Sunday, March 27, 2016

Philosophical Question: Walt Disney On Jobs

I've been reading a book about Walt Disney. What an amazing man! It's no wonder the people who knew him seemed to revere him. Almost every page includes some amazing insight from Disney himself. Anyways, there's something Disney said which I would like to discuss and see what you think.

Disney obviously became a very rich man. Hence, he had more than enough money that his family never needed to work again. At one point, his daughter wanted to get a job but Disney refused to let her. His reasoning was "you'll only take a job from someone who needs it more."

This was fascinating to me. My first thought upon reading this was that this is not a great way to raise kids. Indeed, rich kids often don't work because they see work as beneath them and they end up as wastoid garbage. So I was surprised Disney would take this stance, given how much he normally represented the traditional values associated with a strong work ethic and honest labor. But the more I thought about it, the more impressed I became.

Here's the thing, the traditional reasons for getting a job weren't relevant in this case. Normally, you want kids to work because it teaches them the value of hard work, it teaches them discipline, the ability to meet schedules, to deal with good and bad employees, and to appease reasonable and unreasonable bosses. Without those things, kids grow up out of touch, feckless, incapable of dealing with other people or adversity, and generally worthless.

But none of that was likely here because Disney was teaching all of these things to his daughter through his own example and through the work she did with him in his Disney efforts. So there really was nothing lost by not letting her get a job. Still what's the harm, right?

Well, that's what impresses me. I doubt most people would see a harm, but Disney did. Disney had such a big picture view that he understood that while his daughter would not be getting much out of a job, she would be depriving someone else of that job and it could be someone who needed that job to earn a living or learn the values that would help them earn a living. Honestly, it impressed me immensely that Disney would think this way. This is almost a form of charity to make sure his family doesn't take something that could be needed by another.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that rich people shouldn't work or that everyone should make this decision. What I'm saying is that this was a fascinating decision that I think showed Disney's strong caring character. It shows that he understood the real value of a job and that it had so much more value to someone else than it did to him or his daughter. I see that as truly insightful... it's also the first time I've ever heard anyone make this connection.

Anyways, I think this should give our politicians pause. Think about this. Disney understood that even a single job could change someone's life. Yet, our politicians seem to treat jobs as nothing more than a tool in a broader game of control. The left in particular seems to lack a grasp of how important jobs can be. They see welfare as the equivalent of a job. They whine that entry-level jobs don't offer the benefits and salary of jobs people must work their way into. They want to make it impossible to fire people who don't take their jobs seriously. They impose policies that kill jobs. And they tax jobs into oblivion. I think it would help our country immensely, if our political class came to realize what Disney knew, which was that a true job can be vital to most people's lives.



Anthony said...

Honestly, the quote didn't impress me. For 99.9999% of companies (including Disney, now and probably then) worker need has nothing to do with it unless that worker is a friend of someone in a hiring capacity (and even then one can argue the friendship is more important than the need).

The needs of workers and prospective workers is not part of the equation for companies. Companies care only about their own needs. The candidate who excels at the things a job asks of them is going to get hired for the job, the candidate who is less capable will not. Their bank balances/personal situations do not enter into it.

Disney is a rich company, but if they hired subpar artists and writers because such people really needed a job, they wouldn't be for long because consumers would go elsewhere.

On a related note, consumers don't care about need either. I remember as a teen watching buy America commercials for clothing in the 1990s. The need of American textile workers and the companies which employed them did not stop American consumers from opting for cheaper foreign made products.

*Shrugs* Its worth keeping in mind that capitalism is the best system because it acknowledges the primacy of self-interest for most people and recognizes how a focus on those selfish interests on the balance collectively benefits everyone.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I think you've missed the point. This was Walt Disney talking to his daughter, not Disney corporation. And his point was about the value of jobs to people and whether or not it was morally right for his daughter to take a job she didn't need in a world of limited jobs, when another person did need it. It wasn't a point about the hiring practices of companies. Nor was he suggesting hiring anyone subpar. The point was about whether or not he thought it was morally right for her to basically take away a job from the job market that she didn't need. That is what interested me... his personal moral code.

In terms of consumers, while they don't tend to care about need for the most part, I get a sense that consumers are starting to show a preference for companies with "good" hiring practices -- no racism, no sexism, no agism, hires people with disabilities, keeps jobs in America, etc.

