Economics FAQ: How much do I deserve?

There is a question that comes up frequently, and it is this:

If a person works hard to do a thing, don’t they deserve compensation for their labor?

The short but difficult answer is this: No.

The longer answer is this: Your labor is worth exactly as much as another person is willing to pay for it.

The even longer answer is this:

The only time that a person *deserves* compensation for their labor is when they have been contracted to do that labor. For example, I am compensated bi-weekly for my labor in producing code for the company I work for. The company has contracted me to work for them in compensation for some dollars for every hour of work.

My brother may go mow a lawn in two hours and make 20$. How much does he deserve to make? 10$? 10000$? He may *desire* to make a million dollars, but he *deserves* whatever compensation he has willingly contracted to receive.

A friend of mine decides to paint a beautiful painting one day, how much does this friend deserve? It is the same as if I spent two weeks working on a program for myself. My friend and myself both *deserve* zero dollars. This is because we did not contract with anyone for an agreed compensation, so no person is obliged to pay either of us any amount whatsoever. Perhaps someone agrees to buy my friends painting for 100$, and the program I spent a week on turns out to be useless. Neither of us deserved either amount of compensation, because neither of us contracted with another party for compensation.

The lazy solution is to never make or design or write anything unless you have a contract with someone to have them pay you an amount that you both agree on.

The solution most people take is to produce a thing and make a guess at what people will be willing to pay for it. My brother and I are working on a keyboard that we think people will pay about 200-300$ for. My friend is making a painting and hopes to sell it for 100$. In both cases we are taking a risk, because we do not know if anyone will buy the thing we are producing. If my friend cannot sell their painting, they have a financial loss of the paint and canvas and the time they spent making the painting. If my brother and I cannot sell our keyboard we will have a financial loss of the electronic components and hardware and the time we spent making the keyboard.

In both cases of loss, however, neither of us *deserve* any compensation. We both freely made our things, and did so with the realization that we might not make any profit from it.

The Frog and the Scorpion

A retelling of an ancient story.

A frog one morning was standing by the side of a stream, when a scorpion approached him, requesting a ride across the water.

Scorpion. Pastel white on black. By Tobias Davis

“Sir Frog, may I request your benevolence in assisting me to cross these rapidly moving waters? I cannot swim, and would surely drown if I attempted passage on my own, but if I rode upon your back I could traverse this stream safely.”

The frog was feeling especially charitable, but knew that the scorpion could quite easily kill him.

“Sir Scorpion, while I may be able to carry you across, you may perhaps be overcome with some dark thought, and sting me with your powerful venom so that I die! Surely I cannot aid you in your request.”

“Ah, but Sir Frog, as I am unable to swim at all, if I were to sting you I would be unable to rescue myself from these swiftly flowing waters, and I would surely perish as well!”

The frog, being convinced by the scorpion’s words and feeling particularly charitable, gave heed to the scorpion’s request, and proceeded to carry him across the stream.

But near the middle of the stream, the scorpion quite purposefully stung the frog!

As the frog struggled against the powers of the poisonous venom, he gasped, “Ah, Scorpion, you have deceived me! Now we will both perish in these waters!”

The scorpion, struggled to stay afloat, but being wholly unable to do so replied with his final breath, “It is my very nature to kill!”

In response to a Nebraska news article

Recently, in a private group I am in, this article was posted: Will Paul’s backers rally behind Romney?¬†While the article is the usual political type, attempting to rally people to a cause, I found this line interesting:

“While Paul’s following may be a blip on the national political radar, his supporters bring effective organization, dedicated volunteers and potential donors to the table, and every vote is crucial in close swing states – and Iowa is one.”

As a supporter of the Liberty movement, and one who became active and concerned about politics because of the vision Ron Paul cast, I think that if “every vote is crucial” maybe they shouldn’t have worked so hard to disenfranchise the Paul voters during the nomination race and at the convention. Whatever my choice ends up being this fall, there is a large weight of a grudge that I carry against the GOP for their treatment of Paul during the race, and their reaction now after the fact.

