How Did Elon Musk Know That Twitter Staff Was So Bloated?

November 23, 2022 Updated: November 23, 2022

Commentary

You have to admit that it is a bit strange. Since taking over Twitter, Musk has driven out at least 3 out of 5 people on the payroll. The departing employees have been screaming about this for weeks on every platform. They have predicted doom for the company. Surely the whole platform is toast. #RIPTwitter has been trending the whole time.

And yet, users today are experiencing a platform that is just as good as it was in general. Even better: we get a fuller range of research and opinion because he has unbanned so many accounts. Also, one can post without fearing the censors the same way everyone did only a month ago. Sure, there have been some hiccups but not what one would expect.

Musk is nowhere near done reversing the damage of the last regime. There are thousands of accounts still banned for reasons pertaining to COVID. These are serious scientists and journalists who disagreed with the main CDC/Fauci line for two years. They were systematically purged. This happened at the urging of government agencies, which is a serious problem for the First Amendment. That is being tested in court right now, with depositions by Anthony Fauci and Jen Psaki among others.

Musk could reverse all these bans now. He has not done so. Maybe he will get to it. When he does, we’ll have new access to the past postings of these accounts and easily see who was right and who was wrong. It will be a major embarrassment to public health authorities. I wish I knew the source of the delay in restoring these accounts. Maybe he is still just getting his bearings and this will all happen in time.

Regardless, it’s tremendously interesting that so many thousands of people making high salaries could be suddenly sent packing and yet the platform continues to function just fine. If you have ever spent time in mainstream American corporate culture, you know why. Vast numbers of employees do absolutely nothing. Worse, they do something: they make work for themselves by making the work of others harder. They subtract value from the firm rather than add to it.

This problem is massive in corporate America, not just at Twitter. Friends of mine who have worked for Facebook and Google describe a disastrous work environment in which they are prevented from achieving anything at all by managers, who themselves report to other managers, who then report to yet another layer. Their days are spent in endless and pointless meetings in which everyone is invited to preen and posture about their vast achievements to a room full of people who know for sure that the whole thing is just theater.

In fact, I’ve never known more miserable people than those who are stuck in such massive corporate bureaucracies. They stay for two reasons: status and pay. But even that is not enough to bring about a happy life. It’s for this reason that we’ve seen whole libraries appear over the last decade and a half about bad bosses, wicked company culture, nonsense jobs, and they all sell well. Airport bookstores have been flooded with them for years.

Let’s be clear about this, however. The problem is unique to a special sector of economic life: white-collar professional desk jobs, the very one satirized by Dilbert for years. During the pandemic, these were called laptop or Zoom jobs. These are people who stare at screens for a living. Their achievements are opaque. They can easily disguise what they are doing thanks to company-wide messaging platforms and mouse jigglers.

Before the pandemic when they were required to be in the office, they filled their days with meetings and gradually came to believe that retaining their high salaries were just a matter of showing up: butts in seats earning the big bucks.

This is an easy life in some ways and frustrating in others. It is easy because your main job is pretending to work and otherwise adjusting to a life with low expectations and learning the ropes of corporate survival. It’s frustrating simply because it is meaningless, and workers know this to be true. So when the stay-at-home orders came, they were thrilled. Instead of doing nothing at the office, they could do nothing at home. It’s no wonder this situation lasted as long as it did.

Elon Musk knows as much about this problem as anyone. So when he took over Twitter, he found exactly what he expected to find: a cushy, puffy, lazy gaggle of entitled do-nothings. Worse, vast swaths of the staff were infected with woke ideology to the point that they believed they were paid to have the right opinions rather than do something useful.

It’s impossible to make cuts in such a thing with perfect foresight. So he trusted his instincts. He cut the obvious stuff first, got more aggressive, and then finally decided to issue an ultimatum that he wanted only hard-core employees who were willing to work impossible hours with massive focus. That announcement drove thousands more off the payroll, which tells you all you need to know.

I had a law professor in college who used a similar tactic on the opening day of class. He walked in dressed to the nines and proceeded to terrify everyone in the room about the workload, the pressure to stand and answer questions, to write new briefs for every class session, and to read and understand every word of the assigned readings. You could feel the intensity of the room. He ended the first class by urging everyone who is not ready to drop the class immediately. That weeded out about 20 percent but the remaining students were prepared for the rest. It was one of the best classes I ever took.

No question that we have a whole generation or two of professional white-collar workers who have truly forgotten—or have never known—what it means really to work. This fact dawned on me some years ago when I spent a week in Seoul, South Korea. The whole city had a work environment I had never seen before. The place was buzzing by 6 a.m. or even earlier. The rushing around, the intensity, the focus, the short lunches, the late hours, the tight and serious faces all pointed to something remarkable. I realized then that this was a country and culture where work and productivity were a priority.

Workers in professional services faced far less disruption during lockdowns but the period of recovery from that disaster is hitting this sector of workers now worse than retail and hospitality. Call it karma. Many workers leaving the information economy will soon find themselves dealing with products and services of a more tactile nature.

Epoch Times Photo
(Data: Federal Reserve Economic Data [FRED], St. Louis Fed; Chart: Jeffrey A. Tucker)
To be sure, hard work alone does not make a society rich. For that you need capital, wise investment, long-term planning, discipline, and savings—and all that comes about only through security of private property and ownership. Still, no society of lazy bums can sustain prosperity over the long term. It seems obvious to me after my South Korean experience that this is precisely what the white-collar sector of American business had become.

To be clear, this is not a problem in all sectors. Restaurants and hospitality are not overstaffed. In the construction industry, there is not vast fluff. In retail, every worker matters. Same in airlines. In these industries where people truly do work and there is accountability, we see persistent labor shortages. The surpluses are at Big Tech companies, academia, nonprofits, and the professional service industry generally. Here is where the firings have begun.

How did this problem come about and why is it changing? Look back to 2008 with the Federal Reserve policy of zero interest rates. That policy drove money and capital out of savings into a desperate hunt for return. It caused a massive ballooning of fashionable industries in the information economy. Yes, these companies enjoyed high financial returns to investors, seemingly without limit. Management developed the habit of endless hiring and bloat.

It’s come to an end by virtue of the dramatic reversal of monetary policy that began this year. Jerome Powell seems determined to get inflation under control through the fastest increases in federal funds rates we’ve ever seen. This is causing a drain of resources from bloated information economies. Money is no longer cheap. If this keeps up, resources are headed back to safe short-term debt, which is going to put a huge financial squeeze on media and tech companies in particular.

I’m bullish on Twitter right now mainly because Musk has made the hard decisions that thousands of companies must copy in the coming six months. Ideally this trend would eventually hit the most bloated sector of all: government itself. Sadly, its size and scale are protected against financial realities. Only a change in political leadership can bring that about.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Jeffrey A. Tucker is the founder and president of the Brownstone Institute, and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press, as well as 10 books in five languages, most recently “Liberty or Lockdown.” He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He writes a daily column on economics for The Epoch Times and speaks widely on the topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.