Monday, March 30, 2020

The Parasite Class

Something the Chinese coronavirus pandemic is exposing is how lopsided our economic system and public policy priorities have become.

Our society is divided economically by doers and talkers. Doers are people who have jobs that have traditionally existed in Western society. 300 years ago we had carpenters. Today we have carpenters. The tools have somewhat changed but the job is basically the same. 300 years ago we had teamsters who moved freight. We have the same thing today although they drive trucks instead of horse-drawn wagons and chuck pop bottles full of pee along the interstate. Store clerks. Cooks. Farmers. Mechanics. There is something tangible they do. You can see if a shelf is restocked with cans of chicken soup or not. Either a corn field gets planted or it doesn't. You can't fake that. Did that load of toilet paper make it from the distribution center to the local Wal-Mart or not?

Then we have the talkers. Most of my professional career I was a talker. I didn't do anything of note. I attended meetings, went on sales calls, received and replied to emails. I worked in offices or cubicles surrounded by other people who didn't actually do anything. That didn't mean it wasn't difficult and stressful, it absolutely was primarily because we weren't doing anything. Everything was made up so it was pretty tricky to do it right. It was all about managing people, and especially managing the people above you on the corporate ladder. The key was to convince them you were doing a great job when in fact you weren't actually doing anything useful at all. It didn't really matter if you worked super hard or if you spent your day getting more coffee, blogging and managing your fantasy sports teams because at the end of the day you hadn't done anything either way. As long as your boss thought you were ticking the check-boxes, you were good to go and I spent many, many years getting pretty good at managing fantasy sports teams while convincing my bosses that I was hard at work. It is a world where sycophants and suck-ups thrive and where people with middling talent of any kind can climb the corporate ladder until they find their own personal sweet spot and then they lodge themselves into their corporate host like a tick, sucking blood and impossible to dislodge.

The people in the first category make this country work. They pay taxes and produce a tangible good or service. The people in the second category? They are parasites. They siphon off value from the people who actually do stuff. When you have one or two people like this, it is an annoyance but when you have millions of them spread across the entire economy they serve as an anchor that creates drag on the whole economy.

A perfect example of the parasite class is the ubiquitous "Human Resources Department". Every organization beyond a sole proprietor has someone filling this role and in many larger organizations it is a massive bureaucracy. HR departments are overwhelmingly staffed by women who all look about the same and most of those women have an absolute lack of any sort of useful skills. It doesn't matter that much if they are the HR department for a factory or for a high tech firm, they do the same basic job. They usually know nothing about the business they work for. The HR people at Ford can't design a car or manage a factory or even build a car. They just perform the same useless functions that every other HR manager performs. In doing so, they add no value to the organization, they are simply an expense like toilet paper. In spite of their utter lack of utility and the reality that most people in HR are useless for any real task, they wield an incredible amount of authority. No one wants to get called into HR. They are kind of like the secret police of the corporate world.

For example, this is Kiersten Robinson....

(As a side note, I never heard of her
before I started researching her background)

She is the "Chief Human Resources Officer" for Ford. What does that title mean at Ford, a global manufacturer with 190,000 employees and $155 billion in revenue? According to Ford's webpage:

"In this role, Robinson oversees all global people processes including talent management, workforce planning, learning and development, recruiting, diversity and inclusion, compensation and benefits, and the dealer policy board."

OK, so what does that corporate word salad mean? Pretty much nothing other than she oversees hundreds or thousands of HR staff for Ford. She also reports directly to Jim Hackett, the President and CEO of Ford. Most people in her role report directly to the top of the organization. What qualifications does she bring to the table?

According to her Linkedin Page, she graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1991 with a degree in Education. That puts her at right around 50 years old today. She hung around a different Australian university, Victoria University, for two years ('93-'95) as "Coordinator of Volunteers" which sounds like a super important job. Then a gap where she didn't list a job until she suddenly in 1997, six years after graduating from university, she landed a job as "Manager, Organization & Personnel Planning, Ford of Europe". That sounds fairly important. What qualified her for that job? Don't know. As of 2009, Ford of Europe had almost 70,000 employees. What does a late twenty-something year old girl with apparently no experience and an education degree bring to the table for that position? Don't know but that is the beauty of HR. You don't have to have much in the way of skills and experience, just the right level of ability to utter bullshit phrases and navigate the endless paperwork and regulations.

