anything can be done to change the labor market dynamics, while maintaining a policy of free trade, and high immigration, is laughable.

If you want to raise wages and benefits for American workers you need to 1) restrict the ability of companies to move jobs to low wage locales, 2) restrict the entry of additional labor into the market.
   34. zonk Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:11 PM (#4392000)
The reverse of what Harveys describes in #18 is what makes the recent Yahoo! move so fascinating. Yahoo! doesn't make enough money; they have too much staff. Layoffs are expensive. So tightening workplace rules, such as compelling people used to working remotely to come in to an office, is a great way to "convince" a lot of the workforce to quit. This saves management millions of dollars, and doesn't have the PR sting of layoffs.


I'm actually on Marissa Mayer's side on this one...

My very, very strong suspicion is that this was a "policy change" in the realm of "no more full-time/regular telecommuting", not an end to telecommuting entirely. We had a similar 'policy-change', which I dutifully passed along to my peeps "on the record", with a wink off the record.
   35. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:12 PM (#4392001)
by the way, if folks here are not going to classes or getting additional professional education regularly you are becoming less and less valuable to your employer

experience is not something deemed to be of the same value as it once was

sorry
   36. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:13 PM (#4392002)
My very, very strong suspicion is that this was a "policy change" in the realm of "no more full-time/regular telecommuting", not an end to telecommuting entirely. We had a similar 'policy-change', which I dutifully passed along to my peeps "on the record", with a wink off the record.

zonk

no, she wants people to leave. like yesterday
   37. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:15 PM (#4392005)
snapper

the govt has been bleeding jobs for years now. and thanks to sequestration pay cuts and furloughs abound. and the states jobs losses have been even more severe which has been a drag on the unemployment number improving

the govt job heyday has also passed. for now at least.


The job losses in gov't have been much less severe than in the private sector.

https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/data-analysis-documentation/federal-employment-reports/historical-tables/total-government-employment-since-1962/

Federal civilian employment increased 140K during the recession (2007-10) and had onlyt dropped 20K by 2011
   38. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:15 PM (#4392006)
I'm not unsympathetic to your issues, but the idea that anything can be done to change the labor market dynamics, while maintaining a policy of free trade, and high immigration, is laughable.


A lot of the stuff I said isn't politically realistic today (though I have hopes for the minimum wage part; it polls exceptionally well).

I think the most realistic and practical move is to wait for the pendulum to swing towards labor. The history of the business cycle is just that; a cycle. With respect to those who think differently, I think that any realistic US Government policy is not going to prevent that. This was a deep and in many ways unprecedented period in labor relations. I think it will go the other way at some point; it HAS to.
   39. Paul D(uda) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:18 PM (#4392007)
But snapper, you can transfer your pension from company to company can't you?
   40. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:18 PM (#4392008)
If this is a backdoor layoff at Yahoo!, Mayer deserves some sort of corporate Nobel Prize for doing it without leaving fingerprints on it. As much as I am pro-labor, I have to admire this as strategy.
   41. Athletic Supporter can feel the slow rot Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:18 PM (#4392010)
Except that most "startups" are basically producing vaporware, and just hoping to be bought out by large corporations, so the founders can cash in. Very, very few are interested in actually producing anything, or creating jobs for Americans.


You don't actually know any startup founders, do you?
   42. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:19 PM (#4392011)
snapper

does that reflect contractors? because those were shed en masse the last few years

and i have multiple relatives in various departments including homeland security and the service and all have gotten their notices which equate to pay cuts of sometimes more than 15 percent

i don't know how that is very appealing to anyone
   43. Joe Kehoskie Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:19 PM (#4392012)
I think the most realistic and practical move is to wait for the pendulum to swing towards labor. The history of the business cycle is just that; a cycle. With respect to those who think differently, I think that any realistic US Government policy is not going to prevent that. This was a deep and in many ways unprecedented period in labor relations. I think it will go the other way at some point; it HAS to.

Not in an era of increasing globalization, it doesn't.
   44. zonk Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:20 PM (#4392013)

If true, and it seems dubious that it is, aren't you and your colleagues dumb for hanging around rather than forming a competitor company?


Well, start-ups in our particular space need loads of capital -- and a professional sales force -- we don't sell $2 apps...

it's possible. mergers have failed because the resident knowledge didn't stay at companies being merged.

but in today's market i bet i could find enough consultants/independent contractors to fill you and your pals depatures well enough to spackle the gaps to be able to keep things together and then get back to regular speed in 4-6 months. and in the interim hire some eager fresh faces, have them coached up by the mercenaries, and now i have younger and cheaper employees delighted to be in key positions

so my guess is that your leadership isn't that concerned.


Leadership never is -- until leadership itself finds the bill come due.... but again, I've seen the revenue numbers, what they're tied to -- when it comes to things that are ~new, those new streams can be traced back to a shockingly small number of people. The theoretical/philosophical is easy to transfer -- the practical, not so much...
   45. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:21 PM (#4392014)
Except that most "startups" are basically producing vaporware, and just hoping to be bought out by large corporations, so the founders can cash in. Very, very few are interested in actually producing anything, or creating jobs for Americans.

those are not reflected in the proposals i read. you are thinking this is 1998
   46. Roger Cedeno's Spleen Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:23 PM (#4392015)
"Is it best for companies to employ workers who can afford, and thus bolster the market for, the company's products?"


The response from the (big) companies:

"Consumption can be outsourced too."

They're expecting growing middle classes abroad to offset a shrinking middle class in this country.
It will work out fine for them. Of course if you're a small businessman or professional providing products or services that can't be marketed overseas, you're screwed. The same is true for those unfortunate large corporations that sell things that have limited (if any) appeal to foreign consumers. Any company that relies on the disposable income of average Americans for its survival is going to have a very hard ride through the next several decades. Major League Baseball, for instance...

