Bobbito Garcia is the director of a documentary about himself titled Rock Rubber 45s. The New York Times recently gave it a top-flight review, but the latter only rates mention in light of the newspaper’s description of the director.
Garcia’s day “job” when not chronicling his own doings in front of the camera is “basketball maven, sneaker obsessive, D.J and all-around culture entrepreneur.” He essentially makes a living by virtue of being fabulous, and for running around with “interesting friends” that include Rosie Perez. As the review went on to reveal, Garcia’s income springs from “following his feelings” only to report on those same feelings to his flock of followers. Garcia is what some call an “influencer.” And a well-paid one at that.
It’s fair to assume at this point that some readers are confused along the lines of “You get paid to do that?“ The answer is yes. As John Tamny reports in his exciting new book, The End of Work: Why Your Passion Can Become Your Job, the U.S. is “rapidly becoming a nation of happy workers” thanks to a proliferation of jobs that more and more don’t resemble work. Garcia is paid for energetically doing what fascinates him, and he’s not alone.
As Tamny reports in his celebration of modern work, “what was once silly is now serious.” He writes of passionate shoppers and food lovers who “can now make ‘serious bank’ for posting their fashion and food likes” on social media, of dog walkers who earn in the six figures, and diet consultants for….the family dog. So specialized is work today that Andre Agassi used to fly a racquet-stringing expert around the world with him. Apparently the string tension in the racquet “can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars” to top players, and in “Czech string artiste Roman” Agassi was “reminded of the singular importance in this world of a job done well.” Specialization lifted Agassi, and it’s a crucial theme of Tamny’s essential book.
According to the author, this rise of amazing jobs is a certain consequence of the robots and automation that needlessly keep people up at night. As Tamny writes, “tractors, cars, computers, washing machines, and ATMs are all robots” that “have destroyed jobs.” But rather than putting people out of work, Tamny contends that “they lead to more interesting work.” It’s hard to grasp at first glance, but a recurring theme throughout Work is the binary nature of it 150 years ago. Back then, farm employment describe the daily doings of roughly 50% of the workforce. That’s where Tamny grabbed this reader. Just as the division of labor among humans frees us to specialize, so do robots and automation do what we would rather not do so that we can do what does interest us.
All of this matters given Tamny’s surely controversial assertion that no one is lazy, and no one lacks intelligence. Instead, Tamny contends that smaller, less automated and less prosperous economies of the past stifled all manner of genius thanks to so much human effort being directed toward the provision of food. No longer. Thanks to the automation that was the tractor such that millions of farm jobs vanished around the world, workers weren’t displaced as much as they were finally able to pursue employment more associated with their skills. In other words, automation made life’s necessities progressively more abundant, and freed people to solve other problems and meet other needs. And intelligence was unearthed that previously wasn’t very apparent. Contra Tyler Cowen and other more dour economic thinkers, Tamny writes that the prosperity correlates with even higher work ethic given that prosperity invariably correlates with jobs that elevate the unique skills and intelligence that we all have.
By Tamny’s lights, lots of people were made to look dumb in an agriculture-based economy despite being immensely smart. To bolster his point in parallel, he quotes an opinion piece by Warren Buffett from 2015 in which the legendary investor asked readers to imagine if we were a “sport-based economy.” According to Buffett, in such an economy “I would be a flop,” and would “never command even a minimum wage.” Thankfully Buffett was able to specialize in capital allocation, and Tamny’s arguing that the same automation that saved Buffett from a life in the fields is saving more and more people from work that in no way mirrors their skills. This includes sports.
Indeed, while sports would have made Buffett a flop, Tamny energetically writes that “college football players should major in college football.” Rest assured that his argument is compelling, as is his view that what some consider a game is highly cerebral. For now, and with brevity in mind, Tamny shows how the pay in football has evolved. Coaching is no longer a side gig. Though Bill Belichick once earned $25/week as an assistant at a time when NFL coaches and players generally had to have real jobs in the offseason, the NFL is now littered with assistants who earn in the millions. So is college football, where average assistant pay in the SEC is $447,000. The average assistant salary across college football’s top division is $245,000, yet most interesting for this reviewer was Tamny’s statistic about Georgia. It seems the Peach State can claim twenty-three high school football coaches who earn in the six figures. And it’s not just in sports that people can make careers out of hobbies.
While restaurant entrepreneur Danny Meyer (Shake Shack, Union Square Café, Blue Smoke, etc.) recalls how “people laughed at me” in the mid-1980s when he decided to skip law school in order to become a chef, the perception was dated. It was around that time that “many American culinary stars were being recognized and celebrated.” Meyer was simply ahead of his time. Fast forward to the present, and Tamny quotes Wolfgang Puck as saying “These days, people become cooks instead of becoming doctors and lawyers.” Puck’s ebullience hit home. So does Tamny’s throughout Work.
Lost in all the talk about economic growth hitting a certain percentage increase or unemployment falling to a certain rate is what some call color. We’ve let charts and equations obscure what is personal to people. Tamny personalizes the brilliance of prosperity through a discussion of jobs that in the not-too-distant past would have been unimaginable. Per Tamny, the greatest gift of prosperity is freedom from dread on Mondays.
That’s why The End of Work is so important. Tamny reminds readers that work itself is the reward, but it’s most rewarding – by far – when we’re doing what we’re passionate about. This strikes me as a much better way to make a case for economic freedom. It won’t just lead to job creation, but to jobs that we can’t get enough of like video-game professional, and professional video-game coach. Yes, both jobs exist. And they pay well.
Gary S. Goldman is the nationally recognized host of “Business, Politics, & Lifestyles” a weekly talk show airing on WCRN 830 in Metro Boston MA. Learn more at garyonbpl.com.