Lewis W. HINE, Old Beggar selling pencils, New York, 1915

Service Economy, Yes. Tip Jar, No.

We are a service economy. Or if you are feeling all high falutin’ you can call it the tertiary sector of the economy. Agriculture and mining still rank as the first and second economic sectors.

If one is curious how we ended up here, you need only look to two presidents, Reagan and Clinton. They both share an equal amount of blame. Reagan for his incredibly imbicilic “trickle down” theory and Clinton for NAFTA, Telecommunications Act of 1996, the repeal of Glass Steagal…pretty much everything EXCEPT Monica Lewinsky (and I’m a Democrat.) Oddly, both are equally revered and reviled. Politics, go figure. 

Quick note about the people who still think “trickle down economics” works:

The Gini coefficient summarizes income inequality in a single number and is one of the most commonly used measures of income inequality. It uses a scale from 0 to 1 – the higher the number the more inequality. Zero represents perfect equality (everyone having exactly the same income), and 1 represents perfect inequality (one person having all income). The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Gini coefficient for income inequality in the United States is 37 in 2012 (including wages and other cash transfers), which is still the highest in the developed world…”

OK, that’s convoluted, I know. But here’s what you need to know. The talk about the eradication of the middle class and income equality is not just hyperbole. If you are interested (and you should be) you can look it up.

Now, we can wrap our head around what agriculture and mining: agriculture = farming, etc. and mining = manufacturing, etc. 

But what constitutes this tertiary or service sector?

As the title implies, the service industry provides a service. With that said, it doesn’t mean it warrants a tip. You don’t tip the doctor after he examines your prostate (well, I don’t anyway), you don’t tip the airline pilot for landing the plane (some people applaud, I never do because the expectation is that they WILL LAND THE FUCKING THING) and you don’t tip a lawyer for helping you out (not sure on what planet anyone would consider paying a lawyer MORE.) Considering these, and many others, are not Agriculture or Mining centric, and that they provide a service, well, by George, shouldn’t they be tipped? 

Do these folks need to be tipped:

  • The person bagging my groceries. 
  • The person putting my coffee in a cup at a coffee shop.
  • The person who bathes my cat.
  • The person ringing up my gas at the gas station.
  • The person ringing me up at a convenience store.
  • The person who installs my cable (unless the service is exemplary….which it almost never is.)
  • The dental hygienist (I made that one up.)
  • The maid.
  • The dry cleaner. 
  • The phlebologist.

If you are like me, the odds are that you have seen a tip jar placed on or around some of these places.

The tip jar is today what selling pencils was during the depression.

Look, UNLESS you’re the dick who orders some ridiculously complicated drink or you know for a fact that they are paid the service industry wage, ie. waitress or waiter (while states differ, the national wage is $2.13/hr…and has remained unchanged for 20+ years);  it’s worth noting that the average wage of a Starbucks barista is $9.18/hr. While still awful, should we be guilted into leaving change or tossing a buck their way? No.

Let me state that I have worked in retail and in hospitality. I know a thing or two about service, both providing and receiving both good and bad service. I done ’em both.

So who should we tip?

  • Your server.
  • Your bartender.
  • Your hairdresser. 
  • The guy who handles your luggage at the airport (one dollar per checked bag.)

OBVIOUSLY, that list is hardly all-inclusive and I certainly make allowances. I have tipped hotel maids (but not the one whole stole my two dollars from me recently in Denver.) But do I consistently leave a tip for hotel maids? No. Tipping is for going above and beyond their normal role. If someone in the service industry performs their job perfunctory and a tip is NOT part of their expected income, then no. No tip. 

For me, seeing a tip jar out for a person who simply hands me a cup to fill my coffee (oh, that’s happened) infuriates me. Exactly, what on earth could I possibly be tipping you on? 

Just because we’ve heard the phrase “service economy” kicked about for over 20 years doesn’t entitle you to throw down a tip jar. 

Look, I am not going to make an argument for minimum rage or income inequality (although I could) or how that tip jar supplements your income (I’ve no doubt it helps, but I would argue for a stronger wage). 

But you know what? No one tips me when I do my job. I struggle and get pissed off as much as everyone about income inequality and if you are working three jobs, my heart hurts for you. It shouldn’t be that way and it doesn’t have to be, but it is. And it sucks. And unless you are truly part of the 1%, you’re struggling or overextended…like everyone else.

BUT that doesn’t mean you can get all passive aggressive with the customers by slappin down a tip jar. 

I’m more likely to purchase a pencil than dole out some non-earned gratuity. 

Viva La Revolucion!