Going Postal: My First Job

by on April 4, 2014 at 10:14 am in Economics, Education, History | Permalink

In this article some Nobel prize winners talk about their first jobs and the lessons they learned. One of my first jobs was as a scab.

One summer when I was a teenager, the Canadian postal union workers went on strike and I was hired to deliver the mail. The pay was astounding, something like $25 an hour plus benefits when I was earning $4 an hour as a stock boy. The first day was disorganized and we never got out of the depot where we were supposed to be assigned to a postal station. The second day we were taken in a van to a station but the striking workers rocked and shook the van violently and we barely made it in. The company feared for our safety so we spent the entire day twiddling our thumbs. It was boring sitting around for 8 hours but I was thrilled to head home with $200. The third day we were again trucked to a postal station but there was no mail to deliver and by early afternoon it was clear we were going nowhere and doing nothing. I decided to leave. The guy in charge looked at me incredulously but said it was my call. I slipped out a back door but several burly postal workers saw me and started to chase. I hopped over a fence into, of all places, a graveyard. I ran through the graveyard and eluded a beating. The strike ended the next day. For several years afterwards I collected some kind of pension/overtime benefit.

The summer after that I ran away and joined the circus. I worked selling tickets and cleaning up after the elephants. That was also fun.

I learned a lot from both jobs.

1 Phill April 4, 2014 at 10:31 am

April Fools was on Tuesday?

2 Ray Lopez April 4, 2014 at 10:35 am

AlexT is the circus freak sideshow to the main ring: TC, the elephant in the tent. Zing!

3 mark April 5, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Can we refer to it accurately as the Nobel MEMORIAL prize.. its a prize equivalent of Physics envy of economics and should be referred to as such. I am sure Tyler or Alex can do that ;).

4 Peter M April 4, 2014 at 10:35 am

The best job I ever had was at a Pennsylvania state mental institution. About 8 college students were added to buttress the recreation staff for the summer. So we mostly played wiffle ball and softball with the short termers and well behaved long termers. Most of the people were in for less than 90 days. But the back wards were filled with very old people, and that was shocking and sad. I got to square dance with a group of old women, though. I think we brought fun to a dreary world. The hospital was very well maintained — very clean — and built at a time when PA was rolling in money. So there was a beautiful softball field, a small bowling alley, a billiards room, etc. I also saw a fair amount of grotesque things (like electroshock “therapy” on one patient), but the whole place really woke me up to the fact that there were lots of helpless and troubled people in the world. And when it was discovered that some of us were very fast typists, we got weekend work with overtime pay doing office work. That money tided me over for almost two years at Georgetown (spending money – I was on scholarhip).

5 Rahul April 4, 2014 at 11:42 am

When was this? 1960’s?

6 Slick Vic April 6, 2014 at 6:09 am

Ha ha

7 prior_approval April 4, 2014 at 10:45 am

That being a scab would be highlighted here is unsurprising.

Not being able to find the cited text in the linked article – well, that was surprising.

And finding this – apparently – non-linked information being repeated so promptly at http://regator.com/p/263801046/going_postal_my_first_job/?

Let’s just say that a certain amount of cynicism seems in order. (Though since I never use Javascript in Seamonkey, maybe it was in a comment section?)

Unless anyone has a better link, of course – because as it is, the posted self-described scab’s identity remains mysterious. Especially regarding whether they were a Nobel real laureate or not. Though it isn’t as if the real Nobel laureates are spotless – Günter Grass was in the Waffen-SS, for example.

8 Yancey Ward April 4, 2014 at 11:06 am

Your first job was probably as a doorstop.

9 prior_approval April 4, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Nope – paperboy. I wasn’t even a teenager, actually.

Probably violated somebody’s idea of labor laws in the later 70s. I’m sure that now America is a freer place, such opportunities are even more common.

And my first paycheck earned at GMU? I was 15 – still have it, as a matter of fact. Why yes, I was not a state employee for my first job at GMU.

10 Yancey Ward April 4, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Amazing to me how utterly clueless you are. I finally found someone with a lower reading comprehension than Bill.

11 priior_approval April 4, 2014 at 1:21 pm

See the response to K from me at 12:08.

‘I finally found someone with a lower reading comprehension than Bill.’ Yancey Ward at 1:12 pm

12 Jeff April 4, 2014 at 11:14 am

If you’re gonna troll the comments here, at least try not to be so bad at it.

13 prior_approval April 4, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Seriously enough – where was this text in the Reuters link?

