A Million Poor Job Creators

Job CreatorPaul Krugman has an excellent post regarding the incentives of marginal tax rates. He shows that marginal tax rates are highest on low income people trying to wean themselves off welfare programs. I wrote about this before: Catch-22 for Poor in America. Krugman also talks about how the rich don’t do anything special in the economy; they spend money and this (along with the spending of everyone else) is the engine of the economy, not all the people many of the rich employ.

I want to add something that I think is rarely stated—but is sometimes. I’ve had several of my own small businesses with some amount of success. I grew up in a household of small business people. And I’ve worked for a lot of small businesses. The one thing I can tell you is this:

A business owner will only hire a new employee when all other options have been eliminated.

Why is this? Because hiring an employee costs money. If you can make do with your existing resources, you will make more money. It is as simple as that.

I’ve never known a business owner who worried about what his tax rate was when making a business decision. And he would be mad to be worried about this. Here is the question: am I making money? He may not be happy that he will have to give the government a bunch of money at the end of the quarter, but that’s another question. And it is certainly not the case that an employer worries about the cost of an employee one or two or three years from now. If the employee is no longer a profitable investment, the employer will just lay him off.

At the heart of this is the fact that the employer will not hire anyone unless someone else is buying what he has to sell. That means when you buy can of soda or a screwdriver, you are a job creator—every bit as much as someone who explicitly employs people. Because here’s the thing: when you buy that Coca Cola, you are hiring the Coca Cola Bottling Company to provide it. Yes, there are a lot of middlemen between you and the employees who actually make and bottle the stuff, but that doesn’t matter.

I find this so aggravating! Every time I hear the clause “job creator” I have to stop myself from screaming. It’s true that the rich are job creators. The problem is that since the rich don’t spend all their money (Why else would they invest in bonds with negative real interest rates?) they are actually far less effective job creators than the poor.

A million poor people create a hell of a lot more jobs than one billionaire.

Update (13 July 2012 8:30 am)

Paul Krugman backs up my basic argument in today’s column, although he doesn’t go as far:

Yet somehow $20 million-plus in annual income isn’t enough. They want to be revered, too, and given special treatment in the form of low taxes. And that is more than they deserve. After all, the “common person” also makes a positive contribution to the economy. Why single out the rich for extra praise and perks?

Furthermore, if you’re really concerned about the incentive effects of public policy, you should be focused not on the rich but on workers making $20,000 to $30,000 a year, who are often penalized for any gain in income because they end up losing means-tested benefits like Medicaid and food stamps… By the way, in 2010, the average annual wage of manicurists—”nails ladies,” in Romney-donor speak—was $21,760.

So, are the very rich V.I.P.? No, they aren’t—at least no more so than other working Americans. And the “common person” will be hurt, not helped, if we end up with government of the 0.01 percent, by the 0.01 percent, for the 0.01 percent.


Image reduced from a nice big one on Thurman’s Notebook.

The Not So Amazing Spider-Man Writers

The Amazing Spider-ManI spent yesterday with my brother, and as usual, we went to see a movie I would never watch if I were by my self. Although I hate films like The Amazing Spider-Man, it is good to keep up on what Hollywood is capable of doing. And what they are capable of doing is striking another blow against the art of storytelling.

James Vanderbilt—with the help of Alvin Sargent, who has fallen mightily over the years—has the dubious distinction of creating a script that has no emotional core. The story arc is given by the material: nerd gets super powers, fights crime until super villain appears, destroys super villain. Clearly, you can weave just about any story in there. The biggest cliche is to have a love interest who is threatened in the third act by the super villain. Check! The second biggest cliche is to have the super villain somehow involved in the back story death of a hero’s loved one. Check! The third biggest cliche is the by-the-book cop who doesn’t understand our vigilante hero, but who eventually sees the light. But these are not necessarily bad things. The problem is that in The Amazing Spider-Man these elements are thrown on the story spine carelessly, as though the writers felt they had to but didn’t want to.

The girlfriend (smart young scientists dressed in fuck-me boots) is in peril and then the peril disappears without any help from the hero. The super villain is implicated in the death of Peter Parker’s parents, but only vaguely and it doesn’t matter to the plot of this movie. The only reason the by-the-book cop interacts with the hero is that he happens to be the father of the girlfriend.

The film meanders from action sequence to talk sequence. It is like Laurie Anderson’s song Big Science, but worse, “I think we should put some mountains here. Otherwise, what are the characters going to fall off of?” Here it is, “I think we should put Boots Girl here. Otherwise, what is the hero going to kiss?” But even in this endeavor, the film disappoints. For example, Parker starts up a relationship with the Boots Girl. Then Parker searches for the man who killed his uncle, and the action scenes go on and on until we forget all about the girl. But that’s all right! Just throw Boots Girl back in the plot. She is like a wave equation: when she’s on the screen, Parker is in love; when she’s not, she doesn’t even exist.

The Amazing Spider-Man also features an interminable epilogue, as if two hours of random shit wasn’t long enough. The best advice I’ve ever read about screenwriting (but it applies to all narratives) comes from William Goldman. He suggests the best way to resolve your plot is to do it as quickly as possible. This is advice that is seldom used in modern movie making. The reason is simple: there is no tension that needs to be resolved. This is film making by the numbers, and the third act is about creating 30 minutes of action, not about resolving anything because there is nothing to resolve. There is the Good Guy and there is the Bad Guy. The Good Guy will win because that is the genre. There are no motivations for the hero other than being good.

Too bad screenwriters don’t have this motivation.

Afterword

There is far more to like Spider-Man than in many comic book heroes. In particular, I like Peter Parker’s aunt and uncle. His aunt even has a union job! Imagine that. Of course, the writers find it necessary to place Parker and Boot Girl in a high tech lab. And Boot Girl’s cop father has an apartment that looks like it would cost upwards of $10,000 per month. But mostly the film itself is grounded in the very middle class home of Peter Parker. Much the same thing can be said of Daredevil, which has a working class core to it, even if Matt Murdock’s home is a bit too high tech.

My biggest philosophical problem with the superhero genre is its romanticism. (It is funny that Ayn Rand novels like Atlas Shrugged are fundamentally the same, but somehow people think of them as serious.) The undercurrent of all these stories is that the government is impotent and we need a superhero to save us. If this smacks of more than a little fascism, it should. But the absurdity outs itself. It is never satisfying to have the heroes take on criminals as we find them; super villains must be manufactured. It is back to the Laurie Anderson quote. But in the end, these kinds of costume clad superheroes are not nearly the threat to social cohesion as plain clothes heroes like Dirty Harry.

Signifying Nothing

MacbethI spent the day—the whole day—doing things I will write about tomorrow. But I know how depressed you all get if I don’t provide something here to gnaw on. I was just thinking that Orson Welles and Shakespeare are very similar in that they burn so brightly at times but overall are disappointing (although one not nearly as so much as the other—regular readers will know which is which).

Macbeth is my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, perhaps largely because I am rather conservative and Macbeth is the closest Shakespeare ever came to writing a classical tragedy. In addition to being the most watchable of his plays, Macbeth also has great moments.

Here is one of the best from the middle of Act 5. Macbeth’s world is falling apart and he has just been told of Lady Macbeth’s death. He speaks more truth than is heard in all the rest of Shakespeare:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Here is Ian McKellen doing his thang the only way he can do it:

The bitterness of it! Yea team!

Update (Right Away)

I’m no Patrick Stewart fan, but his version of this speech is really worth checking out. It is light on the bitterness and heavy on the sadness. It is always interesting to see how great actors do the same text.