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What we should really call "quiet quitting" (economically), and why

What we should really call "quiet quitting" (economically), and why

As the saying goes, "it all started with a video," and that video was posted to TikTok by an engineer named Zaid Khan in his early twenties. Khan details a 17-second video showing the idea to millions of people. The video is set to ragtime-style piano music and shows summer scenes in New York City.

In other words, "quietly quitting" is not an act of resignation. It's more of a credo for barely getting by at work.

The Japanese word "shokunin" refers to a master craftsperson who is dedicated to his or her work and always strives for perfection. It's like the antithesis of that, quitting quietly. The key is to separate yourself emotionally from your work and accept less-than-perfect results.

Definition: establishing limits and doing only what you're paid to do in the time allotted, without adding any extras. There will be no more groveling before superiors or clients. You no longer need to check your email all the time or work late into the night.


(Photo from the wires)


The Economics Of Quiet Quitting

In a competitive market, workers are paid the "marginal product" of their labor, according to one of the simplest models in neo-classical economics. That means they get compensated more if they are more productive, i.e., if they produce more widgets per hour.

Quiet quitting would be discouraged in this cartoon universe. If you put in more effort, you'll earn more money; if you coast, you'll take home less. It's also worth noting that in some places of work, that may be a pretty accurate depiction of reality. If your boss thinks you're putting in significant effort, you might see some positive results in pay increases and promotion opportunities.

However, there is much more chaos than workers being paid based on productivity. The "principal-agent model" describes a more nuanced caricature of the workplace. An excellent example of this model is when the principal (the boss) hires an agent (the worker) to do something. The problem is that the principal does not know everything the agent is doing. To what extent is their representative contributing to the company's success? Instead, are they being lazy?

To make sure the agent is doing what the principal wants, the principal needs to come up with ways to reward and watch the agent. The model could explain the widespread adoption of alternative work arrangements in recent years. Many supervisors appear to be at a loss as to how to keep tabs on and inspire their remote workforce as remote work becomes increasingly common.

Final Thoughts

But, at least per TikTok, the mantra of silent resignation has nothing to do with not pulling your weight at work. The theme is "giving up the notion of exceeding expectations." However, many people find fault with the idea, saying it is misleading.

Or for hiding the practices of "quiet firing," in which employers make their workers' lives hard on purpose, and "quiet fleecing," in which a worker's pay doesn't keep up with his or her increased productivity for years.