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Friday, October 22, 2010

Ev Ehrlich’s Everyday Economics: Gladwell in The New Yorker

The talent show must go on…

Gladwell ends by assailing the outcome, comparing Robert Nardelli’s $210 million severance package at Home Depot to baseball salaries.  In fact, amazingly for a guy who jots down occasional pensees for money, Gladwell has the temerity to say “A negotiation in which a man can get paid twenty-two million dollars for hitting a baseball is not really a negotiation.  It is a capitulation…” and that the lingering question is “whether what Talent did with its newfound power did with its newfound power was simply create a new authority ranking, this time with itself at the top.”

First, Gladwell ought to be careful; he’s on a slippery slope, deciding whose rewards in life are earned and whose aren’t.  I recall watching a hearing on baseball – Gladwell’s Exhibit A – ten years ago in which Commissioner Bud Selig and then-Governor Jesse Ventura complained about player salaries.  I mean, think about that – a used car salesman and a theatrical wrestler arguing that somebody else was making too much money!  I was reminded of that moment when I read Gladwell’s closing homage to Stan Musial, who asked management for a 20 percent pay cut after a disappointing season.  “It is hard,” Gladwell writes, “to be just a little nostalgic” for Musial’s explanation: “I had a lousy year.  I didn’t deserve the money.”  Frankly, until Gladwell goes into his publisher’s office and demands a smaller advance and royalty rate after one of his books sells less than its predecessor, he should keep his admiration and nostalgia in check.  (Musial, by the way, hit .255 the year in question, when he was 38.  He still had four years left in him, almost 1,700 plate appearances, 67 doubles and 63 homers, one season – at age 41 – when he batted .330, and had an OPS of about .840 from age 39 through age 42, slightly ahead of Chase Utley this year or Derek Jeter’s career.  Gladwell, who turned 37 last month, might hope to do as well in his dotage.)

Repoz Posted: October 22, 2010 at 03:10 AM | 119 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: business, cardinals, history, media

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   1. bjhanke Posted: October 22, 2010 at 07:22 AM (#3672089)
Huh. And here I thought that this travesty had been fully dealt with decades ago, when Dick Young, after years of complaining about Reggie Jackson's salary, went free agent himself and switched newspapers for more money. Kind of cost him - and this whole complaint - its credibility there. I admit to being mildly surprized to see yet another writer start this up. But, then, Tea Party politics largely depends on voters who cannot remember the Bush administration, much less Richard Nixon's health care proposals.
- Brock Hanke
   2. Mo Vaughn Down The Road Posted: October 22, 2010 at 10:13 AM (#3672096)
I'm wondering how Gladwell would react if his publisher decided it was he who was the one making too much money on his books, that the talent shouldn't be the tail wagging the dog.
   3. Dr. Vaux Posted: October 22, 2010 at 11:11 AM (#3672102)
Is he really saying that he thinks they make too much money or that he thinks they make enough that it's okay with him when management plays hardball, because they'll still be rich if they get less? Those are pretty different opinions, it seems to me.
   4. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 22, 2010 at 12:27 PM (#3672117)
Gladwell is trying to dramatize his own conflicted response in the piece - he's not arguing that "Talent" is overpaid. He's looking at what he thinks is a cultural shift in which certain kinds of talented people have gained more bargaining power with management in the last several decades.

I think he's simply wrong that such a cultural shift has occurred. The fact that talented folks in a small handful of fields have done well recently is interesting, but instead of looking at the far larger number of fields in which management has been gaining power, Gladwell just assumes that these few fields where "Talent" has leverage are representative. (In a laughable passage, he actually argues that writers have gained power in recent years over and against publishers. If there could be a better depiction of the degree to which Gladwell fails to ask basic questions of his own premise, or the degree to which Gladwell has become insulated from the world most people actually live in, I don't know what it would be.)

The really bizarre thing in the piece is that Gladwell draws a comparison between the players' union and Goldman Sachs. As if the head partners at Goldman (and it's really the partners he writes about) are entirely analogous to "Talent" and in no way themselves "Management." It's odd.
   5. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: October 22, 2010 at 12:29 PM (#3672118)
People seem to have this notion in the back of their minds that salary is commensurate with contribution to the larger society. They'd sleep a lot better at night if they just pushed that idea away. That's never been true in the history of ever.
   6. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 22, 2010 at 12:31 PM (#3672119)
Dan - to clarify, Gladwell never makes that argument. In the passage about Musial above (which is not represetnative of the piece as a whole), Gladwell's just expressing a conflicted nostalgia for an era in which a well-off man would turn down extra money based on his own evaluation of his own poor performance.

I'm skeptical that such an era really existed - the Musial story is told and re-told because it was so atypical - and as I said above, I see basically nothing in the story of the players' union that is representative of trends in our society and economy over the last several decades.
   7. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 22, 2010 at 12:34 PM (#3672121)
People seem to have this notion in the back of their minds that salary is commensurate with contribution to the larger society. They'd sleep a lot better at night if they just pushed that idea away. That's never been true in the history of ever.
I think people mostly have the notion in their minds that salary ought to be commensurate with contibution to the larger society. It's a quite different thing.

I think people tend to apply this notion weirdly and haphazardly - as Dan suggests - but I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with it as a moral intuition. (Obviously, like any moral intuition, it can be acted on or legislated in better or worse ways.)
   8. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: October 22, 2010 at 12:44 PM (#3672124)
I think people tend to apply this notion weirdly and haphazardly - as Dan suggests - but I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with it as a moral intuition. (Obviously, like any moral intuition, it can be acted on or legislated in better or worse ways.)


Perhaps this is just evidence of my own blinkered perspective, but I couldn't even begin to imagine how a society where people are paid based on their contributions to society would work, even in theory. The second you start to think about it beyond a gut-level, "this person makes too much, this person doesn't make enough", it all falls apart.
   9. Justin T's pasta pass was not revoked Posted: October 22, 2010 at 12:48 PM (#3672129)
I think it's more of a general framework than a meticulously applied science.
   10. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 22, 2010 at 12:50 PM (#3672130)
On the other hand, a system of properly taxing externalities would also have the effect of making a variety of problematic occupations less incommensurately valued.

Any number of moral intuitions are valuable but would fail if you made them the ironclad law on which society would now be organized. We need to balance a variety of moral intuitions, that's what being an ethical person consists of. Various useful reforms to our economy and society would lead to certain kinds of work beign less incommensurately valued.

It's not particularly useful, when evaluating a moral intuition, to ask whether all society should be immediately transformed to perfectly align with that moral intuition. The question is whether it's a useful addition to our already-existing set of moral intuitions, how it fits in with them, and what sorts of personal and political action it might usefully enable.
   11. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 22, 2010 at 12:53 PM (#3672132)
I mean, it's perfectly ok to both believe "people shouldn't kill each other" and that America (or whatever other nation) shouldn't immediately disband all its armed forces.

This hardly means that the moral intuition "killing people is bad" is in itself terribly problematic.
   12. Der-K's tired of these fruits from poisoned trees Posted: October 22, 2010 at 12:58 PM (#3672137)
On the other hand, a system of properly taxing externalities
Well, that's the rub, isn't it. :)
   13. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: October 22, 2010 at 12:59 PM (#3672138)
I think people mostly have the notion in their minds that salary ought to be commensurate with contibution to the larger society. It's a quite different thing.

I think people tend to apply this notion weirdly and haphazardly - as Dan suggests - but I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with it as a moral intuition. (Obviously, like any moral intuition, it can be acted on or legislated in better or worse ways.)


Here's the thing though. The professions usually cited, teachers, cops, firefighters, social workers, as contributing the most for the least pay, are professions that most competent adults could perform if they apply enough effort. No matter how hard I try, I can't hit a baseball like Pujols or a golf ball like Woods. But I could be a teacher, and so could millions more.

So now lets say we mandate that these professions are now to be paid $500,000/year, because they have been deemed as contributing the most to society. Do we get the best teachers and social workers this country could produce? We do not. We get teachers and social workers who are the best connected and the best at shmoozing and or bribing the hiring authorities. The system becomes rife with cronyism and corruption, and people a lot more interested in pleasing their superiors and keeping their job (because there are thousands more who could do it) than in serving their ultimate clients.
   14. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 22, 2010 at 01:03 PM (#3672142)
Misirlou- it may be that at a certain level of pay, the jobs would become too valuable. I hardly think we're already at the tipping point for that - tons of talented people don't go into teaching or social work or the like because the compensation is so bad. I hardly think that increasing the starting salary by 50% (instead of the reductio argument of 1000% you suggest) would have such negative consequences.