Even a simple apology from the Romney/GOP people would go a long way to smooth things over. “Sorry our people were such big jerks to you guys during the campaign.” None of this “sorry, but” business either. Maybe something like “Sorry we broke the rules so many times and did so many questionably legal things.”

I’m a Christian man, and I have used this verse in personal and business relationships many times: “A gentle answer turns away wrath”. Right now the GOP has my wrath, and after what I have experienced and read I believe it is justly placed. And even though I wouldn’t believe them in the slightest, a “soft answer” from the GOP would help cool my anger.

There’s another verse I believe is important, especially now: “Wise as serpents, innocent as doves”. We strike where our agility and speed will give us great returns, but don’t become embittered by the evils of the world around us. You and I can make a change, but that change must start with those around us.

Who is your county sheriff? Who is on your city council? Are you involved in your neighborhood? I heard a quote long ago from someone I don’t know who, that went something like this: “How can you expect the national government to be limited when you can’t even get your local city government to limit their budget?”

The raging inferno starts with a small ember.

When I run I feel His pleasure, thoughts on “Chariots of Fire”

Although the film is, at the time of this writing, nearly thirty-one years old, and although I have heard of the story many times before, it was only today that I watched the movie “Chariots of Fire“. I’ll just assume you already know the story, and if you don’t you can read the Wikipedia article and then meet me back here.

Contrary to my expectations I found the movie to be quite enjoyable, and the story itself reasonably well produced. The movie itself has been hyped up quite a bit, so I was expecting to be let down because of “Oh it’s the best thing ever” never seems to live up to the hype, but it should really be a classic on everyone’s shelf.

The part that I want to point out is the excellent film directing at the final race, where Liddell is running a longer distance than he originally trained for. When he starts running, the film director plays back this quote from earlier in the movie:

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

Eric Liddell

There are two points of character development that I want to note. The first is the setting of this quote when it is first said by Liddel. He and his sister, Jennie, are in the midst of a sort of family dispute: His sister is worried that he is becoming obsessed with running, and he is losing track of what matters. He explains his intentions, to run in the Olympics and return to his mission field in China, but Jennie does not understand so he says the above quote in an attempt to explain himself.

The other character development point is that of Harold Abrahams, the second main character. Toward the end of the movie, Abrahams confesses that his entire existence is in question if he cannot win the race, saying “with 10 lonely seconds to justify my whole existence”. This is really shown well at the end of his final race, right before crossing the finish line Abrahams face shows true desperation. It is the face of a man driven to the edges of madness, driven by despair.

Here is a stark contrast created by the director: One man runs out of desperation, and the other runs for pleasure. Ultimately both of them win, but I want to draw your attention to how they won.

In Liddell’s final race, the quote I mentioned earlier is played back, and the timing is absolutely flawless. As Liddell leaves the starting line, his face is one of steeled determination, the dialogue begins. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.” As these last words are spoken, Liddel’s face begins to change and the steeled determination gives way to a slight enjoyment. “And when I run“, the dialogue continues. It is at this moment that Liddel’s entire demeanor changes. His face bursts into a brilliant smile of ecstasy, and his entire body seems caught up in the moment. The dialogue finishes, “I feel His pleasure“. This scene alone is worth (and requires) the entire buildup of the movie.

To really drive home this point, during Liddell’s run, among the typical cut scenes of the fans, family, and friends, there is a cut to Abrahams who is looking on with what is certainly one of the saddest expressions he has made. It is as though, after only earlier confessing that he runs primarily out of desperation, he suddenly saw and realized that Liddell ran for the pure joy of it. That what Liddell had was something he had never once felt.

Here is my takeaway, the very blunt and high-handed “moral of the story”: Do you know what, like Liddell, lets you feel God’s pleasure? I don’t, and this movie really struck a nerve there, hopefully you can be motivated as well.

“You can praise God by peeling a spud if you peel it to perfection.”

Reverend. J.D. Liddell

P.S. If you haven’t seen the movie in some time, or have never seen it, I recommend watching it and particularly watching Liddell and Abrahams’ last races. The facial expressions of the actors, and the directing of the timing are incredible.

