Matt Levine on "Fraud is no fun without friends."

post by Raemon · 2021-01-19T18:23:20.614Z · LW · GW · 24 comments

This is a link post for https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-01-13/fraud-is-no-fun-without-friends

Someone recently told me "Matt Levine's Finance Newsletter is really good", and then I signed up. Most post so far are about... well, I don't actually know the jargon to say what they're about, but "good typical econblogger stuff" I guess.

This is an excerpt from a particular newsletter that seemed to tie into other LessWrong interests.

The link is paywalled. If you sign up for the newsletter you'll get future essays via email for free. I'm not entirely sure about whether it seemed reasonable to quote this substantively, but FWIW I endorse signing up for future newsletters.

The way a lot of financial crime works is by slow acculturation. You show up at work on your first day, bright-eyed and idealistic, and meet your new colleagues. They seem like a great bunch of people, they’re so smart and know so much and seem to be having so much fun. They go out for beers after work a lot, and sometimes they let you tag along and listen to their hilarious jokes and war stories.

During the day, they teach you how to trade Treasury futures, and it is all so exciting and high-stakes and important. You shadow one experienced trader and quickly find yourself imitating his mannerisms, looking up to him, hoping to be like him one day. “Here is where I put in some fake orders to spoof the price higher,” he says; “a little razzle dazzle to juke the algos.” “Isn’t that, uh, illegal?” you ask timidly. “Hahahaha illegal!” he replies ambiguously. You do not press the matter. Three months later you are bragging in the desk’s electronic chat room about your own big spoofing victories. As you type “lol i just spoofed em so good hope i dont go to jail” into the chat window, you feel a rush of pride; now you really fit in, you are one of them. You go out for beers that evening and you are the center of attention; everyone congratulates you and celebrates your achievements. It is a great day. Six months later you are arrested.

Now imagine the same story except that you show up at work your first day on Zoom, and your colleagues seem kinda nice but talking to them is awkward and disjointed, and you have no idea what they do after work because nobody leaves their house, but you have a Zoom happy hour once and that’s pretty awful. And there is an electronic chat room, sure, and your colleagues make jokes in the chat, but you don’t get a lot of them because they reference stuff that happened in the office, in person, before you arrived. You learn to trade Treasury futures by reading some training materials. “I just put in some fake orders to spoof the price higher,” says one experienced trader in the chat one day. You frown and reference the training materials, which say “spoofing is super duper illegal and should be reported to compliance immediately.” You shrug and send the chat transcript to compliance. Your colleague gets fired and prosecuted. He may or may not feel a sense of personal betrayal that you turned him in, but you’ll never know or care.

The SEC knows what I’m talking about:

> The work-from-home phenomenon has triggered a fresh frustration for U.S. corporations: Americans are blowing the whistle on their employers like never before.

> The proof is in the data, with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission receiving 6,900 tips alleging white-collar malfeasance in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, a 31% jump from the previous 12-month record. Officials at the agency, which pays whistle-blowers for information that leads to successful investigations, say the surge really started gaining traction in March when Covid-19 forced millions to relocate to their sofas from office cubicles.

> The isolation that comes with being separated from a communal workplace has made many employees question how dedicated they are to their employers, according to lawyers for whistle-blowers and academics. What’s more, people feel emboldened to speak out when managers and co-workers aren’t peering over their shoulders.

> “You’re not being observed at the photocopy machine when you’re working from home,” said Jordan Thomas, a former SEC official who helped set up the agency’s whistle-blower program a decade ago. “It’s never been easier to record a meeting when you can do it from your dining room table,” added Thomas, who now represents tipsters as an attorney at Labaton Sucharow in Washington.

> Adam Waytz, a psychologist and professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, agrees.

> “When you feel disconnected from work, you feel more comfortable speaking up,” said Waytz, who has studied the motivations of whistle-blowers.

Also I would guess that somewhat more financial crime is now coordinated via email and electronic chat than it was a year ago, when you could just turn to the person sitting next to you and talk live about your crimes. And if you’re going to blow the whistle to the SEC, it helps to have electronic chats to forward to them. Though I would not put too much emphasis on this explanation; traders seem to love talking about their crimes via electronic chat even when they are sitting right next to each other.

