To help me imagine how different future cultures might be, I’ve been trying to learn about typical lives of our distant ancestors. One excellent source is Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie in 1978. Around 1300 Jacquest Fournier, who eventually became pope but was then a bishop, led an Inquisition against heretics in the small town of Montaillou in southern France, population 200. He transcribed several years worth of interviews of them, revealing great detail about ordinary life there. One tidbit:
Market structural features may explain the switching, particularly:
1. High numbers on both sides of the market with low switching costs. This frothiness enables frequent switching.2. Low trust, resulting in...3. ...One-way or mutual exploitation
I've gone into more detail in a Wordpress 'Responsicle' outlining how this might work, and using the labor and dating markets in NYC as examples: https://responsicles.wordpr...
I agree on the carrots and sticks point.
I'm not so sure about the seasonal mass firing. It's difficult to imagine land owners not competing with each other for the best workers.
Maybe it was in fact the just the management culture, or maybe the workers played a big role. It's difficult to say from the passage Robin posted, as it contains seemingly contradictory clauses. You read "The people we are concerned with did not feel this instability as some kind of oppression or alienation. On the contrary, the migrant shepard changed his master more often than his shirt!" as the master's creating the instability, emphasizing the first sentence. I read the second sentence as meaning that the workers voluntarily changed their masters often (and that there was no oppression precisely because it was voluntary).
Robin says that in the text it is clear that the job leaving was initiated by the workers. I haven't read it, but it seems like the more likely scenario to me.
The further down the status hierarchy, the more the governance by the stick, the less by the carrot.
[Added.] My understanding is that they would not be re-employed. Otherwise, what is the significance of firing them all and hiring new ones. [Being fired doesn't mean being let go because of the season, which was the fate of all of them.]
But why didn't they return the following season? Teachers often return to the same school. Construction workers often return to the same building firm.
The promise of future work might, conditional on doing a good job this season, might be more productivity maximizing than otherwise. If a worker knew there was no hope of work in future seasons, what would that do to incentives to perform well this season? Looked at this way, I think Robin's take on it seems reasonable - the hands get some benefit from exercising control in decision making that they don't have elsewhere, and a preference for variety.
"My best guess is that as the hands came to know each other, they became more adept at cooperating to resist exploitation. So, the master does best to disperse them often. Then, they "put more heart in their work." "
Could be. There are many other explanations for why this moving around was not entirely voluntarily. it could even be as banal as employers simply believing high turnover causes higher productivity or employers and employees routinely getting into conflicts.
I read a great biography of Kit Carson. He made out for the wilderness as a teenager, and basically only stopped after old age. He was very impressive--surely could have captured a mate in a sedentary field--and lived a life of adventure that is alluring at moments (I like warmth and comfort too much to be a good settler).
Is it clearer than in the quote: "The people we are concerned with did not feel this instability as some kind of oppression or alienation. On the contrary, the migrant shepard changed his master more often than his shirt! (p.114)"?
Other than that the hands didn't own much in the way of clothing, I can't see what this proves. Regularly occurring events are usually taken for granted. For example, construction workers and teachers don't feel oppressed by the seasonal character of their work.
Perhaps this is the argument: "It is hard to understand such behaviors as productivity maximizing ways forced on people living at the edge of subsistence."
I think I've provided a way it might be productivity maximizing.
[Your response is really nothing but an appeal to your authority as reader.]
In the book I mentioned, it is clear that most of the job leaving is in fact initiated by the shepards, not by their employers.
That's the key, of course. Rapid turnover of employees in this type of job is beneficial to the employer. And the employer is in control. Employers don't like employees who have many options and who are harder to take advantage of, and will prefer rapid turnover in order to prevent that.
Describing this as employees choosing to leave ignores the reality of the employer/employee relationship; if you're fired in favor of a more pliable employee with fewer connections, you can't choose to be un-fired.
Robin keeps saying that it doesn't make sense, while ignoring the obvious hypothesis that makes sense of it.
Could you explain why you think the managerial decision to dismiss all hands was really the hands' decision? [Is it your aversion to any concept of class struggle?]
It rather defies imagination that the low-status hands would realize their interests in this behavior by their masters--when, after all, they would otherwise be free to relocate without first being fired
[Sometimes you seem concerned to develop your opinions without much regard to whether they are fundamentally true.]
If in fact moving a lot tends to help raise one's status because one finds a place that likes you, then yes moving a lot makes more sense. But is that in fact the way to rise in status on average?
That the shepherds failed to report feelings of "alienation" (as Robin offers) doesn't mean moving was their choice. Certainly the evidence Robin presents suggests it's the masters' choice.
When I am new somewhere, being at the bottom of the status pole feels more natural. I feel it is my place to observe, to learn, and to wait for my opportunity later. I can imagine that gradually my status will grow, and that belief makes me happier.
If a lot of time passes, and I am still at the bottom of the status pole, or even somewhat higher but not as high as I have imagined previously, I get angry. Now I feel I should fight for the place I deserve. But I can't literally fight; and I am not good at office politics, so my frustration grows. Until I leave the place and go somewhere else, where merely the change of location will make me feel okay again.
Maybe the shepherds felt similarly. Maybe the frequent moving made their low status psychologically more bearable. They could believe they will have better luck in the next place, even if the chances were small, and they knew as a fact that their status will remain low if they stay.
Moving once makes sense. Moving again every year makes much less sense.
In a 20th century rural community, the only one I know a little about, young males need access to land, obtained by either subdividing the parental farm if possible, waiting until the parents are too infirm to farm it, or by finding a daughter-rich, son-poor farmer. Absent such possibilities, they move to the city, or the West, etc. An established community revolves around the school and the churches and a single male is a poor fit.
Might the data reported apply primarily to young men--12 and above? It's not clear to me who in the quotation has the economic power--the owner can easily replace his herders? Or the herders can readily find new jobs? Seems unlikely for both conditions to apply at the same time.