Dear Economist: Should my useless but sexy PA stay?

Samantha, my PA, is so very unreliable. For example, she failed to pass on your invitation to feature as a responding correspondent in your recent “Dear Undercover Economist” plug article. However, she does have a fantastic pair of, er … feet. Should I fire her?
Bob Casablanca

Dear Mr Casablanca,

Much depends on your line of business. In Mel Brooks’s masterpiece, The Producers, the crooked Broadway magnate Max Bialystock hires a blonde bombshell, Ulla, whose secretarial skills consist solely of the ability to pick up the telephone and intone, “Bialystock unt Bloom, Good tag por day.” She can, however, dance. Bialystock is happy enough, which is understandable given that the sole aim of his production is to go bankrupt.

It is unlikely that you share Bialystock’s aims, but if you work for a large organisation, you may share his contempt for his shareholders. Your PA’s incompetence largely disadvantages them, while her aesthetic appeal – which an economist might call a “non-pecuniary benefit” – is enjoyed by you alone.

Naturally you have to ensure that your PA’s failings are not so disastrous as to damage your own career, but that should be manageable, especially if you continue blaming her whenever something goes wrong.

If you own a large stake in the business, the trade-off is more painful. Samantha will be costing you money. I cannot advise you as to the right course of action, since I don’t know how much money you have, how much you want, and how “fantastic” she really is. I would simply note that you can always look for other options. You could hire a second PA to work in parallel with Samantha. Or you could seek out a PA who offers the best of everything. It cannot be impossible to find an assistant who is both effective and attractive.

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.