So, getting back to TFA, perhaps they're making all of these cuts in anticipation of tougher times. But by doing stuff like this they will be adding a few more pebbles to the avalanche of downward mobility that might one day bury them...
   47. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:24 PM (#4392020)
zonk

;eadership is not concerned

veteran employees are not going anywhere. veteran employees are comfortable. they have roots. tehy want their weekends and their holidays

even if you convinced your wife this would work there is no way you get enough of the others (and their spouses) to commit

leadership is not concerned
   48. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:26 PM (#4392023)

by the way, if folks here are not going to classes or getting additional professional education regularly you are becoming less and less valuable to your employer


But don't expect those additional classes to be anything more than an expensive speculative bet, unless your employer has specifically told you that these specific classes or credentials are recommended for your specific job.
   49. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:30 PM (#4392031)
But snapper, you can transfer your pension from company to company can't you?

Not a DB pension.
   50. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:31 PM (#4392032)
those are not reflected in the proposals i read. you are thinking this is 1998

Well, it's not being reflected in the employment statistics. Company formation and job creation are at very low levels.

You should be aware I consider Facebook to be vaporware.
   51. Paul D(uda) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:34 PM (#4392034)
Not a DB pension.

Maybe the rules are different in Canada. I can transfer my DB pension to another DB pension, or to a tax sheltered investment plan (think 401K)
   52. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:35 PM (#4392035)
You should be aware I consider Facebook to be vaporware.

well, that's silly. i am not a facebook user nor an investor but i do not deny the product has an appeal

i understand the point about acquisition but that has more to do with sarbanes-oxley and other regulatory hurdles than someone's lack of interest in job creation.
   53. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:39 PM (#4392038)
I'm with hw here.
As for yahoo's strategy, it's hardly new - I've heard lots of similar stories over the last decade...
   54. Dr. Vaux Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:39 PM (#4392040)
The problem is that if working hard right now doesn't mean you'll ever be able to take your foot off the gas and have some security, people are going to get the message that they may as well not knock themselves out. Why work your ass off and wind up with nothing when you could just read comic books all day and wind up with nothing? Where's the incentive?

Not everyone can or wants to be an entrepreneur, and not every field of endeavor lends itself to that type of activity. And it's ridiculous to decide that 80-90% of human activity from before 10 years ago is now stupid and obsolete.
   55. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:47 PM (#4392046)
The problem is that if working hard right now doesn't mean you'll ever be able to take your foot off the gas and have some security, people are going to get the message that they may as well not knock themselves out. Why work your ass off and wind up with nothing when you could just read comic books all day and wind up with nothing? Where's the incentive?

very few people think further than tomorrow. (see yesterday's report on how the lack of retirement savings in this country) and everyone wants stuff now. so the incentive is that they are looking for ways to satisfy today's 'need' whatever that may be

Not everyone can or wants to be an entrepreneur, and not every field of endeavor lends itself to that type of activity. And it's ridiculous to decide that 80-90% of human activity from before 10 years ago is now stupid and obsolete.

so you can choose to be skilled technician of some kind. or work for a niche service provider. or accept being exploited on a large scale.

and the immediacy of information availability has caused experience to be less important. sure there are fields where this doesn't apply. but in many industries the marginal benefits of the 15 year employee are so low as to make the addiitional cost of salary and benefits a losing proposition
   56. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:49 PM (#4392048)
by the way, i am merely sharing where corporate america (and europe to a lesser degree) is headed

sorry
   57. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:50 PM (#4392052)
veteran employees are not going anywhere. veteran employees are comfortable. they have roots. tehy want their weekends and their holidays

even if you convinced your wife this would work there is no way you get enough of the others (and their spouses) to commit

leadership is not concerned


This is rare, at least in a high profile industry. We represent a firm that did this just over 3 years ago. The departing savant said to his employer leadership 'you owe me and my team, I'm responsible for this', the ownership said 'you're fired (citing lots of other reasons)' (I'm omitting additional facts, while not insignificant to the story, are less important for the topic here), the departing savant set up his competing company and immediately had 48 employees (20 or so were grunts, not highly paid people) leave the old company and join the savant right across the street (seriously). The old company sued the savant 'stole customer info, etc.') and many of the new principals of the new company. The savant countersued, blah blah (they settled). The new company blew the doors off the industry, the most successful launch in history of this industry (a direct competitor to the old co.). Those first few months were very very tense for those that bolted. Definitely a highlight of my career helping these guys launch. The old co. actually rebounded fairly well after a year's worth of $$ flying out the door.

Harveys is still right, the leadership wasn't concerned, they ended up getting their arse kicked bad, in terms of PR and there's no doubting the savant's success, but the old company is still standing.
   58. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:54 PM (#4392056)
mrams

for every one of those cases the number of employees who could the same but don't because of the risk are out there by the hundreds if not thousands

leadership plays the odds and typically the odds are right

glad to see your folks made it work
   59. zonk Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:55 PM (#4392057)
veteran employees are not going anywhere. veteran employees are comfortable. they have roots. tehy want their weekends and their holidays

even if you convinced your wife this would work there is no way you get enough of the others (and their spouses) to commit

leadership is not concerned


Well, except the people I'm talking about aren't really getting their weekends and holidays anymore -- you do have a point on the wife and kids with some of them, though.

   60. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:58 PM (#4392061)
zonk

most folks are risk averse. making the change you describe has a lot of risk relative to their current situations.

employers are pr8cks. they exploit those basic fears
   61. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:58 PM (#4392063)

well, that's silly. i am not a facebook user nor an investor but i do not deny the product has an appeal


I'm being somewhat facetious, but Facebook, even though it is a $50B company, contributes very little to the US GDP. It's toral revenue is $5B, which is only a little more than Kodak, and something like 3,500 employees.

Beyond making a handful of people ludicrously rich, it has precious little impact on the real economy.
   62. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:06 PM (#4392073)
snapper

well, that's 3500 jobs created.
   63. zonk Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:09 PM (#4392078)

most folks are risk averse. making the change you describe has a lot of risk relative to their current situations.

employers are pr8cks. they exploit those basic fears


Sure - and there are, of course, benefits... I joke about it, but the fact is - it is a kind of soft benefit that I can spend an hour during the day tapping away at BBTF, and so long as I ultimately produce what I say I will, when I say will, at the quality I say I will - no one's gonna care... That's not true when you're the new guy and you've got nothing but promises you can rather than a track record of you have to lean back on... and in a start-up situation, I probably couldn't afford the time.

I'm being somewhat facetious, but Facebook, even though it is a $50B company, contributes very little to the US GDP. It's toral revenue is $5B, which is only a little more than Kodak, and something like 3,500 employees.