EDIT: if the counter-argument is that the money for that salary increase would have to come from somewhere, and it wouldn't be worth the trade-offs, then we're back in the realm of balancing various moral intuitions and social facts about governance. That's all fine.

What I'm arguing againt is the claim which you and Dewey have made, that the moral intuition is irredeemably flawed if in certain extreme implementations it would have negative effects. I can come up with extreme implementations of any number of useful moral intuitions. It's not a useful mode of argument, unless you're arguing against someone who actually believes that a certain moral intuition should be the ironclad basis of society.
   15. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: October 22, 2010 at 01:10 PM (#3672148)
tons of talented people don't go into teaching or social work or the like because the compensation is so bad.

This probably has a lot of regional variance, but here in Chicago, the school district has many more applicants than they have open positions. The problem isn't finding good teachers - it's keeping them. The pay is fine, but a lot of teachers walk away anyway, because of other negative things about the position.
   16. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 22, 2010 at 01:19 PM (#3672151)
The pay is fine, but a lot of teachers walk away anyway, because of other negative things about the position.
I'm exceptionally skeptical that the pay is not a factor in talented people's decisions to walk away from a difficult job.

EDIT: I'm getting off track here. I'm not interested in an education policy debate. I just want y'all to acknowledge the philosophical point that posts #9 and #14 entirely miss the point. Imagining the negative effects of an extreme or absolutizing implementation of that moral intuition is not even close to a damning argument in regard to the value of a moral intuition.
   17. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: October 22, 2010 at 01:26 PM (#3672161)
I'm exceptionally skeptical that the pay is not a factor in people's choices to walk away from a difficult job.

I'm sure that if you paid the teachers more, you convince more to stay, but Chicago teachers make a lot of money. The lowest starting salary is around $48,000, and a tenured teacher with more than a decade of experience can easily make north of $100,000 in a year. That's not a principal, or a superintendent - that's just a regular, rank-and-file teacher.

Now, union rules make it so that the pay scale and job security slants towards seniority, rather than quality (which is currently a source of contention) but the city of Chicago spends boatloads of money on teacher salaries. Again, I can't speak for other municipalities, that might spend less on teacher salaries.
   18. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: October 22, 2010 at 01:30 PM (#3672165)
Imagining the negative effects of an extreme or absolutizing implementation of that moral intuition is not even close to a damning argument in regard to the value of a moral intuition.


I'm not simply imagining some extreme, straw-man position. I honestly don't know how you'd begin to implement a system where this moral intuition plays a role, other than in the most vague, nebulous way.
   19. Mr Dashwood Posted: October 22, 2010 at 01:31 PM (#3672167)
Aren't these high player salaries partly a consequence of the fans themselves? If people paid more attention to their local sports, wouldn't there be less money at the higher levels of the sport and more available for independent leagues outside of Organized Baseball (or, for that matter, minor leagues within Organized Baseball)?

If you give a business lots of money, and also allow a powerful labour association to emerge within it, then a lot of that money will be transferred to the 'workers', especially those with most influence over the productive process.
   20. SOLockwood Posted: October 22, 2010 at 01:32 PM (#3672169)
Back to baseball. Another excerpt from the article:

But what if Miller had been active in the 1930s, or even the 1950s? The underlying economics wouldn’t have supported his vision. He would have been right about the legality of the reserve clause, but his victory wouldn’t have had the same effect. Leaving aside the economy of the 1930’s, up until the 1960s, reserve clause baseball was an uncompetitive, New York-centric affair.


He then goes into the nationalization of the game and other factors that increased competitive balance and thus revenue such as the amateur draft.

The reason the "Talent" makes so much more money is that the sport has got so much money to spread around.
   21. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 01:43 PM (#3672180)
Here's the thing though. The professions usually cited, teachers, cops, firefighters, social workers, as contributing the most for the least pay, are professions that most competent adults could perform if they apply enough effort.

Are you out of your mind? That's a bit like saying that if an alcoholic only had the willpower, he could easily stop drinking. Or that an average well-informed Primate could manage a baseball club.

The fitness and stress requirements alone would rule out the police and fire departments for most people. The lack of patience and other social skills alone would destroy most people who tried to become cops, teachers or social workers.

Obviously there are plenty of slugs and stiffs in all four of those professions. Far more than there are in professional sports. But that's because those jobs in fact require a lot more skill than the narrow strength and hand-eye coordination job requirements of sports, and when you've got millions of spaces to fill instead of about 3,000, you're obviously not going to be able to maintain as high a standard of performance.

-----------------

tons of talented people don't go into teaching or social work or the like because the compensation is so bad.


This probably has a lot of regional variance, but here in Chicago, the school district has many more applicants than they have open positions. The problem isn't finding good teachers - it's keeping them. The pay is fine, but a lot of teachers walk away anyway, because of other negative things about the position.

Exactly---and it's those other "negative things" that make teaching, social work, and policing so much harder than what the average "teachers are overpaid" idiot thinks.
   22. Ray (CTL) Posted: October 22, 2010 at 01:57 PM (#3672201)
Here's the thing though. The professions usually cited, teachers, cops, firefighters, social workers, as contributing the most for the least pay, are professions that most competent adults could perform if they apply enough effort.

Are you out of your mind? That's a bit like saying that if an alcoholic only had the willpower, he could easily stop drinking.


No, it's a bit like saying that most people don't become alcoholics because most people have willpower.

The fitness and stress requirements alone would rule out the police and fire departments for most people.


There are tons of heavy, overweight, out of shape, obese NYC cops. I see them every day.
   23. Flynn Posted: October 22, 2010 at 02:08 PM (#3672212)
There are tons of heavy, overweight, out of shape, obese NYC cops. I see them every day.


There are tons of heavy, overweight, out of shape, obese people, and many of them weren't finely tuned specimens when they were young. At least you have to be that to be a cop/firefighter, especially the latter.
   24. The Good Face Posted: October 22, 2010 at 02:15 PM (#3672216)
Obviously there are plenty of slugs and stiffs in all four of those professions. Far more than there are in professional sports. But that's because those jobs in fact require a lot more skill than the narrow strength and hand-eye coordination job requirements of sports, and when you've got millions of spaces to fill instead of about 3,000, you're obviously not going to be able to maintain as high a standard of performance.


Nonsense. There are very few slugs and stiffs in professional sports because it's usually pretty obvious if you suck, and if you suck, you're going to be out of a job fairly quickly. I do like Andy's implication that there are fewer people who could succeed at being a cop/firefighter/teacher/social worker than being a professional athlete, though.
   25. rr Posted: October 22, 2010 at 02:29 PM (#3672232)
They'd sleep a lot better at night if they just pushed that idea away. That's never been true in the history of ever.


Correct. Salary is determined by how specialized/"hard" the skill is and to how many people the results/action/context etc. of the skill can be sold. Derek Jeter has a very specialized skill that he can, in effect, sell simultaneously to the Yankees, MLB, FOX, TBS, etc. So he gets a lot of money for it.

As others have noted, this is a really odd column, coming from a guy with Gladwell's rep.

On a different note, I am pretty excited about the LCS weekend. Interesting storylines and matchups in both series.
   26. Zach Posted: October 22, 2010 at 02:29 PM (#3672234)
The fitness and stress requirements alone would rule out the police and fire departments for most people. The lack of patience and other social skills alone would destroy most people who tried to become cops, teachers or social workers.

I don't know about that. Lots of people deal with crummy aspects of their job.
   27. McCoy Posted: October 22, 2010 at 02:39 PM (#3672239)
In what world does one have to live in in order for a lack of patience and other social skills not be detrimental to a person's employment status? Is there actually a job that one can apply for and they don't care if you are impatient and lack social skills?

There are tons of heavy, overweight, out of shape, obese people, and many of them weren't finely tuned specimens when they were young. At least you have to be that to be a cop/firefighter, especially the latter.


Finely tuned?
   28. Zach Posted: October 22, 2010 at 02:41 PM (#3672244)
An interesting test case for bargaining power vs size of market would be the Beatles or Elvis today vs. their primes. It's impossible to believe that either one would have more negotiating power now than before, but they still make ridiculous amounts of money because the market is bigger.
   29. rr Posted: October 22, 2010 at 02:52 PM (#3672257)
Is there actually a job that one can apply for and they don't care if you are impatient and lack social skills?