Anyway, she spent the next two decades working at Ford in increasingly important sounding jobs in HR all over the world, including "Director, HR Strategy, Leadership Development and Inclusion" until she landed the job as Chief Human Resources Officer. In those 20 years she hasn't designed a car, managed people doing real work or done so much as put a car door together. I bet she had all sorts of meetings and oversaw lots of important projects and pushed a bunch of paper around. But doing anything value added? Nope.

My point is not to make fun of Kiersten Robinson. I am sure she thinks she is critical to Ford and I am even more sure that she made more in 2019 than I made in the last ten years combined. But she is typical of HR people. I picked her completely at random since I mentioned Ford earlier in the post and she was exactly what I expected to find. She might be a very nice lady but she is still a parasite.

The parasite class mostly exists to create the conditions to prolong their employment and aid other parasites in getting and retaining jobs. They also tend to be concentrated geographically.

Big cities are full of the parasite class but nowhere is this more true than in the Washington D.C. leviathan. In good times and bad, D.C. keeps growing. When we were in the last serious economic crisis, things were blissfully oblivious in D.C.. People across the country were struggling, losing their jobs and their homes, barely making ends meet but in D.C. houses sold as soon as they hit the market, the malls were full of people and driveways had nice, new cars. There are tens of thousands of government parasites in D.C. who collect our tax money and then grudgingly send it back to us if we ask nicely. They exist mostly to create rules and forms and documents that other members of the parasite class use to justify their own existence. For example, the Jamie L. Whitten Building in D.C. is the home of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


This is the flagship of the USDA, an organization with over 100,000 employees. In this building alone are probably thousands of petty bureaucrats who have never been on a farm. They create regulations and forms and push paper from one side of their desk to the other. They don't produce food but they require those who do to jump through hoops that are ever changing. The Jamie L. Whitten Building is just one of many buildings just like it in D.C., imposing and grim blocks of limestone and concrete. Here is another example, the equally awful looking Frances Perkins Building, home of the Department of Labor.


The Department of Labor is a delightfully misnamed outfit. Like the Department of Agriculture full of people with no agricultural experience, the Department of Labor is staffed with people who have never labored in their life. Over 17,000 people are employed at the DOL and like their compatriots at the other departments housed in similarly ugly buildings that look like they were crapped out of a giant concrete monster, they exist to create rules and regulations that in turn require employers to hire HR managers to interpret and comply with. It doesn't help any actual workers to do their jobs but it is great an ensuring that the parasites get to stay employed.

It isn't just the surly, talentless locust who work in the big Federal departments. D.C. is full of private sector parasites as well. Every interest group in America has an office in D.C., all trying to siphon tax dollars for their liege lords. As the theme suggests, these people aren't doing anything useful, they are conniving ways to get their paws on those sweet, sweet Federal dollars and at the same time trying to keep those surly bureaucrats from making life harder for the groups they represent. Productive people like American cattle ranchers are forced to pay parasite lobbyists to protect their interests because other interest groups are also paying parasite lobbyists to protect their interests. The whole thing is like a Mafia protection racket. If your competition pays and you don't, their business is fine while yours "catches fire" in the middle of the night.

That is true of most of what the parasite class does. There is no real reason to pay them because they absolutely don't do anything useful but there is an enormous potential cost for not hiring them, primarily thanks to the onerous rules and regulations different members of the parasite class have created. It is a giant circular protection racket. Forget fixing horse races or running illegal gambling dens, the real money is in being a parasite.


As we are seeing in the Wuhan flu pandemic, people are suddenly realizing that there are "essential" workers and "non-essential" workers. "Essential" workers are the people who make your daily life possible and more comfortable. The "non-essential" people make it harder for the "essential" people to do their jobs.


That begs the question. Why do we have so many "non-essential" workers? Sure, we will always have some people who do silly, meaningless jobs like economists but why are there so many of them, why do they make so much more than "essential" workers and why do they wield so much power?

Mostly it is because the "doers" in our society are focused on.....doing stuff. The carpenter wakes up thinking about what he has to do that day to complete his project. The trucker has a load that has to get from where he is to somewhere else, on time and safely. Farmers always have something to focus on, feeding the cattle or planting the field or maintaining their equipment.