But what they do have are tons of data and tons of users... just because they haven't quite figured out how to truly monetize it yet doesn't mean it won't happen. One could have said the same thing about google not too long ago... now, they're around 50 billion in revenue and that's only going to grow.

It's still a wager on the future when it comes to Facebook -- but they've got a pile of data that makes virtually anyone else drool and regardless of how connivingly they've obtained them, a lot of users that they can tell you a LOT about.... Data is king, and Facebook has a spot in the court with the Googles, the Apples, and the Amazons because of it.
   64. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:13 PM (#4392081)
amazon's stock price is entirely predicated on shareholders belief that at some point amazon as a business will literally explode in some fashion. they clearly do not know what the shape of the explosion will be but based on the share price they are expecting amazon to become a colossus of some kind
   65. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:16 PM (#4392087)
for every one of those cases the number of employees who could the same but don't because of the risk are out there by the hundreds if not thousands

leadership plays the odds and typically the odds are right


No doubt, I see this a lot, this drove someone I know well into a relationship split. She wanted the stability of the pay check the comfort of the big name company and benefits, he wanted something else out of his career or life (not bitter at all with his employer). The employee has so much to lose, that's often the knee jerk reaction, they can't or don't try to see the future, they'd rather spin wheels.

I'm no different, I turn down some offers which are tempting, but the other considerations are what you'd expect, family, roots, kids w friends, old fashioned quality of life contentment.

I liken this on a smaller scale to changing personal banks, or other service providers. It's pretty easy to actually do it, but you think about all the #### that can go wrong and how inconvenient things are going to be in the short term, so you put it off.
   66. The Yankee Clapper Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:18 PM (#4392093)
From the article, it appears that MLB may grandfather current employees and allow new hires to be put under a defined contribution plan. Even then, individual teams could establish their own defined benefit plan if they thought it provided a competitive advantage, which it probably doesn't. Defined benefit plans are great for the relatively few people that spend their whole career with one employer that doesn't go bankrupt, not so good for everyone else. Depending on what the matching employer contributions are in the new plan, teams may not save that much money, but they will get cost certainty.
   67. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:21 PM (#4392095)
amazon's stock price is entirely predicated on shareholders belief that at some point amazon as a business will literally explode in some fashion. they clearly do not know what the shape of the explosion will be but based on the share price they are expecting amazon to become a colossus of some kind


Perhaps I'm reading too many of our client's PMs dog amazon (and I totally admire Amazon, the company), but can't see this vision that Harveys is describing. I guess that's why I'm a lawyer and not a PM.
   68. zonk Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:21 PM (#4392096)
amazon's stock price is entirely predicated on shareholders belief that at some point amazon as a business will literally explode in some fashion. they clearly do not know what the shape of the explosion will be but based on the share price they are expecting amazon to become a colossus of some kind


Amazon has tons of data, too -- the real future of Amazon was always less (IMO) in its distribution capabilities and a lot more a matter of having a stable of users and lots of data around their habits.

I'm actually pretty fascinated about how the big 4 (Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook) are sort of cross-competing now... I just read earlier today that Google's getting into the music business (i.e., competing with Amazon's digital delivery and iTunes) - a perfect space to leverage their acquisition of YouTube a few years back.

That's really happened pretty rapidly - I have little doubt there were sharp people in all 4 companies who had at least an inkling of the future, but it wasn't too long ago that Google was just a search engine, Apple was an electronics/software company, and Amazon was a digital brick-and-mortar replacement... Facebook was just an amalgam/single source replacement for chat boards and vanity websites.

Now - they've all expanded into each others' spaces.
   69. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:23 PM (#4392097)
by the way, i am merely sharing where corporate america (and europe to a lesser degree) is headed
There's nothing Corporate America cares less about than America.
   70. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:24 PM (#4392099)
#57 - stories like that have got to be exceedingly rare.

Two tips: 1)Save like social security will not be there when you need it and like your 401k will never gain a dime, 2) If you want security, add some tributaries to your revenue stream. I have a day job, a night teaching job and consult on the side. They're not all going to go south at once.
   71. Pingu Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:34 PM (#4392102)
way too much in this brewing monster of a thread to not comment.

unfair to pick on zonk for this but:

We're a very large, publicly traded company operating in a virtually non-union space... and what ought to really frighten the hell out of the shareholders (who, I'm certain, have no clue this is the case) -- I could utterly, absolutely, and wholly rip the heart out of a 3-4 billion in revenue/~12k worldwide workforce by convincing no more than a few dozen people to exit with me. That's not an exaggeration -- I'm not saying the lights would go out the next day, but it would only be a matter of weeks before significant pain would be felt against revenue streams, and mere months before organic growth and NPD would cease almost entirely. That's what happens when you have such a transient workforce -- you end up leaning heavily on a dwindling few... I'm quite sure that 20 years ago - no one could have said (with any degree of truth) what I'm saying here simply because there were enough veterans around who knew enough to fill in gaps...


Says the person with 10,330 posts on the time sink that is a loosely affiliated baseball message board. If I was your boss I wouldnt be too concerned. How about pulling the extra mile and staying off the intranets once in while? Something tells me you aint as valuable as you chalk yourself up to be.
   72. Pingu Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:37 PM (#4392107)
Except that most "startups" are basically producing vaporware, and just hoping to be bought out by large corporations, so the founders can cash in. Very, very few are interested in actually producing anything, or creating jobs for Americans.


You don't actually know any startup founders, do you?


Snappers comment is asinine. No doubt true in both some isolated instances and also in some alternate reality he's cooked up in his mind.

This doesnt reflect the actual world of startups. The range of desirable exit strategies far outweighs your ability to imagine them.
   73. zonk Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:44 PM (#4392116)

Harveys is still right, the leadership wasn't concerned, they ended up getting their arse kicked bad, in terms of PR and there's no doubting the savant's success, but the old company is still standing.


When you get down to it, this is really the only thing that actually bothers me about 'leadership'... There are people that I truly marvel at - that I think are honestly and truly visionaries and have this amazing ability to see not just 'tomorrow' (I think that's easy) - but the 3 or 4 tomorrow's down the road. Most 'leadership', though isn't that... They're essentially one step above degenerate gamblers - the step largely a matter of them never seeming to be utterly ruined by making the wrong wager (they fade into other companies, or disappear elsewhere into the org chart, etc).