No, but these things are far more important in some jobs than in others, depending on the nature of the job and how much of it revolves around hard skills, and how much around soft skills. Obviously, good soft skills help in any job.
   30. OMJ, urban D machine Posted: October 22, 2010 at 02:59 PM (#3672263)
The other thing that is often overlooked in analysis like this is the fact that we are talking about the 600 best a their profession in the world. Most people that are at the top tier in their profession, if it requires some sort of skill, make great money.

Is there another profession that has such large gap in pay between the top 600 and the next few thousand or so?
   31. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: October 22, 2010 at 03:12 PM (#3672271)
Is there another profession that has such large gap in pay between the top 600 and the next few thousand or so?

Anything in the entertainment industry.
   32. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 03:14 PM (#3672272)
Obviously there are plenty of slugs and stiffs in all four of those professions. Far more than there are in professional sports. But that's because those jobs in fact require a lot more skill than the narrow strength and hand-eye coordination job requirements of sports, and when you've got millions of spaces to fill instead of about 3,000, you're obviously not going to be able to maintain as high a standard of performance.

Nonsense. There are very few slugs and stiffs in professional sports because it's usually pretty obvious if you suck, and if you suck, you're going to be out of a job fairly quickly.


But the point there was that if there were only a total of 3,000 job openings for those other four professions, the skill levels of those chosen 3,000 would be a lot more evident than they are today. And that's not even taking the wildly different salary incentives into account.

I do like Andy's implication that there are fewer people who could succeed at being a cop/firefighter/teacher/social worker than being a professional athlete, though.

If you had as many job openings for professional ballplayers and puck chasers as you do for teachers, social workers, policemen and firemen, then I'd almost be tempted to give it a shot myself---and I'm 66.
   33. Ron Johnson Posted: October 22, 2010 at 03:15 PM (#3672273)
#31 Acting. The difference between those at the very top and everybody else might be greater.
   34. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 03:18 PM (#3672277)
In what world does one have to live in in order for a lack of patience and other social skills not be detrimental to a person's employment status? Is there actually a job that one can apply for and they don't care if you are impatient and lack social skills?

Let's just say that those skills are put to a far high level of testing in the four professions under discussion than they are in the field of professional sports.
   35. The Good Face Posted: October 22, 2010 at 03:31 PM (#3672288)
But the point there was that if there were only a total of 3,000 job openings for those other four professions, the skill levels of those chosen 3,000 would be a lot more evident than they are today. And that's not even taking the wildly different salary incentives into account.


I suppose that in a world where 600 super cops could handle the policing needs of our entire nation, yes, those cops would make significantly more money. Of course if my aunt had balls, she'd be my uncle.

In the world we actually live in, it's pretty easy to become a cop/firefighter/teacher/social worker and lots of people are qualified to do those jobs based on the standards currently in existence. Not so much for professional athletes.

If you had as many job openings for professional ballplayers and puck chasers as you do for teachers, social workers, policemen and firemen, then I'd almost be tempted to give it a shot myself---and I'm 66.


Well sure. Playing baseball is fun!
   36. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 22, 2010 at 03:40 PM (#3672293)
I'm sure that if you paid the teachers more, you convince more to stay, but Chicago teachers make a lot of money. The lowest starting salary is around $48,000, and a tenured teacher with more than a decade of experience can easily make north of $100,000 in a year. That's not a principal, or a superintendent - that's just a regular, rank-and-file teacher.

This.

And you don't even mention the best part of their comp, the benefits.

The benefits package for civil servants can easily be worth $50,000 or more per year.

They get Pensions at 50%+ of their salary starting at age 55 or 60 and Lifetime medical benefits. Those eligible for overtime can often inflate those pensions to 100% or more of their salary. More than half of Police and firefighters retire on disability pensions, which are tax free, and the disability doesn't have to be incurred on the job.

The myth of the underpaid civil servant is complete nonsense.
   37. base ball chick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 03:44 PM (#3672297)
Dan Szymborski Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:21 AM (#3672115)

Here's what I never get: How dumb does someone have to be to think that if the players made less in salary, that money would be returned to the fans rather than remain in the pockets of the owners.


THIS

and again THIS!!!!!

people who say that if only the ballplayers didn't earn much, then they could have nice cheap tickets like BITGOD are like people who say that if only they could just meet rich, beautiful person X, then RBPX would immediately give them everything

see, for example, all the thousands of ugly poor fat guys that beautiful models/actresses have sex with. see, for example, all the thousands of old fat grandmothers that bradley awesomeness had sex with

where does this stuff COME from? there are absolutely NO examples of billionaires agreeing to make less money when it is not done specifically for business reasons and making MORE money in the future by taking less now.

i've pointed out that seat prices have nothing to do with payroll and that low payroll teams charge just as much as big payroll teams (not named yankees, that is) and that when teams slash payroll, even in half, they definitely do NOT lower ticket prices. not it any professional sport, not just baseball.

but i guess this interferes with the fantasy because doesn't nobody believe me
   38. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 04:13 PM (#3672317)
In the world we actually live in, it's pretty easy to become a cop/firefighter/teacher/social worker and lots of people are qualified to do those jobs based on the standards currently in existence. Not so much for professional athletes.

But again, that's only because we only need a few thousand pro athletes. If we needed several million of them, it'd be even easier to become a pro athlete than it would be to become a cop/firefighter/teacher/social worker. I think you seriously underestimate the actual skill level required to perform any of those jobs on any sort of a professional level. It's not something you can learn out of a book, the way Ray's learned how to manage the Red Sox by reading his spreadsheets on run expectancy for bunts. The attrition rate alone should tell you this.

Of course the skill level of the average pro athlete exceeds that of the average cop or teacher---given the cutoff level for hiring, how could it possibly be otherwise? But that's hardly an insight that can be used to address the problems of education or crime on the street. It's of zero use outside the world of polemics.
   39. Jarvis Edison Posted: October 22, 2010 at 04:41 PM (#3672338)
Been thinking about this recently with soccer. I watch MLB because it has the best players in the world and I love the game, and I've been a Phillies fan since I was four years old, so that's not going to change.

With soccer, I don't have a strong allegiance, but I love watching the game. I could watch the Philadelphia Union or DC United in person and in tons of HD broadcasts on ESPN2. Meanwhile, I can only watch ONE game in HD each week of English Premier League on ESPN2, plus a handful of games in SD or online..... Yet I choose the EPL. The talent level is just so much higher, which makes the movement and strategy more exciting.

Of course, EPL players make boatloads of money, while all but a handful of MLS players make peanuts.

I wish I was content just watching high school baseball and soccer games, but I'm not.
   40. bjhanke Posted: October 22, 2010 at 04:41 PM (#3672339)
Old Man James says, "The other thing that is often overlooked in analysis like this is the fact that we are talking about the 600 best a their profession in the world. Most people that are at the top tier in their profession, if it requires some sort of skill, make great money.

Is there another profession that has such large gap in pay between the top 600 and the next few thousand or so?"

Exactly. The question isn't whether "anyone" could become a teacher, which, although wrong at the extremes (a convicted pedophile cannot) is reasonable at the center. But to compare to MLB players, you'd have to say that anyone could become a department chair at an Ivy League university by simple dint of hard work. No, they cannot. Not everyone could acquire the Ph. D. that would be the very basic starting credential. Those positions require top-end talent, way at the end of the right side of the bell curve. And so does MAJOR LEAGUE baseball. Sure, I can play baseball. But not anywhere near that level. And the people who can do that are so entertaining to watch that we are willing to pay large sums to see them. - Brock (son of a teacher and a civil servant)
   41. base ball chick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 04:49 PM (#3672350)
obviously people care about the talent level or you would easily be getting ML attendance at minor league games. or indy league games. and you don't

the real interesting question is why so many people really REALLY think that the most talented athletes, who people WANT to watch, shouldn't be paid much - or even more than minor league/indy league players
   42. Dave Spiwak Posted: October 22, 2010 at 05:02 PM (#3672365)
I think people mostly have the notion in their minds that salary ought to be commensurate with contibution to the larger society. It's a quite different thing.

I think people tend to apply this notion weirdly and haphazardly - as Dan suggests - but I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with it as a moral intuition. (Obviously, like any moral intuition, it can be acted on or legislated in better or worse ways.)


Salary is only commensurate with what employers are willing or required to pay, and that often has no connection to any "contribution to larger society." It has more to do with markets, competition among employers for workers, number of qualified applicants in a job pool, bargaining agreements with worker groups, etc.