I guess this story is good news from a prevention-of-financial-crime perspective, but it is sort of a sad story from a human perspective. All these people feeling disconnected from their work and their colleagues, with no strong personal ties of loyalty and friendship and common mission. Sure the common mission in these particular cases was crime, but still. 

One way to read this story is that one sort of business that is conducted at offices is fraud, and people in the fraud business have become 31% less loyal and motivated and conscientious since the pandemic started, which is causing some previously viable fraud businesses to have to shut down. (Because the SEC caught them.) Which is not a loss for society or anything. But the mechanism here, of people feeling disconnected from their jobs and disloyal to their colleagues, is not unique to the fraud business. This story is a sort of leading indicator of a breakdown in morale and group cohesion generally as so much work is done from home. That is probably bad for a lot of projects; it’s just that one of the projects it’s bad for is fraud.

24 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Dagon · 2021-01-19T18:48:59.879Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Definitely recommend the newsletter.  It's definitely more focused on the finance world (banking and stock mechanisms) than "typical econblogger stuff".  This focus and specificity makes it very interesting, and affects my modeling of the world more directly than a broader look at "the economy".

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2021-01-19T18:53:18.525Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah I thought about trying to specify ‘finance stuff’ but then wasn’t actually sure I knew the definition of finance and whether that was quite the right word

comment by ChristianKl · 2021-01-20T08:21:51.032Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the chances of reporting a collegue for committing for fraud jumps from 0.3% to 0.4%, in some ways that's a big deal but in other's the effect isn't that great. It's big in relative terms but not in absolute terms. 

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-01-19T21:54:38.235Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This story is a sort of leading indicator of a breakdown in morale and group cohesion generally as so much work is done from home.

 

I'm not so sure. The "fraud business" seems like it would particularly depend on strategies for morale and cohesion to survive. Many other viable businesses can survive without having high levels of morale and group cohesion to begin with.

COVID destroys business models that depend on people being in thick with each other. That's not just fraud, it's also restaurants, retail, the arts, fashion, and probably other industries too. Turns out fraud is also in that category. It's just a less obvious example, because the "work" itself is done via computer. Rather than the loss of "fraud" being a "leading indicator," we're just getting one more example of damage that we already knew about.

That is probably bad for a lot of projects; it’s just that one of the projects it’s bad for is fraud.

There might be a bright side to this. There are industries that are in an uncanny valley between being a form of productive work and a socially-sponsored hobby.

The legitimate industries I mentioned above are all examples. Not only are consumers of these luxury industries paying to indulge in a hedonic and status treadmill, the producers of these goods and services are often attracted to work in them by the status and fun of those roles. They accept a huge opportunity cost to work these sorts of jobs just for the status and fun.

Destroy the camaraderie, and the less talented/dedicated people, those who are most attracted to the sheer camaraderie, will quit. And that might be great for society. We don't want people working a job primarily because it's fun and they like their coworkers. We want them working a job because they're providing valuable goods and services that meet pre-existing demand. Camaraderie is a nice bonus.

In short, a force that preferentially destroys camaraderie-dependent projects might be a long-term net positive for society, including for the people who were working on the projects themselves.

Replies from: ryan_b, mr-hire, felix-karg, DonyChristie, maximkazhenkov
comment by ryan_b · 2021-01-20T14:31:40.512Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I cannot imagine the destruction of social bonds in work being a long-term positive, except possibly from a full-bore anti-work perspective. There are three considerations that dominate my thinking:

  • If camaraderie is out, this means the business succeeds or fails on the financials alone. Startups will reap a grim harvest of failure, because virtually none of them are financially viable and the camaraderie of being in that environment is a significant factor in survival until the threshold is crossed. The valley of death gets wider and deeper; the ability of a business to endure a recession or disruption also goes down.
  • If camaraderie is out, a job does not fall back to neutral, it falls back to hostile. It is actively bad for people's health to be shut off from social contact for long periods, and this means that jobs in general will be bad for you; they are sources of stress with no countervailing psychological forces.
  • Teamwork suffers to the same extent as camaraderie, which means any type of work that relies on multiple people to adapt quickly takes a direct production hit. The conditions for camaraderie to develop are also the conditions that produce enough familiarity with teammates to enable high performance with them.
Replies from: AllAmericanBreakfast
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-01-20T17:49:30.431Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To take this further, my original argument was the idea that there are people who pursue camaraderie above all else. They not only refuse to pursue more socially valuable forms of work, but they demand that other people subsidize them.