There are a couple of people in the upper reaches of my own company that I truly do think have this sort of vision -- real, and actual "This is the next 5 years" vision.... but most of them? I've been in large and small discussions with them, and they simply have no insights I either don't know myself or can't get in a plenty of other places. At an internal 'innovation conference' (where the top award went to a project my team contributed heavily to, BTW) -- I was talking with our division's CEO about technological trends in general...or more accurately, he joined a conversation I was having with a colleague about data mining... he got all excited talking about a certain aspect of data analytics that initially impressed me, but as he continued to talk, it just sounded awfully familiar... I don't have a eidetic memory or anything - but there were just a few phrases that initially struck me as "Wow, I'm impressed..." but quickly became "That sounds familiar"

I got back to my hotel room, fired up google, and found he was repeating, almost verbatim, some comments I had read in an interview with Eric Schmidt (Google bigwig) recently.

I mean, I'm not expecting someone to footnote their thoughts with proper attribution in a conversation -- but I'd have been more impressed if he had said "that reminds me of this interview I read recently" rather than sort of "Hey guys, I get this stuff, too!"
   74. Dr. Vaux Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:45 PM (#4392118)
very few people think further than tomorrow. (see yesterday's report on how the lack of retirement savings in this country) and everyone wants stuff now. so the incentive is that they are looking for ways to satisfy today's 'need' whatever that may be


It will take a few years, but young people will start to see that their parents can't afford to retire, get laid off and lose their houses, etc., and they'll know that their grandparents retired at 65 and played golf outside their summer condos. They'll say "hmmm, things are getting worse, not better" and decide "screw that rat race." It's disheartening indeed to know that I simply will not have the assets and security at the same age that my current professors have, essentially no matter how hard I work (and only partly because I'm statistically unlikely to even get the opportunity to have a comparable job to the one they have). I couldn't know that at age 18 and 20, when I actually had to make the decisions that would determine the whole trajectory of my life. I figured "well, you can make a living at this, so I'll do it."

so you can choose to be skilled technician of some kind. or work for a niche service provider. or accept being exploited on a large scale.


I just have to hold out hope that a society in which everyone either has one of about three jobs or is a poor wage laborer with no future will be a sufficiently disturbing prospect to enough people who do have foresight that they'll at least try to prevent it from coming to fruition.

I know that if I had my twenties to do over again, I'd go into finance or engineering, but I absolutely hate that I would. Those aren't the things I want to do, and the things that I want to do--and do, therefore--are things that I think should be done. But I can't be an entrepreneur (not only no opportunities, but no capital either), employment opportunities in my field are becoming fewer every day, and I'd have to go into huge debt (which I've so far avoided) to get reeducated at this point. I know that it's unusual in history to be able to do what you want to do, but at least in the past there was a broader range of things you could do. There's a fable about a land where the king's castle burns down, so he decrees that everyone has to be a firefighter. The results are predictably ridiculous. I have to think that a world where everyone is either an engineer or a financial analyst (or a low-wage service worker to wait on the engineers and financial analysts) will be equally ridiculous. I don't mean to shoot the messenger, Harvey's. I know none of this is your fault, and I find your insights into real-life business quite valuable. But the situation is damned depressing.
   75. zonk Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:57 PM (#4392125)

Says the person with 10,330 posts on the time sink that is a loosely affiliated baseball message board. If I was your boss I wouldnt be too concerned. How about pulling the extra mile and staying off the intranets once in while? Something tells me you aint as valuable as you chalk yourself up to be.


Oh sure - no doubt... but I'm in the office at 7 AM working, it's now nearly 10 PM I'm actually trading IMs at the moment with a SQL developer about a corrupt DTS package that a colleague asked me to help troubleshoot (even though it's technically, nowhere near "my problem" or falls anywhere near my team's responsibility), and before I hit the sack tonight, I'll be talking to a vendor/developer in Kiev about some script modifications I need him to have done by this time tomorrow (while also having a far less-than-perfect "get us over" backup revision of my own done in case he doesn't have it done).... and that's a pretty standard day without getting into my 'on paper' responsibilities.

I would make the following trade with my employer without hesitation: Go ahead and install a keystroke logger and timeclock on my desk - put a camera at my desk, too, and you can even track my smartphone usage -- and I'll punch in and out when I'm doing "work" versus amusing myself in between work. Using my salaried per-hour rate - we can then settle up at the end of the week and I won't even ask for time-and-half past 40 hours.
   76. Pingu Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:57 PM (#4392126)

I know that if I had my twenties to do over again, I'd go into finance or engineering, but I absolutely hate that I would. Those aren't the things I want to do, and the things that I want to do--and do, therefore--are things that I think should be done. But I can't be an entrepreneur (not only no opportunities, but no capital either), employment opportunities in my field are becoming fewer every day, and I'd have to go into huge debt (which I've so far avoided) to get reeducated at this point. I know that it's unusual in history to be able to do what you want to do, but at least in the past there was a broader range of things you could do. There's a fable about a land where the king's castle burns down, so he decrees that everyone has to be a firefighter. The results are predictably ridiculous. I have to think that a world where everyone is either an engineer or a financial analyst (or a low-wage service worker to wait on the engineers and financial analysts) will be equally ridiculous. I don't mean to shoot the messenger, Harvey's. I know none of this is your fault, and I find your insights into real-life business quite valuable. But the situation is damned depressing.


Dare I ask what field? The way you describe it....it sounds.....archaic.

Also, I share your skepticism for the value of "financial analysts", even though I think you are generalizing a much larger portion of the workforce into a small pigeonhole.

But seriously, a world filled with engineers and people to provide services for those engineers would be pretty ###### efficient and useful. Hell, we'd be flying to work by now. Hell we might be teleporting to work by now.

If your point was that this type of a world would bore you as an artist, you've got a point worth making. If you're sitting there feeling sorry for your antebellum american history PhD.......
   77. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:59 PM (#4392130)
But seriously, a world filled with engineers and people to provide services for those engineers would be pretty ###### efficient and useful. Hell, we'd be flying to work by now. Hell we might be teleporting to work by now.

