Dec. 2, 2021

Why Quitters Are Winners in this Economy

The upside of the Great Resignation

Scott and Nora dive into the Great Resignation and find out why so many workers are quitting now and why that may not be such a bad thing. Derek Thompson, a staff writer at The Atlantic and host of the podcast, Plain English on the Ringer Network stops by to discuss.


Nora Ali: Before we start today's show, I want to play you all a voicemail we received from a listener named Anthony who lives in Washington, DC. A few months ago, his boss mandated that he return to the office, no remote work allowed.

Anthony: I decided to quit and I didn't really have any plans, so I backpacked Central America for three months and I really enjoyed it. And now I'm still trying to look for a job that will let me stay remote. It's more difficult than I thought, and I regret it a little bit, but ultimately I think it was the best choice to be made. And I think I have more time now to do what I want to do and to find a job better suited for my skills. I want to go back to school a little bit, study French, and maybe try to find a job that will let me work remote around my study schedule.

Nora Ali: Anthony is like a lot of other people in the US these past few months, millions of them in fact. According to the latest data from the US Labor Department, more than 4.4 million workers quit their jobs voluntarily in September, up from 4.3 million in August, the most in the two decades the government has been keeping track of this data. This massive exodus of workers from their jobs has been dubbed The Great Resignation.

Nora Ali: And we're seeing quite a few walkouts, many of which have gone viral, including one at a Hot Topic store in Rochester, Minnesota. Last month, employees posted a note on the door that read, "Closed. Almost all of our staff walked out due to the inability of the Hot Topic company to support and give a living wage. We cannot support ourselves and our families. We've worked so hard and cannot do this any longer. You cannot pay your workers in passion. Sorry for the inconvenience." So today, we're going to talk about quitting. Why so many workers are quitting now and why that may not be such a bad thing. Derek Thompson, a staff writer at The Atlantic and host of the podcast Plain English on The Ringer Network, joined us to discuss. For Morning Brew, this is Business Casual, the podcast that gives you a front row seat to candid conversations with some of the biggest names in business, asking them the questions you wish you could ask. I'm your host, Nora Ali.

Scott Rogowsky: And I'm your other host, Scott Rogowsky. Nora and I are here for your ears, bringing you stories of how business shapes our lives today and into the future. Now let's get down to business.

Nora Ali: Scott, do you have experiences quitting in your career?

Scott Rogowsky: Oh my gosh.

Nora Ali: Are you a quitter?

Scott Rogowsky: Nora, I'm a master quitter. I am well versed in the art of quitting, the science of quitting.

Nora Ali: Oh my gosh. 

Scott Rogowsky: I've quit just about everything I've tried.

Nora Ali: Oh.

Scott Rogowsky: Karate, piano, flossing.

Nora Ali: Flossing? You've quit flossing? That's not good.

Scott Rogowsky: Yeah, you don't need to do that. So many diets So many new year's resolutions I've quit around January 7th. I don't get past the first week generally. How about you? Are you a quitter?

Nora Ali: I don't like to call myself a quitter, but I certainly have left jobs before. I've had a bunch of career pivots. But I find that once I leave a particular job, it tends to be at these company pivot points where after I leave, a bunch of other people leave. Not because of me obviously, but because there's a change in morale and just the excitement maybe around the company. So it's a very good feeling when you get to announce to your peers, "Hey, I'm actually making a career switch. I'm going to go do this other thing." And it's in my case has always come as a surprise, but I think it's kind of fun. And I feel lucky that I've been able to do that. I think it's enjoyable.

Scott Rogowsky: Are you like me in that every time you quit a company, they very soon after receive a billion dollar valuation? Has that been your experience? Seems like.

Nora Ali: Yeah, I guess so.

Scott Rogowsky: In fact, it's kind of nice when you quit a place and then they fold soon after, right? That's always a good feeling. Because you feel like they couldn't do without me. But honestly, if we're telling the truth here, and I know you love the truth, Nora.

Nora Ali: I do.

Scott Rogowsky: You're a truth seeker.

Nora Ali: I do. I seek the truth. Yes.

Scott Rogowsky: As someone who's been pursuing a show business career, so to speak, for like the first seven years of my comedy sojourn, I was working day jobs. And it's the kind of thing where if you really want to commit to that entertainment career, you have to commit to it, right? And you can't get sucked into your day job, which happens to a lot of people sometimes. So I would very often quit my day job and say, "I'm sorry, I can't do this. If I keep doing this job, I'm going to stay here for life and I don't want to do that." I mean, it could be a good job. I mean, you ever heard of the company Bonobos?