If camaraderie disappears, they might pursue more socially valuable forms of work. In my mind, the model is a bit like a forced "sobering-up." I imagine it could reduce the number of people with a sense of privileged, selfish entitlement.

But it's also possible that the reverse happens. Maybe those people, losing camaraderie, will just become unhappy, while still feeling a sense of privileged, selfish entitlement, and doing even less to help other people. Their unhappiness would be a bad thing, to my mind. It's only good in the way an addict hitting "rock bottom" can be a good thing, if this terrible experience motivates them to turn their life around.

But "rock bottom" can also mean you give up, or even die. It can become a permanent state of affairs. Even if it might have some good effects, this isn't the way you'd ideally like to obtain them.

I want to push back on the three points you bring up, although they're good points all the same.

  • Businesses don't succeed purely on the basis of camaraderie + financials. What about the intrinsic interest of the work? What about the prospect of helping other people?
  • If camaraderie is out, this might mean that jobs that were formerly places of companionship become neutral. But does it mean that jobs that were formerly neutral become hostile? Or does it just mean that we have a much larger number of jobs that are neutral?
  • The loss of productivity due to teamwork is an obvious bad, but that's a separate issue. Obviously COVID and remote work cause lots of problems beyond the loss of camaraderie. I'm specifically talking about the effects of loss of camaraderie.
Replies from: ryan_b
comment by ryan_b · 2021-01-20T18:39:59.942Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think I agree with your original argument; more specifically my claim is that these people are a small enough fraction of the population that the harms to the majority in terms of happiness and productivity would be greater on net than any productivity boost the exclusively-social workers would experience.

Responding to your responses:

  • The crux of my belief here is that the interest of the work and the prospect of helping other people are not separable from the camaraderie element. The majority of the actual power these factors exert comes from the social reinforcement. For example, if the satisfaction of the work were enough, why not just work directly alone? This effect is much stronger in things like startups and/or charities, although entirely separately I can see an argument that most startups and charities collapsing would be much more efficient from an economic perspective.
  • I suspect this is a key disagreement - backing up a bit, I claim that normal for people is more or less continuous social contact. Social contact at work may not be as satisfying as family or friends, but it is at least something. So under this model, time at work is time away from social contact, which is strictly bad and added to the other costs of working a job. This turns a job into a pretty stark money-for-suffering trade, and I see no reason to expect compensation will increase even though suffering does.
  • I agree it's a separate cost to measure, but I assert it shares the same cause. So there can be no scenario where you lose camaraderie but maintain teamwork (or enjoyment of the work, or the satisfaction of helping people) at the same levels.
Replies from: AllAmericanBreakfast
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-01-20T20:26:16.930Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some workplaces are also populated by bullies and obnoxious people. So while some people lose friendly contact with a great set of colleagues, others are freed from being forced to be around a bunch of jerks. Hard to say how that washes out in the end.

Where people are continuing to work a job in spite of the presence of a bunch of jerks, that's at least a small sign that the job has some intrinsic value to them or others. Being freed of being around jerks means that they're still working a job that we can maybe trust is socially valuable, but now they're strictly better off. This factor means that time away from social contact is not "strictly bad" as you claim, though certainly it is for some people.

By contrast, people for whom camaraderie was a necessary condition for working their job is, to me, a small sign that their job has a relative lack of intrinsic value. While they've lost something that was of personal value to them, which is bad in its own right, there may be this countervailing benefit from the destruction of jobs that only exist because of the fun factor for employees/volunteers.

Replies from: ryan_b
comment by ryan_b · 2021-01-20T21:24:50.569Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some workplaces are also populated by bullies and obnoxious people. So while some people lose friendly contact with a great set of colleagues, others are freed from being forced to be around a bunch of jerks. Hard to say how that washes out in the end.