Well, a few fortunate people would. As the wise man says, the future is here, it's just not evenly distributed.
   78. Pingu Posted: March 19, 2013 at 11:04 PM (#4392136)
Zonk, like I said....unfair to pick on you. I've no doubt you work hard. But you've got to be careful not to sound like a thousand other valuable employees, crying out that theiy are underpaid and unerappreciated.

Ya, no ####.

But there aint many people in this world that could "take down" 3-4 billion dollar companies. There just aint that many. For someone with perspective, this kind of chatter sounds eerily like the complaints of a person passed over for a promotion. Instead of complaining about "managmeent" and "leadership".....buck up and change it. When you do, you'll likely be pulled into "management" and/or "leadership" and find a legion of underpaid, underappreciated 20 somethings screaming for you to recognize their mediocrity.
   79. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 19, 2013 at 11:04 PM (#4392137)
Says the person with 10,330 posts on the time sink that is a loosely affiliated baseball message board. If I was your boss I wouldnt be too concerned. How about pulling the extra mile and staying off the intranets once in while? Something tells me you aint as valuable as you chalk yourself up to be.


Not cool. Workers today are being MORE productive, not less. The fact that some of us have access to this particular time sink means that we simply don't stare at walls and think about unclad secretaries, like Don Draper.
   80. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 19, 2013 at 11:08 PM (#4392140)
There are a lot of economic pieces written these days trying to figure out why increased productivity in our economy isn't leading to increased wages. But I can't figure out why anyone would think it would.
   81. zonk Posted: March 19, 2013 at 11:14 PM (#4392142)
Zonk, like I said....unfair to pick on you. I've no doubt you work hard. But you've got to be careful not to sound like a thousand other valuable employees, crying out that theiy are underpaid and unerappreciated.

Ya, no ####.

But there aint many people in this world that could "take down" 3-4 billion dollar companies. There just aint that many. For someone with perspective, this kind of chatter sounds eerily like the complaints of a person passed over for a promotion. Instead of complaining about "managmeent" and "leadership".....buck up and change it. When you do, you'll likely be pulled into "management" and/or "leadership" and find a legion of underpaid, underappreciated 20 somethings screaming for you to recognize their mediocrity.


Oh- no worries... I know exactly how it sounds - and do note, I'm not saying I could by leaving (among my many valuable qualities, I've done pretty good jobs mentoring my own #2 and #3, for better or worse, they're both in decent shape to step into my shoes ;-)... I'm just saying I know the key people in about a dozen silos that I'd swipe (and yeah - a couple of them would be my team).

Can't find it at the moment - and while I generally don't have a lot of use for management consultants, I did read an interesting study in McKinsey's quarterly a few years back talking about the variations in organizational knowledge... horizontal versus vertical etc, top down versus bottom up, etc.

Ours is simply an organization where that layer is very horizontal and very concentrated in the mid-level... We have ticketing systems up the wazoo, we do LSS, Agile, and every other project management fad under the sun... I've seen and been forced to contribute to or build RACI matrices, process-maps, etc until my eyes bleed... but at the end of the day -- when something actually needs to get done, it's just actually a very small set of individuals who know which particular individual to ask which specific question/favor etc.
   82. Roger Cedeno's Spleen Posted: March 19, 2013 at 11:15 PM (#4392143)
trying to figure out why increased productivity in our economy isn't leading to increased wages


...because it's creating a huge labor surplus.

   83. Howie Menckel Posted: March 19, 2013 at 11:24 PM (#4392148)
I can't see how I can add to all this, except maybe to speak for fellow lurkers and say that this is a fascinating thread to me....

   84. Pingu Posted: March 19, 2013 at 11:39 PM (#4392164)
snapper

well, that's 3500 jobs created.


I'm not doubting the positive impact of facebook, or supporting snapper's dismissal.

But.....one would have to be an ostrich to not question a world in which facebook, that of 3500 employees and $63B market cap is somehow seen as equivalent in value to Boeing, that of 171,700 employees and $64B market cap.
   85. zonk Posted: March 19, 2013 at 11:42 PM (#4392171)
Workers today are being MORE productive, not less. The fact that some of us have access to this particular time sink means that we simply don't stare at walls and think about unclad secretaries, like Don Draper.


That's one of the weird things about 'productivity' -- one of my favorite quotes to share with higher ups is the old John Wooden cliche "Never confuse activity with accomplishment".... I think today's workers DO "do" more, but IMO - they're terribly managed (yeah, yeah... another leadership rant coming...)

For example, we've been working lately on some integrating some semantic network software to do things like auto-classify content, auto-extract certain metadata, etc. It's part of a larger, multi-year project. Two people from my team have basically been doing 'rule writing' -- in effect, programming the network to classify and extract according to our needs. Now... there's a learning curve - so there's certainly value doing the rule writing, even if the output rules don't ultimately make it into the network.

But here's where activity doesn't equal accomplishment... They've been doing this for 6 months now -- but the input format keeps changing, the output format isn't settled, and we're even on our third different system to do this stuff. They're both smart guys - both hardworking guys who are also able to see the sort of 'big picture' we're driving towards. I've been complaining to the 'leadership' of this big program that they're wasting valuable time of valuable resources at this point -- they know how to do what they would eventually have to translate into a production system (no matter what it ends up being). This work should have stopped 4 months ago because we clearly got the knowledge we need, we know the possibilities, we know how to implement... the focus should be on settling input formats, output formats, nailing down the end-to-end architecture, and basically -- putting all the appropriate pieces in place around this actual future-automated system that will classify content and extract key metadata. The problem is -- those other areas are struggling/stalled -- but this particular niche is kicking out rules at a stupendous rate (rules that inevitably, will need to be revised or rewritten once all the uncertainty at either end is settled). This leads to someone being able to report some really impressive numbers on a executive level report... but ultimately, isn't accomplishing much.

They've been "productive" -- in the sense that we're doing what we're charged with doing... but the big picture value at this stage was met months ago - further actual value has other dependencies that aren't being met, so its pointless to keep up this 'productivity' so someone has a nifty burn chart and user story backlog to talk about in front of people who won't really understand it anyway.
   86. Dr. Vaux Posted: March 19, 2013 at 11:50 PM (#4392178)
Why is a society that doesn't support advanced historical research not in a state of decline from the society that did, just a few short years ago?