Nora Ali: Yes, of course.

Scott Rogowsky: I could have been employee 12 at Bonobos.

Nora Ali: Really?

Scott Rogowsky: And I quit because there was maybe a job opening up at The Onion, where I really wanted to make $30,000 a year there instead of being employee 12 at Bonobos, which that would've been maybe-

Nora Ali: That would've been great for you.

Scott Rogowsky: $30 million in my pocket today. I don't know. But it's just one of those things where you can't look back and everything happens for a reason. But yeah, I've quit a lot of jobs that ended up, probably would've been very nice for me financially to pursue this dumb idea of being a comedian.

Nora Ali: In the way that you also tend to buy high, sell low.

Scott Rogowsky: Yeah.

Nora Ali: Which you've told me before.

Scott Rogowsky: Oh my God, I've made some horrific decisions. 

Nora Ali: I mean, it's not your fault because there's so many people going through this existential crisis where, do you chase your passion? Do you chase your dreams? Or do you just find stability and a job that gives you an income? Which we got into a lot with our guest, Derek Thompson, is what are the motivations for people and work right now?

Scott Rogowsky: It led me to you. Right? All these decisions led me to you and to Business Casual.

Nora Ali: It was all meant to be, yes. All right. Let's get to our conversation with Derek Thompson. He's a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he just launched a newsletter called Work in Progress, and where he also writes about economics, technology, and the media, and recently about The Great Resignation. All right. Derek, I'm excited for this convo because my friends and I have been talking about this Great Resignation for the past few months. I have lots of friends who are considering switching jobs and quitting, but you've done some in-depth research into this. So let's start this past spring, when we started to see more of a meaningful uptick in people quitting their jobs as a result of the pandemic, as a result of personal realizations, many things. So who's been quitting, first and foremost, from which industries? Who are they?

Derek Thompson: So the Bureau of Labor Statistics not only gives us an overall quits rate, what's really helpful is they break it down by occupation. And so you can look at exactly which sectors are quitting the most. And the quits rate is highest in leisure and hospitality, and within leisure and hospitality, it's highest in this sector called accommodation and food services. Accommodation and food services is exactly what it sounds like, it's accommodation, hotels, inns, food services, restaurants, bars. That's where the quits rate is highest. I believe last month, something like 6.6% of Americans quit their job in that sector. That's 1 in 16. That's kind of amazing. It basically means that if you are a typical American restaurant, you have 16 employees, one of them quit just last month. Spin that forward, it means that over the next 16 months, make certain mathematical assumptions, it means everyone from your company is going to quit.

Derek Thompson: That's a really, really high quit rate. And it's highest there in part because that's where a lot of job openings are. So the BLS looks at not only quits, but also job openings. Where are the most job openings? They're also in accommodation and food services. So one reason why a lot of people are quitting, and there's a lot of reasons, maybe the clients were rude, the customers were rude, you hate your boss. But one reason is that you have the opportunity to look for a job that's paying more. So you are driving to work, you see that there's some other restaurant that's paying $3 an hour more than you are making, why wouldn't you quit? It makes all the sense in the world. So that's what we're seeing, higher quits there in part because of higher job openings.

Scott Rogowsky: It's a tight labor market, in the words of economics, correct? It's the fact that employers are now competing for employees, whereas it used to be the other way around.

Derek Thompson: That's right. And in part, the tightness of the labor market is a function of the fact that we are missing some workers. Six to seven million workers that we would expect to be in the labor force, given pre-pandemic trends, are not in the labor force. That means they're not either working or looking for work. It's really significant. That's basically the population or the labor force of like Pennsylvania. So it's as if the US economy got right back to where it was in January of 2020, but we lost the entire workforce of Pennsylvania. There are certain dynamics of the labor market that are tight, but in part that tightness seems to be a function of the fact that there's this missing six million, which some people call the labor shortage.

Derek Thompson: And we're missing them because you might have older people that retired early. You might have people who say, "My spouse or my partner is working and we have savings from 2020. I don't really want to work right now." And you might have people who are standing on the sidelines because they're still a little bit afraid of COVID.

Scott Rogowsky: Or died of COVID.