Or did anyone actually bother to read the article, or use search to find the text etc.?

Because apart from that single google result which mirrors MR, this text is not found by google.

Any link to the name of the scab Nobel laureate would be appreciated. I’ll admit to being too lazy to admittedly try to filter Canadian laureates to see who it might be – and do notice, I most certainly did not ask Prof. Tabarrok to.

Not that either of you have been a help, admittedly.

14 grade2reader April 4, 2014 at 12:10 pm

There is no citation from the article in this post.
There is no citation in the post. This is a personal anecdote from the author of the post.

15 Urstoff April 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Awful reading comprehension or just a terrible troll? You decide!

16 prior_approval April 4, 2014 at 12:21 pm

See the response to K from me at 12:08.

‘Awful reading comprehension or just a terrible troll? You decide!’ Posted 12:17 by Urstoff

17 Urstoff April 4, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I’m still on the fence.

18 Jan April 4, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Hey, prior_approval, did you know Alex was just relaying a personal anecdote? I’m not sure whether you knew that.

19 Mark Thorson April 4, 2014 at 5:26 pm

You seem to assume these are mutually exclusive.

20 Careless April 5, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Everyone has a brain fart occasionally. PA’s brain just stinks.

21 K April 4, 2014 at 10:52 am


Relax. And *read*. The scab was Alex.

22 prior_approval April 4, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Thanks – here I was, thinking that the information only concerned Nobel laureates, as at the link., and wondering who was the Nobel laureate that worked as a scab (apparently, still none).

My mistake.

Interesting that google apparently found no previous web appearance of that text.

23 Vernunft April 4, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Ah, we’ve found prior_approval’s rollo/8% moment. This is gonna be fuuuun.

24 prior_approval April 4, 2014 at 12:22 pm

To keep the amusement flowing – what does ‘rollo/8%’ mean?

25 Yancey Ward April 4, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Your first clue should have been the second sentence in the first paragraph. Your second clue should have been the lack of blocking or quotation marks. Your third clue should have been the ridicule some heaped on you. Had you not been a serial troll here, I would have been gentle and polite in pointing out that Tabarrok was offering a personal anecdote.

26 prior_approval April 4, 2014 at 1:33 pm

You are right, of course – which is why I wrote, at 12:08, ‘My mistake.’

‘Had you not been a serial troll here, I would have been gentle and polite in pointing out that Tabarrok was offering a personal anecdote.’

As was noted by Knut at 11:04, more than two hours before you posted the above at 1:16, ‘It is indeed interesting (and insightful) that the story mysteriously loses a bit of its appeal when you realise that this isn’t the story of a Nobel laureate…’

But just to make you happy, it remains my mistake. They do happen (remember the national park admission error?), I have no problem agreeing that it was my mistake, and I even laid out how it occurred when asking for an explanation – you know, the part about not finding that text in either the linked article, nor google.

The answer being provided by K, about an hour and half before you posted. As I acknowledged, about an hour before your first post.


27 Knut April 4, 2014 at 11:04 am

It is indeed interesting (and insightful) that the story mysteriously loses a bit of its appeal when you realise that this isn’t the story of a Nobel laureate…

28 Urso April 4, 2014 at 12:36 pm


29 prior_approval April 4, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Considering what I saw of the PR dynamic at GMU with Buchanan and Tullock at GMU before one of them won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, I would not place my money on Prof. Tabarrok.

30 chuck martel April 4, 2014 at 12:10 pm

What do you learn from a job where you don’t do anything?

31 Jay April 4, 2014 at 1:01 pm

That unionized postal workers are willing to not only threaten violence, but give chase to achieve it, in order to protect $25/hour plus benefit for dubious amounts of work.

32 Jan April 4, 2014 at 3:39 pm

What’s dubious? Postal workers don’t deliver the mail? Or are you just a classist who insists that postal workers can’t possibly be doing real work, low-skilled and stupid as they are?

33 JWatts April 4, 2014 at 3:44 pm

No, comment about the violence, huh?

34 Jan April 4, 2014 at 3:52 pm

How can I contest what Alex said? If it happened to him, it happened to him. I won’t just mindless defend public employees under any circumstance. What I take issue with is the assertion that they performed “dubious amounts” of work. Every postman I ever saw worked all day with little rest — my grandfather was one of them.