It's true that there is a glut of people qualified to fill humanities professorships, though that's because the soft skills economy tanked so badly in the past two decades that more and more people went to graduate school--it was their only way to keep earning a paycheck for a few more years. But that's not the only problem. The number of positions has decreased. Universities, even as they spend more and more money on frivolities and raise tuition by obscene amounts, have been cutting the sizes of their departments. They have more students than ever before, but use $2,000 per course adjuncts rather than full-time faculty members. That's right--$2,000 for the entire semester. All this is common knowledge, of course. I doubt if anyone who has read this thread doesn't know it. It's a complaint, for sure.I'm absolutely complaining--there's no reason to lie about that or try to sugarcoat it. I should complain, because the situation is worse than it was a few decades ago. How does that constitute any kind of societal advance, or even lack of decline? Valuation of knowledge for its own sake is the sign of a healthy society and a healthy economy, because it relies on patronage. When there's no money for patronage, that's not a healthy economy, and when there's insufficient desire to find money for patronage, that's not a healthy society. There is more than one kind of wealth. Knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge is never "antiquated" except in a society that thinks it's very sophisticated but is actually headed for fast collapse (though in this case more likely headed for a serious reassessment of values).

In any case, the decrease in positions is the real problem, not the glut of applicants. We would hope that the cream would rise to the top, and the people who would have gone into academia 50 years ago would be the ones who get the positions, while the ones who would have preferred to work in a mail room 50 years ago are the ones who don't get hired, and wind up doing who knows what. But with less top for the cream to rise to, more of us wind up doing who knows what. And even that wouldn't be such a problem except that there isn't any more who knows what. Like I said, I'd have gone into finance if I could do it again, but it's a sign of bad social trends that I would have to feel that way.
   87. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: March 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM (#4392181)
They have more students than ever before, but use $2,000 per course adjuncts rather than full-time faculty members. That's right--$2,000 for the entire semester.


That used to be my wife, Perfesser Jenny. Then she stumbled into online teaching programs at the request of a colleague. Now she's running an online English program for the big-name university and consulting setting up similar programs on other campuses, including some she's never visited. Now they can pay their adjuncts per-student signed up with no physical location for overhead. I'm glad she's ahead of the curve on this, she gets her beak wet from every angle as the de facto chair, but watch how much worse things are going to get for the boots on the ground in the next decade.
   88. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: March 20, 2013 at 12:06 AM (#4392185)
That's one of the weird things about 'productivity' -- one of my favorite quotes to share with higher ups is the old John Wooden cliche "Never confuse activity with accomplishment".... I think today's workers DO "do" more, but IMO - they're terribly managed (yeah, yeah... another leadership rant coming...)


Amazing how this applies to nearly all fields. Not to get on a 'weekly meetings are useless' rant, but the big reason why 'meetings are useless' has to do with the amount of time spent 'preparing for the meeting' to give trivial 'status' updates on tasks as opposed to actually performing the tasks. We have a client that demands these meetings and that's all it is, some busy body is on our case to have us update the 'status' of certain tasks, all for the pleasure of walking through this list with the people on the other line that should be spending this time with us 'on the task'. I'm like ####### call me and let's get X done. "well, let's 'circle back' on the next call and we can talk about it. It never ends, but we've got this fancy spreadsheet with all these tabs and colors and projects and man we're really busy around here.
   89. zonk Posted: March 20, 2013 at 12:09 AM (#4392186)

It's true that there is a glut of people qualified to fill humanities professorships, though that's because the soft skills economy tanked so badly in the past two decades that more and more people went to graduate school--it was their only way to keep earning a paycheck for a few more years. But that's not the only problem. The number of positions has decreased. Universities, even as they spend more and more money on frivolities and raise tuition by obscene amounts, have been cutting the sizes of their departments. They have more students than ever before, but use $2,000 per course adjuncts rather than full-time faculty members. That's right--$2,000 for the entire semester. All this is common knowledge, of course. I doubt if anyone who has read this thread doesn't know it. It's a complaint, for sure.I'm absolutely complaining--there's no reason to lie about that or try to sugarcoat it. I should complain, because the situation is worse than it was a few decades ago. How does that constitute any kind of societal advance, or even lack of decline? Valuation of knowledge for its own sake is the sign of a healthy society and a healthy economy, because it relies on patronage. When there's no money for patronage, that's not a healthy economy, and when there's insufficient desire to find money for patronage, that's not a healthy society. There is more than one kind of wealth. Knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge is never "antiquated" except in a society that thinks it's very sophisticated but is actually headed for fast collapse (though in this case more likely headed for a serious reassessment of values).


I don't want to derail the thread into politics - so any further conversation on this point that gets too ideological, I'll gladly take into the OTP thread...

But I agree 100% and this is why I believe in PBS/NPR funding, public funding of libraries, art, and all sorts of humanities... I understand the occasional drek, and the occasional objectionbable work -- but this is precisely why I absolutely and wholly believe in public funding of such things.

Pursuit of knowledge, culture and art -- these are things that I do believe society as whole should care about producing for purposes other than profit... I accept that there are plenty of things in these areas that I will not appreciate - and that's fine - but the pure output is important so you get the good stuff.

   90. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 20, 2013 at 12:15 AM (#4392189)
I know a lot of busy people. I don't know a lot of people who get things done.
   91. Joe Kehoskie Posted: March 20, 2013 at 12:19 AM (#4392190)
But that's not the only problem. The number of positions has decreased. Universities, even as they spend more and more money on frivolities and raise tuition by obscene amounts, have been cutting the sizes of their departments. They have more students than ever before, but use $2,000 per course adjuncts rather than full-time faculty members. That's right--$2,000 for the entire semester.

This seems to exemplify what a scam college has become: Quality of education has decreased while the cost has tripled or quadrupled.

How does that constitute any kind of societal advance, or even lack of decline? Valuation of knowledge for its own sake is the sign of a healthy society and a healthy economy, because it relies on patronage. ... Knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge is never "antiquated" except in a society that thinks it's very sophisticated but is actually headed for fast collapse (though in this case more likely headed for a serious reassessment of values).