The parasite class? They wake up each morning, consciously or not, concerned about making sure they have a job to go to the next day. When I worked in the corporate world, the biggest motivation was to not get in trouble each day. I had a very nice salary and great benefits. When I started working as a bank manager at one of the largest banks in the world, I got four weeks of paid vacation as soon as I started plus all 10 of the bank holidays so basically six weeks paid vacation. My benefits package was solid and I made good money. You can bet I wanted to preserve that. My last job was at an awful place full of back-stabbing, petty tinpot functionaries and more CYA than a prison shower but it also had a sweet 401k and I made gobs of money. The thing was, at the end of each day I hadn't really accomplished anything. Everything we did existed in the land of make-believe. It was all on computers. At least at the bank we handled some cash but in my last job nothing we were dealing with was real but if we screwed something up the IRS and DOL would come down on us like the wrath of God.

A carpenter who builds a house can tell if he did a good job. Are the walls and roof solid? You can tell a well made house from a poorly made house but in the parasite class there is nothing produced so there is no way to really judge if you did a good job. So most people are just participating in the kabuki theater. As Peter Gibbons says to the Bobs in Office Space, the most accurate depiction of corporate life ever made,:

That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

If I left on Friday and nothing bad had happened and no one was giving me grief, it had been a good week. There were literally weeks that went by when I couldn't tell you on Friday afternoon what I had actually done that week. A lot of us were like that but if you walked around during the day you would see lots of people sitting in their cubicles chatting, or sitting the cafeteria chatting or walking around outside chatting. It was a weird sort of cognitive dissonance where you pretended that you were doing something and working hard while your subconscious realized you were just wasting time and getting paid for it.

At the risk of sounding sexist, not that I care, that helps explain why more and more of the parasite class jobs are held by women. Men are task-and-goal oriented. We like to have some goal to achieve and then be able to see the results. Women are more emotion-and-feelings oriented and that is the core of parasite class environment. A lot of women are perfectly content shuffling papers around because it makes them feel like they are doing something but men doing the same work eventually realize they are just going through the motions. HR departments are full of women who feel self-important because they have some bullshit title and they can push people around. They are cheerfully smiling while simultaneously being self-important and imperious. They don't really do anything significant but that is OK because their jobs are designed to make them feel important and significant. I am sure if you asked most HR chicks about their jobs, they are completely convinced that they are critical and essential to the success of an organization, while most of the men think they are a pain in the ass and an impediment to getting the job done.

Like I said, our cities are full of parasite class people and perhaps they are discovering that they are still entirely dependent on the doers of society. I bet it drives them nuts and triggers a sense of outrage and injustice that they rely on truck drivers to deliver the stuff they take for granted will be in the store and that in a crisis they are sent home from work because they are not "essential" while the peasants are still at work because everyone needs them so our society can function. With no farmers, we all starve. Without "Sarah from HR" we not only would be fine, we would probably be better off and that certainly chaps their collective asses.

Once this pandemic is over, things will probably go back to the way they were. The HR types and lawyers and marketing executives and various petty corporate paper-pushing functionaries will resume their places but in the back of their mind, they will know that when push comes to shove, the parasites are just not that essential to our country. One would hope the parasite class will learn some humility from this but more likely it will simply outrage them and they will double down on heaping derision on the productive class.

That is the nature of a parasite. It has no regard for the host from whom it is slowly draining the life. It exists only to take. Bad enough in nature but when our society is run by ticks and tapeworms, we have a serious problem.

So thanks anonymous Chinese scientist who "accidentally" released a bioweapon we call coronavirus for reminding us that while we will always need stock clerks and truck drivers, absolutely no one ever really needs HR managers and corporate project managers.

Kind of makes me wonder. If we have so many non-essential workers, do we really need millions of migrants and women in the workforce performing non-value added, non-essential work?

Think about it.

4 comments:

  1. I thought about it. A better question to end with might be....”who is tired of paying for them?”

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    1. When you really think about it, how much of our economy is based on circulating fake money in circles to pay for unproductive activities?

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  2. This is a phenomenal piece someone linked me to here. Z-Man level quality, I'm saving this for my 'file' of outstanding ego-deflating shivs (h/t Heartiste). Also as a long time DC area resident you could not be more on target about the people here including the insidious NGOs.

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    1. I will always remember visiting DC in the depths of the last major recession and seeing how opulent things were. No wonder they don't understand us, they live in a whole different world in NoVa.

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