Derek Thompson: So actually, I'm glad you pointed that out. These are not people who died of COVID necessarily. So 750,000 people have died of COVID, huge, tragic number. A lot of them were seniors. A lot of them were probably not a part of the prime age workforce. And the prime age workforce number is a lot lower than we would expect it is. So yes, maybe a little bit of it is COVID deaths, but COVID is its own tragedy. What I'm talking about is a related but separate phenomenon.

Nora Ali: We'll get more into the labor shortage in a moment, but I do want to understand what the economic impacts are for people quitting, for this Great Resignation. You wrote that it's created a centrifugal moment in American economic history. Employers having to compete more for employees, employees making these decisions. In some cases, trying to pursue their passions over working a traditional nine to five. What are the biggest economic impacts for The Great Resignation?

Derek Thompson: Yeah. So let me talk about one economic impact and maybe one psychological impact. So an economic impact is that quitting is good for the most part. There's this idea in maybe America specifically that quitters are losers and loafers, but quitting your job is an expression of optimism. People quit their jobs typically when they think that there's another job waiting for them that's better. A bad economy is one typically with fewer quits per worker, because people are so desperate to stay in shit jobs that they're like, "If I leave this job, I'll starve. My family will not be able to eat." So quitting tends to be a sign of optimism and I think it's important to point that out.

Derek Thompson: Second, there's psychological spillovers of The Great Resignation that I think are probably underdiscussed in most conversations. So imagine you're a terrible boss. Imagine you run a restaurant and you're just an awful boss to your host or hostess. And so they quit. And so you hire someone to be the host or hostess of your restaurant instead, and you're still terrible to them, and then they quit. Well now you think to yourself, "Huh, maybe I'm the asshole." So you change your behavior because you keep losing employees. So now, The Great Resignation, the quits rate has not just created a more dynamic American economy, it's made you a better person. And so I think there's all sorts of interesting ways that people feeling like they have the ability to quit their jobs is just this fantastic thing that it can have spillover effects we don't even consider.

Nora Ali: Well, is it also because the expectations are just higher, especially among younger generations, newer entrants into the workforce? In jobs like at investment banks, which are traditionally known for not being so nice to their first year analysts, now these analysts are asking for more time off and more benefits. Is that generation sort of driving this need for employers now to accommodate?

Derek Thompson: So I think it's important to think of The Great Resignation alongside a separate trend that I call The Great Reset. So The Great Resignation is the fact that a record number of Americans quit in April. And then we broke that record in August and they broke that record in September. That's The Great Resignation. But there's this coinciding thing that I call The Great Reset, which is that a lot of Americans, whether they're quitting their jobs or not quitting their jobs, are reevaluating the degree to which and the level at which they want work to be a central element of their life.

Derek Thompson: And sometimes you express that Great Reset by quitting. Sometimes you express it by working less on weekends. Sometimes you express it by moving from a downtown area in New York or San Francisco back to a suburb near your parents, your partner's parents. Maybe you just are doing something else with your time and going from 50 hours a week to 40 hours a week and working and picking up some hobby. That's The Great Reset. And I think these things are happening at the same time. And I think that the pandemic created this moment where people had no choice but to reevaluate their lives. I mean, it changed the world. And whether or not these changes are going to last for two weeks or the next 50 years of American life, it really forced us to change our habits in ways that I think taught a lot of Americans that they don't necessarily want to spend two hours in the commute every day. They don't necessarily want to work on Saturdays. And we're still shaking through what that means.

Scott Rogowsky: Let's say someone decides to quit their crappy job, they may or may not have a substantial amount of savings. I mean, historically it's been the white collar, the higher class workers who have that freedom of choice, right? I'm going to quit. Recruiters in fact are working to actively place those types of people. But the lower wage workers haven't had that sort of market until now perhaps. What are these people doing when they're quitting? What are they doing for income?

Derek Thompson: That's a really, really good question. So I think it's important to break the answer down by age. A lot of people who have quit their jobs or have left the labor force are near retirees. Both Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have published analyses of The Great Resignation and the labor shortage showing that some significant number of them are people maybe in their upper fifties, lower sixties, maybe early seventies, who might not have retired in a zero COVID world, but COVID happened and it shook up the world and they've said, "You know what? To hell with it. I want to enter retirement a little bit early." At the same time, I think there's a lot of people who maybe they're part of two-income households. I believe it's Indeed, the job hiring website, that asked a bunch of people, what's the number one reason why you are not looking for work? And the most likely answer to that question has been either COVID or my partner has a job, or I have some financial cushion because I'm part of a two-income household. So I think when you put it all together, the combination of early retirees, the financial cushion from 2020, right? Stimulus checks, more savings, expanded unemployment benefits. The fact of dual-income households, and a lot of people maybe feeling like there's 10 to 11 million job openings. If I want to work, I can do it tomorrow, right? If I quit my job, I'm not unemployed for the next six months. I can do it immediately. You put that all together and I think you have something like an explanation for what we're seeing.

