Dilettantes dilemma

I will probably have to retire next year & I am looking for things to do. Among other things, I am considering part-time teaching. This would be a way to share some of my education and experience with the next generation. They call this a generative aspiration because it is meant to be helpful and useful. But it is also a bit of a problem in today’s labor market.

If you look at the plight of adjunct faculty, it is not a good place to be. Adjunct faculty is paid not very much and they often have to cobble together several jobs to make ends meet. Enter former diplomats or former executives or former anything. We are looking for something interesting and useful to do, but we are not very much concerned with earning money or improving working conditions. For us it is just fun. We provide competition for people who want to make a career in the field and it is tough competition because we are willing to work for peanuts. So the generative, generous and selfless endeavor starts looking less benign.

I was talking to a taxi driver a few days ago about Uber, that service that lets individuals become part time taxi drivers when they got nothing else to do. It is part of the sharing economy, where people share things that they aren’t using to full extent. Like my adjunct professor idea, this looks good. You are expanding the universe of providers, improving the use of resources and lowering prices. But we have the dilettante problem again.

My taxi driving informant complained that the Uber folks skim off the best customers. This is more than grumbling. He has a point. It is easy and profitable to be a taxi driver if you only have to take the best customers at the best times. The professionals have also to pick up the bad cases and take them to the bad places. It is like the sales manager who steps in at busy times and books so many more sales per-hour than his subordinates who have to work through thick and thin.

It pains me to say this, but there are times when you want to build in some market inefficiencies, when you really want to make people pay more for products and services than that market would naturally demand. Of course, this can easily get out of hand too. Taxi services are a good example. In some places, the numbers are kept so artificially low that prices are way too high and service too slow. It is something in perpetual dynamic tension, but maybe the end goal is not what would appear most efficient.

I ride my bike to work and have been riding the same way since 1997. I know the road and the traffic lights. You would think that I would be most happy when all the lights go my way, but you would be mistaken. Sometimes when I turn onto a familiar street and see the green light in the distance, I am happy because I know that I cannot possible reach it in time. By the time I get there, even at Lance Armstrong steroid pace, it will be red. I can relax and time it at a leisurely pace to cross when it again turns green. Not only that, I can complain about the injustice of having to stop so often and use it as an excuse for being slow. It takes me around an hour and fifteen minutes to get to work. I can make it in less than an hour and have done, but it is hard and probably a little dangerous. Maybe a few stops built into the system are good.

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