This is an excellent point. There are whole companies with a pretty terrible reputation for this kind of thing; I wonder if they would go out of business because leadership doesn't know how else to operate, or be saved by people suddenly sticking around for more than a year and developing real competence.

Further, I wonder how well the bullies are represented among that exclusive-social class, except in this case they work exclusively for the experience of domination rather than camaraderie. While I expect them to be the smallest segment we've discussed so far, I also expect their neutralization as being the biggest per-capita difference in terms of other people's welfare and productivity.

If we model bad social experiences like bullying and jerkassery as akin to loss aversion, we might be able to make an estimate. If we model this "social loss aversion" as a 2:1, where experiencing 2 good social interactions is wiped out by 1 bad social interaction, then it starts to look like if one-third of workplace interactions are bad then losing social contact is a break-even proposition. I can easily imagine that being the case in lots of places, particularly since different people are bound to have different real curves for this "social loss."

comment by Matt Goldenberg (mr-hire) · 2021-01-20T01:00:02.622Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Destroy the camaraderie, and the less talented/dedicated people, those who are most attracted to the sheer camaraderie, will quit. And that might be great for society. We don't want people working a job primarily because it's fun and they like their coworkers. We want them working a job because they're providing valuable goods and services that meet pre-existing demand. Camaraderie is a nice bonus.

This seems not right to me. If someone is supporting themselves and enjoying themselves that seems like a win for society. I'm general I want people to be happy in their jobs.

Replies from: AllAmericanBreakfast
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-01-20T02:48:22.675Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. My issue is when people of sound mind and body aren't supporting themselves on a fundamental level. For example, they might be living paycheck to paycheck when they could be doing better, perhaps because they are using their parents as a fallback.

Having spent a lot of time in and around the arts, my experience is that there are lots of people who have a day job, yet define their "career" as "being an artist." This graduates into a sense of entitlement to an audience and being paid for their art, and a sense that when they fail to achieve this, society has failed them.

A part of what keeps people like this motivated to continue in their overall unhappy pursuit is their identity, the occasional bright spots of camaraderie when they do manage to get some sort of project going, and a slowly-developing psychological exaggeration of how meaningful their "work" is. Their community as a whole knows how to create a false sense of glamour that draws in artist and audience alike. Chasing this glamour is a big motivator for the whole enterprise.

It's this sort of camaraderie - the camaraderie of fraud, of glamour, or any other collective self-delusion that perpetuates deep deviations of work from social value, or even from genuine sustained happiness or achievement - that I am against. I think there are a lot of projects that are held together by that sort of collective, cult-like delusion or group pressure.

Replies from: mr-hire
comment by Matt Goldenberg (mr-hire) · 2021-01-20T13:57:22.077Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think I still disagree with your second point, but now for almost an opposite reason.

I think society needs delusional starving artists and entrepreneurs to get that one piece of transcendent art or world-changing company.

For instance, I think it'd be fair to describe early Apple as a collective, cult-like delusion or group pressure. We needed 100 of those that failed to get the one that succeeded. Similar to Van Gogh as a starving artist - 100 starving artists with unjustified belief in the power of their art produced the 1 Van Gogh.

Replies from: AllAmericanBreakfast
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-01-20T17:58:29.447Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think society needs delusional starving artists and entrepreneurs to get that one piece of transcendent art or world-changing company.

I also agree with this! And my thought is that when you lose the artists and entrepreneurs who were in it for the glamour and the parties, you don't lose much. What you keep are the artists and entrepreneurs who are obsessed with creating something valuable. Who are motivated by the work itself, who believe in it.

Apple may have been a "collective, cult-like delusion or group pressure," but it's not obvious to me that in-person camaraderie was the key to their success, as opposed to belief in the product.

I might just be a weirdo with a long history of solo work and remote collaborations/learning, and my model of what drives people might just be totally whack. Certainly, it's limited to the types of experiences I've encountered in my life.

But having spent a fair amount of time in the art world, the art pieces I've seen that seem the most valuable are usually produced by work-focused, professionally-minded people. The genius stuff comes from pretty lonely people and the folks who enable them. It's a need to create and realize an artistic vision, and a desire to help bring that into the world, that motivates the most necessary work I've seen.

