Unemployed.

I received this image as a forward in WhatsApp from a friend who felt that I should get some printed like this for myself.

I did not think that this would serve any purpose for me but, on seeing it as a forward from me, another friend who has the necessary infrastructure of an office with staff suggested that he order for a hundred cards with my name and with some modifications.

I agreed and when it gets printed, I shall write another blog post on it.

In the meanwhile, the “Unemployed” description on the card took me to one of my favourite exchange of letters in The Economist between a reader and The Undercover Economist.

The Letter.

AUGUST 6, 2005

Dear Economist,

My son-in-law has been unemployed for a couple of months now. As far as I can make out, he’s enjoying a PlayStation lifestyle while being supported by the state and by my daughter, who has had to find a temporary job. What concerns me is that he’ll get used to this. Should I tell my daughter to apply pressure by quitting her job?

Yours sincerely,

Godfrey Pickens, via email

The Response.

Dear Mr. Pickens,

The issue here is whether your son-in-law’s preferences will change over time—will he “get used” to a life of leisure, and so be less likely to work?

There are two competing views here. One is that he will become hooked on leisure (the welfare trap hypothesis) and will work less in the future, even if his wife quits her job. The other, equally plausible in theory, is that he will become addicted to the extra income provided by his wife’s new job, and if she quits, he will go on to work harder than before.

Such competing hypotheses have been hard to test in the past. But economist John Kagel has succeeded in running a series of experiments that shed light on the matter.

Kagel first forces his subjects to work for their income. Then, for a while, he provides them a substantial unearned income—a kind of welfare, if you will. Unsurprisingly, they slack off at once. Later, he withdraws the welfare and observes whether they work more or less than before welfare had ever been paid. The answer: the interlude on welfare makes very little difference.

This implies that your daughter should keep working for a while and see what happens. No harm will result. The only question for you is whether Kagel’s findings apply to your son-in-law.

Kagel’s subjects were rats. Do you think the parallel with your
son-in-law is close enough?

Yours experimentally,

The Undercover Economist

12 thoughts on “Unemployed.”

  1. On the visiting/calling/business card: “No loans, no debts” are bullshit when out of employment. The rest I’ll let stand. Lucky if you don’t have any “dependants”. It’s easier to starve and shiver in the privacy of your own company.

    The correspondence the Economist quotes is tedious. I have yet to find a youngster (the world is their oyster) who doesn’t get their skates on to make more than beer money.

    U

    1. I live in India Ursula where family ties are still very strong and being dependent is still not considered to be a sin. I live now with my son and daughter in love and am dependent on them for many things. I doubt very much that they consider me a burden nor do I they to be a burden on me. I have been out of employment for almost three decades now and am totally debt free. It is possible to be so but, we are all conditioned by our own circumstances and I accept that there can be other points of view.

  2. One of my sons-in-law is no longer a “youngster,” yet he has never, ever worked. When his wife (our daughter) runs into problems, such as her 2019 illnesses and can’t work, guess who gets to “help out?” They live with his mother, just a couple of miles from us. We never say what we really feel because we don’t want to drive her away from us. Needless to say, the nonworking son-in-law in your post is a sore subject for me.
    Mike recently posted..“A Constitutional Mandate” and “For Good Cause Shown”—Fifth Open Letter to the Arkansas Racing Commission

    1. I am sorry to hear it, Mike. “Sore subject” indeed.

      How is it possible to have “never, ever worked”? What is his excuse? Why does your daughter put up with his unwillingness?

      I have found myself in a hairy financial situation, not least in the wake of the 2008/09 crash – and indeed wasn’t shy asking for help. Which I got – from unlikely sources. But living in a continued state of emergency doesn’t amount to a sustainable “lifestyle”.

      Again, so sorry to hear it. Can’t be easy on you, as parents – by which I don’t mean the money you give her/them. That can be booked as an advance on your daughter’s inheritance. But what of the long term for her, indeed her husband – when you aren’t around anymore?

      All the best,
      Ursula

      1. Ursula, thanks!

        Excuse? I don’t know, I talk to him as little as possible. So far as the daughter, she loves him. You know how that goes. When they had their own place, he actually was a decent “house spouse,” but, now that they live with his mom, he isn’t dependable for many things, though there are a few things where he is. I’m pretty sure he suffers from low self-esteem and depression, as well as chronic bursitis. I think the problem started when his father raised a fuss about him looking for a job at McDonald’s or some such menial work after having gotten a college degree. His parents let him live at home for way too long after that instead of kicking him to the curb… and now they’re back living there.

        It’s good that we are situated such that we can help them. Part of my contracting work the last few years that I did it was in anticipation of that. At 68, I would hate to have to go back to work to make up for what we’ve spent helping them, especially when he’s such a no-load.

        So far as when we aren’t around, yes, we’ve thought of that. Her sister will be the executor of whatever estate there is.
        Mike recently posted..“A Constitutional Mandate” and “For Good Cause Shown”—Fifth Open Letter to the Arkansas Racing Commission

    2. I am shocked is an understatement. I thank you for being so open about it on this platform. I refrain from commenting further as the exchange between you and Ursula adds more to the story.

  3. H’m I find the business card quite unfunny. Like a thumbs up to people who don’t have a choice. One’s privilege can be another’s rage/tragedy/pain.

    (I’ve just spent time with an impoverished forced to work 80 yo who cried on my shoulder for 1/2 hour)

    XO
    WWW

  4. If his son in law has only been unemployed for two months, I can’t see any problem. If he’s still slouching around the house aimlessly after a year, then it might be reasonable to intervene in some way. I was twice unemployed for periods of two years, and very pleasant it was, but that didn’t stop me getting another job eventually.

  5. I am retired for ten years, after working for 40 years, so that card suits me and I think it is light hearted. To be unemployed when work is needed is a different situation and would be highly stressful, but for older retired people like me, I see the gentle humor in the card.

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