Game A


False hope is the key phrase there. Nurses hope from afar, waiters in LA hope from the front row. The trick Adam Smith uses to get the dull, dirty and dangerous work done — work that took slavery and coercion until very recently — is to sustain hope. American Idol is the greatest expression of this false hope. A quick ticket from dull, dirty and dangerous to sexy, lucrative and powerful. The fact that one in a million will make it allows the other 999,999 to sustain themselves. It is one year of hope after the other, until you accept the mantra of “if you don’t get what you like, you’ll be forced to like what you get.”

That is why the Central Dogma of work is never technically violated. You could self-actualize, no matter where on the SLP-DDD spectrum you are. It is just that in the Dull, Dirty and Dangerous part of the world, the probability that you will do so becomes vanishingly small. To believe in a probability that small, you have to be capable of massive delusions. You have to believe you can win American Idol.

But that one technically possible, but highly improbable piece of hope can replace the whips of an entire class of slave-drivers and dictators, and replace it with something called “democracy.”

Snarky probability theorists like to call lotteries a “stupidity tax” imposed on people who cannot compute expected values. What they don’t realize is that most professions (probability theorists included) carry a heavy “stupidity tax” load: the extraordinarily low-probability hope of leaping into the world of Sexy, Lucrative and Powerful. The only difference is, unlike the lottery, you have no option but to participate (actually, by this reasoning, the hope of winning a lottery is possibly more reasonable than the more organic sorts of false hope embedded in most work).

Sexy, Lucrative and Powerful (SLP)

The promised land may not be all it seems to those who aren’t there yet (rock stars certainly whine, with drug-addled words, about it), but it certainly exists.

Again, the order is important. Just as dull, dirty and dangerous is a vicious spiral towards a thoroughly stupid death, sexy, lucrative and powerful is a virtuous cycle that gets you to a thoroughly puzzling nirvana. If you can do rock star or model, it is a relatively easy slide downhill from sexy to lucrative and from lucrative to powerful. If you are not blessed with looks or a marketable voice (and Beyonce’s dad), but can hit lucrative by say, starting a garbage-hauling business staffed by Mexican immigrants, you could still claw uphill to sexy. Or you could start with powerful and trade the gossamer currency of influence for hard cash, and hard cash for sex (figuratively and literally).

I have much less to say about sexy, lucrative and powerful because most of you know all about it. Because, like me, you’ve been dreaming about it since you were 10. You can easily tell SLP work apart from DDD work by the structure of labor demand and supply. In one sector, people are dragged down, kicking and screaming. In the other, they need to be barricaded out, as they hurry from their restaurant shift to auditions. You don’t need a behavioral economist to tell you that career choices are not entirely defined by the paychecks associated with them.

So let’s move straight on to the reason little girls play their tinker, tailor counting games.