The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, February 22, 2004  

How Much Does a Manicurist Earn?

Not quite sure what to make of this. This being “A Prettier Jobs Picture?,” by Virginia Postrel, in today’s New York Times Magazine.

It’s a modest little essay about jobs and the purported undercounting of the bountiful same, and as expected, it’s replete with the favorite slogans of the rigidly doctrinaire, including “productivity,” “efficiency,” “ ‘outsourcing’ ” (her scare quotes, not mine), “entrepreneurs,” “self-employed,” “partners,” and “unincorporated businesses.”

Postrel writes:

Many of the jobs that disappeared in the recent recession have indeed vanished forever, according to a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Those workers will not be recalled as the economy improves. New jobs will have to be genuinely new, created in new or expanding enterprises.

But where will they come from? In a quickly evolving economy, in which increased productivity constantly makes some jobs redundant, we notice the job losses. It is much harder to spot where new jobs are emerging. Our mental categories tend to be behind the times. When we think of jobs, we see factories, secretarial pools, police officers, lawyers. We forget all about jobs we see every day.

Postrel would have us believe there’s a veritable economic boom in our midst, we’re just too stupid, too uncreative, to notice. She complains the Bureau of Labor Statistics is of no help in understanding what’s really happening in the economy:

The bureau is good at counting people who work for large organizations in well-defined, long-established occupations. It is much less adept at counting employees in small businesses, simply because there are too many small enterprises to representatively sample them. The bureau’s occupational survey, which might suggest which jobs are growing, doesn’t count self-employed people or partners in unincorporated businesses at all. And many of today’s growing industries, the ones adding jobs even amid the recession, are comprised largely of small companies and self-employed individuals.

So we’re on the lookout for the abundance of truly new jobs. “New new jobs,” I’ll call them.

What and where are these new new jobs? In Robotics? Nanometrics? Molecular biophysics?

No need to think so grandly! Think creatively, argues the author of The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture and Consciousness.

Helpfully, Postrel provides some examples of the great and plentiful -- and creative, let’s not forget creative -- jobs already created in the new new economy: Granite counter-top fabricators (Just $30,000 for the equipment!). Facialists, or givers of facials, or spa workers, or something, it’s not entirely clear. Massage therapists. Manicurists.


I am not making this up.

If this is someone’s idea of a joke, I wonder exactly who’s laughing.

Not me. At Postrel’s urging, I’m packing up my manicure set and heading off to beauty school.

[Post-publication addendum: I dropped a quick note to Daniel Okrent, “public editor,” or “ombudsman,” of the New York Times, about Postrel’s piece, expressing my outrage on behalf of the millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans, of which we are legion and whose aspirations, while they are likely to include the noble profession of filing fingernails, just might reach a tad higher. Did you?]

[Post-publication addendum (February 23): See also Max Sawicky and Brad DeLong.]

[Post-publication addendum (February 24): See also Seth Farber.]

[Post-publication addendum (February 25): See also Michael Bérubé.]

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