Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wage Slave

I now have my first regular full-time job. It's right and proper that I should get paid, of course, but it also feels strange.

I've pinpointed the awkward feeling to three things:
  1. Many of the activities of my new job are very similar to things I used to do in college for free. If I were an undergraduate, I would probably be expected / willing to do this job for free, if not even pay to have the opportunity. But once I pass the magical boundary of Commencement, I suddenly get the right to demand payment for providing these services. That's strange, isn't it?
  2. When you're working in large group projects, it's hard to tell how much your labor is worth. When your contribution gets mixed in with everyone else's, how do you tell how much your contribution is worth? The wage you receive seems strangely detached from your work.
  3. Participating in the labor market doesn't just mean getting money for your service. It also means refusing service if there's no money. Otherwise how would people take your fees seriously? If the work is tedious and unpleasant, refusing service is rather easy. But if you go into work that you love, and which you would probably do for free anyway (which is what they tell you to do in all those Commencement Addresses in the first place, right?), then you're trapped between your natural instinct and your need for money, which can make you feel either cheap or unappreciated, depending on whether the former or latter feeling is stronger.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Money, Money, Money! New Reading List

The Reading List  is a collection of things I find in print and online that reflect what I've been finding interesting lately.

This time the reading list has a theme: money! Each of the articles, books, or video clips in the list explains a particular aspect of how money works—where it gets its value from, what keeps the system from collapsing, and how it is regulated. Money is fascinating, in part because it's one of those inventions of the modern world that we all rely on but hardly bother to question. Once you do start questioning, though, you fund that the plumbing of the international financial system runs deep.

One aspect of money that I really enjoy is how it represents not so much a technological innovation as much as a mental one. Unlike electricity, or semiconductors, or antibiotics, the innovation of money didn't require any wizardry over Nature. The paper on which we record our money is generally cheap and worthless. Instead, the major innovation was in fundamentally shifting the way we think about value, and transactions. Money made it possible to commensurate all sorts of seemingly incommensurate values, to save, to invest, to compare investments, to plan for the future, and the like—but not because money has any of these powers intrinsically, but rather because we gave it these powers by believing in it. It's truly quite remarkable how that works.

If you like what you see, or wish to discuss the readings, please add a comment below! I'll be more than eager to participate in the discussion.

Bonus Feature: The intro song and first couple minutes of the Singaporean film, Money No Enough.