Unpriced Job Amenities

I really like knowing the formal words for things.  I think it's because I get in a lot of arguments where I'm trying to defend the legitimacy of something outside the usual range of presumed value, and when I can give a phrase that connects to a body of research, it's harder for the person I'm arguing with to shut me down as arguing about irrelevant or nonsensical positions. For example, I frequently argue with my father about whether I should pursue the highest possible paying job, as a stepping stone to even better paying jobs, or whether I should pursue a job I like, as a stepping stone to jobs I'll like even more.

It turns out, there's a name for the thing I'm pursuing.  It's called Unpriced Job Amenities, and American economic theory is generally really bad about acknowledging them.  This excerpt is from an article on Slate, The Neglected Economics of Trying To Find a Job You Enjoy Doing:

We have a stylized fact whereby as a society gets richer, its citizens should be expected to consume more leisure at the margin. And indeed we see that over time hours worked has tended to fall in rich countries.

In that case what you see is that wages (how much do you earn per hour) rise faster than incomes (how much do you earn per year) because higher wages in part induce less work. But that's driven by a very simplistic picture of the economy, where you're either working on the assembly line (earning wages) or at home watching TV (enjoying leisure). Another thing people can do is deliberately earn lower wages in order to obtain better job amenities. [...]

That's really the same kind of leisure/income tradeoff as you see if workers cut back their hours, but it'll show up differently in national statistics. Instead of wages and productivity rising while income stays flat and hours fall, you'll see hours stay flat while wages and productivity fall.

(emphasis mine)

I'm thrilled I've discovered this phrase, and will absolutely be reading the linked research paper, Match Quality with Unpriced Amenities.

"The People's Bailout"

I've seen this mentioned a few times, but I've only just gotten around to checking out what it is, via Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing.  It turns out, you can buy up outstanding debts -- this is what debt collectors do (I guess the idea is the original company figures they aren't getting paid, so they cut their losses selling the debt at a massive discount).  Those debt collectors, in David Rees's words, "hound debtors to their grave trying to collect." The People's Bailout is a variety show that's taking place this November in New York, raising money from the Rolling Jubilee, buys debt just like debt collectors, for pennies on the dollar.  That's it.  The debt collectors have a second step, extracting the money from suffering people.  The Rolling Jubilee just buys it up and abolishes it.  The debt goes away, forever.

They explain in a youtube video:

It's my understanding that the economic system we work in requires ever-expanding debt -- money is made, loaned to the government at interest, the government loans it to the people at interest, and the people loan it to each other at interest, and to cover all that accruing interest, we have to print more money...

It seems to me like there has to be some point where we just accept that not all the debts are getting paid -- and this seems like an awesome way to do it.  We can dial back the impact of debt on people's lives, and if we can bring down the costs that get those people into debt in the first place (cheaper education, available food, housing and healthcare, etc.) we can keep the civilization we seem all to want, without creating a self-destructing underclass (and, by extension, a self-destructing civilization.)

These people are on my list for potential future charity debt listings.  I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Gamifying yesterday's problem

I wrote yesterday about how I have a massive problem with handling money.  And I've written before about how much I love Jane McGonigal's work in gamification to help make life easier, and more fun. McGonigal made a game, years ago, to help her heal from a serious injury.  It's called SuperBetter, and I'm setting up an account now.

I'm sort of misapplying the basic premise here, using it to treat bad habits rather than a specific illness or health goal, but I don't think it's out of the spirit of SuperBetter's function to use it to improve your ability to handle things in your life that stress you out.  I'm saying this because there's a page in the signup process where you have to select what you're using the site for:  Illness or injury; or, Health goal.

I picked illness or injury, and left it on Anxiety for a while.  But part way through the process of finishing the initial goals, I changed it to "Horrible money habits."

And since my goal isn't one of the clearly stated options, I'm going to choose to design my own adventure, rather than starting with a pre-made power pack.  Here, by the way, is a great bit of validation for my decision to use SuperBetter to deal with my money problems:

What are other people using SuperBetter for?
  • Finding a job
  • Getting pregnant
  • Writing a novel
  • Learning to dance
  • Detoxifying
  • Getting over a breakup
  • Overcoming a fear
  • Making more time for family

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Okay, I've finished setting up my profile and completing all the starting quests.   Now, I feel really, incredibly awful.  Like, (if you're familiar with the experience,) the way you feel when you're in therapy and you finally talk about something that's a really huge deal but you've been avoiding thinking about it for years.

Which, I guess, is pretty much what I'm doing here.  I've been semi-subconsciously deflecting my awareness of my money issues for years, and now it's really painful to address because it's big and scary and every little thing feels like a huge imposition and a massive personal flaw.  I just want to hide under a rock right now.

So, I think that's what I'm going to do.  I'm going to take a nap, and hopefully I'll feel a little better later.

Contextualizing money

I'm bad with money.  And I don't want to think too hard about that, because it makes me feel sad and overwhelmed.  So I'm going to talk about food instead for a little bit, then circle back.