35 Jan April 4, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Also, threatening violence is reprehensible, especially when it targets kids. This is true in Alex’s case and it is true whether it is a corporation, a union worker, a rich guy, a cop, a Koch brother, or a member of the East Coast Liberal Elite doing it.

36 Cliff April 4, 2014 at 5:25 pm

The postmen I know (delivery guys anyway) do things like watch a movie while getting paid every day.

37 Jan April 5, 2014 at 12:12 am

What company/city/route? Are you making this up?

38 Brian Donohue April 5, 2014 at 9:41 am

@ Jan, my old boss told me once about a summer job he had as a teenager delivering mail for vacationing postmen. He said he hustled his way through his route in about two hours, then had the rest of the day off. Maybe an isolated incident or he was making it up, but I don’t think so.

39 Jan April 5, 2014 at 10:51 am

I’ve always heard they have to go back to their mail center after the route. But anyway, they’re tracking the letter carriers by GPS now, so I don’t think they can just be hanging out at McDonald’s if they finish quickly. At least they don’t get taxpayer dollars.


40 Careless April 5, 2014 at 11:11 pm

Mailmen not delivering the mail they’re supposed to is a common story. Mine seems to use my mail for a hat when it’s raining.

41 Jay April 7, 2014 at 12:16 pm

My opinions echos what JWatts said. My route’s carrier has worn a t-shirt and jeans for the 5 years I’ve lived here and doesn’t hold to any particular schedule. They were more than willing to pay Alex to do nothing, what makes you think they’re more stringent with the normal workers about productivity? I’ve also worked in a postal flats distribution center as a contractor, no one was in that much of a hurry to do anything.

42 The Other Jim April 5, 2014 at 8:56 am

>in order to protect $25/hour plus benefit

No, that’s what the replacements got. I’m sure the regular union hacks got much, much more. And they weren’t trying to protect their salary — they were refusing to work unless they paid even MORE than that!

43 Jan April 5, 2014 at 10:53 am

I know were talking Canadian dollars here, which was basically monopoly money in the 80s and 90s, but here are the hourly wages for postal workers today in the US. Not as high as you say.


44 Marie April 5, 2014 at 11:46 am

I’ve got a friend who is a strike nurse, she gets paid much more per hour than the person in the job regularly. Which only makes sense, you have to pay someone enough to take that position ad hoc, lose it any time, etc. She works intermittently, it’s almost seasonal. Funny thing is how organized it seems to have become, she gets notice and training and flown in to different parts of the country, I don’t think she ever gets any threats or dirty looks, it’s just part of the system now. Apparently corporations own several hospitals in a region and you can have nurses from three hospitals going on strike at once, they organize it well to have temps in there before it happens. Of course, I’m sure health care is a special case since no one really wants to suddenly shut down a hospital, and I’m sure if that became common there’s be new legislation preventing strikes at all in the public interest, etc. But we’ve come a long way since Pinkerton. . . .

45 Jan April 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Actually, the $25/hour wage is an interesting assertion. Here are the Canada Post hourly wages today. The high end for a letter carrier is $56k per year. That works out to about $26/27 bucks in today. That really sucks if those workers haven’t gotten a wage bump in 20 year or whatever it’s been since Alex was a young lad.

46 Jan April 5, 2014 at 1:25 pm
47 Marie April 4, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Probably says a lot about people, their first jobs, mostly a lot about the class they grew up in.

Very suburban, my upbringing, so my first jobs were fast food and waiting tables. Same for just about everyone I knew. Gave you flexibility, stability, plenty available, nothing special, nothing daring. I did a lot of volunteering with disabled kids or in hospitals or tutoring. But the job — that was the old standard, food service.

I note a lot of rich leftists have really fun or cool first jobs — the dreadlocked teenager who worked at the CSA I bought from years ago, that sort of thing. I don’t want my kids to be elitist, but I have to admit I want them to have the luxury of taking a job that might not pan out well, instead of the safe route.

But then if you look at someone like Steven King, you see there is unavoidable risk taking (rather than luxury risk taking) when it comes to the kids of the working class. My working class grandfather worked in a prison, owned a bakery, worked as a short order cook, and did the circuit both in boxing and figure skating. I suspect his time is gone, but you can still see some of it — working at cutting firewood, that sort of thing.

I’d guess from the anecdote that the author (I know nothing) grew up fairly upper class, though it’s also maybe 20% possible he grew up working class. But I’d bet you he didn’t grow up middle middle class suburban.

