faul_sname

Sorted by New
7
32

# Wiki Contributions

Sorted by

I am struggling to see how we do lose 80%+ of these jobs within the next 3 years.

Operationalizing this, I would give you 4:1 that the fraction (or raw number, if you'd prefer) of employees occupied as travel agents is over 20% of today's value, according to the Labor Force Statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey (BLS CPS) Characteristics of the Employed dataset.

For reference, here are the historical values for the BLS CPS series cpsaat11b ("Employed persons by detailed occupation and age") since 2011 (which is the earliest year they have it available as a spreadsheet). If you want to play with the data yourself, I put it all in one place in google sheets here.

As of the 2023 survey, about 0.048% of surveyed employees, and 0.029% of surveyed people, were travel agents. As such, I would be willing to bet at 4:1 that when the 2027 data becomes available, at least 0.0096% of surveyed employees and at least 0.0058% of surveyed Americans report their occupation as "Travel Agent".

Are you interested in taking the opposite side of this bet?

Edit: Fixed aritmetic error in the percentages in the offered bet

Suppose that there is some search process that is looking through a collection of things, and you are an element of the collection. Then, in general, it's difficult to imagine how you (just you) can reason about the whole search in such a way as to "steer it around" in your preferred direction.

I think this is easy to imagine. I'm an expert who is among 10 experts recruited to advise some government on making a decision. I can guess some of the signals that the government will use to choose who among us to trust most. I can guess some of the relative weaknesses of fellow experts. I can try to use this to manipulate the government into taking my opinion more seriously. I don't need to create a clone government and hire 10 expert clones in order to do this.

The other 9 experts can also make guesses about which the signals the government will use and what the relative weaknesses of their fellow experts are, and the other 9 experts can also act on those guesses. So in order to reason about what the outcome of the search will be, you have to reason about both yourself and also about the other 9 experts, unless you somehow know that you are much better than the other 9 experts at steering the outcome of the search as a whole. But in that case only you can steer the search . The other 9 experts would fail if they tried to use the same strategy you're using.

faul_sname3015

The employee doesn't need to understand why their job is justified in order for their job to be justified. In particular, looking at the wikipedia article, it gives five examples of types of bullshit jobs:

1. Flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants, store greeters;
2. Goons, who act to harm or deceive others on behalf of their employer, or to prevent other goons from doing so, e.g., lobbyists, corporate lawyers, telemarketers, public relations specialists;
3. Duct tapers, who temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently, e.g., programmers repairing shoddy code, airline desk staff who calm passengers with lost luggage;
4. Box tickers, who create the appearance that something useful is being done when it is not, e.g., survey administrators, in-house magazine journalists, corporate compliance officers;
5. Taskmasters, who create extra work for those who do not need it, e.g., middle management, leadership professionals.[4][2]

The thing I notice is that all five categories contain many soul-crushing jobs, and yet for all five categories I expect that the majority of people employed in those jobs are in fact a net positive to the companies they work for when they work in those roles.

• Flunkies:
• Receptionists + administrative assistants: a business has lots of boring administrative tasks to keep the lights on. Someone has to make sure the invoices are paid, the travel arrangements are made, and that meetings are scheduled without conflicts. For many of these tasks, there is no particular reason that the people keeping the lights on needs to be the same person as the person keeping the money fountain at the core of the business flowing.
• Door attendants, store greeters: these are loss prevention jobs: people are less likely to just walk off with the merchandise if someone is at the door. Not "entirely prevented from walking out with the merchandise", just "enough less likely to justify paying someone minimum wage to stand there".
• Goons:
• Yep, there sure is a lot of zero- and negative-sum stuff that happens in the corporate world. I don't particularly expect that 1000 small firms will have less zero-sum stuff going on than 10 large firms, though, except to the extent that 10 large firms have more surplus to expend on zero-sum games.
• Duct tapers:
• Programmers repairing shoddy code: It is said that there are two types of code: buggy hacked-together spaghetti code, and code that nobody uses. More seriously, the value of a bad fix later today is often higher than the value of a perfect fix next year. Management still sometimes makes poor decisions about technical debt, but also the optimal level of tech debt from the perspective of the firm is probably not the optimal level of tech debt for the happiness and job satisfaction of the development team. And I say this as a software developer who is frequently annoyed by tech debt.
• airline desk staff who calm passengers with lost luggage: I think the implication is supposed to be "it would be cheaper to have policies in place which prevent luggage from being lost than it is to hire people to deal with the fallout", but that isn't directly stated
• Box tickers:
• Yep, everyone hates doing compliance work. And there sure are some rules which fail a cost-benefit analysis. Still, given a regulatory environment, the firm will make cost-benefit calculations within that regulatory environment, and "hire someone to do the compliance work" is frequently a better option than "face the consequences for noncompliance".
• With regards to regulatory capture, see section "goons".
• A whole lot can be said here, but one thing that's particularly salient to me is that some employees provide most of their value by being present during a few high-stakes moments per year where there's a massive benefit of having someone available vs not. The rest of the time, for salaried employees, the business if going to be tempted to press them into any work that has nonzero value, even if the value of that work is much less than the salary of the employee divided by the annual number of hours they work.