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This is a Ze Frank video, about cholesterol.  It's called Cholesterol.  In it, Ze talks about the impulse that persuades him to make bad food decisions, and has put him in a state of health that reduces his projected lifespan substantially.  He describes a voice inside his head, that decides what's going to happen ("He'll tell you not to have the sandwich.  And we've already established, that's happening." [emphasis mine]) even though it directly contradicts the advice on healthy eating he literally just got, in the building he was walking out of at that moment.

I used to have a problem with healthy eating.  I mean, I still do.  I ate an entire Ben & Jerry's ice cream today.  But I've got my problem in control to a level where I'm pretty healthy -- two years ago, my weight fluctuated between 240 and 260 pounds.  I'm 5'9", so that's not healthy.  And if you're thinking, "The BMI is total crap, it's possible to be healthy at that weight!" -- you're right.  But I'm not a weight lifter.  None of that extra weight was muscle.  I wasn't healthy.

But my mental block about dieting was so massive that I could barely even begin to do anything about my health.  The only times I ever lost any was when I got dumped, and I'd drop twenty or thirty pounds because I wasn't eating because I was sad.  Or, when I was working every day around the holiday season, and barely eating enough to keep myself from passing out at work, where I was standing up for eight hour shifts every day.

And I didn't decide to eat healthy.  That never happened.  What I decided was to switch my lifestyle around food.  I took up Weekday Vegetarianism. ([TED talk] [Vlogbrothers video])  That worked, for several reasons:

(1.) Meat is bad for you, and eating substantially less of it significantly improved the quality of my diet.

(2.) There are several reasons for doing Weeekday Veg, so it was easy for me to avoid annoying self-justification arguments about whether I should make that decision, both with myself, and with people whom I didn't want involved in my dietary choices.

(3.) It created a concrete, easy to follow commitment that allowed me to limit my consumption without thinking too hard about why I was doing it.

(4.) I was doing it for myself, on my own terms, so I didn't feel like I was doing it just because people expected it of me.

My weight dropped at a healthy, steady rate of about 2 pounds a week, until I leveled out at 195, which is where I've been for, so far, all of this year.  I'm still not skinny.  I'm not the embodiment of any ideal of beauty in Western culture.  But I'm not unhealthy, in the way I was before, and I feel ethically better about my eating decisions than I did before.

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Now, I said earlier in this post that I had a whole Ben & Jerry's ice cream.  Which is fine.  I do that sometimes, and I'm not worried about it, because it's not my whole diet and it's not every day.  Reasonably frequent bowls of ice cream have still been better for my health than reasonably frequent burgers, chicken and steak.[1. Especially considering that I didn't skip the ice cream when I was still eating meat every day.]

But I bought that ice cream.  And if you've been following my blog, you know I'm in quite a lot of debt.  But I had some money, so I ended up spending it.

I hate having money.  It makes me feel uncomfortable, unsafe and guilty.  Having money, and relying on money, always implies that I risk losing that money, or losing access to money.  I hate having bills, too, for the same reason.  I hate that money is a thing, though I recognize and acknowledge its utility.

I hate money like I love steak, and I don't know any easy way to control my spending.  If I could, I'd just give all my money away to charity, but while that solves the problem of having it, it doesn't solve any of the problems of not having it.  I haven't yet figured out any way that better spending can be a lifestyle choice, the way Weekday Veg is.  People's advice for lifestyle changes with money generally seem to be, "Be better with money."  It's not that easy, and that approach has never worked for me, with anything.

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Sometimes, I hear people talk about a "Welfare state," like it's some sort of evil system that only people who want to lay around all day and not do anything would want.  But when I think about my money problems, I tend to find myself fantasizing about exactly that kind of system.  I would happily work a full-time job, doing whatever the government decided I was needed for, as long as I didn't have to end up with money as a consequence.  I want a place to sleep, food to eat, the freedom to do and say what I want in my free time, to possibly earn enough admiration in an artistic field to shift into doing what I want to do for my living, and access to the resources like libraries and workshops in which I can do and say those things I want to.

don't want to have to be an accountant.  I don't want my success in the world to be contingent, not just upon my talents and dedication within whatever field in which I might excel, but also my talent at keeping track of finances and spotting good deals and financing plans.

When I think too much about money, I get wrapped up in that daydream, and anger at the unfairness that the system in which we live artificially enhances the success of people who are good at money over people who are good at anything else, like engineers and teachers and medical workers.[1. Until they're making enough to hire someone good at money.]  And that anger makes it difficult for me to accept the world I do live in, and makes it difficult for me to explore solutions to my financial problems that don't rely on the civilization I live in being fundamentally different.

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So, that's it.  That's my money problem, wrapped up in a neat little psychological, socialist-idealist bow.  I'm hoping that having this out of my system and up on the internet will free up the mental space necessary to work with the capitalist environment I've got [1. Which has loads of advantages, don't get me wrong, and I do see the practical and theoretical problems with my socialist fantasy too -- I'm talking about my fantasy here, not making a serious Utopian proposal.  Please don't jump down my throat about being a commie pinko fascist.] instead of getting angry, daydreaming, and stress-spending fifty bucks on scratch tickets and booze.