Nora Ali: So when it comes to people's motivations outside of income for why they do work, you wrote a couple of interesting things. One, that rich college educated people, especially men, work more than they did many decades ago because they're reared from their teenage years to make their passion their career. And then on the flip side, you also wrote by eliminating the office as a physical presence in many but not all families' lives, the pandemic might have actually downgraded work as a centerpiece of their identity. So those are two opposing sides it seems for motivations behind work. So what's the difference between these two different groups of people and what can we take away from that?

Derek Thompson: Yeah. What you've pointed out is that I've changed my mind. I thought one thing and then the world changed and then I wrote something else. Look, I think workism, what I've called workism, which is this idea that work for many people is something like a new modern religion that provides for them the values of identity and transcendence and self-actualization. I think that's a phenomenon. And I think it's a phenomenon that's here to stay. At the same time, it's obvious that the pandemic has taught a lot of people that they were underinvesting in certain aspects of their life outside of work. It forced them to be closer with their families. It eliminated the possibility of work travel. It made them spend more time with their kids, and it suddenly forced them to reevaluate the world. It was just an extraordinary trauma to go through and still is in many ways.

Derek Thompson: So I can understand why, and I'm beginning to feel like it's time for me to sort of reevaluate the future of workism, this essay that I wrote in 2018, 2019. I think this is the question. And I don't know, I'd actually be interested to know how you guys think about this. On the one hand, I think the pandemic is probably going to cause a lot of people to downshift the emphasis of work in their life and upshift the emphasis of non-work things, extracurricular activities, other sources of identity. At the same time, think about what's happening to our work lives physically, phenomenologically. It's all converging. Knowledge, economy, work mixes together work skills and life skills, right? The same things that make you a good friend and a cheerful or charismatic person, make you in many capacities, in many jobs, a good employee and a charismatic employee.

Derek Thompson: The computer blends work and life tools, right? I'm on my computer right now. I could very easily, while you're asking me a question, go look at my messages and see what my wife just texted me or something. And finally, remote work itself blends work and life time. At any given moment on a Tuesday afternoon, I could be on my couch working or I could be on my couch shopping on Amazon. And so I actually think that in the post pandemic world, workism is probably going to make a comeback, because it's going to be very, very difficult to disentangle work and life at any given moment for a lot of people. And therefore so easy to burn out. Even if our bosses are saying, "You can take off this Friday, you don't have to commute to the office." We're still going to be at home and the job of disentangling work and life is going to be all up to us. I think a lot of people are going to struggle doing it. So I think the workist problem is still going to exist, but there's no question that the pandemic sort of forced a great reassessment.

Scott Rogowsky: I'm watching the latest episode of Curb right now while we're having this conversation. This is all just, yeah, it's all blending together, Derek. But I've thought about this in the pandemic. Derek, it seems like no one wants to even work anymore when you can make so much money just pressing buttons and buying Dogecoin and GameStop stock. What's happening with the idea of work right now?

Derek Thompson: I think it's really fascinating. I want to preface my answer by saying, I don't want this answer to suggest that suddenly the entire economy is just a bunch of people trading Dogecoin or that the future of work is just sitting at your home pressing buttons to buy more Shiba coins. At the same time, what I find so interesting about the idea that there's a lot of people right now that are essentially day traders in the crypto market, and that as investors, they can earn a lot of money by quote unquote just pressing a couple buttons a couple times a day, and then sit on that position and earn hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars by simply doing nothing else. It is true that from a working hours standpoint, they might technically not seem to be working very much at all. But have you fucking hung out with these people? What do they talk about all day long? All day long, all they talk about is crypto. All they're thinking about is Doge. All they're thinking about is Bitcoin. All they want to talk about is ETH. All they want to talk about is DAOs. We're all going to make it. It's all they talk about.

Nora Ali: So it's not a fulfilling life.