It's noble to pursue knowledge for knowledge's sake, but ROI has to be a consideration. It was one thing for a person to get a philosophy degree back when a person could pay their way through college by working after school and/or in the summer, but it makes very little sense to go $100,000-plus in debt to get a humanities degree when the job market is telling us that such degrees have limited ROI. This is doubly true in the Internet Age, with the easy availability of information and with Ivy League schools offering all sorts of free online courses for people who have an interest in such topics.

I'm not looking forward to the bursting of the education bubble any more than I was looking forward to the bursting of the real estate bubble, but the simple fact is, the U.S. has too many kids going too far into debt to get degrees that leave them with few or no real-world job skills.
   92. Dr. Vaux Posted: March 20, 2013 at 12:39 AM (#4392195)
I accept that there are plenty of things in these areas that I will not appreciate - and that's fine - but the pure output is important so you get the good stuff.


Interestingly, that's precisely the idea behind the kind of player development strategies we advocate in baseball. And of course a lot of what shows up as scholarship and art is silly at best and stupid at worst (. But we know that most prospects are going to be Jose Macias--we just want to make sure we get Ryne Sandberg.

I do think there's plenty of demand out there for the type of work we do. But we have to get busy finding it and figuring out how to tap into it. As far as online courses go, we have to make sure that we retain personal copyright on the materials we generate when hired to design them. Otherwise the university can cut the developer loose and go right on running his or her course in perpetuity. If you want to make money from tuition, university, you're at least going to pay the guy who helped create that value. I understand that this is beginning to become a problem. That's hard for me to say, because I believe strongly in the free dissemination of information. But I also have to believe in making a living, and after all, it's not the information, per se, it's the exact wording, the look and feel, etc.

Ultimately, I think there will be a correction. It's widely known now that there's no future in becoming a humanities academic, so within a couple of decades, things will clear out thanks to the "no one goes there anymore--it's too crowded" effect. I don't know what the university landscape will look like by them, but I expect there will still be history, art, and music departments. Those disciplines, by the way, are still doing fine in and of themselves. Artists go on making art with or without art historians. Composers go on composing music with or without musicologists. But when you've got art majors, you need art history classes, and when you've got music majors, you need music history classes. People keep going into those fields, and will keep going into them, because contrary to popular belief, not only do people want to pursue those activities, they can be reasonably renumerative. It's mainly self-employment (or informal collective employment), and it's a rat race, but there are a lot of wealthy patrons out there who want original pieces of art and live chamber music. If I'd kept up my performance chops, I'd be doing fine.
   93. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 20, 2013 at 12:49 AM (#4392200)
I can't see how I can add to all this, except maybe to speak for fellow lurkers and say that this is a fascinating thread to me....


Thanks for pointing this out, Howie. Your post made me sit around and think about it. This thread exemplifies what has made BBTF successful and unique over the years - a barely-related-to-baseball respectful conversation about a different topic entirely. I won't be so bold as to try to make the case that reading this thread is like the first week of an Econ class, but if any of the readers here - participants or lurkers - had their horizons expanded tonight, then maybe this place is worth something.
   94. Dr. Vaux Posted: March 20, 2013 at 01:06 AM (#4392207)
This seems to exemplify what a scam college has become: Quality of education has decreased while the cost has tripled or quadrupled.


I completely agree with this, though not necessarily for the implied reason. It's not necessarily that the $2,000 person isn't qualified to teach the course--not at all, in fact; the person usually has a PhD. Rather, the person is running him or herself ragged to make ends meet (teaching at multiple schools and doing other odd jobs on top of it), and has much less time for preparation or for actual interaction with students outside of class than the full-time faculty member. But the cost increase is such that nothing would be worth it, let alone a somewhat reduced quality product. If all a young person wants out of life is a job that makes him money, and isn't especially interested in any particular intellectual activity, I'd probably advise that he go into a trade apprenticeship program or something. College is a ripoff currently (that is, under the current unemployment regime) unless you either have a passion for one of the few growth fields or truly value learning for its own sake (and as you point out, if that's really all you want, you can get it for nothing). Of course, rent is a ripoff and you have to live somewhere. Food is a ripoff and you have to eat something.

It's noble to pursue knowledge for knowledge's sake, but ROI has to be a consideration. It was one thing for a person to get a philosophy degree back when a person could pay their way through college by working after school and/or in the summer, but it makes very little sense to go $100,000-plus in debt to get a humanities degree when the job market is telling us that such degrees have limited ROI. This is doubly true in the Internet Age, with the easy availability of information and with Ivy League schools offering all sorts of free online courses for people who have an interest in such topics.


But that's the ROI for the individual student, not the the society as a whole. I always advise against borrowing money to get liberal arts degrees. It's just foolish to do that, realistically; I didn't. I have a little debt, but it's not education debt. So I can't feel too bad about my ROI when I don't have much I (I've had to pay my fees every year, which has totaled probably almost $7,000 by now over 8 years, but that came out of my paycheck--I neither owe it nor miss it). One would think that a reluctance to go into debt for such degrees would significantly limit the number of people who would get them and solve the job market problem by itself, or at least assuage it. But that only applies at the undergraduate level. No one pays for graduate degrees, and many people who borrow money to get their undergraduate degrees double major. At my college, I'd say that well over half of the undergraduates who have a humanities major have a double major with something else. So they got a "practical" major, but they're also qualified for graduate school, and they go to graduate school at no cost to them. The spots are available--and free--because the schools need GAs and TAs. They need as many GAs and TAs as they do because they don't expand their faculties at nearly the rate at which their student bodies expand. So the cycle spins cynically on and on. The departments generate the graduates because they need the labor, the students go to graduate school because they can, and then graduate with training to do a job that barely exists. It only cost most of them a few years of their time, not a large amount of money, but they still come out behind, because their peers were accruing job experience and financial assets during those years. In any case, the cycle will collapse within a few years, I think, because of the increased perception that the degrees aren't worth the time to pursue, aided by departments not being able to convince themselves that what they're doing is really all that moral.
   95. Sleepy supports unauthorized rambling Posted: March 20, 2013 at 03:43 AM (#4392219)
If this is a backdoor layoff at Yahoo!, Mayer deserves some sort of corporate Nobel Prize for doing it without leaving fingerprints on it. As much as I am pro-labor, I have to admire this as strategy.

