Cartoon: The Easiest Job In The World

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I worked for a while as a temp secretary on Wall Street, including a memorable stint working on a high executive floor of the J.P. Morgan building. (I may have been the worst employee they ever had who wasn’t actually an embezzler). So I got to work with some incredibly highly paid people.

And you know what? They did work hard. They (mostly) cared about their work. Many of them worked long hours.

But they’re not working harder than many minimum wage workers work. And the conditions they’re working in – and the respect they’re given by their co-workers and their superiors – are miles above what most minimum wage workers experience. Nor do any of them really seem to be working any harder than a typical McDonalds worker rushing to get the next drive through order out.

Which brings us to this cartoon.

This one required drawing a lot of backgrounds, which isn’t my favorite thing – but for several of the panels, location was essential.

Drawing those detailed fast food settings also forced me to draw the characters with more ordinary human proportions, rather than doing the big head characters. Why? Because those characters looked just ridiculous behind a fast food counter. :-) Those weird Peanutsesque proportions just aren’t made for interacting with real workplaces.

Despite those problems, I’m pretty pleased with how this cartoon came out. (My favorite thing is the worker’s pained expression in panel 2).

Researching this cartoon was too easy; I just googled for fast food workers talking about their least liked job experiences.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has six panels.

PANEL 1
A fast food worker, standing behind a big counter of burger patties and ingredients, looks anxious. Right behind her, a manager-man wearing a white shirt and necktie is yelling at her.
MANAGER: This is drive-through! You have to work faster! FASTER!

PANEL 2
A different fast food worker clutches his forearm, which has a big red streak throbbing with pain, an agonized expression on his face. The same manager as panel 1 is offering him some little condiment packets.
MANAGER: It’s only a hot grease burn. No need for the E.R… Just put these condiment packets on it.
CAPTION: True story!

PANEL 3
At a fast food counter, a customer yells at a worker.
CUSTOMER: Are you #%@*ing stupid? I said NO PICKLES!
WORKER: But you didn’t say…
CUSTOMER: GET THE MANAGER!

PANEL 4
A worker is struggling to drag an enormous black bag of garbage out a door into what looks like a back alley, towards a garbage dumpster.
WORKER (thought): Maybe if I take three showers tonight the smell will come out of my hair…

PANEL 5
A fast food employee wearing a peaked paper hat and rubber gloves is kneeling by a toilet, cleaning the gross-looking insides of the toilet with a toilet scrubber. The manager yells at him from off-panel.

MANAGER (off-panel): FASTER!

PANEL 6
A customer and worker at a fast food counter. The worker, looking a bit annoyed, is holding a bag of food out towards the customer for her to take. Seh’s talking on her cell phone and not noticing the proffered bag of food at all.
CUSTOMER (on cell phone): Can you believe fast food workers are asking for raises? Gotta be the easiest job in the world.

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23 Responses to Cartoon: The Easiest Job In The World

  1. 1
    Petar says:

    40 years ago, I heard something that I still remember about Capitalism:

    You are not rewarded for the amount of work you do, nor for what you contribute to your employer’s profit margin. You get rewarded according to what it would cost to replace you.

    Now change your last line to “Gotta be the easiest position to fill in the world” and observe how the impact of the strip changes.

    That’s how employers think. If you want to change the dynamics, you have to apply some kind of social constraints on Free Market. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that, by the way.

  2. Petar,

    You remind me of this tweet:

  3. 3
    Petar says:

    Yes. And as in every relationship with power disparity, the natural state is one where the worker is barely kept alive, non-suicidal and non-violent by the cheapest combination of bread and circuses. Whether it’s food or intravenous glucose, drugs or alcohol, religion or social media… that changes with technology.

    If you unhappy with that trend, you have to apply pressure on the market forces. What this pressure should be is what divides the actual leftists. Or those on the right, of course. Not all of them want, even subconsciously, Eloi and Murlocks. Note that by the classifications I grew up with, Clinton and Obama, let alone Trump, are one hell of a lot closer to fascist than to socialist. But in the world we live in, no Marxist has come up with a way to move away from a market economy without power ending up with those who definitely should not have it.

    So at this point, what we are left is mechanisms like Social Security, Medicare, minimum wages, progressive taxation, etc. And as we apply them, we get different outcomes. Whether we want to optimize for growth and product, or for citizenship happiness, that’s what we are doing: putting constraints on the free market.

    And to many, that’s sacrilege. Or at least, they say so.

  4. 4
    desipis says:

    I largely agree with this cartoon. The art is pretty good too.

    I only did a couple of short stints working in restaurants (not fast food), and it gave me a certain amount of sympathy for people in those jobs. The employer-employee and customer-employee can be some of the most objectifying relationships. It’s exacerbating by a culture in which people feel entitled to get aggressively angry when they don’t get something they think they deserve (profit, service, etc).

  5. 5
    LimitsOfLanguage says:

    Petar,

    Sure, but you are forgetting the other side of the coin: the customer who decides what to buy. Employers don’t do what they do for the fun of it, they usually try to satisfy demand.

