The Great Work Divide

Reihan Salam has an interesting post on income inequality in which he notes that executives of days past used to consume a lot more of their "income inequality" in the form of corporate perks.  Salam attributes this to the fact that there was more within-firm skill inequality; I'd chalk it up more to the tax code, which in 1986 was changed in various ways that made it much more attractive to pay your employees in salary, and much less attractive to pay them in the form of lavish expense accounts and magnificent private office space.  The notion of an executive washroom with its own special key now seems mostly ludicrous, but it was an actual thing--and I'm not sure that giving executives special bathrooms is actually noticeably less corrosive to social cohesion and personal happiness than giving them fatter pay packets.


This particular passage struck a nerve with me:

In a sense, the sorting mechanism at firms like Apple happens before you join the firm: its employees are homogeneously high-skilled, now that manufacturing, etc., has been off-shored. So while a firm like Pepsi might have had a range of employees at different skill levels, that is somewhat less true of the iconic technology firms of our own era.
It suddenly occurred to me that this is a standard feature of the work lives of blue state elites--(Update:  By which I mean, affluent people who attended elite schools, not "high income people who live in blue states"):  almost all of their contact is with people just like them.  Same education, usually the same few states of origin, and a pretty uniformly shared set of values about what work is for and how it should be done.

These people tend to vote Democratic.  Small-business owners, who work in much more diverse environments, tend to vote Republican.  I'm not going to speculate on why this might be so--but I suspect that it matters.
Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors at a world-class life sciences lab are trying to change the way people think about their health.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Business

Just In