It’s Saturday evening. Are you working? It’s legal for now. Next year this time, it will be illegal unless you ding your employer for overtime pay. If your employer doesn’t agree to shell out, grab that clicker and watch some Netflix. Mandatory goofing off is your new way of life.
In countless ways, the mandates are going to put in place new barriers to career advancement. The Department of Labor — with no debate or legislation but rather through regulatory fiat — plans to impose a rule that will cause deep injury to millions of workers. It will mandate that time-and-a-half pay be dramatically expanded to cover people who barely managed to escape such rules. It will apply to income as high as $47.4K per year, and be applicable to both wages and salaries.
But hey, don’t worry, says the Department of Labor. “The final rule will become effective on December 1, 2016, giving employers more than six months to prepare.”
More like: prepare for the doom of entry-level professional careers.
The Prada Economy
The press covering of the controversy describes this as a curb on the “Prada economy.” This refers to the strenuous demands placed on young, ambitious workers in the movie, “The Devil Wears Prada.”
This is somehow supposed to improve the world. It won’t.
Such workers get entry-level pay, above the old threshold but below the new one, but work grueling hours. They must be available nights and weekends. They are asked to perform incredible feats. If they fail, there is someone else to replace them. If they succeed, they are on the road to success in the industry.
The exemption from overtime rules is what makes the Prada economy work. It’s not just fashion. Or the movies. Or politics. It’s nearly every profession, from retail to law to medicine to technology to finance. To really make it in an industry, you need more than a connection and a credential. You have to show that you have the stuff. You need to demonstrate your personal commitment. And you will typically be tasked to show this while living on a low salary — not so low as to qualify for overtime but not high either.
Is this just some random cruelty that bosses put their workers through? Not at all. There’s a method to the madness. The employee needs to onboard quickly to get to know the business and the firm. There’s so much to learn in so many areas of the business. To start in such positions and work your way up is how you gain the necessary knowledge to exercise more responsibility later.
There is also a matter of what used to be called the “work ethic.” It’s surprising how many people tend to underestimate their own potential to be productive. Maybe it is just human nature to be comfortable and slip into lazy routines. Real success requires that you break free from that habit. You need to test yourself and discover that you are capable of more.
You do this at the start of your career and you develop new habits. You see your productive potential in a different way. You do things you never thought possible. Your work becomes a life mission. Your life becomes more fulfilling.
Athletes understand this. If you want to go pro or go Olympic, you have to find ever newer and deeper sources of energy within you. You have to go beyond what you ever thought possible. You have to challenge yourself: never be satisfied with your previous record, but rather use that as a benchmark to beat on the way to the next record.
The recently deceased Muhammad Ali put it well: “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”
In sports, we understand that this is awesome and the way it should be. Why should it be different in business? Must government coddle people, prevent them from trying to achieve new things, dampen the human spirit, eliminate competition?
But We Must Be Equal
Yes, precisely, says Salon. “Good riddance to the Prada economy,” the site says. “If it takes a low-paying, schedule-devouring job to enter politics, the movies, publishing, or anything else, the only people who can enter those fields will be people with considerable financial resources. This would just be a footnote if our culture and our politics weren’t fairly important spheres of American life.”
And because some people have more financial resources than others, the Prada economy just has to be abolished. Opportunities for achievement have to be crushed. No one should be allowed to advance over others. And this will increase the diversity we see in a number of different professions.
It’s hard to know what to call this other than a malicious egalitarianism. You could use the same thinking to abolish wage differentials altogether. Educational differences have to go. Regional differences have to go. Anything that allows some to excel over others is rendered as an obvious injustice. Then all of life can be unchallenging, bland, gray, boring, routine, with the government dictating the meaning of achievement.
Disemployment Is the Point
It is rather obvious that such an overtime rule will hurt employees. Some salaried staff will be shifted to wages so they continue to achieve at the same financial results while working overtime. Other wage employees will just be cut back.
This is all to the good, says the Department of Labor. A video from the bureaucracy imagines that newly cut-backed employees will join gyms, get in shape, and go to baseball games.
So what will people actually do? They will take a second job or become Uber drivers, until that is made illegal too. Then the government will have to monitor half the workforce to make sure you aren’t trying too hard to become excellent, since that would be contrary to the goal of a unified population in which no one is better than anyone else.
There are other terrible results. It will make it harder to be a parent and a worker. It will intensify the problem of job lock. There is also a strange materialism implied by the rules, as if the whole point of working is the immediate paycheck you receive and not the experience you get, the network you grow, and the personal capital you build.
Few are saying what this really is: a violation of human rights, since one of those rights surely includes the freedom to strike employment deals that are in your own self interest.
Finally, there is something gravely rotten about a rule that will ruin so many lives that comes into effect just weeks before a president leaves office, just as he washes his hands clean of the whole thing. His killing of the Prada economy will stunt many careers. Were he still in office when that happened, the public would see that the “pro-labor” emperor wears no clothes: the devil wears nothing.
Jeffrey Tucker is director of digital development at FEE and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.