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Archive for May, 2022

0 Thinking in the Open

Golda to Writing  

You write notes down first, then write them up.  So, this is writing down, threading out thoughts to sift through later.

Joy in work comes from meaning, and teammates – and most when colleagues share the meaning and core values, enough of the deep context, and share a level of professionalism and skill to make work fly. It is common enough to find shared professionalism or skill, harder to find the shared meaning, and a treasure when all come together. If in addition it pays something, well, it’s a plus but it makes little difference to the moment, as long as bills are handled somewhere.

Transactional markets are never going to capture this. Nor do they try to – but why do economists find it legitimate to handwave away the real reasons many of us do work?

Money, according to Economics 101, is useful as “a medium of exchange, a unit of account, a store of value, and a standard of deferred payment.” And so it is. Economics, however, if measuring real change in the world – something equivalent to the concept of work or energy in physics – should not limit itself to those patterns measurable by scalar and liquid values. I have written more about this from a values perspective in Can’t Buy Me Love. But even as a brick-and-mortor economist, wanting to explain why the buildings are built and how the code gets written, non-scalar functions are essential.

Not all patterns map to each other. A map on a flat surface cannot map to a map on a donut, no matter how you stretch it – the paths will not be the same. No matter how you change the constants in a polynomial it will not behave as a sine wave. Some things have different shapes, different dynamics.

No matter how much you pay me, you cannot create the joy I feel from creating meaningful things together, and I am not happy if I compromise a principle for money. If I define myself as a set of values, say a value equation that includes a high value for keeping my word, for caring for my children and friends, for expressing my own truth and doing work that matters to me – none of that is transactional. And therefore most of my efforts, that hopefully build things and create value, are not correctly modelled.

I do in fact work for pay, and am paid well; market forces are not irrelevent. But most of the time I am able to choose my work rather than it choosing me, without a sacrifice or transaction for the value. And fortunately my minutes are not regulated by an Amazon style timeclock ensuring that every drop is squeezed out. I hope I do my work well, as professionalism is one of my own values. But the choice of how my hours are spent, especially the working hours outside of working hours, I assert is not predictable by a model where everything has a price.

If your model is not predicting reality, it is flawed. And if your model is actually influencing rules and policy that allow for exploits that cause great harm, it is even more flawed – but that is another essay.