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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Oct 19, 2020


One of the most interesting responses I got to my post supporting the junior doctors strike was by Salem, who said that this situation was (ethically) little different than that around adjunct professors, who also become overworked and miserable trying to break into a high-status profession. Salem very kindly didn’t directly accuse me of hypocrisy, but maybe he should have.

While I sympathize with adjuncts’ terrible conditions, my natural instinct is to say feedback mechanisms should keep doing their work. You can probably trace the argument- imagine a simplified toy model where the only two jobs are professor and salesperson, and being a professor is fun and high-status but being a salesperson is boring and low-status. Everyone will become a professor, and this will decrease the demand for professors and increase the demand for salespeople until the employers involved change their policies accordingly. Eventually it will stabilize where the nonmonetary advantages of being a professor are perfectly compensated by the monetary advantages of being a salesperson. If professors are getting paid shockingly little, it means the system is sending a signal that the nonmonetary advantages of being a professor are shockingly high, or else why would people keep trying? If we demand that professors get paid more, then we’re letting them keep all their nonmonetary advantages over salespeople but demanding they have monetary advantages as well. It destroys the system’s incentives to have people go into less fun but nevertheless necessary fields.