I will be curious to see how consumers respond to these new computerized waitress machines too. I see that one combining both the issue of service and of the disappearance of jobs.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Capitalism does balance selfish interests, but one thing I have seen over the years is that there is way more that goes into decisions than just profit numbers. Particularly when you get away from big business, the needs of employees do matter a lot to employers, as do giving value to consumers, etc. Similarly, I'm seeing consumers demanding many things that aren't about cost or value -- things like "cage free eggs" are one example. As voters too, consumers are approving "working condition" laws that raise prices. Even some big businesses go out of their way to protect older employees or local employees, to provide child care or retirement beyond what is required, to use local supply sources etc.

Now, some are cynical. I would say that GE is super cynical about all of this, but many more are legitimately doing these things because they think it's the right way to run a business.

Critch said...

Disney was all about work. He and his brother Roy were working for survival at a very young age. They understood that people are happiest when working, especially when they feel a sense of accomplishment. BTW, salary does not always play into whether or not people are happy with their jobs. For years now, barbers have come out on top as the happiest in their jobs...I doubt many of them are rich, but the same barber has been cutting my hair since 1965. From personal experience, I made quite a bit more money in the early 80s when I was a commodity broker, however, it burned me out; I was a crispy critter. Some corporations are all about the bottom line and go through employees at a fairly fast rate, but they are only hurting themselves..I really feel like many corporate owned hospitals and nursing homes do this. They don't value the workers...

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, I see that too with a lot of hospitals. We have multiple hospitals in the area and the Catholic/private one is awash in happy employees. The other has been bought by a large corporation and is slashing staff and it's become a miserable place.

I had a similar experience with money. I made huge money in a private firm in DC, but it kills you (14 hours, 6 days a week... everyone angry... money was all that mattered to the partners). I'm much happier making less but having a life. Being happy is about finding a place where you feel like you are doing something worthwhile with people you enjoy being around, regardless of salary.

You are right. Disney was a workaholic. That's why I found this so interesting. I would have expected him to be the kind to force his daughter to work.

BevfromNYC said...

I think what Disney says was/is true. People find meaning and self-esteem from working hard and accomplishing something.

And it isn't surprising that Disney would tell his privileged child that there are people in the world who need jobs before she does. He was a workaholic, but he was doing what he loved...that is not bad.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, What I found so interesting is that this is the first time I've heard this bit of logic. I've heard other rich people say it didn't make sense for their kids to work because they already had money or it wouldn't prepare them for the kind of fortune they would take over (I always thought that was BS), but this was a new thought.

I think it shows a tremendous amount of insight.

Koshcat said...

There is something about it though I find unsettling. Take Disney World which has approximately 62,000 employees. Does it really matter if there was 62,001?

Our goal in life should be to teach our kids to take care of themselves. I really don't care if giving her a job would take it away from someone who "needs it more." Whether it is intangible life skills or just some independent walking around money, I think both are helpful skills regardless how rich your parents are.

Allena-C said...

Very nice post, Andrew!
Walt Disney did indeed realize the value of jobs and it would be fantastic if politicians learned that.
If I were rich, I would've told my daughters the same thing. But I would also add,
if they really wanted to work, to start their own business, which would create more jobs, and if they work hard enough they too can be successful.
But more than that, treating employees with the respect and dignity they deserve goes a long ways towards building a successful business.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, That was my first thought, and normally I would agree. Most of the rich kids I've met aren't worth a sh*t as people because they are raised without the skills the rest of us learn by necessity.

But the more I thought about it, the more Disney's comment made sense here. I think a key aspect of this is that his daughter wasn't just sitting at home watching TV or playing non-electric pong until she inherited his money. I get the sense that she accompanied him in many of his pursuits and that her "job" was learning to build the company. So I think she probably got all the lessons she would have working a real job.

On the point about Disney having 62,000 employees, it would matter to the one person who could have had that job. Or looking at it differently, giving friends and family make-work jobs doesn't really teach them independence either and it often leads companies to bankruptcy.

Interesting thoughts though. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Allena, Thanks! I tend to be from the school of thought that if you have money and you aren't using it in some productive way, e.g. like building a company that employs people, then you are wasting everyone's time.

On your point about employees, in my experience, the best (most successful) companies put a real premium on building employee loyalty. That seems to pay off far beyond the cost in terms of quality of work provided, innovation, employee retention and recruiting, etc.

Allena-C said...

In my experience employees will give 100% if they know their boss or bosses care about them. It makes good business sense too. Many big corporations lose sight of that and tend to lose their humanity if they don't have leaders that can lead and who care about their employees.
If the employees are not happy profits will go down.Good bosses understand this.

Allena-C said...

We are on the same wavelength here Andrew, lol.
As an aside, employees don't usually like seeing their bosses hire family members. I mean, sure, those family members may be qualified, and might even be good workers, but it just looks bad and it looks like favoritism.
Unless the business starts out that way, being family owned and operated from the ground up.

Allena-C said...