Replies from: ckai, mr-hire
comment by ckai · 2021-01-20T21:46:36.140Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know a successful author who says he started writing because he noticed authors get more attention at cons.  FWIW.  (I'm pretty sure he gets something out of the work itself, and yet, this is the story he tells.)

Observing this discussion, your point seems to be that there are some people in the world who do things because they are fun rather than because they are worthwhile (IYO), and that the world as a whole would be better if these people were less able to have fun so that they would be more motivated to do worthwhile (IYO) things.  Given this, I don't suppose my anecdote actually changes anything about the main thrust of your argument, as you can just define the guy I know as outside of the class of people you're talking about.  I mean, the amount of time he spends writing is probably more than the amount of time he spends at cons.  Maybe his hard work purifies his desire to have fun?  Maybe he's earned the right to have a little fun?  Maybe he would have found some other reason to start writing if there were no cons?

And yet, I do sort of wonder if you're constructing a meaningful class of people, these people who are seduced by parties and glamour but would otherwise be doing something more worthy (IYO)...  I sort of wonder if you are yourself being seduced by a narrative about the lone genius and/or the intrinsic value of hard work, and maybe by that thing that Zvi recently talked about where things are considered more valuable because they are sacrifices.  Sacrifice all your fun, and your work will be more valuable?

I also think it's...really sweet, in a way, that you just assume that these people can find some way of contributing to the world that will both make them more money and be a more meaningful contribution to the world.  Have you considered that maybe some of the people who you think could find something more valuable...maybe they don't share your belief, maybe they resonate with the idea of "bullshit jobs" or "moral mazes" rather than whatever assumptions about jobs and value that you have, and that perhaps these people are taking their meaning, their value, and their idea of what their true work is where they can find it?  And that the thing stopping them from doing the things you consider more valuable may run deeper than being seduced by parties?

And finally, perhaps consider that in art, there is not necessarily one measure of value.  The piece that speaks to you may not speak to me.  The piece that speaks to me may not speak to you.  I assume you've also heard of the long tail?  Something doesn't have to change the world or even reach a large portion of the world in order to have any value at all, and if that small value is lost, if all those small bits of value are lost...

I suppose you might not miss it much if the people whose art you disdain were to stop making art altogether.  At least at first.  But as John Donne said, "Any man's death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind."

Perhaps you might consider art as an ecosystem, and the loss of any art potentially diminishes all art.  So if you like any art at all (which I assume you do, otherwise I can't imagine why you'd spend so much time in and around the arts)... "Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;  It tolls for thee."

Replies from: AllAmericanBreakfast
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-01-20T22:28:59.824Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd add one more piece, which came out of my discussion with ryan_b above. In addition to losing positive social contact (camaraderie), we're losing negative social contact (bullying, obnoxious people, etc).

Most people think that you need more than one positive interaction to "cancel out" a negative one. So even small reductions in negative social contact might make up for large losses in positive social contact.

So we're losing:

  • Entire projects for which camaraderie is necessary for them to exist (which I posit is a sign that they may be relatively lacking in social value).
  • Aspects of social experience in projects that do survive, including both in-person bullying and obnoxiousness, along with camaraderie (which I posit isn't too hard to imagine being neutral-to-positive on net).

You and others here are arguing that there exist jobs that are of great social value, but that also depend on camaraderie to get started or survive. Examples given here include startups and this author that you speak of. Surely there are others we could give. If we lose even one project of great social value, along with many unnecessary projects fueled by camaraderie alone, that might still be a net loss.

Perhaps you might consider art as an ecosystem, and the loss of any art potentially diminishes all art.

To broaden and take this literally, the loss of any X potentially diminishes all X. When an artist pursues their art rather than becoming a shoe salesman, the shoe industry is diminished. I guess, but who cares? On the level of the economy, everything is a tradeoff.

RE you're "I also think it's really... sweet" bit, I'd also say it's kind of sweet that you assume that people who are pursuing the arts find it to be rewarding, or that the camaraderie that keeps these communities knit together is a pleasant experience. From what I've encountered, a lot of that "camaraderie" looks like FOMO, jealousy, inferiority complexes, extreme competition for scarce resources, and a sense of identity defined by victory in a zero-sum status competition, and to top it all off, it has to come with the pretense of liking others in the scene (and the scene itself).