Maybe once upon a time jobs like teaching and policing were filled with people motivated solely by the will to do a greater good, regardless of compensation. But once you set favorable salaries and benefits packages for those jobs, those compensation packages themselves become motivation, and now your job pool is filled with people competing mainly for the pay, which dilutes the pool of "altruistic" applicants.
   43. Paul D(uda) Posted: October 22, 2010 at 05:21 PM (#3672379)
Redacted.
   44. Paul D(uda) Posted: October 22, 2010 at 05:24 PM (#3672381)
The benefits package for civil servants can easily be worth $50,000 or more per year.

Do you have a link? I spoke with an actuary who suggested it was closer to $10,000
   45. Rally Posted: October 22, 2010 at 05:29 PM (#3672387)
The stadium issue is certainly a part of excessive baseball payrolls. Most teams have nice fancy stadiums paid for at least in part by public money. In the absence of that, teams would either have to draw less revenue from their smaller stadiums, or front the cost themselves. That would still leave a ton of money for baseball salaries, instead of the average player making 4 million and superstars 20-30 you might have the average at 2 million with 10-15 million for the top end. In other words, the salary level that we had about 12-13 years ago.

Probably more important is the effect of TV and now internet broadcasts to centralize the fanbase. People living hundreds of miles from a MLB team watch them on TV and give their revenues to MLB, instead of to the minor league teams closer to them. This was not always the case, and the country was able to support many more professional teams with much less concentration of the revenue to the top leagues. Blame TV if you think it's a problem. It's the same reason 500-1000 or so Hollywood stars entertain 300 million people and derive all the benefits from that, instead of the entertainment dollars spread out to smaller, local theatres and many more performers.
   46. PreBeaneAsFan Posted: October 22, 2010 at 05:31 PM (#3672388)
But that's hardly an insight that can be used to address the problems of education or crime on the street. It's of zero use outside the world of polemics.


So the point that in the real world athletes are a much more select group than police or firemen is of zero use, while the point that in some imaginary world with only 3000 police officers it would be more difficult to become a police officer than a professional athlete is practically applicable? Even if it were true (and I doubt that it is) that's not the world we live in and so that insight is of very little use. Even if we lived in such a world, police might or might not make more than athletes. Markets have two sides both of which interact to set pay rates.
   47. DL from MN Posted: October 22, 2010 at 05:34 PM (#3672393)
About altruism and pay - I think the pool of applicants is still full of altruistic applicants. Most people want to do something that contributes meaningfully but there are many ways of achieving that. For example, firefighter and police officer are somewhat interchangeable for someone looking to contribute to society. If you lower the price for one, people will shift to the other option.

OTOH, if you want someone to do something evil you generally have to shell out the big bucks.
   48. HCO Posted: October 22, 2010 at 05:36 PM (#3672396)
If we needed several million of them, it'd be even easier to become a pro athlete than it would be to become a cop/firefighter/teacher/social worker. I think you seriously underestimate the actual skill level required to perform any of those jobs on any sort of a professional level.


This is actually a fun math problem that I hope someone less lazy than me will do.

Figure out a definition and then a count of "serious baseball fans" in the US. Then figure out how that compares to the number of public school teachers. Then somehow figure out how good at baseball you'd have to be to get a starting or bench job in that alternate universe.
   49. Francoeur Sans Gages (AlouGoodbye) Posted: October 22, 2010 at 05:44 PM (#3672404)
I enjoy reading Gladwell, but this quote from TFA:
It’s gloss substituting for good social science.
seems a pretty accurate summary of his output.

I thought the article was very interesting on the baseball bits. The one thing I thought he should have stressed more is the number of teams, not merely their location or profitability. In 1960 there were 16 teams. By 1974, when free agency was granted, there were 24. That was a huge change in the underlying economics.
   50. ?Donde esta Dagoberto Campaneris? Posted: October 22, 2010 at 05:48 PM (#3672406)
I spoke with an actuary who suggested it was closer to $10,000

The cost of lifetime health insurance and a defined benefit pension (whatever that is) for only $10,000 a year? I think the different people here must be talking about different things. I suppose I could see a scenario where- if all the pension and insurance funds were fully funded- the cost would only be 10K per year in present dollars- but that still seems very low. Most importantly, that scenario isn't the existing one. Many government pension funds are substantially underfunded. The cost of those benefits is going to be enormous when they come due.
   51. The Good Face Posted: October 22, 2010 at 05:55 PM (#3672414)
I think you seriously underestimate the actual skill level required to perform any of those jobs on any sort of a professional level. It's not something you can learn out of a book, the way Ray's learned how to manage the Red Sox by reading his spreadsheets on run expectancy for bunts. The attrition rate alone should tell you this.


For people who confuse causation and correlation perhaps. There are any number of reasons why teachers might have a high attrition rate other than the job requiring skills that ordinary mortals can't hope to possess. Assuming of course that teachers really do have a high attrition rate compared to other jobs.
   52. villageidiom Posted: October 22, 2010 at 05:57 PM (#3672416)
As others have noted, this is a really odd column, coming from a guy with Gladwell's rep.
Gladwell's rep is built on taking a handful of anecdotes and generalizing them into sweeping societal patterns. From that perspective, this column isn't odd at all.

- - - - -
the real interesting question is why so many people really REALLY think that the most talented athletes, who people WANT to watch, shouldn't be paid much - or even more than minor league/indy league players
(a) Jealousy. (b) They think salary = contribution to society, and can't believe society values that contribution that much. (Society highly values passive entertainment.)(c) They're judging the salary based on top performance, and see plenty of imperfection to knock it down a peg or two. Halladay has thrown two no-hitters this year, yet I'm sure someone will call him overpaid for not running out a fair ball last night.

But mostly jealousy.
   53. DL from MN Posted: October 22, 2010 at 06:10 PM (#3672423)
> This is actually a fun math problem

I love wiki. According to wiki there are approximately 500,000 school teachers in the US. According to wiki USSSA page "it is estimated that 40 million Americans will play at least one game of softball during a year".

Back of the napkin - there are about 25 professional (major/minor/independent) baseball leagues with about 20 teams each and 25 players on each team. That's 12,500 pro ballplayers. "There are over 280 NCAA Division I teams" - wiki. Add another 7000 high performing ballplayers for a total of 20,000. I counted about 220 DII schools - add another 5000 players for a rough total of 25,000 players receiving some sort of compensation to play baseball. Say we double that number to account for players as good as a current Division II player who are just past graduation - we're up to 50,000 baseball players who can play at a decent level. We need to multiply that by 10 to reach the number of school teachers.

You're probably looking at everyone who letters in high school getting a shot at being a professional ballplayer.
   54. scotto Posted: October 22, 2010 at 06:25 PM (#3672430)
I enjoy reading Gladwell, but this quote from TFA:

It’s gloss substituting for good social science.


seems a pretty accurate summary of his output.


Gladwell's rep is built on taking a handful of anecdotes and generalizing them into sweeping societal patterns. From that perspective, this column isn't odd at all.


Thanks, I couldn't have said it better myself.
   55. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 06:33 PM (#3672436)
So the point that in the real world athletes are a much more select group than police or firemen is of zero use, while the point that in some imaginary world with only 3000 police officers it would be more difficult to become a police officer than a professional athlete is practically applicable? Even if it were true (and I doubt that it is) that's not the world we live in and so that insight is of very little use. Even if we lived in such a world, police might or might not make more than athletes. Markets have two sides both of which interact to set pay rates.

My point had nothing to do with salaries. I'm only reacting to sentiments like the one that was expressed in #14 above:

Here's the thing though. The professions usually cited, teachers, cops, firefighters, social workers, as contributing the most for the least pay, are professions that most competent adults could perform if they apply enough effort.


-----

If we needed several million of them, it'd be even easier to become a pro athlete than it would be to become a cop/firefighter/teacher/social worker. I think you seriously underestimate the actual skill level required to perform any of those jobs on any sort of a professional level.

This is actually a fun math problem that I hope someone less lazy than me will do.

Figure out a definition and then a count of "serious baseball fans" in the US. Then figure out how that compares to the number of public school teachers. Then somehow figure out how good at baseball you'd have to be to get a starting or bench job in that alternate universe.


I like this idea. And if only I could extrapolate from the dozen-odd people I met in my book shop who claimed that they "played minor league baseball," I think we could fill the quota with no sweat.

(Of course not one of them ever had, but after I checked their names in my old baseball guides I let it slide in the interest of their future business.)
   56. BDC Posted: October 22, 2010 at 06:35 PM (#3672438)
Is there another profession that has such large gap in pay between the top 600 and the next few thousand or so?