I saw on the sidebar a Huffington Post headline that reads:
Why The World Is Falling Apart
LOL! I guess I must've missed that or slept through it.

AndrewPrice said...

Allena, I think we are. One of the problems with large organizations is that they tend to become bureaucratic. And once you become bureaucratic, the people who float to the top are not the creative people or even the good leaders, it's the empire builders. And their instincts are all about purges and formalization of relationships. That means trading away loyalty and humanity for procedure.

Agreed on family members. That's usually a bad sign for people who believe in merit.

AndrewPrice said...

Both sides want you to believe the world is falling apart. As I've pointed out many, many times, nothing could be farther from the truth.

AndrewPrice said...

Speaking of Huffpo. Check out this retarded headline: "There Are Likely More Annual Deaths From Gunshot Wounds in America Now Than There Were During the Civil War".


The author looks only at Union numbers and does some dubious math to determine that only 30,000 soldiers died of gunshot wounds each year (they ignore all civilian deaths at the time, plus the fact that guns were still a relatively new thing in public circulation). Then they compare that to the "22,500 gunshot deaths today."

Even at face value, that means that the number today is 2/3 of the faked war casualties (1/3 if you count in the South). That's not "likely more than."

What's more the actual number today is not 22,500, it's 12,500... which is 1/6 using the author's own dubious math. So 12% is not "likely more than". Really?

Even worse, the author ignores the fact that our population is almost 4 times at large today. Ignoring that means that 4 times as many people die from diarrhea today, so does that mean we are facing an uncontrolled diarrhea epidemic or does it just mean that author is an idiot? Heck, imagine how huge the diarrhea epidemic must be compared to Ancient Greece? Who knew diarrhea was such a modern scourge... a veritable plague unlike anything seen in the past!! Oh my!! Run!! (No pun intended.)

Allena-C said...

Ha ha! That is pretty stupid math. And I agree, both sides like to fearmonger.
Or at least the fringers do.
One thing this election cycle has taught me is that conservatives have as many fringers as liberals, which is why I no longer call myself conservative. they give it a bad name by calling themselves that, just as many liberals guve the word "liberal" a bad name.

Hence, I will stick with classical liberal. Sadly, most liberals and conservatives have no idea what that means.

Anthony said...


I don't think the number of jobs is a finite thing. Jobs are always being created and destroyed as companies and their employees succeed or fail. But lots of scions of wealthy families don't work. Reasons don't really matter.

As for capitalism, I agree that the morality of the people who runs them impacts the behavior of companies, but generally speaking the bigger the company and/or the more competitive the industry, the less freedom people have to treat each other as people rather than assets.

As for consumer morality, it is a thing which sometimes happens (nods towards dolphin free tuna). However, its not yet clear consumers have judged a higher minimum wage as something worth paying extra for. Voting for a higher wage is one thing, buying more expensive stuff rather than hopping across the county line and buying it cheaper (in a place with a lower minimum wage) is another.

AndrewPrice said...

Allena, It is stupid math, isn't it? Actually, it's an attempt to mislead. Every single step is an attempt to mislead. And the Huffers will snort it up and believe every false word.

Agreed about classical liberalism.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I'm not sure there is popular support for the $15 minimum wage, but there is support for a lot of other things that make products cost more -- family medical leave, a minimum wage at some level, environmental regulations. I think liberals over-estimate how much support there is and how far that support will stretch and conservatives underestimate how broad and strong the support is, but either way, there is some level of support for "tempered free markets."

Agreed that the bigger the company the less they seem to care about the human element.

On jobs, I agree that the number of jobs is not finite in the true sense. A free economy can produce new jobs in the blink of an eye. My point was only that at any one time the number of available jobs is finite and there are always (barring something unusual) more people looking for work than there are jobs.

Critch said...

A rather wealthy industrialist in my hometown made his kids go start their own companies or get jobs somewhere else....they started their own companies and are doing quite well. He was the same way, he felt that someone in our little town needed that job more.

Anonymous said...

Andrew the point that Disney made was similarly made in the first season of Downton Abbey, which is relevant since Julian Fellowes is a british conservative.
Putting the ossified class system argument aside, on downton abbey a middle class man Matthew is suddenly elevated into the peerage. But he's never had man-servants and he's very uncomfortable with his valet who is supposed to dress him and take care of his clothes. He tries to dismiss him but is persuaded by his mentor who asks Matthew to think about the fact that he would be depriving a person of his livelihood simply because Matthew's modern sensibility finds a valet to be "superfluous". It's not so much a defense of the class system as much as pointing out that just because he finds a valet outdate does not mean that the valet himself does not derive satisfaction from his work.

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