A night, many years ago

In my dreams I saw a bright and terrible light descend from heaven,  and the earth was split open and I fell through the crust of the earth, dying the death of a thousand other men before me. As I fell, father down into the abyss, I heard the tortured cries of the lost, warning of the wrath to come.

And while I fell I looked down and the hole into which I plunged opened below me into a roaring furnace, and I knew my fate and my judgment was near. Stricken with terror, my heightened senses felt the leaping flames as I approached, billows of heat swept past me and seared me in agonizing pain.

I awoke that night, cold and pale. A great pain in my chest from a heart that had stopped beating.

And I, that night so many years ago, with a life so nearly snatched away, realized my mortality quite plainly, and saw that this was what awaited me. Death was standing at my door, and the lock was undone.

This was many years ago, and although the realization of my own mortality has stayed with me, yet here I am, wasting the time away with trinkets and playthings. Is this what God saved me for? I have a purpose and a reason for living, my life was redeemed for a price, yet I carry on with my fleshly desires. Oh God, help me to behave as a true bondservant!

A promise

Sometimes waiting is forever,
holding on to a fleeting promise
in one moment is beaten and blown away.
Every day a lifetime of memories
and hopes and dreams
not quite a handle to grab on to,
but maybe enough to fill me with desire
of something a little more tangible.
These minutes feel like lifetimes,
and this year looms ahead
an unending chasm.
But soon it is over and I’ll emerge
again to survey my surroundings
perhaps a familiar marker
something set aside but remembered
and treasured.

Time is running out

So here it is, Christmas day, and I’ve got a few thoughts running through my head, keeping me from sleep.

Next week is my last week at the intern job I’ve had over the summer/fall, and a week after that I’ll be starting up another semester of school. Only two semesters left… I had so many plans for this summer, and almost none of them happened.

Today I realized more concretely, while planning the moving-back-to-school, that I was almost done here, and starting school will once again cut me off from my friends here. And as I thought more on this, I felt more and more alone. I’ll be living in an apartment with a friend, and I’ll still see most of these friends about the same amount, but during the semester I always feel so cut off and distanced. Probably because of the distance.

But general friendships aren’t why I’m still awake at 2am, it’s a very specific relationship.

And a real fear that I’ll lose the friendship by the cold forces of time and distance.

But when I say “lose”, I don’t mean how it’s normally meant. I mean that, by time and distance, and the inevitable changes about to occur in some of my circles of friends, that the relationship will be… Well, I guess maybe “lost” is the best word.

Set aside and forgotten.

Displaced with other interests.

“It’s a sad thing to lose a friend”, he said.

With all my heart

[Every year, around my birthday, I reflect on who I am, where I've come from, and where I'm going, and then I pour out my heart in this blog. This year is no different.]

Can you remember when you were six? Some people can, especially if they are still six, but my memory slips in and out and I can only remember bits and phrases. One piece goes like this:

My fathers friend, who was also my friend, died when I was rather young, and I remember going to the funeral. This man was a friend to many, and he brought happiness into many people’s lives, so there were many people there, and lots of them were crying.

I didn’t cry then.

As far back as my memory goes, I don’t recall ever being a person who cries easily. I felt pain, I was incredibly sad many times, but I’ve always been good at putting away my sadness, hiding my sorrow behind a stone wall. A barricade to keep people out.

“Good fences make good neighbors”

Only a short number of years ago, I met someone who I thought for sure I would marry “a promise in time, shadows of memories…” When that relationship didn’t work out, I was overcome with grief, but I did not cry much. I was silent for days, my heart was heavy in me while a called out to God, “save me or I perish”, but I did not weep.

Do you remember when you were six? Do you remember what made you cry then?

When I was younger, probably ten or twelve, I was learning math (Algebra) and it was so difficult that it made me cry. But even at that age I could see the golden treasure behind the veil, and I persevered, and now (years later) I’m wrapping up a degree in engineering.

But I didn’t want to talk about “perseverance”, I wanted to say that I wasn’t six then, I was much older.

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10:14)

Why does Jesus say this, that the kingdom of God “belongs to such as these”?

