Thoughts on the Maize Maze

by Will on October 31, 2010

Last night some good friends and I made our way through the corn maze in Livermore. It was an experience. At one point in the maze you come to a bridge. You think, as you climb the stairs, that once you can see the maze from on high, you’ll have some insight on how to proceed. But no. When you get to the top, all you see is seemingly endless corn, all around you.

At the snack bar outside the maze, there was a sign that said: “Beef: naturally nutritious.” I said, to the undoubted annoyance of these few people who will put up with me, “It ought to say, Beef: publicly subsidized and bad for you.”

In the maze there was a bunch of pro-corn propaganda. I noted that they might well be using these fields for something else if the government were not: A) paying farming subsidies to them, B) making people buy ethanol that is made from corn, and C) paying to maintain free roads and highways while not providing good rail or other options, so everybody has to buy gas and get around by driving. It is a strange fact of human nature that if you advertise that you will pay people to do a particular thing, people will tend to do that thing.

In the latter part of the maze there were people dressed like monsters who would jump out and scare us. They had to be bundled up in stuffy costumes during the hot day, and tolerate rainfall when it had gotten cold. Nobody thanks them for what they’re doing, or tells them they’re doing it well. I’m guessing that the work is fun at first, but gets old fast. I’m also guessing they get paid $8 and hour, the lowest legal wage. It’s a strange fact that the most unpleasant and degrading work is also the least compensated, both in wages and in status rents.* When I first encountered this idea I rejected it: it seemed to me that if a task were unpleasant, people would be unwilling to do it unless they could bid the wage up. That would be true if there were full employment. But when there are a million unemployed people behind you willing to work for any wage, your ability to bid the price up rather suffers.

*After the maze closed down it was observed that these people actually do collect status rents on this work: their doing it makes them seem “cool,” which makes them more attractive to girls their age. Attention from girls is something they would pay cash for if society were set up that way, so they are actually getting compensated better than, say, a bus boy (whose status is low). But unfortunately that fact doesn’t gel well with my main point, which stands.

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