Just a couple of remarks (and for all I know, Ehrlich and Gladwell already made these points, though I did at least STFA in each case):

On the one hand, we absolutely know that the top 600 pro baseball players are better than the next few thousand. Whereas I think I can state with equal confidence that there are many, many thousands of actors who are better than, let's say, Keanu Reeves.

But OTOH there's a sort of paradox at work. If the 600 top baseball players disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle tomorrow, you could call up the next-best 600, and after the 2011 major-league season, you'd have 40-HR hitters and 200-strikeout pitchers and guys who hit .300 and steal 50 bases. Relative to other players you'd get a structure of stars, regulars, and scrubs like the one you have now, and very, very few people would really be able to tell much of a difference in the quality of play. The only reason we think of "AAAA" ballplayers as weak is that we see them in the context of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton; take away the peerless players and others will rise above their peers.

Whereas if Keanu Reeves disappeared, he would be in a strange sense irreplaceable. (No jokes about how he's already disappeared, please.) This happens all the time: Heath Ledger could have had a very distinctive career, commanding eight-figure salaries, just because he was his unique self. Irrational, but part of the industry.

So there's a difference between sports (where stars are created by the zero-sum structure of the game) and the arts (which are far more subjective and capricious, but don't guarantee the production of champions you can cheer for).
   57. base ball chick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 06:41 PM (#3672443)
vi

the same people who scream about high salaries for athletes somehow never complain about the high salaries for models/actors (remember the days when each person in the cast of friends was making a mill/episode???) prolly why almost all the programs are "reality" and why the "learning" channel has educational stuff like a bunch of bytches grousing over their wedding dress along with everything/everybody else (and the reason some guy WANTS to marry these horrible females is???) and why the "arts" channel is showing gross people who keep all their garbage in their house

anyway, so why there wouldn't be jealousy over the money models/actors/singers get? and their "contribution to society" is?????

gisele bundchen makes tons more money than her athlete husband and doesn't nobody say nothin bout that. the scrawny ugly olsen twins make zillions. britney spears is rich. and i would bet that in spite of all her legal problems that lindsey lohan has tons of $$$ too. no one complains about that.
   58. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 06:43 PM (#3672447)
I think you seriously underestimate the actual skill level required to perform any of those jobs on any sort of a professional level. It's not something you can learn out of a book, the way Ray's learned how to manage the Red Sox by reading his spreadsheets on run expectancy for bunts. The attrition rate alone should tell you this.

For people who confuse causation and correlation perhaps. There are any number of reasons why teachers might have a high attrition rate other than the job requiring skills that ordinary mortals can't hope to possess. Assuming of course that teachers really do have a high attrition rate compared to other jobs.


I'll wait for robin or E-X to give a fuller answer, but I'm not particularly interested in prolonging a debate with someone who thinks that "most competent adults" (Miserlou) or "ordinary mortals" (you) could either teach in public schools or patrol our city streets. But then I've met hundreds of people who think that running a successful book shop consists of "sitting behind a desk and reading books all day," so I'm well familiar with the generic state of mind that informs opinions like that.
   59. The Good Face Posted: October 22, 2010 at 07:03 PM (#3672469)
I'm not particularly interested in prolonging a debate


Smart move. It's good to admit when you're wrong and out of your depth.
   60. DL from MN Posted: October 22, 2010 at 07:03 PM (#3672470)
If by "teach" you mean "be one of the top 500,000 teachers in America" I'm pretty sure I could do that. If you mean "be the top teacher in my school district" I'm pretty sure I'll fall short. I think most people could answer affirmatively that they could perform a public service job better than the worst example of someone who currently has that job.
   61. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: October 22, 2010 at 07:03 PM (#3672471)
I don't think it's as easy to get a teaching job as many people here think it is. I also think it's a very difficult job to do well, but we don't really expect all of our teachers to do it well.

In the world we actually live in, it's pretty easy to become a cop/firefighter/teacher/social worker and lots of people are qualified to do those jobs based on the standards currently in existence. Not so much for professional athletes.

But these standards are borne of the low (relative to what talented people in other professions can make) pay that many teachers receive. Also, for what it's worth, most professional athletes are toiling in the minor leagues and not making much $.

It would be interesting if there was a system where the very best teachers were promoted into the most difficult classroom situations and got paid a lot of money.
   62. Jay Z Posted: October 22, 2010 at 07:06 PM (#3672477)
The stadium issue is certainly a part of excessive baseball payrolls. Most teams have nice fancy stadiums paid for at least in part by public money. In the absence of that, teams would either have to draw less revenue from their smaller stadiums, or front the cost themselves. That would still leave a ton of money for baseball salaries, instead of the average player making 4 million and superstars 20-30 you might have the average at 2 million with 10-15 million for the top end. In other words, the salary level that we had about 12-13 years ago.


I do not think the rise in salaries is separate from the rise in ticket prices. Businesses must be profitable to stay in business. It isn't required that they maximize their profits. Like employees, they may be content with a certain income stream and not work harder. Or they may not have the skill to earn any more than they do, regardless if some other businessman could earn more. As long as they can survive, they can stay in the game. One of the first observable facts of the free agency era was that while signing free agents might not bring you a pennant, losing many players via free agency will drive you from the game, as it did the owners of the Twins, A's, Reds, White Sox, and other teams during the late 70s and early 80s. The businesses were forced to change their model to continue to compete.

It's like a restaurant that features steak. The price of beef goes up. You can raise the price of the steak, but customers may resist the price increase for whatever reason. So you don't raise the price of the steak, but you push the salad bar or drinks or some product where the customers are less resistant to the profit margin. You reconfigure what you sell to stay in business. But if the price of beef doesn't go up, you may be content and never try those things.
   63. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 07:25 PM (#3672493)
I'm not particularly interested in prolonging a debate with someone who thinks that "most competent adults" (Miserlou) or "ordinary mortals" (you) could either teach in public schools or patrol our city streets.

Smart move. It's good to admit when you're wrong and out of your depth.


Yes, if only I'd had you as a teacher and Ray to manage the Yankees....but a feller can dream, can't he?

-------------

I think most people could answer affirmatively that they could perform a public service job better than the worst example of someone who currently has that job.

And I know several freelance stock pickers who've easily outperformed Smith Barney's Bestest and Brightest over the past few years. I'm not sure what either of those two unassailable statements is supposed to prove.
   64. base ball chick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 07:26 PM (#3672494)
dave

ida know about best teachers in difficult situations thingy

different people handle different situations differently. so a teacher in a rich kids skool might not do real too good in a special ed class. or even agree to take a job like that. and special ed teachers in bad skoolz might could not want to teach rich kids with obnoxious parents who each think their kid is a GEEENYUSSSSS and exzpect the teacher to kiss his/her spoilt lil ass (it has been an eddication for me to meet some of the parents in my son's class)
   65. base ball chick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 07:33 PM (#3672501)
andy

theres too many people think they should tell other people what to do/how to live or say that if THEY were living someone else's life, why they'd do it right

sort of reminds me of all the anti-abortionists - even on this here board - who are busy complaining about abortions but are not busy adopting/fostering the unwanted/unloved/abused - especially after they ain't cute lil babies no mo

would be VERY interesting to see how all the guys who insist that anyone can be a teacher would do as teachers - especially if they had to work with an age group/ethnic group/race group they are not comfortable with/have no experience with
   66. The Good Face Posted: October 22, 2010 at 07:40 PM (#3672507)
I think most people could answer affirmatively that they could perform a public service job better than the worst example of someone who currently has that job.

And I know several freelance stock pickers who've easily outperformed Smith Barney's Bestest and Brightest over the past few years. I'm not sure what either of those two unassailable statements is supposed to prove.