I drive by the Mathilda Ave Yahoo campus in Sunnyvale every day on the way to work, and one of the first things I noticed when I started this job (about 3 months before "the decision") was that the Yahoo lot was usually almost completely empty when I get in to work (usually around 8ish). Thought it was strange at first, but, eh, whatever. They are programmers, not engineers, they have weird body cycles or something, right?

Anyway, the biggest change since "TD" was made is that instead of being mostly empty all day, now people start to show up around 9; the lot gets full around 10, and is usually empty by 4. Maybe that's silicon valley culture- I'm still trying to come to grips with it- but coming from LA, where it seemed like if you didn't work 12 hours a day you are falling behind, I don't see where anything has been accomplished, just based on "number of cars in the lot".

MAYBE people are taking work home with them while working their mandatory 6 hours a day in the office (or whatever it is, that's my "eyeballs on cars-based estimate"), but I'm skeptical. If that's the best "broken culture" fix that MM could come up with, I believe either Yahoo is a doomed company, or MM is a doomed CEO. Which is a shame, because imho telework is usually a bad deal for the company*, and it's nice that someone finally took a stand against it. Just doesn't seem like it's actually being implemented, at all, and I'm afraid that when Yahoo goes under it will be seen as a failure of the anti-telework movement, or something.

Anyway, as far as the comment I quoted, I strongly, STRONGLY disagree with the idea that "backdoor layoffs" are a positive thing for any organization. I've seen "backdoor layoffs" like this, before, sitting in a mid-level manager seat, and in general, creating "efficient workforce strategies" like this have one major effect- the best people, the ones with individual initiative, leave, because they are the least afraid to leave, and they have other opportunities. People with no real skills other than coming in every day at 7 am and staying until 5 aren't that useful, and you end up with a mediocre corporate culture of people with no initiative, who get nothing done, and you enter a death spiral.

* Based on a sample size of about a dozen former teleworking employees, and no current teleworking employees, compared to about 100 traditionals, I've never had a single teleworker whose contributions could be considered "average" when compared to peers who came in to the office every day. In addition, I've had one former "top notch" employee become completely useless after she switched to teleworking.
   96. Greg K Posted: March 20, 2013 at 05:43 AM (#4392220)
It's widely known now that there's no future in becoming a humanities academic

Hey, Spoiler Alert!

I was hoping to come to that conclusion after several post-PhD years of frustration and depression. Thanks for ruining it for me.
   97. BFFB Posted: March 20, 2013 at 06:00 AM (#4392221)
Teleworking is doable but you really have to set up the right environment for yourself at home with no distractions -- even it means you run power to a shed at the bottom of the garden and stick a desk in it.

Right now I really dislike teleworking because I don't have the right environment set up for it at home so prefer to come into the office. Ultimately what I really dislike about coming into the office is normal working hours rather than the fact of having to come into the office. Since before college I've always been most productive in terms of work in late evenings running into the early hours of the morning - which is why I often end up staying at work late so I can get #### done in the quiet time after 7 PM.
   98. BrianBrianson Posted: March 20, 2013 at 06:33 AM (#4392224)
This seems to exemplify what a scam college has become: Quality of education has decreased while the cost has tripled or quadrupled.


University rankings in guides for undergrads are strongly influenced by how much money the university has spent recently on new facilities, creating a strong motivation to spend a lot of money on building new facilities. Similarly, what fraction of the teachers have PhDs is a strong influence. It costs more to produce the same level of prestige than it did fifty (or five hundred) years ago. Quality of education isn't much of a concern to most people applying to university, isn't much of a concern to most people hiring university graduates, and so isn't what's driving cost.

Why yes, I do work at a university invariably ranked as one of the top ten worldwide. I'm also a thoroughly mediocre teacher, with negligible teaching training. Does it show?
   99. Dr. Vaux Posted: March 20, 2013 at 07:20 AM (#4392227)
I was hoping to come to that conclusion after several post-PhD years of frustration and depression. Thanks for ruining it for me.


I said it was something everyone already knows :). But in reality, you're most likely going to do fine eventually, especially since you're writing about a reasonably trendy topic. I don't know anyone who actually continued to (a) want a job, (b) look for one, and (c) churn out a steady stream of publications who didn't finally get one. You may have to send out 300 applications, and the job may be in Wyoming, China, or Somalia, and it may take five years to get, and you may have to have 10 articles and a book, but it will happen. The hardest part is the eventually. I know a lot of people who decided they didn't want an academic job anymore, and not because they had gotten a non-academic job they liked. The second hardest part is the publications, because it's hard to make yourself just write any old thing for the sake of publishing. People feel like they should actually have something to say before they say something--what a revolutionary idea! But I expect there are a lot more jobs in history than musicology. Last year there were five tenure-track musicology jobs in North America.
   100. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: March 20, 2013 at 07:58 AM (#4392234)
i stepped away from the thread to work to avoid being tabbed as 'mr. burns' since this stuff is something i worked with every day for some time. when you acquire a company reducing headcount is at the top of the 'to do' list so i became all too familiar with how workers were viewed by those in upper levels of management. of course, those folks learned all too quickly that the jobs 'i' wanted to cut were their jobs.

something i would remind the readers here, though they may already know it, is that human resources is the epicenter for the thoughts behind how to manage a workforce. it's someone in hr who is presenting to the upper management on the average tenure, average age, average distance travelled to work, etc so they can assess what is the risk of attrition based on the company freezing wages or eliminating the pension or slashing other benefits, or any number of actions that could upset the employee base

you learn quickly that people as a group are so averse to change they will take all kinds of cr9p before getting up the gumption to leave

so that is why i had to work hard to not mock zonk directly on his posts. because after several decades of seeing workers accept all forms of reductions to their overall compensation and still cling to their job i will believe someone will leave when they leave. otherwise, it's all talk.

and if you do have a rabble rouser you dump him. or her. and if she sues, big deal. drag it out forever and then settle. the chances of the suit actually being significant or getting into the media with staying power is minimal unless your company does stuff that is flat out 1880's robber baron nonsense.

so again, human resources is not your friend. i always refer to the dilbert cartoon someone showed me what is now i think 10 years ago?

you can't write 'who cares' without hr

truer words were never written
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