That said, my position isn't "busywork / bullshit doesn't exist", it's "most employees provide net value to their employers relative to nobody being employed in that position, and this includes employees who think their job is bullshit".

I can think of quite a few institutions that certify people as being "good" in some specific way, e.g.

• Credit Reporting Agencies: This person will probably repay money that you lend to them
• Background Check Companies: This person doesn't have a criminal history
• Professional Licensing Boards: This person is qualified and authorized to practice in their field
• Academic Institutions: This person has completed a certain level of education or training
• Driving Record Agencies: This person is a responsible driver with few or no traffic violations
• Employee Reference Services: This individual has a positive work history and is reliable

Is your question "why isn't there an institution which pulls all of this information about a single person, and condenses it down to a single General Factor of Goodness Score"?

Indeed my understanding is that my mental model is pretty close to the standard economist one, thiugh I don’t have a formal academic background so don’t quote me as "this is the canonical form of the theory of the firm".

I also wanted a slightly different emphasis from the standard framing I've seen, because the post says

The economists have some theorizing on the topic (google “theory of the firm”), but none of it makes me feel much less confused about the sort of large organizations I actually see in our world. The large organizations we see are clearly not even remotely economically efficient; for instance, they’re notoriously full of “bullshit jobs” which do not add to the bottom line, and it’s not like it’s particularly difficult to identify the bullshit jobs either. How is that a stable economic equilibrium?!?

so I wanted to especially emphasize the dynamic where jobs which are clearly inefficient and wouldn't work at all in a small company ("bullshit jobs") can still be net positive at a large enough company.

faul_sname4726

The large organizations we see are clearly not even remotely economically efficient

I think a large organizations are often have non-obvious advantages of scale.

My mental model is that businesses grow approximately until the marginal cost of adding another employee is higher than the marginal benefit. This can combine with the advantages of scale that companies have to produce surprising results.

Let's say you have a company with a billion users and a revenue model with net revenue of $0.25 / user / year, and only 50 employees (like a spherical-cow version of [WhatsApp in 2015](https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=34543480)). If you're in this position, you're probably someone who likes money. As such, you will be asking questions like • Can I increase the number of users on the platform? • Can I increase the net revenue per user? • Can I do creative stuff with cashflow? And, for all of these, you might consider hiring a person to do the thing. At a billion$0.25 / year users, and let's say $250k / year to hire a person, that person would only have to do one of • Bring in an extra million users • Or increase retention by an amount with the same effect • Or ever-so-slightly decrease [CAC](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Customer_acquisition_cost) • Increase expected annual net revenue per user by$0.00025
• Or double annual net revenue per user specifically for users in Los Angeles County, while not doing anything anywhere else
• Figure out how to get the revenue at the beginning of the week instead of the end of the week
• Increase the effectiveness of your existing employees by some tiny amount

A statement that you shouldn't hire past your initial 50 people is either a statement that none of these are available paths to you, or that you don't know how to slot additional people into your organizational structure without harming the performance of your existing employees (note that "harming the performance of your existing employees" is not the same thing as "decreasing the average performance of your employees"). The latter is sometimes true, but it's generally not super true of large profitable companies like Apple or Google.

Status concerns do matter at all but I don't think it's the only explanation, or even the most important consideration, for why Apple, the most valuable company in the world by market cap, has 150,000 employees.

People often speak of massively multipolar scenarios as a good outcome.

I understand that inclination. Historically, unipolar scenarios do not have a great track record of being good for those not in power, especially unipolar scenarios where the one in power doesn't face significant risks to mistreating those under them. So if unipolar scenarios are bad, that means multipolar scenarios are good, right?

But "the good situation we have now is not stable, we can choose between making things a bit worse (for us personally) immediately and maybe not get catastrophically worse later, or having things remain good now but get catastrophically worse later" is a pretty hard pill to swallow. And is also an argument with a rich history of being ignored without the warned catastrophic thing happening.

If those don't hold, what is the alternate scenario in which a multipolar world remains safe?

The choice of the word "remains" is an interesting one here. What is true of our current multipolar world which makes the current world "safe", but which would stop being true of a more advanced multipolar world? I don't think it can be "offense/defense balance" because nuclear and biological weapons are already far on the "offense is easier than defense" side of that spectrum.

Here, you could just have a hook grab a perpendicular rope, but if you don't have any contingency plans, well, "dock or die" isn't very appealing. Especially if it happens multiple times.

If the thing you want to accelerate with the tether is cheap but heavy to LEO (e.g. "big dumb tank of fuel"), it might be a reasonable risk to take. Then missions which have more valuable payload like humans can take the safer approach of strapping them to a somewhat larger pile of explosions, and things which need a lot of delta V can get up to LEO with very little fuel left, dock with one of the big dumb tanks of fuel, and then refuel at that point.

Source: I have played a bunch of Kerbal Space Program, and if it works in KSP it will definitely work in real life with no complications.

I think "pivotal act" is being used to mean both "gain affirmative control over the world forever" and "prevent any other AGI from gaining affirmative control of the world for the foreseeable future". The latter might be much easier than the former though.