Do you think an average non-cop/teacher could do a better job than the very worst cops/teachers currently out there?
   67. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 07:48 PM (#3672513)
andy

theres too many people think they should tell other people what to do/how to live or say that if THEY were living someone else's life, why they'd do it right

sort of reminds me of all the anti-abortionists - even on this here board - who are busy complaining about abortions but are not busy adopting/fostering the unwanted/unloved/abused - especially after they ain't cute lil babies no mo

would be VERY interesting to see how all the guys who insist that anyone can be a teacher would do as teachers - especially if they had to work with an age group/ethnic group/race group they are not comfortable with/have no experience with


True, truer, and truest. Most of these shtunks wouldn't last a day. They'd be going home crying to momma by the time of the first lunch hour and then trying to peddle their boo-hoo story to O'Reilly or Beck.
   68. base ball chick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 07:55 PM (#3672519)
good face

i think there are all KINDS of people who couldn't be a cop (such as me.) after getting to drive real fast with the siren on a couple of times, i'd be finished... not that there are real too many female cops anyhow - at least not in houston/harris county. and the ones who are here don't look nothin like they do on TV and they sure as heck ain't outfighting some drunk grown man. and not sure exactly what you mean by "the very worst cop" because that means different things to different people

and there are all KINDS of people who couldn't be teachers. it's a tougher job than a lot of youse guys think. getting 40 something kidz to pass TASS is not easy. and we are just talking being better than the very worst ones.
   69. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 07:55 PM (#3672520)
Do you think an average non-cop/teacher could do a better job than the very worst cops/teachers currently out there?

Once you've screened out the handful of deviates or criminals who've slipped through the cracks---Of course not. Do you?
   70. Greg K Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:01 PM (#3672525)
But then I've met hundreds of people who think that running a successful book shop consists of "sitting behind a desk and reading books all day," so I'm well familiar with the generic state of mind that informs opinions like that.


Correct, it also takes an unyielding hatred of customers.
   71. Rally Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:13 PM (#3672543)
Once you've screened out the handful of deviates or criminals who've slipped through the cracks---Of course not. Do you?


I'm baffled by your certainty of that. Could the average person step right into a classroom and do a better job than the average teacher? To that I'd answer of course not. But could the average person do better than the very worst teacher (after removing deviants/criminals)? My answer would be of course YES.

The very worst teacher, non-criminal variety, is probably someone who just doesn't care. And is punching the timeclock waiting to get to retirement from a job they no longer want, but have powerful incentives to hang on to a bit longer, and while the principal probably can't wait to be rif of them, they know that it would be too costly to try and get rid of that person. I hope that such examples are rare, but to deny they exist at all is blindness. You'll never find someone like that in baseball where everyone is judged by their recent performance, but you'll find it in any profession with strong protection of worker rights.
   72. Ned Garvin: Male Prostitute Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:16 PM (#3672546)
The people that say that teachers are overpaid have got to be the most ignorant people that exist. Clearly they have never actually taught. But I would imagine they don't know any teachers either, and definitely have not talked to them about their job. There is a reason that so many teachers quit the profession every year, despite the fact that it has such a positive effect on society. The level of pay is nowhere near enough to be worth the long hours and BS you have to put up with. People want to increase the quality of education by improving the quality of teachers that are in the classrooms. That's a good idea. Not giving them cost-of-living pay increases, increasing the demands on their time, demanding continuing education at their own expense for their entire careers, these are good ways to make sure qualified teachers choose another profession, where you can make more money doing something more pleasant and have much more free time.

Could anyone be a teacher? Well, no, but certainly plenty of people could do it adequately. But many fewer are willing to put up with the working conditions when there are clearly better alternatives available.

So maybe I will ask another question - why do people complain about teachers/firefighters/etc getting quality health care benefits (which isn't always the case) and getting decent pensions (which are being taken away rapidly)? Do teachers not deserve the money? Should we cut their pay and send more money to baseball players? I just don't see the complaint. Firefighters aren't getting rich, and their job sucks, and this is where we should make cuts?

Sorry for the rant - I just can't comprehend people being unhappy about someone else that works hard getting paid fairly. Shouldn't we complain about folks that don't contribute but get paid handsomely? Shouldn't baseball players get paid a lot, since they do the stuff we actually enjoy, as opposed to the owners, who do nothing for us expect sit there and be rich? If I go to a baseball game, I want my money going to the players (and the custodial staff, etc) and not a guy who happens to be wealthy enough to own the team.
   73. base ball chick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:27 PM (#3672555)
ned

i guess the california firefighters/police are an exception

ray and gang don't get that most teachers are expected to spend THEIR OWN MONEY on class stuff. unless the kids are all from wealthy families. and ray and gang should read what eraser-X had to say about all the politics involving skoolz.

of course, ray and gang are in favor of getting rid of public skools, but are not willing to explain how this is going to work for kids who don't have wealthy/educated parents. even with little stuff like - how do the kids even GET to the skoolz? what about aftercare? is skool going to be something that is optional? what about checking up on kidz who miss skool? i could go on, but why bother?

i have absolutely no idea why fans have no problem about owners making zillions while players make minor league money. i guess because they really REALLY think that the billionaire owner, who didn't get to be a billionaire by being over generous with other peoples money, let alone his own, would make it cheap to go to games and would forfeit the profit for some reason i don't get.

i was just talking bout this with my mama and she said that people not wanting athletes to be paid/do it for the money are like people who grouse about prostitutes/gold diggers - they should WANT to give it away to whoever. or something...
   74. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:27 PM (#3672557)
But then I've met hundreds of people who think that running a successful book shop consists of "sitting behind a desk and reading books all day," so I'm well familiar with the generic state of mind that informs opinions like that.

Correct, it also takes an unyielding hatred of customers.


Several book dealers I know rave about that show and love to pass around DVD's of it. Having traveled extensively doing book scouting in the UK from Brighton to Edinburgh, I've certainly met my share of dealers like that, even if the Driffield's Guide prepared me for the worst. But OTOH I hope you realize that the show has about as much relationship to everyday reality in book shops as Fawlty Towers has to do with the average hotel.

And BTW how many customers in grocery stores come up to the desk trying to chisel down the price of a porterhouse?
   75. rr Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:36 PM (#3672566)
I have covered this several times before, but what the hell.

Teaching is, mostly, a soft-skills job with the exception, perhaps, of highly-specialized situations in which you have people imparting knowledge that only a few possess. Doing it well does require more hard knowledge than most people outside the field are aware of, but that is true of any job. My basic view of jobs is that my job is harder than you think it is and your job is harder than I think it is.

But, yeah, anybody can get up there with a book and a powerpoint and explain how to do something and or what they think someone else should know about something, and anybody can sit down with a kid and try to help him read or add. The fact that many people who lean right politically and hate unions use this reality (and other related ones) to hammer on teachers as people, the public schools as institutions, and teaching as a profession is old, old news. It happens about once a month at BTF. One example from the media was when John Stossel talked about teaching in New York for a week. He would never have done that if he had been doing an expose on, say, incompetent neurosurgeons.

Teaching really well, though, requires a wide array of interrelated soft skills that you have to use in contexts that are more complex than they might initially appear to be, due to social, neural, and other considerations, in addition to the paperwork/scut work. Teachers generally don't have personal assistants, to say the least. No one--no one--is good at all of it, at every part of the job, and like Lisa said, different people are better in different situations. I am pretty good with adult developmental ed, ESL, Special Ed, and was pretty good in high school. I would suck at teaching kindergarten.

As far as the attrition rate, it is pretty high, but I don't have numbers. I have worked in both non-union and in highly unionized situations, and, as anyone looking at the issue dispassionately will attest, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. I have also done a lot of admin work, so I see that angle as well. One thing that happens is that new teachers are put into tough situations, whereas teachers with seniority and great reps land/reach in easier ones. There are exceptions to this, such as Eraser-X. This issue is in part created by the structure of the unions. As I have said maybe 20 times here, there are many structural problems with both American education itself and the debate surrounding it, and that is one of them.
   76. BDC Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:36 PM (#3672568)
I train teachers, and in the process have trained numerous career-changing people – lawyers, journalists, nurses, cops, accountants, medical techs, carpenters, housewives, flight attendants, Cowboys cheerleaders, you name it – who have become fine teachers. So I know the answer to "could average people do it" is "yes." But as several people have pointed out in this thread, for lots of people it's a half-career: they either drop out of teaching to retrain or drop out of something else to train to teach. It's harder to ask "could an average person do this for 40 years"; few do.

The point, it seems to me, is more that we demand that teachers be upper-middle-class people (with appropriate diction, manners, and professional work ethic) and yet pay them working-class salaries. That's a very peculiar mixed message, and it stresses lots of people out. I know many people who teach at community colleges and universities who make low $20K annually; it's pretty stressful work (not to mention that everyone assumes they live like lawyers or accountants).
   77. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:45 PM (#3672575)
Do you think an average non-cop/teacher could do a better job than the very worst cops/teachers currently out there?


Once you've screened out the handful of deviates or criminals who've slipped through the cracks---Of course not. Do you?

I'm baffled by your certainty of that. Could the average person step right into a classroom and do a better job than the average teacher? To that I'd answer of course not. But could the average person do better than the very worst teacher (after removing deviants/criminals)? My answer would be of course YES.