I know this sounds mean, but I really am just trying to honestly explore the idea that maybe we depend a lot less on camaraderie than it seems, and perhaps we're in general better off a lot more alone than we've been able to be in the past. Perhaps having more options to work remotely will enable people to be a lot more choosy about when and how they engage with others, leading to long-term much better relationships and communities than existed formerly.

Replies from: ckai
comment by ckai · 2021-01-21T02:39:31.851Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd also say it's kind of sweet that you assume that people who are pursuing the arts find it to be rewarding, or that the camaraderie that keeps these communities knit together is a pleasant experience.

Actually, that was an element that you introduced.  "We don't want people working a job primarily because it's fun and they like their coworkers."  and "the occasional bright spots of camaraderie when they do manage to get some sort of project going"  

But given your description of "a slowly-developing psychological exaggeration of how meaningful their 'work' is", I guess I'm more inclined to give the people being described the benefit of the doubt than you are, which I admit is a bit cheeky considering that they're not people I've ever met.  Still, I think it's worth at least considering the possibility that their values are not your values, and what you describe as exaggeration might be actual meaning to them.

Re: bullying, I've seen plenty of bullying over the internet, and some types of bullying are much more prevalent in online spaces.  I don't really see any argument for bullying going away when more things are virtual.  And for obnoxious people, I wonder if they might be more obnoxious, based on virtual things being generally more awkward.  Obnoxious and awkward might be worse than just obnoxious?

Re: artist vs. shoe salesperson, there is one difference that seems especially salient to their influence on their respective scenes.  Artists are expected to bring their uniqueness to what they do, while most shoe salespeople are limited in how much they are allowed to do so.  So the loss of an artist to the art world is more likely to be the loss of something unique than the loss of a shoe salesperson to the shoe world.

When you describe the arts by saying "Their community as a whole knows how to create a false sense of glamour that draws in artist and audience alike. Chasing this glamour is a big motivator for the whole enterprise." and then go on to talk about "collective self-delusion that perpetuates deep deviations of work from social value, or even from genuine sustained happiness or achievement" and "a lot of that 'camaraderie' looks like FOMO, jealousy, inferiority complexes, extreme competition for scarce resources, and a sense of identity defined by victory in a zero-sum status competition, and to top it all off, it has to come with the pretense of liking others in the scene (and the scene itself)"

... sure, you're examining the idea that being alone is better, but you also seem to have an axe to grind against the arts.  I am not reacting against the idea that sometimes being alone is better.  I'm reacting against the idea that the world would be better off without much of the arts, and that the arts are in some sense perpetuating a fraud against hopeful artists and audience alike -- that they are just glamour and illusion -- that any value is the exception, not the rule, and most claimed value is deception.  I believe your argument relies on your own sense of what is valuable, and I do not believe that your sense of what is valuable captures all value.

On a different note, if you haven't already seen it, you might find this interesting:

https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2015/05/20/pretending-to-care-pretending-to-agree/

comment by Matt Goldenberg (mr-hire) · 2021-01-20T22:24:57.735Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

. What you keep are the artists and entrepreneurs who are obsessed with creating something valuable. Who are motivated by the work itself, who believe in it.

Ahh yeah, I think I have a broader view of the genesis of great works. I certainly think that there exists the "just be solitary and do great work" sort of thing.

But I also think there exists a thing where collective genius and the right "scene" can draw someone, then unlock their latent genius.  Thinking of environments like the Chelsea Hotel, or an environment like early Bridgewater. People were drawn in because of the culture, which then instilled in them that sense of taste and love of the work itself.

Replies from: AllAmericanBreakfast
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-01-20T23:35:15.962Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I'm sure there are both dynamics at play. People seek communities where they can work with others who share their mission, but they also develop their mission by participating in communities. "Come for the free pizza, stay for saving the world" or whatever :D

My prior is that there is a vastly bigger balance of people coming for the free pizza, then dissolving in low-key bitterness and anomie when the pizza runs out, so to speak :) Basically, I think there are a lot of people who've been "tricked by free pizza" into wasting an enormous amount of time and human potential, and that maybe we actually stand to unlock their human potential even more when that source of deception is taken away by circumstances.

comment by Felix Karg (felix-karg) · 2021-01-20T13:56:05.110Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Destroy the camaraderie, and the less talented/dedicated people, those who are most attracted to the sheer camaraderie, will quit.

