Is work for it’s own sake valuable? I don’t think so. I see work more as means to an end rather than an end in itself. The more efficient the work is, the better. You don’t see me out in the yard doing “Keynesian work” of digging holes and filling them up again. Such work creates no value even if someone (like the government, or a rich person in need of a spectacle) would be willing to pay a price for it. In many ways the economy is not much different from the Keynesian scheme. I’l bet the weight loss industry (anything that makes people lose weight) is approximately about the same size as the weight gain industry (vice versa). Neither of those produce an valuable change although the former would say that it makes people healthy and the latter would say it makes people happy and thus that they produce value; but the net effect is that they don’t. Is value produced when cotton is cut down to make a shirt which is sold and worn for a month or two and then discarded at the Salvation Army. Yes, but only two months of wear-value. That is not a lot of value for all that work, unless you sincerely believe that work is inherently valuable. A lot more value is derived from the shirt when someone picks it up at SA and wears it out and for a much lower price as well.

For almost a decade I worked very hard, sometimes up to 100 hours a week dragging a mattress into my office, producing research papers on esoteric subjects that you probably never heard about. This work was highly interesting to about 5 persons in the world and eventually ended up being paid quite well. However, given the limitation of the distribution, could one really say that it was directly valuable to society as such? Conversely, I see from my blog stats that I have about 800 blog visitors per day and they spend a little over 4 minutes reading about 2 posts. That’s about 53 manhours of entertainment, which I don’t get paid for. Is this work valuable when it is done for free?

People typically confuse value and price. Value is essentially the personal utility you derive, whereas price is what you pay in the market place. Now, I have spent a lot of effort (work?) discovering ways to derive personal utility without paying a price in the market. This can be as simple as fixing your own wheel rather than paying a mechanic to do so. Consequently I do not need a lot of pricing power and consequently, I do not need to do a lot of “price-work”. However, I still need to do “value-work”. Do you see the difference? If not, let me elaborate.

It is often said that the value of the work a house wife does is about 100k. Now you may disagree with this value (and so do I). It is probably high because some fraction of that work is counted as CEO work and CEO work, at least in the US, is compensated at a rate that is sometimes several hundred times that of the average wage. However, lets look at it differently. I would say I live as well as your average person. Now if the average family earns 40k and have two people working, that’s 20k each. I spend 6k and hence I must be producing 14k of value just by being somewhat more clever in the ways I solve my problems. Obviously this way of computing value is just one step away from “You get this $99.95 value brochure for just $1.95”-infomercial. If we take this to its (il)logical conclusion, I have 1000+ subscribers which I share at least the methods (no, I’m not fixing your wheel for you — unless you bring it here) with. So let’s just say the value is 1500 x $14,000, which is 21 millions in potential efficiency savings. Yet, there is no way that the market is going to hand me a check for that. Besides, I priced it at $21k, thus neglecting the work that comes into it (not much really). So this would essentially be the housewife salary-equivalent of this blog. However, nobody is going to pay me $21 million just as nobody is going to pay $100k to their wife.

Originally posted 2009-09-04 00:02:16.