Tired and Angry

In some ways, especially after the last few months, I can understand the growing anger in the United States, especially at incompetence.

I don’t like mowing the lawn, and after years of doing it, I hired a lawn service. For years, everything was fine, but the past year has been a bit of a trial, both for me and for the owner of the firm, who’s had to fire people because of their carelessness and their sloppy performance, and in my case, for repeatedly ripping out sprinkler heads, which caused additional damage, and failing to mow parts of the lawn – despite the fact that they’re well paid.

For years, I’ve subscribed to a local/regional newspaper. It used to arrive in my driveway between 6:30 and 7:00 A.M. Now, and for the past few months, it arrives between 7:00 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. or so, and almost one day a week it doesn’t arrive at all but comes along with the next day’s paper a day after it was due – and the subscription price has tripled in the last two years.

Then, there’s the local tree surgeon/trimmer, who turns down work, if he doesn’t like people, or doesn’t feel like it, and the alternative is an outfit that costs more and whose work is problematic to say the least.

I’ve already mentioned the incompetence of the Tovala food service outfit, but I’ve also run into it in the professional area. As some readers may know, the protagonists of The Grand Illusion are not whitebread, but have skin tones in the range of dark honey, and the books take place in a very urban environment – yet one of the covers I got for an audio version showed two very white Caucasians in the middle of a forest (where they’ve never been in all three books) with the equivalent of laser knives (when Steffan and Avraal rely on old-fashioned throwing knives in a society that has no electricity). This was hardly an example of competence, especially when it took three tries to get the cover remotely close to the “reality” of the book.

For professional reasons, I won’t go into the more egregious examples in the publishing field, but I will mention, without more details, the senior editor of an extremely best-selling author who failed to edit the manuscripts and books of other assigned authors for over a year before he was let go. I will note that, in the publishing industry, the terminology is almost always that so-and-so left to pursue other interests. Fortunately, my editor is far more responsible and diligent.

It’s also not just me. My wife ordered a fog machine for one of her spring opera productions – and received an elaborate dog bed. She checked the order and the invoice to make sure it wasn’t her error. They both specified a fog machine and had the right number. The Music Department is now looking for a new secretary/administrative assistant. The previous one left because, among other reasons, she wanted to do a face-to-face job remotely and had the habit of being unavailable, even online.

Our son has had to fire sales associates because they’re unreliable and don’t want to do the grunt-work (like restocking the shelves and storage areas) of the high-end men’s stores he’s in charge of and where they worked.

I’ve never seen anything like the amount of these examples, all within the last few months, nor in these numbers, in more than fifty years, and yet, as we all know, prices have also increased. So who says that incompetence doesn’t pay?

12 thoughts on “Tired and Angry”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    Such work ethic as there was may have been fragile, for a couple of years of many people being paid to do nothing to have caused so many to question why they bother.

    That’s the one big thing I can think of. Economic ups and downs have happened before, parties changed, etc. But two years of major disruption is unusual.

    1. Postagoras says:

      For once, I totally agree with you. I’m glad you join me in criticizing the work ethic of the Republicans in Congress, who for years have been paid yet do nothing.

  2. Chris says:

    I see the same thing, and I can think of a few potential causes.

    1. A large number of people decided to leave the job market. While many people dwell on some that received money to stay home and not work, the bigger issue is the wave of retirements. Prior to the pandemic, there were many stories about how younger generations weren’t able to advance in their career because boomers were working past the age prior generations retired. The hassles, polarization, down right rudeness of customers, and the risks for that demographic got them to reconsider and they started to retire in mass. That’s created a shortage of workers in many fields, more heavily weighted towards less physically demanding roles. People have basically started advancing, so why would they want to take a job requiring physical labor or dealing with those same rude customers?

    2. The worker shortage also means the fear of unemployment is not as significant, since most people in the types of roles you mentioned can easily just go get a new job (sometimes within hours). A relative of mine has been let go from Amazon warehouses multiple times because of poor attendance, but they keep rehiring him because they just can’t find other people to hire.

