A Counterexample for Scott Alexander
By David Henderson
I enjoyed Bryan Caplan’s post early this morning. In my view, the best comments so far are by Daniel Fountain and by Thomas B, although Mike Hammock and Hasdrubal make good points also.
I look forward to reading Bryan’s responses to Scott Alexander. Meanwhile, I have my own anecdote.
I have an office in downtown Monterey where I hide out to get work done. For some reason, even though I have communicated it to them, some of the small-business people with offices in the same building keep forgetting that, with the particular windows I have, I can hear everything when they talk on the landing outside my office. Even when I try to concentrate on my work, I still hear it clearly.
About a week ago, one of these small business people brought one of his employees out on the landing to ream him. The problem? The employee had refused to work on a joint project with another employee because he didn’t like him. The employer handled it beautifully. He explained that the employee he was talking to was a first-rate employee. He explained that he knew the friction between the two and that’s why he put them on separate projects. But every once in a while, he explained, he needed them both on one project and this employee he was reaming couldn’t, as he had, simply refuse to show up.
Well, he didn’t quite handle it beautifully. As I told him later, he shouldn’t have handled it with me listening, and as I explained to him, that’s why I went out to the landing: to remind him that I was in there and also, by the way, because the young employee was getting so animated that I was afraid he was going to punch the employer. My appearing when I did did seem to break up the tension.
I’m getting sidetracked. Here’s what came out of the discussion with his employee. The employer was trying to keep all 5 employees fully employed and, because of a drop in their business and some unanticipated major expenditures on equipment, he had cleared only $7,000 so far this year. Of course, he could have made that up. But when I asked him about it later, he said it was true. I’ve gotten to know him over a few years and I think he’s honest.
When I asked him about the $7,000, and he confirmed it, I asked him something else. I had noticed that in July he had one of his office workers training another young worker on the bookkeeping and appointment-making parts of the business because she, the person doing the training, would be quitting (or going on leave–I’m not sure which) to have a baby. Every day for about 3 weeks in July, I would go by on the way to the men’s room and see her training the other young woman.
Then, when I returned from vacation in August, I noticed that the woman who had been trained was not there and there was a third woman, whom I didn’t recognize, working there. I asked him what had happened. After all that training, it turned out, she had called in with about one minute’s notice before work time and said that she had found another job. All that training–for which he paid the trainer and, I assume, the trainee–was out the window.
He told me that he frantically tried to replace her and had real trouble finding someone. Hopefully, he said, this new one would work out.