    People like desipis who interact(ed) directly with customers tend to know that the high demands also exist if you remove the managers from the equation.

    It’s like with climate change. It’s easy to blame the airlines, but the people getting into those planes are not (only) managers, they are us.

    Achieving change doesn’t happen if we merely demand sacrifice on the part of ‘them,’ but requires sacrifice by ‘us.’

  6. 6
    econgeek says:

    1) Many people who want work.
    2) Low costs of entry into the work (low skills required to start.) Fast food is a common entry point for ex-criminals, for example. Also a common entry point for teens.
    3) Opportunity to learn some transferable job-specific skills. Work at a kebab shop or in fast food, and you can work at a coffeeshop. Work at a coffeeshop and you can try to work at a restaurant. And so on.
    4) Opportunity to learn some transferable non-job-specific skills such as attendance, customer relations, .

    With such a large pool of supply, it is no surprise that wages are low. They should be low: low wages are what makes it possible to employ people who have minimal job skills and minimal work experience. If you want those people to have jobs, you cannot raise wages above what they are worth to the employer.

    The other part of your post is confusing. You say, about JP Morgan employees,

    They did work hard. They (mostly) cared about their work. Many of them worked long hours.

    But they’re not working harder than many minimum wage workers work.

    You are not paying attention to the cost of entry.

    To obtain a job in the finances, you generally must have an MBA, with good grades, preferably from a good university.
    To obtain an MBA, you must have a degree with good grades, preferably from a good university.
    To enter into a good university, and to obtain good grades, you must generally have put in some work in the prior years before uni–certainly the last two or three years.

    The work you put in for, say, two years pre-uni, four years uni, two years post-uni: say you are working at eight years without compensation (and often paying a high premium for the “work” of education) with no guarantee of a job when you get out, unless you do well enough.

    Part of why those employees are paid highly relative to their work is to provide an incentive for the many potential candidates to undergo the screening process and apply in the first place.

    There is no need for those incentives for an entry-level job. There is also no need to dedicate yourself to academics for eight years, at no pay (plus any uni costs) to get an entry-level job.

  7. 7
    Jake Squid says:

    If you want those people to have jobs, you cannot raise wages above what they are worth to the employer.

    Sure we can. If we raised minimum wage to $30/hour, would all the fast food joints and restaurants and gas stations and nail salons, etc. shut down? I guarantee that they would not. I also guarantee that $30/hour was an arbitrary number I picked.

  8. 8
    Gracchus says:

    ” If we raised minimum wage to $30/hour, would all the fast food joints and restaurants and gas stations and nail salons, etc. shut down? ”

    Your friendly local Republican Congressman (or one of his fellow travelers in this blog’s comments section= would argue, yes, they would.

  9. 9
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Sure we can. If we raised minimum wage to $30/hour, would all the fast food joints and restaurants and gas stations and nail salons, etc. shut down?

    Not likely. I predict that the fast food joint stays open, but I’d order my robot-prepared burger at a kiosk. While I wait I may have to pee, and I’ll do so in a bathroom cleaned by an industrial sized roomba, or perhaps an uber-like custodian-on-demand service that can also summon nearby labor in the case of a spilled soft drink.

  10. 10
    Leo says:

    I predict that the fast food joint stays open, but I’d order my robot-prepared burger at a kiosk.

    You won’t have the money to buy a burger; a robot will be doing your job too in this scenario. And if you think a robot won’t be replacing you, you’re in for a rude surprise.

    Besides that I’m not sure what you’re trying to demonstrate here – that we’re so beholden to the profit motive of the ultrarich that we can never, ever try to make things better for anyone, or they’ll just take it all away? Why is this a state of affairs you think is good? Why are you so invested in defending it?

  11. 11
    Ben Lehman says:

    I think — misled by claims that fast food places could automate whenever they want — you greatly underestimate the cost of automation, and greatly overestimate its functionality. No one is going to line up for a microwaved TV dinner from a vending machine.

    In countries with higher minimum wages, fast food employees are paid more. Sometimes a lot more. They haven’t been replaced with robots yet.

  12. 12
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Besides that I’m not sure what you’re trying to demonstrate here – that we’re so beholden to the profit motive of the ultrarich that we can never, ever try to make things better for anyone, or they’ll just take it all away? Why is this a state of affairs you think is good? Why are you so invested in defending it?

    Why did you assume I was defending it? I thought it was obvious that the picture I was painting was less than utopian. My point, wasn’t that the status quo was good, but rather that unintended consequences of proposed solutions is why economics is so hard.

  13. 13
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    In countries with higher minimum wages, fast food employees are paid more. Sometimes a lot more. They haven’t been replaced with robots yet.

    Well, sure. We don’t have gourmet chef-bots yet. We also don’t have a $30 minimum wage yet. When we do have a $30 dollar minimum wage, I think you’ll see more automation and other innovations that that increase productivity.

    A higher minimum wage may be part of the solution for improving the condition of the unskilled workforce, but in a world with constant downward pressure on the value of unskilled labor, it’s probably not the solution.

