What About the Bloggers?
By Bryan Caplan
One objection to my meritocratic view of the market (work backwards from here) that I haven’t heard: “What about the bloggers?” Some bloggers are great, some aren’t, yet almost all of them earn the same wage – zero. You could just as easily ask, “What about the garbagemen?” They’re mostly unskilled, but earn a lot more than equally able, hard-working people in other occupations. The economist’s explanation, of course, is compensating differentials. The supply of labor partly depends on the fun/misery of the job. When the job is fun enough – like blogging – market forces drive the wage down to zero.
If you define reward in narrowly financial terms, compensating differentials seem to undermine market meritocracy: “In a just world, how can garbagemen earn more than bloggers?” But there’s no reason to prefer the narrow definition. There’s nothing magical about money; it’s just one dimension of compensation. Some people get paid in premium coffee, some in fame, others in shorter hours, others still in discretion over how to spend their time. Looking at the whole package, bloggers are reasonably well-paid – and better bloggers earn far more than the typical blogger even if both report zero earnings to the IRS.
In other words, if we count fun and misery properly, they don’t undermine the market’s meritocratic order. They’re part and parcel of it.
P.S. Two or three books down the line, I think I might like to write a book on the economics and philosophy of merit. Reactions?