Derek Thompson: Well, it could be. I was making another point. It might not be fulfilling. My point is, in a way, if work is your being tethered to your source of income, crypto enthusiasts are never not working. Their entire life is being plugged into the matrix of the crypto labor force. So even though their working hours are not particularly high, they're labor mind hours are off the charts. They're working 120 hour weeks. So I think in a way you could say the future of workism is not so much that the 40-hour week becomes an 80-hour week, it's rather that the 40-hour week becomes a 20-hour week, but that 20-hour week is an 80-hour mind week. You can't leave your job conceptually. You can't leave your job emotionally. You can't leave your job psychologically. That is the convergence between work life and leisure that I think is going to be defining for the future of work.

Nora Ali: But those people want that to be their life. They want to talk about crypto all the time.

Derek Thompson: If people who have discovered Doge are getting joy and transcendence and money out of Dogecoin that is surpassing their wildest dreams, who the hell am I to tell them you're doing it wrong? Maybe that's exactly what you're doing with your life. Good on you. At the same time, I just think that the conflation of work and life, and more specifically the conflation of career success and personal esteem, it's just a dangerous conflation. Because when you draw your sense of self-esteem from something that's unfalsifiable, like let's say belief in God, or unconditional love of a family member or partner. Well, then it's unfalsifiable.

Derek Thompson: If you are attaching your sense of worth to the hour-by-hour price of Bitcoin, God bless you. I don't know how you make it to Friday. That thing looks like the Himalayan mountain range when you look at it across a six month period. So my point is simply that work does nothing if not consistently falsify our sense of self-worth. Work is hard. We can get fired from our jobs. We have bad days in our jobs. And over defining our esteem from it I think is just a little bit dangerous.

Scott Rogowsky: But if you love what you do, Derek, it's not work. We're going to take a quick break and when we come back, we're going to dive deeper into the labor shortage situation and maybe find out if there'll be a shortage of mall Santas this winter.


Nora Ali: Moving away a little bit from the knowledge economy workers that we've been talking about back to essential workers, service, hospitality sector, where we sort of started the conversation, where it's been particularly hard for employers to retain these workers, what can employers do to retain their employees?

Derek Thompson: There's three things employers can do. I would lose my journalist card as an economic reporter if I didn't start by mentioning the fact that you have to start by raising wages. I'm not sure it's going to solve every problem, but it's the absolutely necessary first step. Number two is that it's clear that some white collar workers are leaving jobs if they don't offer the opportunity to work remotely or have some hybrid structure. And so I would recommend that for white collar jobs. And then finally, culture exists. Culture is real. People don't want to work with or for assholes. And so just like I said earlier, the restaurant manager who's being a dick to his hosts and hostesses will have to change in order to keep them all from quitting. There's probably a hundred thousand, a million cases of that throughout the economy. And so you want to fix the culture problems as well.

Scott Rogowsky: Every year there's a seasonal working market that comes around. This year, are we going to see fewer elves accompanying mall Santas? Is it possible some malls might not have any Santas at all, Derek?

Derek Thompson: Yeah. I mean, as ridiculous as it sounds to contemplate, I absolutely could see a critical shortage of elves and Santas. And I'll throw in Hanukkah Harrys too as a Jew and for all the Jews out there looking for make believe Hannukah heroes to be populating their local malls. I could absolutely see a shortage, especially because you just see a lot of people hanging out in the sidelines. And it seems like a lot of people don't want to come back to work, especially the kind of jobs that are seasonal, right? Retails and retail and malls. These are indoor jobs that can sometimes be a little bit scary during a pandemic. So I could absolutely see a shortage in this category.

Scott Rogowsky: All those unvaccinated kids on your lap. Yeah, I don't know. I don't know that I'm feeling that.

Derek Thompson: Right. Exactly.

Scott Rogowsky: How about the reporting on the labor movement that Josh Eidelson has done in Bloomberg? He's noted that private sector union members are authorizing strikes at a rate rarely seen in modern America with more than a hundred thousand workers recently threatening or mounting work stoppages in health care, higher education, telecommunications, transportation, television, mining, manufacturing, music, metals, oil, carpentry, whiskey, and cereal. We had hashtag striketober in October there. To what extent do you think there'll be meaningful or long-term impact on organized labor from all this?