    Maybe we’ll be able to solve this with something like a UBI?

  14. 14
    desipis says:

    I think — misled by claims that fast food places could automate whenever they want — you greatly underestimate the cost of automation, and greatly overestimate its functionality. No one is going to line up for a microwaved TV dinner from a vending machine.

    The technology that would be used is far more advanced than a microwave. I don’t think the experience will be entirely a vending machine type experience with absolutely no human experience. However, where there might have been 3 or 4 people working in the kitchen, the machines could easily reduce that to 1 or 2.

  15. 16
    Mookie says:

    When we do have a $30 dollar minimum wage, I think you’ll see more automation and other innovations that that increase productivity.

    We’ll all see that anyway because that is, up until now, generally how human history proceeds in the long-term, notwithstanding temporary past and future periodizations marked by a loss of technology and learning. Innovation and increased efficiency is what humans do*; whether it results in desirable outcomes is a different matter.

    *until the machines take that task over and then eat us to avenge our forefolks’s thrashing of the spinning jenny

  16. 17
    Mookie says:

    Also, I don’t know if that calculus–“improve working conditions and compensation at your peril”–is meant to be frightening, threatening, or a literal promise, but there’s no real logic to it, just a gut feeling fueled by the same old supply-side jazz. This is a US-centric reaction, but the world is not the US, and the world’s lowest wage-earners are earning less and have done since the last century, while profits grow, yet technology keeps on keeping on. Also, a cursory glance at the world’s technological powerhouses does not support the conclusion that high wages bear innovative fruit geared towards automation per se. High wages nurture worker productivity and creativity; working examples are Finland and Sweden (where everyone and their mother has a start-up and can afford one because of their robust social safety nets). Low wages stagnate both while decreasing domestic consumer demand for certain goods, decreasing profit, and compensation takes the form lowering wages further still to attract foreign markets. Meanwhile the most advanced technology is not accessible by the poor (or even the middle-class) at all. Finland, naturally, has an app for that.

  17. 18
    Ben Lehman says:

    The Danish food worker’s union got a $20 minimum for fast food workers.

    You would think Denmark would thus be ground zero for the new wave of automats that the fast food owners keep promising. If automation were trivial to implement without a loss of quality, it absolutely would be.

    And yet, the only country where they threaten automation is the US, for some reason.

    The old automats shut down for a reason (food was low-quality, customer experience was negative.) The businesses that shut them out were, in fact, modern fast food businesses, which offered a better customer experience, much fresher food, and flexibility with payment. Those issues would all have to be addressed, and haven’t been. Fast food, as a business, has zero loyalty to its workers. If fast food managers could do it better with robots, they’d have already done it better with robots. They haven’t, they can’t, and they’re not close to fixing that, either.

  18. 19
    RonF says:

    If fast food managers could do it better with robots, they’d have already done it better with robots. They haven’t, they can’t, and they’re not close to fixing that, either.

    No, but they’re working on it.

    There’s multiple factors. Can you make machines that have sufficient intelligence? Can you make them “handy” enough? Can they make food of acceptable quality? What’s the cost of capital vs. the cost of labor? Raising the cost of labor via an increase in the minimum wage affects one of these. Advances in A.I. affects another. So does advances in robotics. There’s no one solution, but all of these are changing, and not in favor of low-skilled workers.

  19. 20
    Erin says:

    “Heavier-than-air flight will never be possible.”

  20. 21
    Erin says:

    One more note:

    I worked in fast food for a few years in my senior year in high school and then in college (until I moved into a more high-paying job), and it was actually the funnest time in my life. This is presented a bit in the movie “American Beauty”, in which Kevin Spacey (I think it was him) tries to think about the best time of his life and gets to his work as a kid in fast food. He then applies for a job in that industry.

    No real responsibility, lots of sexually appealing people your age, the ability to quit on a dime without harm to your reputation and – if you’re willing to actually work – an enjoyable work environment with lots of social interaction.

    I would no longer like the job because the pay is a bit … low … and I no longer seek interaction with other human beings but am starting to loathe them. Other than that, cool.

  21. 22
    Radfem says:

    I worked fast food and found it to be less than the funniest time of my life.

    There are so many misunderstandings about it though the cartoon wasn’t one imo. Not one big party that’s for sure.

    (Though it was sour cream packets for fryer burns)

  22. 23
    Petar says:

    Joking aside, if the mustard in those packets is made from real mustard seeds, washing the burned area with cold water, applying a layer of mustard, and then seeking medical attention is the right approach.

    No, the mustard will not do much to help with healing the burn, but it will reduce pain, and the vinegar’s mild acidity may limit the damage on marginally affected skin cells.

    But this is something you do before, not instead of proper medical attention. Or at least, that’s what we were told in the army, long ago. It may be just nonsense, or placebo. But I have seen people act relieved after gun barrel burns… and not just once or twice. But we were also applying yogurt, if we had it, so who knows.

    You know what, the more I think about it, the more I am starting to think it may be just the placebo effect in action.

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