If you want undiluted McArdle, listen to/read her give a talk. I'm not going to even attempt to do this justice, I'll just give you the highlights. Let's watch Megan McArdle give us the equivalent of the aren't-the-slaves-happy-listen-to-them-singing! lecture. And I am not exaggerating.
[Megan McArdle] ...What people like--what is the most important thing after we've been fed, after we've been sheltered and warm and whatever? What do we like? We like interacting with other people and feeling happy and loved. Right? So, we like feeling people being nice to us, we like feeling special, we like having other people call us 'Miss McArdle' and give us a cup of herbal tea and ask us whether we want our feet massaged. We like all that--maybe not the men in the audience so much. But you guys have golf. That we like those experiences of having other people treat us well.
McAfee: But think of your last 10 service interactions with another human being. How many of them left you with that warm, chamomile tea feeling?
McArdle: Well, at some level, most of them, actually. Service in America, especially if you've lived abroad, is amazing. In Britain--they practically--
McAfee: That's the wrong benchmark. Terrible benchmark.
McArdle: Well, the French, I'm not sure I would put the French up against it, either. Actually, mostly, if it is nice, when you shop, people are nice to me.
McAfee: Oh, come on, did you walk through a sea of pleasant experiences in the airports on your way here? If so, I want to travel with you.
Russ: That's an outlier. It is an outlier.
McAfee: When you call up Comcast, when you go--
Russ: Also an outlier.
McAfee: No, no, no. These are the service economy. These are not outliers.
Russ: [31:35] No. You've picked the example of the places in America where there is very little competition due to regulation and government monopoly. I mean, there's competition--
McArdle: McDonald's people are very nice to me.
Russ: They're cheerful.
McArdle: And they ask me if I want something else, and was I satisfied with my order.
Russ: Would you like fries with that?
McArdle: Emailing me to find out if I liked something that I bought from them that I spent two minutes consuming and never thought about again. Actually I think there's more room for those sorts of things for things like haircuts and things that women didn't used to do. You used to perm your hair at home. My great aunts all permed their hair at home. Now, who would do that? No one would perm their hair, thank God.
McAfee: Wait, explain this hair concept?
Russ: That's a visual joke, for those listening at home. They'll just have to get the video version.
McArdle: More people are getting services provided to them. Even people--you go and you work 10 hours providing hair services and then on the weekend you go and get a massage because you are tired.
McAfee: I'm pushing back, but you are absolutely right. One of the weird things that happened in America over the past 30 or 40 years that really no one was anticipating is exactly the rise of these service jobs. And they came on us in huge volume. They have actually helped maintain the wage and the unemployment [employment--Econlib Ed.] levels at the lowest levels of skill and education in the country. The main problem is they are the lowest levels of skill, education, and pay in the country. So great these jobs exist; I completely agree with you. They don't look like ladders toward that classic middle class prosperity in a lot of cases. For exactly the reasons that you outline.
McArdle: I think that this is the giant challenge that we face--that we still in a lot of ways maintain the attitude about the service jobs. Part of it is a sheer supply/demand thing: we have a huge oversupply of people who are not [?] by the manufacturing sector, and are transitioning, especially working class men, as I was talking about, they are transitioning very uneasily into the service economy. But that's sad. I mean, lawyers are service people, doctors are service people--there's lots of stuff in the service economy that doesn't have to be low prestige because it's a service job. So partly to go back to the hippy-dippy portion of the program, is that a lot of this is how we treat those jobs and how we view them. Do we say--because, yes, in 1930 if you were a manicurist, the people you were manicuring were extremely rich people and you went home to your cold water flat in Brooklyn. But we don't have to view these jobs that way, and that's a cultural choice that we are making. I think middle class, we're going to have to rethink what the middle class is in this context, and what these jobs mean. But I don't think it's inherently a feature of these jobs that they involve low pay and misery.
McArdle: Well, I think there is a--so, to start with, I actually think that the money is a problem, but it's not the biggest problem. Because, as you say, there's going to be so much stuff. Right? And the things that money creates a problem with now are kind of artificial scarcity--housing, because it's hard to build, good school districts where you are reshuffling the children around, everyone wants their children with kids who are smarter than their children. And those things, yes, those are a problem, but they would be a problem if people were making $30 an hour. If there weren't any more houses, the bottom of the income distribution would still be living in those houses regardless of how much money they were pulling in. So that actually a lot of those issues are supply side issues. What I do think is--the serious issues are insecurity and the inability to either count on, as you say, understand what your future path looks like, that this is a job that I could actually have for a couple of years, that I can try to build a career and understand what that looks like, that I know I will have this job, that my employer views me as someone that they are not going to fire and let go. The problem is not Walmart in particular. Walmart was always a terrible job, in some ways. It was aimed at housewives and teenagers--that's who they employ. The problem is the other jobs aren't there. So I'm not sure I think it comes from Walmart, because retail is just, in every era that I've been aware of, has been a terrible job. Girls in 1900 New York working in department stores didn't make enough money to live on, and they had--ships--a guy made a ship where it was a dorm for the girls and they would bode out into the harbor every night, because this was the cheapest way to stack them. So, I think the issue is things like manicurists and massage therapists and golf consultants and all of those things--and this sounds really dumb; I know that there are a number of people who are going to be listening to EconTalk, maybe some people in the audience thinking, My God, this is like Marie Antoinette saying 'well, let them eat manicure jobs.' But I think that this is a fact. I'm not happy or sad about it. I just think [?] when you want to compete with a machine, what you cannot [?] is being a person and providing person-like affection and sociability.
Russ: People want to chat with their manicurist. And some manicurists like to chat with their customers. There will be a machine that will give you a manicure. The question is, what will be the nature of that interaction that you are talking about, and isn't it going to reward people who enjoy that? We know a bunch of people--we're very unrepresentative, us on the stage. We're way too educated. We don't have a lot of experience of a Wal-Mart cashier. When I'm in a Wal-Mart, which I admittedly shop at occasionally, I'm not ashamed of it, they are happy people. They seem to be enjoying that interaction. I have many friends who do, too, in that they want to sit in their cubicle all day working on their computer sitting in front of a screen, but there are a bunch of people who don't. And they have a different experience. The question is what are they going to be compensated--to me, and is the social consequences of those differences going to be large? Presumably if a lot of people want to sit at a screen and make a lot of money, the fact that being pleasant is a scarce resource, maybe it will get rewarded more generously in the future than we anticipate.
McArdle: Well, I was actually the most cheerful cashier at the [?] Pharmacy chain in New York City. People would actually ask me where I was from, on the ground that no one that nice could be from New York. And so one of the things that--who is sociable, who likes taking care of other people--and this is what we've been talking about with the decline of [?]--that's a lot of it. It's that women are willing to do these jobs and they don't mind doing them. There are lots of guys who are good at sales and customer service. It's not like guys are not capable of this. Part of it is that the role we've assigned to masculinity, right, is being gruff and not caring what other people think, and that's not a really very good characteristic for a service job.
Russ: That's changing.Happy, happy service people, who just love pampering McArdle. Who cares if they get a living wage or not, when they are so lucky to clean the dirt from beneath McArdle's toenails?