The Disastrous Synergy of Fake Jobs and Metrics Driven Systems

This post is a continuation of my thoughts on the disastrous effect of metrics driven systems on society. I am going to focus on the especially nasty, but seldom mentioned, synergy of fake jobs and metrics. Consider this as an extension of my older posts on perverse incentives such as 1, 2 and 3.

So what makes the combination of fake jobs and metrics so much more toxic than either one by itself?

The answer lies is what fake jobs are meant to achieve. Most jobs, especially those full of whites, are not productive in any sense of the word. Their only purpose is to distribute enough income to prevent society from falling apart.

As long as people are paid the same the world would not miss teachers, professors, social workers, bureaucrats, cops, judges and a host of other professions and livelihoods not doing their jobs. On the other hand, the world would miss the services of people who collect garbage, operate sewage systems, repair water pipes, fight fires, staff ambulances, run data centers etc. There is however another distinguishing feature between real jobs and fake jobs.

Fake jobs usually exist to solve marginal or made-up problems and inconveniences.

Therefore rewarding people who do such jobs through a metrics-based systems encourages people to create more problems to justify their careers and promotions. So people with fake jobs who were never interested in performing their jobs properly are pushed by metrics based evaluations to create more problems (and appear to be be busy solving them) for justifying their existence.

Therefore teachers in a metrics based system have a strong incentive to create more problems by not doing their job properly (to get more funding) or hide their incompetence (to retain funding). The same applies for academics who spend most of their time either doing a half-assed job (to get funding) or confabulating results (to retain or get more funding). Cops are rewarded for arresting and more people and prosecuting them for ever more miniscule infractions or simply planting evidence to make the numbers looks good. District attorneys are interested in convicting as many people as possible, regardless of innocence, because it makes them look good on metrics.

Doctors and hospitals are often rewarded for treating ever more people who barely fulfill the criteria for some diseases while not adequately treating others because it makes the numbers look bad. Meter maids are rewarded for ticketing the minimum of infractions and tricking people because “it makes the numbers look good”.

To make a long story short, every individual with a fake job in a metric driven system behaves like a cancer cell in an organism. Since fake jobs constitute the majority of jobs today, the result is an organism (society) riddled with a multitude of cancers (greedy morons who are sabotaging the system for short term gains) to the point that it is more a mass of cancers than anything physiological.

While application of metrics results in problems and perverse incentives for those performing essential jobs, the feedback cycles resulting from malperformance of essential systems prevents it from reaching the depths that fake jobs can reach.

Comments?

  1. Jpf
    December 4, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree that by and large metric measured “performance” based paper pushing jobs exist primarily to fill non existent ‘needs’ created in a direct need to employ a large number of people doing something, anything, irrespective of the actual utility.

    But I have a soft spot in my heart for teachers and cannot see how the teaching profession in itself is useless. Abused? Certainly. Full of incompetents? Without a doubt, but is there not a need for a professional group of individuals conveying vital information to the next generation?

    I see no reason why self-education cannot dominate, given the Internet and other modern means of distributing information, but somewhere someone needs to bootstrap the process, to give an individual the basic literary and mathematical tools that they can then use themselves in their search for greater knowledge.

    I ideally see grade-school and Jr. High school teachers as these basic bootstrappers and facilitators.

    What probably kills teaching is making it into a ‘profession’ rather than a trade rewarded by actual success in delivering a product, successful education.

  1. December 1, 2011 at 9:16 pm
  2. December 2, 2011 at 7:30 am
  3. March 9, 2013 at 5:52 pm

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