48 heartless April 4, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Today’s working class has a more robust welfare state to bail them out of risk-taking in terms of lifestyle choices – drug experimentation, early sex, birthing bastards, that sort of thing.

49 Marie April 4, 2014 at 7:33 pm

Upper class kids also have a mechanism to bail them out of those destructive risk taking choices — it’s called mom and dad.
Usually a much more effective bail out.

50 Jan April 4, 2014 at 3:48 pm

I had a similar early experience as you — first job working the concession stand at an ice rink, then painting the rink all summer. However, I started to notice in college that a lot of my peers who came from right-leaning, wealthier backgrounds had really cool jobs in high school and college. Most of their dads were in some sort of business and would hook them up with nice gigs as junior office managers or something, often working for one of their dad’s clients, or teaching at a summer camp for wealthy kids. Not that they weren’t working, at least a little, but it was all about having the connections for them.

51 Marie April 4, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Yes, connections and resources.
But I have to say, all those jobs sound really dreary, almost just a rich kid version of Taco Bell. Office manager as a teen? Ick.
What looks really good to me are the folks working overseas teaching English, or working on organic small farms, or bringing Bibles to China, even volunteering for Habitat, that sort of thing. That’s what I’d like my kids to be able to do as their first jobs, but I can’t get over the idea that that is kind of an elitist thing to do. For example, there’s a local zoo that takes “volunteers”, that seems really like something great for my kids to do as teens. Then I saw that you actually pay (and quite a bit) to have your kid “volunteer”. It’s a resume building opportunity for kids whose parents have some bucks. Sigh.

My husband worked killing chickens one summer growing up. I don’t think it was a good experience for him, but I have to admit that him being the kind of guy who did that kind of useful but different job as a teen is probably part of what makes him so appealing to me. 😉 But I just don’t see a lot of roll up your sleeves work for teens out there, nothing but food service as far as the eye can see.

52 Jan April 5, 2014 at 10:56 am

Yeah, those sound like cool jobs to me now, but the office work in particular sounded nice to me at the time — they were more grown-up in my eyes. They were just answering phones and screwing around with spreadsheets (wait, that sounds like Wall Street guys now!), but it had the aura of professionalism.

Disclaimer: I actually taught English oversees after college, but that was as a Peace Corps volunteer, though you can get paid really decent money doing that in Japan and Korea these days.

53 Slick Vic April 6, 2014 at 6:13 am

If you are white (re: being paid to teach English)

Korea/Japan people will *not* hire non-white English speakers even if they are American and English is their first and only language

54 Jan April 6, 2014 at 7:30 am

Wow – did not know that. I had a Korean American friend who was hired to teach SAT courses in Seoul no problem, but I guess that isn’t exactly the same thing.

55 Dan Hanson April 4, 2014 at 7:08 pm

You did see the part where his previous job was working as a stock boy for $4/hr? Does that strike you as the kind of job upper class kids get?

I’m curious what it was about that post that made you conclude he was an upper-class kid? Because I just read it again, and for the life of me I can’t see anything in there that would identify the class status of the author, other than the fact that he was willing to work as a stock boy for $4/hr. And that doesn’t suggest upper class.

Coincidentally, my first wage paying job was as a stock boy as well, earning $3.85/hr. And my family qualified for welfare (which we didn’t apply for, but instead my mother and both kids worked jobs to make ends meet). Most of the people I worked with, though, would be defined as ‘middle class suburban’. None would have been considered upper class.

If you’re thinking that he was upper class because of ‘risk taking’ in going to work for the circus… I note that carnies don’t tend to be drawn from the ranks of the upper class.

In Canada at the time, the postal workers who threatened and chased a child would have been middle-to-upper-middle class. $25/hr back then was a significant amount of money.

56 Marie April 4, 2014 at 7:22 pm

@Dan Hanson,
I think you missed my point. And my guess was that he was probably raised upper class but maybe raised lower class, but very probably *not* middle middle.

It wasn’t actually a comment designed to denigrate any class, but to observe tendencies and priorities, and reasons for working.

If you are poor, you take jobs other teens won’t take, and that actually means you might stumble into an interesting job with the opportunity to learn or excel in a way that will drive you out of your norm. Probably won’t happen, but can.
If you are rich, you are not working out of need, but because you are specifically seeking a job that is interesting or where you can try to stand out.