In my experience, camaraderie is one of the attracting forces especially for more talented and dedicated people, since they already have/or can easily get 'everything else'.

Replies from: AllAmericanBreakfast
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-01-20T18:05:00.881Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sure it is, and that's actually why I think it might be good that it's lessened/dampened. Because there are other attracting forces for talented and dedicated people beyond money.

One is altruism or a belief in the importance of the work, another is intrinsic satisfaction of the job, and a third is a sense that the workplace is well-organized and has a minimum of red tape and hoops to jump through.

Get rid of the parties, glamour, and pressure, and these other virtues become even more important. Basically, I'm positing that some people were until recently trading valuable/important/satisfying work for glamour and parties and fun times hanging out with their coworkers. That doesn't seem like a good trade to me.

The real danger, to my mind, is that losing the glamour/parties/fun might be so important to some of these very successful people that they just quit entirely, and do nothing at all. That would be a real loss. My guess is that while this will happen to some extent, that glamour/parties/fun are not the primary attractive feature of work for the people who are making the world move forward.

Replies from: felix-karg
comment by Felix Karg (felix-karg) · 2021-01-21T12:46:22.109Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, I see — the devil is in the detail. We are not really disagreeing about most things. I see it as a policy question where I think that network effects are more important, while your focus is (correct me if I got that wrong) on the importance of individual motivations.

that glamour/parties/fun are not the primary attractive feature of work for the people who are making the world move forward.

You are right, but their secondary effects are potentially more important: attracting more people who can work on moving the world forward. I can see why having a significant amount of people like that could be problematic for any organization, which is maybe (?) enough reason to avoid them on the policy level.

 

(there was a post about that some time ago, I tried to find it again but couldn't. The basic argument was that charities should not claim to be the 'single best', since they could benefit more from people giving overall than competing against each other. The basic argument still holds: for big causes, more people are generally better if you can efficiently use them, whatever their primary motivation really is.)

comment by DonyChristie · 2021-01-23T20:05:10.110Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A crucial consideration for why destroying restaurant business is good: factory farming.

comment by maximkazhenkov · 2021-01-20T00:20:53.828Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And that might be great for society. We don't want people working a job primarily because it's fun and they like their coworkers. We want them working a job because they're providing valuable goods and services that meet pre-existing demand.

Who's "we" and who's "society"?

comment by Xeno of Citium · 2021-01-22T03:44:57.137Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's worth keeping at in mind that people are currently unable to use the advantages of working from home to replace lost camaraderie because of the virus.  At the very least, it's much harder to do so.  This is important for the broader effects on human happiness, if not on the effects on work itself.  Once socializing in person isn't dangerous, people can use the hours of the day they save from not commuting, plus all the time they spend in neutral social interactions in the office (which are net negative because they take energy and time without providing joy), and use that on positive social interactions with people they actually like.  I suspect this will be a strong net positive for human happiness, because (white collar professional) offices are a lot more about controlling workers than efficiency and there are a lot of jobs that don't lose or even gain efficiency from not being in an office.

Plus, people are taking care of their school-age children, trying to arrange grocery delivery, working without organizations that might not have had a WFH plan ahead of time, trying to not die of COVID, and dealing with an unusually tumultuous political scene at the same time.  I'd urge caution attributing any particular effect solely to working from home.  Two years from now we'll have better data.

(I can say anecdotally (I know, I know) that working from home has improved my performance and cut the time I need to actually do my work down to a few hours a day, and my direct manager agrees with me on the first part (I have not shared the first part but I'm pretty sure this applies to everyone on my team and we're tacitly not talking about it lest someone feel obligated to ruin it).  I'd be going insane if I didn't have several good friends as roommates who are now home and able to hang out during the work day, but that won't be an issue once I could go hang out at a coffee shop, park, or other person who's WFH's house without risking the plague.  And I get to spend two extra hours a day, five days a week, at leisure due to not commuting - an excellent boost to both my health and happiness!)