The Economic Catastrophe of Jury Duty

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 9 2014 11:55 AM

The Economic Catastrophe of Jury Duty

457923975
These guys get on fine without a jury.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

I've served on jury duty in the past without complaint and, frankly, have traditionally felt that the American habit of constant whining about civic obligation is a bit unseemly. But Slate has been hit with a rash of staff summonses lately and complaints from the bosses are making me sensitive to another dimension of the problem—in a complex modern economy, jury duty can be an exceptional burden on firms.

The implicit model of jury duty is one in which workers are basically interchangeable widgets. John is going to be missing for a while, so Jane will pull some extra shifts to cover for him. Since different people have different tastes and circumstances, the odds are pretty good that at any given time there's someone on staff who actually prefers to work longer hours in exchange for higher pay. Consequently, John is put out a bit but basically the company trundles on.

Advertisement

There obviously are some work roles that function this way. But there are a lot of work roles that don't. Even when we have people doing similar jobs, that doesn't mean anyone can actually double-up. If I'm on a jury, Weigel can't write my blog while also writing his blog. He could try to write his blog during regular business hours and then write my blog at night, but all the news will have already happened. By the same token, even if other editors step up to fill in for a missing editor and work longer hours the reduction in parallel processing still means articles will be published more slowly. The impact of the slowdown then trickles through the entire enterprise and lowers everyone's productivity. And I think we're hardly unique in this regard. People are collaborating in complicated ways in workplaces all across America, and while nobody is irreplaceable, it's also fairly unusual to just be able to swap a given person in and out without consequence.

This seems especially egregious in the case of grand jury, which is more burdensome and seems to barely play a functional role in the judicial system—in the end you wind up indicting whoever the prosecutor wants to indict so why put everyone through the problems?

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

My Year as an Abortion Doula       

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 9:22 AM The Most Populist Campaign of 2014
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 16 2014 8:00 AM The Wall Street Bombing: Low-Tech Terrorism in Prohibition-era New York
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 9:13 AM Clive James, Terminally Ill, Has Written an Exquisitely Resigned Farewell Poem
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 7:36 AM The Inspiration Drought Why our science fiction needs new dreams.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 16 2014 7:30 AM A Galaxy of Tatooines
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.