Why a taxi driver should turn down better-paid jobs

The decision to quit as a taxi driver and move to another industry for better pay is not just about money. Changing jobs is like investing in your whole person.

14 November 2021 by Klaus Meier 

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Please don’t take offence, but sometimes even I can only use irony in its harshest form, sarcasm, in view of the situation.

A single, permanently employed taxi driver who works 40 hours a week currently earns around 6.45 euros gross per hour, i.e. just under 1000 euros gross or around 800 to 900 euros net. This is below the minimum wage level, but together with the tips it is enough for a small flat and he doesn’t starve. He does without extras, doesn’t go on a nice trip in the summer and doesn’t spend the New Year in the Canary Islands. He can’t afford his own car either, but he can do his weekly shopping by taxi.

This man is now offered a job as a delivery driver or warehouse clerk. He would earn up to 2500 euros gross per month, i.e. around 1800 euros net. He would earn a correspondingly higher retirement pension and other benefits that are common in companies taking part in a collective labour agreement. Employees in "normal employment relationships" see these conditions as the absolute minimum and would immediately accept the job offer in order to get away from the underpaid taxi job. From the driver’s perspective, the situation is different.

The colleague has spent many years organising his life and needs around his work as a taxi driver. He is used to getting by on very little. The only thing he can’t do is earn less, because then he would face homelessness and hunger.

If the colleague accepts one of the jobs on offer, he upsets the balance he has painstakingly achieved in his life. That wouldn’t be a bad thing in itself if he had sufficient reserves. If he does not survive the probationary period or the new company cancels his contract for other reasons, he will have to bridge a period of financial hardship. He does not have the reserves for this.

To decide whether to accept a new job, our colleague needs to assess his financial risk and look a little into the future. He has to assess the links between career development, retirement pension and his own ability to pay. Then he has to harmonise everything with his life expectations. Since he knows a lot about the unreliability of people and prophecies, he decides to turn down the job offers. He doesn’t want to jeopardise the precarious balance he has worked so hard to achieve in his life. The risk is too high for him.

Better-off people have more room for manoeuvre and can afford to be more daring. They can try new things with impunity because failure will not push them into the abyss.

In his book "The End of Economics" [1], Michael Perelman [2] about these better-off people and asks: "Why are so many investors willing to speculate if the default rate is so high?" He finds the answer to this in Adam Smith [3]], who stated in 1776:

"The exaggerated notion which the greater part of men have of their own abilities is an ancient evil, well known to the philosophers and moralists of all ages. Their absurd presumption in regard to their own happiness has been less often recognised by them. This, however, is, if possible, still more universal. The chance of gain is more or less overrated by all men, but the chance of loss is underrated by most men." [4]

Perelman continues: "Smith attributed the frequency of unsuccessful investments to a general character flaw. It causes most people to overestimate their happiness."

In light of the words of both economists, our taxi driver shows himself to be a wise man. The bird in the hand gives him little pleasure, but he would have to shoot the pigeon on the roof with the gun he doesn’t have[[Hans im Glück, theatre play by Bert Brecht, a review of the production at the Berliner Ensemble



This is a contribution to the discussion, not an analysis or a guide to action. I have long wondered why many salaried colleagues settle for wages that are not simply very low, but far below the legal threshold of the minimum wage. That’s why I’m writing about a fictitious taxi driver whose point of view I have experienced in many encounters. I ask the readers whether the viewpoint presented in the article is sensible and understandable or whether it might lead to personal disaster.

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[1A review of The End of Economics

[2Wikipedia entry on Michael Perelman] reflects on these better-off people.

[3Wikipedia entry on [Adam Smith

[4Wikipedia entry on The Wealth of Nations

Why then are so many investors willing to speculate when the failure rate is so high?
Here again we can turn to Adam Smith for some insight into this riddle. He observed:
The over-weening conceit which the greater part of men have of their own abilities, is an antient evil remarked by the philosophers and moralists of all ages. Their absurd presumption in their own good fortune, has been less taken notice of. It is, however, if possible, still more universal....
The chance of gain is by every man more or less over-valued, and the chance of loss is by most men under-valued.
(Smith 1776, I.x.b.26:124-5)
So Smith attributed the frequency of unsuccessful investments to a common character defect, which causes most people to overestimate their luck. He was not alone in his recognition of the tendency to overestimate good fortune.</quote

Michael Perelman (1996) - The End of Economics , Chapter: IRRATIONALITY AND THE EXPANSION OF FIXED CAPITAL, page 37 - Routledge
Adam Smith (1776) The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Oxford University Press, 1976

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