    3. Many people believe the system is rigged, in that the wealthy have a government provided safety net that the rest of the population does not. The collapse of SVB, where the majority of those directly benefiting were companies that had deep pockets and a lot of VC backing, showed that if that class was threatened the feds would quickly go above and beyond to protect them. When major corporations break the law, punishment takes years (if it comes at all), and is minimal (less than 1% of a year’s income). But if normal citizens break the law, especially if they are poor or a minority, the police will find ways to get them for every conceivable interpretation of an act.

    4. This has led many of the younger people I’ve talked to to start following the motto of “dress / act for the job you want, not the job you have”. Unfortunately, given (3), a lot of times that means shoddy attention to detail (if the boss, or national politicians, can get away with blatant lies, why not them?), constantly trying to play internal politics to get ahead, and expecting to get promotions quickly regardless of if they deserve it.

    I honestly don’t know how this gets fixed without a major, prolonged receession, or even a depression. But given how daily life has changed over the last 40 years, maybe that is required. When I was growing up, getting fast food was a treat that might happen once or twice a month, but many people eat out multiple times per week now. In the neighborhood I grew up in, not many people paid for a external lawn service, they just had their kids do it (and depending on their financial situation, paid an allowance), but that is now common (as is dog poop scoping service apparently). And almost nobody had regular house cleaning service, but that is also now somewhat common (but not at common as lawn service from what I’ve seen).

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      I think what we’re saying is not so dissimilar, even if our sympathies as to how, whether, and how much people should be assisted might differ. You’re suggesting that a recession or depression might restore normalcy. That really means that hardscrabble necessity has a certain effect in promoting a work ethic, even if it’s somehow deemed heartless to say as much outright.

  3. Daze says:

    RE: the covers. I remember the original paperback covers fro MZB’s Darkover series in the UK – novel: semi-medieval and very conservative spellcasters in kilts and plaids, no distance weapons allowed – covers: lycra-clad supermodels with lasers!

  4. KTL says:

    All, as usual, I went to one of the sites devoted to labor statistics analysis (Again, one of the leading cited search hits is the Brooking Institute). A graph therein shows millions employed in the US in either services sector or goods sector by year from 1959 to 2022. These lines diverge steadily with little interruption from recessions and favor increasing percentage of service workers compared to ‘traditional’ goods work. In 1975, for example, the percentage looks to be roughly 2:1 service to goods. In 2020 it was 80% service (4:1) due to a severe drop from the pandemic. That recovered quickly to roughly 5:1 by 2022 (100 million in seervices employment vs less than 20 million in goods work.

    Apparently the goods employment has not changed that much in 70+ years even though the population and GDP has increased markedly in that time. Perhaps goods work is more zsensitive to the pressures of efficiency demands than service work?

    I guess things aren’t going to get better is what I’m saying. Service workers, by sheer numbers are present in everything we do and that presents many opportunities to be disappointed unless you can do the job yourself.

    Yep, I also get incensed when a service is shoddy. But my ire typically falls most heavily on call center services where incompetence can be profound.

    For a peek at the historical graph I discuss, see this article

    1. Tom says:

      The Brookings article does not discuss the evolution of the service industry to any degree.

      We can track the rise of the service economy during the second half of the twentieth century for the “developed” nations, more precisely the period from 1970 to 2005.

      Following seminal work by Baumol (1967) the rise is often attributed to growing productivity differentials between the economic sectors. According to one theory of transition to the service economy, the shift towards services takes place mainly due to the service sector’s lower productivity, higher costs and thus higher relative prices than those in the manufacturing sector. In other words, the shift to services happens because the service sector is stagnant and less progressive. On the other hand the theory I heard most often was that in the consumer sector, there is increasing demand for services such as health, education and entertainment. In business, companies recognize that many activities can be handled more efficiently by a service provider.