Derek Thompson: This is a really, really good question. I actually had a conversation about this with Jason Furman, a former economist with the Obama White House. And he pointed out that, look, he's a little bit more pessimistic that this is going to be a Great Reset. Not because he doesn't want a reset, but because he said, look, Great Resets tend to be driven by changes in relative power between labor and capital. And right now, because inflation is kind of high, real wages, this inflation adjusted wages, aren't actually growing as fast as they might initially seem if you just look at the nominal rate. And unionization numbers aren't really increasing that fast either. We're still in an historical trough when it comes to unionizations. So this isn't to say that all the strikes are bad. That's definitely not his point, but rather the kind of changes that you might typically expect to see from a labor movement more broadly, it's not obvious that we're seeing those now unless we begin to see something happening in terms of rising real, that is inflation adjusted wages, or increasing unionization, not just unions that are on strike.

Nora Ali: All right. Let's take another quick break. And when we come back, we'll talk more about all of the great R's, The Great Rudeness, The Great Reshuffling, The Great Reset. We will be right back.


Nora Ali: Derek, one of the things that you've touched on, which has actually come up in previous episodes, is this idea of customers becoming more entitled, becoming more rude, and that leading to the need for culture changes as well as these places of work. Is this customer entitlement anything new or has it been exacerbated by the pandemic and by things like The Great Resignation?

Derek Thompson: It's definitely not new, it's just accelerated. I mean, people have been absolutely terrible to airline attendants for decades. Enough so that American airline companies keep track of the number of passenger incidents on an annual basis. But the number of passenger incidents broke the annual record this year in June, right? So that means that the pace of rudeness on airlines was twice as fast this year as any other year on record, right? And that's what I call The Great Rudeness. People are just being worse, especially with other people who work in the service industry. So I definitely think this is a part of The Great Resignation. It's not just the pull of other jobs that might offer more money, it's also the push of, wow, I don't want to be around these people any longer.

Scott Rogowsky: Well, yeah. What is it? I mean, just frankly, a lack of kindness. I mean, I guess it's just a matter of being stressed out by the issues surrounding this pandemic. A lot of people are not happy with the mask mandates, so they're frustrated about that. Or maybe they lost a loved one. I mean, it's hard to say, hard to know what's going through people's minds. But the taking it to the public forums and exploding in these tantrums, I'm kind of at a loss for how anyone would act that way. Maybe just personally, I'm so anti-confrontational, but I don't want to appear rude to anybody in any form or any setting. But I guess most people don't have that filter or that block. What do you think it is?

Derek Thompson: I would answer the question this way. We've all had days where we lashed out at or spoke rudely to a loved one, a friend, because we were so stressed that day. There was so much stress and anxiety or trauma, whatever on our shoulders, that we just took it out on whoever happened to be there, right? It's like that, but for the whole economy. People have so much on their shoulders right now between the stress of the pandemic, the stress of loved ones who have died or friends that have gotten sick, stress of getting sick, stress of navigating economy, where there's higher inflation. There's just a lot going on in the world right now. I think we're just taking it out on each other. I don't have a more sophisticated answer than the sheer tonnage of anxiety existing on our shoulders is at an all time high.

Nora Ali: Derek, I want to ask a little bit more about entrepreneurship, because I think a lot of our listeners are interested in that and starting their own thing, running their own businesses. How do you think all of the factors that we talked about on marrying your identity to your work or not, employers having to be more accommodating and employers having to fight to keep their employees at their companies, what does this all mean for entrepreneurship? Do you think we're going to see an even bigger acceleration in people leaving their jobs to go start their own thing?

Derek Thompson: We're already seeing it. We're already seeing a pretty big increase in business formation, basically entrepreneurship over the last two years, which I think is awesome. I love the fact that after really decades of declining entrepreneurship in this country, what I've referred to before as America's lost mojo, we're really turning it around. We're moving more than we used to, we're starting companies more than we used to. A lot of times they're sort of solo proprietorships. They're the sort of one- or two-people companies, but I still think it's great. I think it's, again, I think it's an expression of optimism. And it's just a fact that lots of great ideas come from within companies, but so many good ideas come from just one person breaking out on their own and saying, "I think I have some little secret about the world that I can build and it can improve people's lives. And also of course, make me a little bit of money." I think it's a good instinct and I think that a country with more churn, with more business formation and entrepreneurship is probably a better economy.

Scott Rogowsky: We have our mojo back, is it safe to say?

Derek Thompson: We do. We do have our mojo back. Well, at least it's coming back. Yes.

