It’s as if Brennan has been reading too much Marx and thinks that productivity is an embodied, intrinsic (or partially acquired) quality of an agent. Brennan knows better because he also regularly trots out claims about marginal productivity. Yet, marginal value is constant if and only if constraints are fixed–when a context changes marginal value may also change. (This is why Hayek and other Austrian economists tend to be subjectivists about economic value.)
…Brennan’s arguments are suffused with contempt for many of the working poor and unskilled. Here’s some evidence:
Again, I doubt Schleisser and I have any serious disagreements here about the theoretical economics, though we probably have at least some significant disagreements about applying that economics to real-world conditions. So, I’ll just respond by clarifying:
1. I recognize that worker productivity is highly dependent on context–it’s not an intrinsic feature of the worker. I once made $16.25/hr in a factory by pushing buttons all day. The reason my productivity was so high was that I was working in a capital-intensive industry. It wasn’t because I had any better skills than when I made $5.00/hr sacking groceries or mopping floors. You can change a worker’s productivity just by giving him a different job or putting him in a different place. (In the same way, you can change the value of strawberries just by moving them to different places.)
But, even with all that, there are people who are not productive enough to produce $14/hr in jobs that pay $14/hr. That’s not to say that they could never be that productive–with better training or better conscientiousness, many of them could be.
2. I’m a first-generation college graduate from a working class background. I grew up poor by American standards, though incredibly rich by world standards. As someone from that background, I regularly detect significant classism among college professors, who express contempt for the tastes, manners of speech, and proclivities of working class people. (E.g., see professors’ classist attitudes toward NASCAR, or see here.) That classism bothers me greatly. During college, I had plenty of sweaty labor jobs–mopping floors, building stuff, pushing buttons, etc.–alongside working class people. So, contrary to what Schliesser might think he’s hearing in my tone, I don’t have contempt for working class people. When I think of my past co-workers, some of them were hard-working, industrious, virtuous, and conscientious people. Some were lazy slacker thieves who did drugs on the job. I differentiate between them accordingly.
When I say that some people are a net drain, I just mean that there are people, who–perhaps through no fault of their own–will from the world’s standpoint consume more than they produce over the course of their lives. From an economic point of view, some people are net resource sinks and some people are net resources. Low-income people are more likely to be net sinks than high income people. That sounds like a mean thing to say, but it’s not really controversial.
Of course, many people make contributions that are not brought to market and are accordingly not measured or rewarded by the market. I don’t deny that.