Sunday , November 18 2018
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The Meaning of Life, Labour Supply, and all that

Summary:
Here are the results of my Twitter poll: This post is my interpretation of those results. I recognise all the usual caveats. I am more concerned about bias in the sampling method than in the small size of the sample (because it's not that small). The people who follow me on Twitter (or who follow those who follow me and reTweeted it) are probably richer than average, so less in need of the extra , so more likely to choose B. But they are also more likely to be economists, or to "think like economists", and maybe think it might be a trick question, because why would anyone leave on the sidewalk, and if there's no trick then A is the obvious answer. Plus the normal caveat that how people answer any survey might not be the same as their revealed preference in any real choice. (But

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Here are the results of my Twitter poll:

TwitterPollJob

This post is my interpretation of those results.

I recognise all the usual caveats. I am more concerned about bias in the sampling method than in the small size of the sample (because it's not that small). The people who follow me on Twitter (or who follow those who follow me and reTweeted it) are probably richer than average, so less in need of the extra $50, so more likely to choose B. But they are also more likely to be economists, or to "think like economists", and maybe think it might be a trick question, because why would anyone leave $50 on the sidewalk, and if there's no trick then A is the obvious answer. Plus the normal caveat that how people answer any survey might not be the same as their revealed preference in any real choice. (But it's an anonymous survey, so there's no point in signalling a socially-approved answer.)

I would have answered "B" myself. And I wanted to find out how many people thought the same way, and how strongly they felt about it. (I would have switched to "A" if I had been poorer and needed the money more, but I would still have switched back to "B" if the $50 had been raised closer to but still less than $100.)

It's not easy explaining my choice in terms of economists' standard means-end dichotomy. And it wasn't easy constructing a poll question that would get at what I was trying to get at (and I'm not satisfied I've got it right). I find doing something more satisfying when I think it has a purpose than doing the exact same activity when it doesn't have a purpose and so isn't a "real job". And it's not (just) about altruism vs egoism; I get satisfaction out of chopping wood for my fireplace, or my Mother's fireplace, that I don't get out of chopping wood for no reason at all (except exercise), that is separate from any satisfaction I get later from the firewood itself. And I think most people think like me, at least to some extent. And my little poll was intended to try to find out how many people and to what extent.

If I'm right about this, it will matter for labour supply curves. People (or some people) will choose jobs they think need doing over otherwise identical jobs they think don't need doing, unless there's an offsetting wage difference. It will also matter for comparing programs like Basic Income (Negative Income Tax) vs wage subsidies vs job guarantee.

few years back I installed a heat pump in my home. The salesman said I would get a subsidy from the Quebec government as an incentive to install a heat pump to reduce electricity consumption. Filling out the forms to collect that subsidy got stuck on my "To Do" list, because it was a pointless job I would get no satisfaction from doing, just to transfer some money.

And I'm recently retired, so I'm still adjusting to a life where I don't really need to do a lot of the things I used to need to do

But how could I have asked my question better, to measure what I am trying to measure?

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