The Great Work Divide

By Megan McArdle

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/11/the-great-work-divide/248931/