When I was six years old, I hardly knew how to read, if I recall correctly. The world was becoming a strange and dark place to me, I was becoming aware of what pain was, of why people cry, of right and wrong, of love, and of death.

A child hears everything you say, and is thinking about it more than you realize. Parents know this when the thing they said several days ago comes out of the mouth of their five year old, sometimes with comedic results.

I recently watched a movie where a young child is told that the sun is going to get bigger and bigger, eventually burning up the earth and the entire solar system, and it didn’t matter to the child that it would be billions of years down the road. What mattered is that, quite suddenly, the child realized a bigger truth, that everything and everyone around you will someday die.

Probably by now you are wondering what this is all about, because it sure seems like I’m going somewhere. And you are right, but I don’t think I can summarize in a nice simple paragraph.

You see, some things can’t be summarized into bumper-sticker slogans, or nice paragraph summaries. Some things in life are so deep, and so meaningful that to even try to put it in words seems to trivialize the very thing you are trying to say. But I will try to say it here:

The love of God is greater than tongue or pen can tell. If I were to fill the ocean with ink, and write all that ink onto paper, describing the love of God, I would drain the ocean dry and still be on the first chapter.

Walls to keep her heart

Every day she waits,
that queen of a desolate kingdom.
Desert filled with sand
of a thousand years,
no flower blooms there anymore.

Stone walls, built high,
and years pass by
turning walls into fields of sand,
empty and forgotten.

As the sun sets on her desert
she cannot remember the walls,
but beyond them now
is only emptiness.

Queen, high above the ground,
she does not notice others
because there is only one.
Only one man is her rose,
and that rose is a king.

Some thoughts on Food Service

I did not go to culinary school. In fact, it’s my personal opinion that culinary school is mostly a waste of time (more on that later). Instead I worked for several years as a lower chef, and passively gained experience until I moved up the proverbial ladder.

Working in food service was fun but tiring, as a chef you’ll always be on your feet. Be prepared to have a tired back for quite some time, until the muscles get conditioned to the 12 hour standing up routine. The enjoyable part of food service to me was twofold:

1) You get to make things! Depending on what you specialize in and where you work, you get to make more or less interesting things. For example, if you work as a salad chef on a buffet line, you probably won’t get to make those cool plates and awesome cakes, but you can add a little personal flair by carving flowers and things out of tomatoes and radishes.

2) You get to spend time with people, in a very unique environment. It’s sometimes high stress, but a lot of “boring” time spent together, talking about any old thing. Don’t let this frighten you if you aren’t really a people person, you can also be pretty quiet if you want, but after you spend some time in the kitchen you’ll open up. It really is a blast.

The correlations are true:

1) If you don’t enjoy making simple creative things, food service probably won’t be something you enjoy.

2) If you work somewhere with un-friendly people, you will get burnt out really quickly.

Anyway … I loved making food (still do, actually), and I loved running the kitchen even more. I loved it enough to start putting a business plan together to start my own restaurant.

However, the one issue with food service is that it takes a lot of time, and is higher stress than an office job. From what I can tell, through experience and visiting other kitchens, this is true from the lowly fast-food shop to the high dollar restaurant extraordinaire. Food service is always a hurry-hurry-hurry, wait-wait-wait kind of job, so it’s not always high stress, but the peaks of stress can be pretty high sometimes.

In the end, I realized I could make a career using the intellect God has blessed me with, and realized I would rather do that than continue down the path I was on.

I suppose it was part of my “growing up” years, because I also realized I had gotten into food service passively. What I mean is that I didn’t actively pursue personal education of food stuffs, of how to run restaurants, but I had taken this career path because it was easier.

And that’s another thing: Food service doesn’t really give you much money per hour, so it’s really hard to justify spending 2-4 years at culinary school in the hope that you get a better job. Unless you are prepared to really go at it, culinary school is a high cost, low return investment.

Not that it wouldn’t be fun, because I’m pretty sure it would be, but you’d better count your fun-per-dollar and see if it’s worth it. I’d say 90% of the time it’s not.