      Since a manufacturing economy is driven by the need for both consumer and business products, and a service economy is based on knowledge- intensive industries and driven by services in economic production, well-educated workers in the occupational market, and innovating firms in business. It was considered appropriate for the ‘developed’ nations to intensify service businesses and the manufacturing to be paramount in the ‘developing’ nations.

      Now it becomes expedient for the populous nations to develop both economies to survive. A new type of globalization is needed involving the small nations or perhaps cooperative nations may develop their own manufacturing and services economies for “self-sufficiency”. At least until such time as the world population pressure finally leads way to a united caves of steel.

      1. KTL says:

        Thanks for that response. Although I didn’t indicate the article centered on the services economy as it’s main subject, I drew your attention there for the data contained therein; i.e., the service economy vs goods economy’s historical employment numbers (and these were provided from government source data).

        Now…the fact that economies evolve over time due to technological advancement ought to be obvious. The agricultural employment in the US and the world has been reduced dramatically from its presence in early days of US history to what it is now. It’s obvious that a far smaller number of farmers can feed a far larger share of the world today. That efficiency increase is also true of other manufacturing industries.

        What remains for growth industries are often services. And here, due to the vast numbers employed in this sector comes the topic of this thread. For better or worse, we all face a high amount of interaction with the services industry and will have many opportunities for poor quality work. There’s not much more that one can do other than trying to find alternative providers if we are displeased.

        Alternatives? A whole industry now exists to rate services and publicize that to the world. Wait for technology to displace the offending service altogether? Wait it out? Give up on the service altogether? Be happy and delighted when one gets decent and competent service some of the time (my choice as it preserves some contentment with my fellow man).

  5. Tom says:

    The alternative to being tired and angry is to be content. Contentment is a state of happiness and satisfaction.

    The aim of physical industry is to produce perfect products. The aim of service industry is to provide contentment. The further away from the expectation the greater the tiredness and anger.

    How likely is contentment to occur in any interaction between humans? The more a participant examines the event or action the more likely dissatisfaction is to be found. The more tired, angry, and discontent a human is the less the interest in another human’s contentment.

    At this time my view of humans is that we all appear to show discontentment and thus any interaction at work or socially is likely to lead to tiredness and anger. This is no excuse for us being sloppy in our work and social interactions.

  6. Hanneke says:

    The greater the income disparity within a country, the more likely that the lower tiers will feel unfairly exploited.
    People who feel unfairly exploited tend not to put their best foot forward, not to take that extra step to help their employers’ customers.

    People think it’s okay for the director to earn 40x more than the cleaner, but with present inequality in the USA the CEOs earn about 400x more than their lowest-tier employees. Most people who aren’t in the top tiers consider that a very unfair distribution of income for effort. Making talking about what you earn a taboo helped hide the growing disparity for a while, 2-4 decades ago (as did some, possibly Calvinist, restraint on conspicuous consumption in some of the old moneyed classes), but it’s become obvious, and that has its effect on the morale of a lot of the working people.

    The idea that people should be happy to have a job, any job, even if it doesn’t pay a living wage, and present a cheerful and helpful image on behalf of the company that has shown it doesn’t value them, for the sake of their pride in their job and the contentment and return of their customers, is putting the burden on those being exploited to support their exploiters.
    As the USA’s laws and regulations protect the biggest companies at the expense of smaller start-up businesses, the customer may not have any options to move to a competing company, which makes it unlikely the system will reset itself to a pattern where employees will feel valued, and will take pride in their jobs again.

  7. Wren Jackson says:

    I have to question one thing here. The people being let go for poor behavior, attitude. What are they being paid?

    I ask because, fun fact, we don’t pay enough (shocking, I know).

    In the worst year of the depression, 1933, the average annual wage was $4,218.40.

    In 2022 money that’s $94,964.30.

    What’s the average wage in 2022? $56,420.

    So unless said store clerks or secretaries are making $75k+, we don’t really have a leg to stand on.

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