Nora Ali: It's coming back.

Scott Rogowsky: I mean, overall, are you optimistic about the future of work in America? We're talking about all these changes, but do you see these things changing in a positive direction?

Derek Thompson: Yeah, I'm optimistic about the future of work. I mean, optimism is always somewhat relative. I'm optimistic when I think about how bad work has been in the past. It's hard to think of a past decade where you could really objectively say it was better than we expect the 2020s to be in terms of labor force. Like 1990, especially the late 1990s, amazing labor force. But before that, it's actually kind of difficult. You can say, oh, 1950s, 1960s, what a heyday for the American labor force. The amount of racism and sexism in 1950s, 1960s America is so horrifying, it boggles the mind that anyone could hope that we have that system back. And anytime before then is you're basically talking about a totally different economy. Late 19th century, mid-19th century, you had people whose job it was to cut open the head of a sperm whale and dig out its guts in order to light lamps. I don't want that economy. No one wants that economy back. People had horrific, disgusting, smelly, awful death-prone jobs for the vast majority of sort of post-agrarian history. You don't want that. Anyway, I am totally ranting about my least favorite decades of American labor.

Scott Rogowsky: But you're right, there's a romanticism. You speak to the romanticism of the past that I think plagues a lot of us.

Nora Ali: Yeah.

Scott Rogowsky: And well, my grandfather worked for 40 years and got the watch. But you say these are all kind of myths that were not necessarily always the case.

Derek Thompson: I actually love that myth. There's this idea that 1950s and 1960s people worked for the same company for 40 years and then they got their gold watch. In fact, no, the quits rate was higher in the 1950s and 1960s than it was in the 2010s. People were quitting their jobs as a sign of economic optimism. But this idea that we just worked for Ford for 40 years is just wrong. Anyway, the reason that I think looking in the past is a good way to think about optimism is that if you think that we're better off now for the most part than we were 30 years ago, 40 years ago, 100 years ago, then to be a pessimist is to say that things have gotten steadily better, but that's going to stop now. It's going to stop right now. Things are going to start getting really, really bad starting right now. I don't feel that. I feel that history is complicated, some things get better, some things get worse, but for the most part, work is better than it used to be. And we have an opportunity to make it even better yet.

Nora Ali: Work is better. Quitting is good. That is the summary of this episode.

Derek Thompson: Correct.

Nora Ali: Well, Derek, thank you so much for the time. Derek Thompson is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he's just launched a newsletter called Work in Progress. And Derek also hosts the podcast Plain English on The Ringer network. Derek, thanks again.

Derek Thompson: Thank you.

Scott Rogowsky: And now, BC listeners, it's time to look through the mail bag. We recently spoke with Tom Pallini, aviation reporter for Business Insider about the business of airports. If you haven't listened to that episode, go check it out. And so many of you had feelings about airports, like Gaylene, who loves Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport, and wrote, "Everyone is friendly there. There's rarely a line to get through TSA or to check with your airline of choice. The baggage claim rarely takes more than 10 minutes. Granted it's not a huge airport, but I love it, whether I'm leaving Wichita or arriving." We also heard from Lindsay, who was a big fan of Vancouver International Airport and wrote, "Beautiful design, easy to get through, maple syrup fountains." That's not true. I added that part. "But it has the subway mass transit link to whisk you downtown quickly, also Fairmont Hotel there is a gem." We love to hear from you, so send us an email at or DM us on Twitter @bizcasualpod, that's B-I-Z casual pod with your thoughts about Wichita or anywhere else.

Nora Ali: You can also leave a voice memo on our website,, or give us a ring and leave us an old fashioned voicemail. Our number is 862-295-1135. As Business Casual grows, we are excited to get to know our listeners old and new. Drop us a line and don't forget to leave your name and where you're calling or writing from so we can hear from you in a future episode.

Scott Rogowsky: Business Casual is produced by Katherine Milsop and Bella Hutchins, who will never quit on us. Additional production, sound design and mixing by Daniel Marcus. Alan Haburchak is the Director of Audio at Morning Brew. Sarah Singer's our VP of Multimedia and Jessica Cohen is our Chief Content Officer. Music in this episode from Daniel Marcus and The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. If you like what you heard, please follow Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you go for ear candy. And we'd love it if you would give us a great rating and a review.

Nora Ali: Thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali.

Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowsky.

Nora Ali: Keep it business.

Scott Rogowsky: And keep it casual.