The very worst teacher, non-criminal variety, is probably someone who just doesn't care. And is punching the timeclock waiting to get to retirement from a job they no longer want, but have powerful incentives to hang on to a bit longer, and while the principal probably can't wait to be rif of them, they know that it would be too costly to try and get rid of that person. I hope that such examples are rare, but to deny they exist at all is blindness. You'll never find someone like that in baseball where everyone is judged by their recent performance, but you'll find it in any profession with strong protection of worker rights.


AROM, I'm not saying that you're exaggerating the incompentance of the worst school teachers. But you're wildly overrating the competence of the average person** to do any better. Whatever conviction or energy that they might begin their job with, would be quickly drained out of them by the reality of the task. At that point they'd be just like the worst teachers we have now, only with even less educational background to get them through the day.

**Before determining the competence level of the "average" person, are you going to eliminate the ones who don't believe in evolution, those who think Bush or the Jews plotted 9/11, those who think that Obama wasn't really born in Hawaii, those who get their "information" from talk radio or chain e-mails, and so on? Include those characters in the "talent" pool and see just how far away from them that the "average" person lies.
   78. base ball chick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:49 PM (#3672577)
bob

i think that teachers get low pay because it was for a long time see as what wimmen do if for some reason they too ugly/bytchy to get married or insist on having a "profession" (besides nursing) and women have always been disrespected in the workforce. and in general, too, but we won't go there.

and very often paid less than males for doing the same job/same work


robin,

best i can tell the people from the "right" - when they talk about skools/education - sure sound to me like the mice putting a bell on the cat. they don't have any solutions, just complaints.

i actually think that they really seriously think that all the poor shouldn't go to skool - like what for, they're trash cuz they wouldn't be poor iffn they weren't. not sure what it is they think would happen to all those millions of uneducated kidz sitting around with nothing to do and plenty of weapons to get...
   79. Greg K Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:50 PM (#3672579)
But OTOH I hope you realize that the show has about as much relationship to everyday reality in book shops as Fawlty Towers has to do with the average hotel.

Oh yes, I was hoping it would go without saying that I don't actually think it is representative of how the typical bookstore is run.

Though I have a slightly skewed perspective on such matters. I should preface this by saying I've never actually worked in retail, but I'm much more comfortable in stores where the staff ignores me, or acts like they have better things to do, than one where I'm constantly being asked if I need any help. I probably wouldn't enjoy the kind of abuse Dylan Moran throws out but generally speaking us customers as a species have got it to too easy for too long!
   80. bjhanke Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:51 PM (#3672580)
Donde Esta, comment 51, asks, and it is a reasonable question - "The cost of lifetime health insurance and a defined benefit pension (whatever that is) for only $10,000 a year? I think the different people here must be talking about different things. I suppose I could see a scenario where- if all the pension and insurance funds were fully funded- the cost would only be 10K per year in present dollars- but that still seems very low. Most importantly, that scenario isn't the existing one. Many government pension funds are substantially underfunded. The cost of those benefits is going to be enormous when they come due."

The answer is yes, the pension health costs run about $10K per year. But the defined pension benefit (which means that the contract setting up the pension says that you get a defined amount every year) costs about another $10K, which I think the original commenter had missed - that you were asking about both. My dad had one of these for 20 years before he died. He got more than $10K, but he also had 30 years of service in there. The average is about ten years. Those guys get much less than my dad, although all of them, including my dad, get the extra $10K in health care. But the key to the whole thing is that, being the biggest insurance client there is, the government gets tremendous group insurance rates. Also, most civil service jobs are not hazardous to health, although certainly there are some that are. One of the reasons that what is called "Obamacare" projects to not increase the deficit is that whatever public option ends up in there, it will have the same advantage: a huge pool of people, and therefore the very best group rates for health care. Size pays.

Here in Missouri, by the way, a public teacher - any teacher except religious, private and charter schools - just to maintain their teaching certificate, has to take a few college classes every couple of years, just to keep up to date. It's state law. You don't pass the classes, you lose your license to teach. That's in addition to the job itself, plus the mandatory after-school participation. You have to pay the college tuition for these classes, by the way. With grading homework, my mom put in about 60 hours a week when school was in session, and another 15 or so during the summer. And that's not counting the fight she had to keep employed when her department head went evangelical Lutheran, and tried to get mom fired for not teaching Lutheran doctrine in a Bible as Literature class. That was extra hours of fun. It ain't easy, and it's no more a 6-hour work day than a baseball player's work day is the 3+ hours of the game itself. And then, there are the irate parents of students to whom you won't give the grade their parents expect you to.

I taught as a teaching assistant in grad school, and also substituted a bit in the 1970s. Neither is full-time teaching, but both are bad enough that I decided I did NOT want to be a teacher full time. Too much stress. Too much hassle. - Brock Hanke
   81. The Good Face Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:54 PM (#3672584)
Once you've screened out the handful of deviates or criminals who've slipped through the cracks---Of course not. Do you?


Of course. To clarify, I'm not suggesting pulling somebody from their current job and throwing them in a police cruiser or in front of a classroom. But I'm absolutely confident that most people who complete the necessary training to meet the qualifications to do those jobs would do them better than the worst 5% currently doing them. Becoming a teacher or cop does not require any sort of superhuman physical or mental capacity. Doing better than the dregs of any given profession is an awfully low bar.
   82. rr Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:55 PM (#3672585)
Bob,

I have done a lot of teacher training as well.

I want to hear more about "training Cowboys cheerleaders" after Lisa leaves.

Also, on another topic: with the 'Boys at 1-4, and the Rangers on the verge, if the Rangers beat NYY, will that affect the Metroplex pecking order at all? Or will the internet sports pages say

COWBOYS BRING IN NEW LONG SNAPPER



Rangers win AL Pennant (click here)
   83. just plain joe Posted: October 22, 2010 at 08:58 PM (#3672591)
My wife taught in a private high school for 30 years before finally burning out and leaving the profession. There were several reasons why she walked away from teaching but the main ones were the increasing sense of entitlement on the part of students & parents ("I'm paying several thousand dollars a year to send little Jason to school here and I expect him to get all A's") and the decreasing amount of support from the school's administration. You can say what you want about teaching being an easy, well paid job but from my observations, the only people who remain in the field for very long are those who truly care. There might be a few time-servers around (not so much in private schools because they are typically not unionized), but the majority are there because they want to be.
   84. rr Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:04 PM (#3672600)
robin,

best i can tell the people from the "right" - when they talk about skools/education - sure sound to me like the mice putting a bell on the cat. they don't have any solutions, just complaints


Well, they pretty much want to get rid of the unions and privatize it as much as possible, in many cases, and there are other variants--choice, vouchers, charters etc. the idea being that more of "free market" set-up would improve things. The latest entry into the debate, Waiting for Superman, is a documentary put together by the guy who made An Inconvenient Truth, and he is, as one might expect, not a rightwinger, but as I understand it he is all about charters. Have not seen it and probably won't.

i actually think that they really seriously think that all the poor shouldn't go to skool - like what for, they're trash cuz they wouldn't be poor iffn they weren't. not sure what it is they think would happen to all those millions of uneducated kidz sitting around with nothing to do and plenty of weapons to get...


I think most right-wing analyses of education vastly underestimate the complexity of the issues, so I agree with your macroimplication here, we might say.

BTW: Chris Johnson? You're not a Texans' fan?
   85. Greg K Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:14 PM (#3672605)
I'm absolutely confident that most people who complete the necessary training to meet the qualifications to do those jobs would do them better than the worst 5% currently doing them. Becoming a teacher or cop does not require any sort of superhuman physical or mental capacity. Doing better than the dregs of any given profession is an awfully low bar.

I might be missing the point of this whole thread, but isn't this true of almost every job? Motorcycle Mechanics, Life Insurance Salesmen, CEOs of multi-national dairy concerns.
Put the average person through the training and education one has to go through to do any job and they'll probably do it well enough to match the worst 5% in the nation at that job. (Barring certain physical limitations for some jobs I guess)

Had I gone to teacher's college rather than Grad School maybe I'd have the skills to be a high school teacher...but I didn't, so I don't. (Though if I had I'd probably just barely scraping by that bottom 5%. My mix of high-strung nerves, shyness and hatred of being disliked would probably not work for me so well in the classroom) Just like maybe I could have been a motorcycle mechanic if I had apprenticed in a garage for a couple years when I was a teenager. But I didn't, so I'm not.

