Dynamist Blog

Jury Duty, Inflation, and Free Speech

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Inflation in three signs, all on the Diddy Riese cookie shop in Westwood Village.

I’m on jury duty this week, which makes it difficult to plan my life. I don’t know until 7 p.m. the business day before whether I’ll have to show up. Not too bad for Monday, but it could get old fast. The good news is that L.A. has a “one day, one trial” system, so that when you do report you either get put on a trial or excused completely. The uncertainty reminds me of this article I wrote back in 2014 about the flexibility employers were demanding from part-time workers:

For many part-time workers in the post-crash economy, life has become like endless jury duty. Scheduling software now lets employers constantly optimize who’s working, better balancing labor costs and likely demand. The process demands enormous flexibility from part-time workers, sometimes requiring them to be on call all the time without knowing when they’ll work or how much they’ll earn….

Regardless of economic conditions, the deal between employers and workers has two components: money, including any benefits, and working conditions, including how well hours match worker preferences. The weak job market affects the total value of that package, not the mix between the two parts.

When an employer demands unpredictable work hours, it’s making the deal worse. It can get away with a worse deal because of the bad economy, but what about the mix? If unreliable schedules are so burdensome, why don’t workers switch to jobs with better schedules but lower pay? Why don’t competitors offer such options?

One reason, I argued, was the minimum wage, which limits the ability to offer less money in exchange for fixed schedules.

Now, of course, the economic environment is very different. We’ve gone from a labor surplus to a labor shortage. Everywhere you look, there are signs advertising for new employees. Stores and restaurants are limiting their hours because of staffing shortages. Hotels no longer offer daily maid service (a relief to those of us who sometimes want to work in the room). Service at the local sandwich shop is slower and more likely to screw up your order. Like smaller packages at the same price—aka “shrinkflation”—this diminished quality is a hidden form of inflation. You’re getting less for your money. It’s the flip side of the unmeasured quality improvements that, I’ve often argued, made inflation even lower than official statistics suggested (see this, this, and this).

So here’s the question I don’t know the answer to: Are employers giving part-time workers more predictable schedules? Are they offering more full-time jobs? At lower wages, what do job offers look like these days? I’ve seen countless reports on working from home versus coming to the office, but how is the current labor market affecting people who work in restaurants, bars, stores, and old folks’ homes?

FIRE Expands Beyond the Campus

I’ve been on the board of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, better known as FIRE, for more than 20 years—as long as it has had a board. It’s a great organization, principled, nonpartisan, and well-managed. Today it announced a major strategic shift and a name change, to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. Although FIRE will continue its much-needed work on behalf of freedom of speech, expression, and inquiry on college campuses, it will also work to educate the public on the principles and importance of free speech. As Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s president put it:

“Our defense of freedom of speech and inquiry on campus will remain core to what we do and will grow in the coming years,” said Lukianoff. “But we have come to realize that defending the First Amendment and a culture of free speech off-campus is essential to protecting those values on-campus, just as much as fighting for those values on-campus is essential for preserving them off-campus.”

“We need to remind older Americans that freedom of speech is still a value worth fighting for, and we need to teach younger Americans that everything from scientific progress, to artistic expression, to social justice, peace, and living authentic lives requires the staunch protection of freedom of speech for all.”

For more information and lots of links, check out FIRE’s press release. Politico covered the move here. (The article is too ACLU-obsessed for my taste.)

The move beyond campus is a challenging one, but it’s also a logical extension of the work FIRE has already been doing through its podcast, books, and other educational outreach. Greg’s open letter to Elon Musk about free expression on social media is a good example of the way FIRE can bring its deep knowledge and nuanced approach to bear on speech issues beyond the campus.

From my YouTube Channel

The story of how Muslims first came to Uyghur territory gets a brief mention in The Fabric of Civilization, without any of the current context. I expanded it into this video.

Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and if there are topics you’d like to see future videos on, let me know in the comments. (For now, I’m limiting myself to videos related to The Fabric of Civilization.)

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