If you are middle class, you are working to earn money, and to build a stable record of work. This tends to drive you into jobs that are not risk taking — not carnivals, not strike breaking. Stockboy, sure, and that did throw a bit of a wrench in, but then I think the carnival thing balanced it off. Again, I can’t see any of the good suburban moms I grew up with “letting” their teen work at a traveling carnival. But I can see a wealthy family thinking it was a lark, and if the kid got in trouble he had resources to get out of it. And I can see poor families letting the kid do it because the difficulties in the life probably aren’t that much more difficult than regular life and the money might have been fairly good, etc.

My analysis might be way off.
Alternatively, the writer might have come from the exact background myself and my friends came from but just be an exceptional individual who went his own way.

57 Andrew D. Todd April 25, 2014 at 4:19 pm

I went to a New England prep school, in the early 1970’s. Precisely because so many students were rich, and in need of a lesson about the value of labor, they had a system of KP work, just like in the Army, only starting at the impressionable age of fourteen. You did your labor when your name came up on the roster, and there was no nonsense about getting paid for it. The handful of paid physical plant employees were chosen as sergeants in all but name, because their job was to supervise– and especially to chew out the slackers. After the cook-sergeant has reamed you out for wasting food, you don’t ever do it again. When I had a choice, I preferred to work outside with a shovel, but naturally, the needs of the service dictated, and I cleaned my share of toilets.

I also cleaned up the vomit of an Indonesian boy who had gone AWOL, tried to drink up all the alcoholic liquor in North America, and barfed most of it back up on the bathroom floor. No one ordered me to do it, but it was necessary, and he was obviously in no condition to clean up after himself. The Indonesian boy’s devoted little girlfriend had somehow dragged him back from the tavern, and the time they reached the dormitory, she was pretty well in hysterics. Four guys picked the drunkard up, each grabbing an arm or a leg, and carried him up the stairs, with a goofy expression, a really _doofless_ expression, on his face. By the time it was over, one girl and five boys had learned something important about how to be infantry lieutenants at need.

The system was not precisely military– no one ever thought it necessary to teach us to shoot a rifle, though they did take us up mountains (Outward Bound training). However, the whole spirit was to produce something very like a good platoon leader, always worrying about the welfare of his troops. Officers eat last, and all that.

58 Marie April 4, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Sorry, Dan Hanson, should have reread your comment first. I read it that you thought I was being accusatory. I see you were just describing a POV, and it’s a useful one.

59 Jan April 5, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Actually, the $25/hour wage is an interesting assertion. Here are the Canada Post hourly wages today. The high end for a letter carrier is $56k per year. That works out to about $26/27 bucks in today. That really sucks if those workers haven’t gotten a wage bump in 20 year or whatever it’s been since Alex was a young lad.

60 Jan April 5, 2014 at 1:25 pm
61 Dan D April 4, 2014 at 3:08 pm

I so look forward to the day when prior_approval hosts his own blog, and the GMU faculty drops everything to troll his comments section

62 JWatts April 4, 2014 at 3:46 pm

I think p_a hosting/posting to his own blog would be an excellent idea. He could really expound on those targets of interest.

63 ChrisA April 4, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Yes I agree, I always enjoy his well thought out, on the point, light hearted comments. And he is so free of bitterness, despite that awful time he had at GMU.

64 Kailer Mullet April 4, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Alex, I had no idea you were Canadian. Nice to see you are living the Canadian dream, which is to move to America and live the American dream.

65 Dan Hanson April 4, 2014 at 7:11 pm

I used to think that way, but since Canada has now transformed into a more free country than the U.S. with a better economy and a much brighter economic future, I’m quite happy to stay where I am.

66 Sean P. April 4, 2014 at 4:50 pm

My high school economics teacher once admitted to me that she was a scab during a teachers’ strike in the early 80s. Obviously we can’t trust economists to respect the sanctity of unions.

(She was pregnant at the time, which did not stop striking teachers from throwing rocks at her.)

67 The Other Jim April 5, 2014 at 8:58 am

Ah, yes. The sanctity of unions that throw rocks at pregnant women.

Respect it, brother.

68 bob April 4, 2014 at 5:36 pm

I worked summers for the US Post Office filling in for guys on vacation. I delivered mail for 4 to 6 hours and then had to go park the truck some place inconspicuous for the rest of my shift so that the union guys that had gamed their routes wouldn’t give me hell for coming back early.

69 Jimbino April 4, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Craziest job I ever had was walking around in the San Bernadino National Forest measuring trees and marking the big ones on a map. That was way before GPS was available. Another one was walking around a naturist beach telling women they also had to take their bikini bottoms off.

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