I guess I just fail to see what this discussion is even about.

(full disclosure: my dad was an elementary school teacher for 35 years or so, and I like to think a pretty good one. He wrote a monthly newsletter for the school and for the last ten years or so took over many of the administrative duties of a vice-principal without getting the title, as well as coaching many teams and helping organize events. So I'm well aware that doing the job WELL requires a lot more work than the average person would be willing to put into it. Which I'm sure is true of most other jobs too)
   86. PreBeaneAsFan Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:15 PM (#3672607)
You people do realize that only around 1/4 of people graduate college, pretty much the minimum requirement for any teaching job and most law enforcement positions (these often will accept people with 4 years or more of military service in lieu of the degree, but that still doesn't get us anywhere close to half of people.) If way less than half of people meet the minimum qualification for the job, I'm pretty sure that the average person probably couldn't do better than those who actually have those jobs.
   87. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:20 PM (#3672611)
But OTOH I hope you realize that the show has about as much relationship to everyday reality in book shops as Fawlty Towers has to do with the average hotel.

Oh yes, I was hoping it would go without saying that I don't actually think it is representative of how the typical bookstore is run.

Though I have a slightly skewed perspective on such matters. I should preface this by saying I've never actually worked in retail, but I'm much more comfortable in stores where the staff ignores me, or acts like they have better things to do, than one where I'm constantly being asked if I need any help.


That Driffield's Guide to All the Used Book Shops in England and the UK which I mentioned used to tag such owners with the acronym "f.a.r.t.s", which meant "follows you around recommending the stock." Believe me, those Driff Guides were worth every shilling.

I probably wouldn't enjoy the kind of abuse Dylan Moran throws out but generally speaking us customers as a species have got it to too easy for too long!

I actually loved most of my customers (why wouldn't I, since I made my living off them?), but there were three types of perennials who could irritate me if I hadn't had enough sleep.

The first type would see the price, and ask "Does this mean pennies or dollars?"

The second type would bring up a first edition of a Faulkner first edition from 1931, and say, "How can you charge five hundred dollars for this [1925 first edition in a pristine dust jacket] book that I just saw for $9.95 [in paperback] at Barnes & Noble?"

But the worst type would walk in the door and proclaim, "Oh, is this a book store? I just love used books!" Never had one person like that spend a ####### penny, and neither has any other dealer in the entire world.
   88. The Good Face Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:23 PM (#3672615)
I might be missing the point of this whole thread, but isn't this true of almost every job? Motorcycle Mechanics, Life Insurance Salesmen, CEOs of multi-national dairy concerns.
Put the average person through the training and education one has to go through to do any job and they'll probably do it well enough to match the worst 5% in the nation at that job. (Barring certain physical limitations for some jobs I guess)


I think that's largely correct. That's why I find Andy's claims about the mystic specialness of teachers/cops to be so silly. Most jobs are just not THAT hard.
   89. Paul D(uda) Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:24 PM (#3672616)
The cost of lifetime health insurance and a defined benefit pension (whatever that is) for only $10,000 a year?

Ah, I'm speaking from a Canadian context which would change the math a bit, re: health insurance.

Teh statementwas that you need to make 10k a year more in the private sector to be equivalently compensated (and then save that extra 10k)
   90. Greg K Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:29 PM (#3672618)
I think that's largely correct. That's why I find Andy's claims about the mystic specialness of teachers/cops to be so silly. Most jobs are just not THAT hard.

I'm starting to grasp what's going on then.
As I said I wouldn't dispute that given the training and education required to be a teacher I'm sure most people COULD do it. I'm not sure most people once they did would want to continue doing so for long.
   91. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:31 PM (#3672620)
My wife taught in a private high school for 30 years before finally burning out and leaving the profession. There were several reasons why she walked away from teaching but the main ones were the increasing sense of entitlement on the part of students & parents ("I'm paying several thousand dollars a year to send little Jason to school here and I expect him to get all A's") and the decreasing amount of support from the school's administration.

When my wife was taking her PhD classes at Brown in the mid-90's and teaching undergrad anthropology classes, she ran across many students and parents like this, who had exactly the attitude that you describe. These Ivy League undergrads could barely compose a coherent sentence, let alone write a presentable paper, and yet when she graded them accordingly, both the students and their whining parents would be jumping all over Providence in protest. It was a LOT more pleasant for her to be dealing with female circumcisionists in Burkina Faso than it was dealing with those spoiled brats from Long Island or Greenwich.
   92. base ball chick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:38 PM (#3672622)
r0bin

you can hear all about "teaching" - ahem - cheerleaders as soon as i get to hear all about - um, "rehabilitating" grady sizemore's - um - pulled (ahem) muscle

why would i be a texans fan? i don't like football. and i really don't want them to be any good and take away desperately needed attention from what's left of the astros. (no they can't be terrible neither or else there will be too much attention on that - so they need to be astros-ish to make me happy)

i don't get how any sort of "free market" setup would help public education. who is gonna pay for the extra $$$ it is gonna take to get people to teach is bad/dangerous skoolz? what will they do about the LD/special ed kidz? - i could go on but what for...
   93. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:39 PM (#3672623)
I think that's largely correct. That's why I find Andy's claims about the mystic specialness of teachers/cops to be so silly. Most jobs are just not THAT hard.

Until you actually try to perform them for more than a week, and have to deal with the fatherless children from broken homes, or the winos who get in your face with the ACLU looking over your shoulder. Your calm assurance of the capability of the "average" person** to deal with these sorts of realities impresses me not one bit. To be honest, I'd almost rather trust Ray to manage the Yankees.

**Who again, is being taken from a pool that includes the sort of characters I listed in my footnote in #78 above. You've got far more faith in those folks than I do.
   94. Home Run Teal & Black Black Black Gone! Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:44 PM (#3672627)
I came here to move, move, move.
   95. The Good Face Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:46 PM (#3672632)
**Who again, is being taken from a pool that includes the sort of characters I listed in my footnote in #78 above. You've got far more faith in those folks than I do.


I know several teachers who are 9/11 Truthers. I know at least one cop who believes Obama is a Kenyan Muslim. Does that blow your mind?
   96. rr Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:48 PM (#3672635)
Lisa,

I blew it--I was thinking Chris Johnson, Titans' RB. You probably mean Chris Johnson, Astros' 3B. In my defense, the football CJ is the famous one.
   97. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 22, 2010 at 09:56 PM (#3672638)
**Who again, is being taken from a pool that includes the sort of characters I listed in my footnote in #78 above. You've got far more faith in those folks than I do.

I know several teachers who are 9/11 Truthers. I know at least one cop who believes Obama is a Kenyan Muslim. Does that blow your mind?


It would if I hadn't run into a few of them myself. Of course what both of us (not just you) have to consider is the subjects that those teachers are teaching, and the neighborhood that that cop is patrolling. An anti-evolutionist or a Truther might well be able to teach math (though probably not science or history), and a Birther might not do much damage patrolling the streets of Bismarck or Wasilla, but I'm not sure I'd want him on a beat in New York or Chicago.
   98. Dave Spiwak Posted: October 22, 2010 at 10:01 PM (#3672640)
When my wife was taking her PhD classes at Brown in the mid-90's and teaching undergrad anthropology classes, she ran across many students and parents like this, who had exactly the attitude that you describe. These Ivy League undergrads could barely compose a coherent sentence, let alone write a presentable paper, and yet when she graded them accordingly, both the students and their whining parents would be jumping all over Providence in protest. It was a LOT more pleasant for her to be dealing with female circumcisionists in Burkina Faso than it was dealing with those spoiled brats from Long Island or Greenwich.


This sounds similar to my experience TA'ing at a large public university in the Midwest a few years ago. Of course even public universities cost a lot more now than they used to, so that contributes to the sense of entitlement.
   99. DL from MN Posted: October 22, 2010 at 10:11 PM (#3672643)
i think that teachers get low pay because it was for a long time see as what wimmen do


Great point. Anti-feminist folks are often anti-union and combining the two leads a lot of them to go after teachers.

I never suggested the "average" person could do those jobs. I suggested that I could. Big difference. From what I'm told by my son's 4th grade teacher the average parent can't calculate area and perimeter.
   100. Steve Treder Posted: October 22, 2010 at 10:17 PM (#3672645)
I know several teachers who are 9/11 Truthers. I know at least one cop who believes Obama is a Kenyan Muslim. Does that blow your mind?

No, it doesn't blow my mind that you hang around with pathetically gullible people. ;-)
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