Views on politics and current events

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Letter, And My Reply

I received this letter from a gentleman in New Jersey. His words are in bold, and my reply is in italics.

Dear Mr. Beggerow

Realizing there is always a story behind a story, I found the article in the New York Times of July 31st describing the 4-5 million men who have abandoned an effort to find employment, featuring your particular story, reprehensible in the extreme.

I thank you for your letter. Allow me to respond to your thoughts. The fact is, there are a sizable number of men that are no longer in the workforce. The reasons for their decisions are varied. But let me assure you that 4-5 million American men that have left the workforce are not reprehensible. I personally take no offense at the use of the word. Trust me, since the article was published I have been called much worse. But to lump millions of people in the same category and call them reprehensible does not do justice to those people, or the issue itself.

The nice thing about living in this country is that everyone has the opportunity to do just about anything they please, short of being illegal. The bad thing about living in this country is that it is loaded with politicians who believe all taxpayers need to support people like you, who have basically given you, with programs such as the described in the article, even though you probably don’t fit the requirements nor the original intent of the legislation. Shame on you for dragging us down.

Spare me the Horatio Alger myth. That is exactly what it is, a myth. While I will agree that there is opportunity for all, the fact that the opportunity is greater for some than others is where the mythology lurks. Are you trying to tell me that the opportunities are just as available to all? That the wealthy do not have an ‘edge’, that I as a lower middle class person, that blacks and other minorities, that women and the poor have equal opportunities? That if I or anyone else, regardless of social or economic status do not rise above it that it is my fault for not working hard enough? If you are, you are merely perpetuating the myth and blaming the victims of racial, gender, economic and age discrimination.

As far as taxpayers supporting me? The only assistance my wife receives is SS disability. My wife was in a near fatal auto accident (on her way home from work) in October of 2001. She was in the hospital until the following February. After much physical therapy she can now walk, but not very far nor for very long.. She worked in excess of 40 hours per week for 25 years. She was not able to return, period. She would be drawing SS disability regardless if I were working or not. Is this a corrupt sense of entitlement? Did she not pay into SS for 25 years? Was that not exactly the original intent of the legislation, to provide some sort of support for those who no longer can work?

I myself am on no form of disability. The pension I receive was earned from working 30 years in a steel mill. When the mill closed I was entitled to unemployment benefits and job retraining. I refused both and opted to retire.

So shame on me for dragging ‘us’ down? My wife and I do not accept your condemning opinion of shame. We earn enough to still pay taxes, and pay our bills. Some do not understand how we can, but it is really quite simple and something I learned from my parents: Live within your means. While it is true that we no longer pay as much in taxes as before, does that justify your comment of ‘dragging us down?’ There’s plenty of folks that don’t make enough to have to pay taxes at all. I suppose by your train of thought these folks are REALLY dragging us down. Now that line of thinking in my estimation is truly reprehensible and deals with the issue with no regard for people’s individual circumstance. By the way, to who does the pronoun ‘us’ refer to? Are my wife and I part of that ‘us’?

The most pathetic aspect of your story is the fact that you have been blessed to have had something to work with – a good job, an obvious ability to do teambuilding, and obvious ability to adapt to change and, until a certain point, a positive attitude about the future. You might have already concluded that there are many, many people in this country who are still striving to do something constructive with their lives even though they had many more challenges to face than you ever dreamed of.

I have been blessed in my life. A job where I made a good living, and some talent for teambuilding and adaptability to change. On those points I agree. Where we disagree is that I no longer have a positive attitude towards the future. I will admit to a certain cynicism regarding the workplace today and not wanting to be a part of it. And there are many that continue to struggle despite what I think about the workplace. I commend them for that. But just what is meant by ‘doing something constructive with their life’ mean? Is it only because I have chosen a different way, that I no longer buy into the archaic notions that you and others have expressed about a moral and societal obligation to be traditionally employed?

I speak with some authority on this subject. After a robust career where I have been the COO and CEO of community banks, I, for reasons I will not bore you with, found it necessary to search for my next job assignment. It took two years of very hard work and sometimes humiliating work. I discovered the value of work, any work as a means of getting back into the ball game, as it were. You were quoted as saying taking some kinds of jobs were beneath your dignity. What could be more beneath anyone’s dignity than to sit on one’s porch whining about the past and giving up on the future?

I will concede your authority on the subject only as far as what you are familiar with and your experience. You are no more an authority on the situation in the area where I live and the job market as I am on your area and job market. I assume by robust career you mean you were successful, and I can say the same about my career as a steel worker. I also will assume that as you were an executive in the banking industry, you were wise to save and invest some of your earnings. I did the same. I also assume that you had enough saved to get you by until you got another job. Did you immediately set forth to get employment after leaving your previous job? Was there a time when you had to rely on your savings to get you through it? If that is so, did you consider yourself worthless, a burden to society, that you were not fulfilling your obligations to society by being productive? I’ll tell you true, if you did I do not understand why. I am reaping the benefits of working hard for 30 years and being wise with my money. I have chosen to continue to do so until something comes along that interests me. I have no desire to get back into the ball game. This is one man that’s had 30 years worth of bean-balls thrown at him and I refuse to play that game any more.

It’s interesting that you admitted to doing humiliating work. In what sense was it humiliating? Was it the work itself that was humiliating, the place where you worked, or the position you held? Let me explain what I mean by degrading and humiliating, as stated in the article. There is no task that is beneath me, no job that is degrading. It is the environment, the treatment of labor, and the disregard of management towards employees that is the humiliation. Not the work itself. I have done jobs in the steel mill that were hot, dirty, and dangerous. But I never considered myself above that. I am from a steel working family, and I understood what I was getting into, what I would be expected to do when I hired on at the mill. My father worked in the mill for 41 years, a brother worked there for 30, an uncle worked there for 40. So a strong work ethic was part of the values that my parents taught me. But my parents also taught me to respect myself, don’t let someone else lord over you. Work hard, do your job as good as you can, but don’t be a slave to any master. Whether you can comprehend it or not, the workplace has changed. The most valuable asset any employer has is the employee that does the work that produces the goods or services. But now an employee is disposable. When an employer is done with them, they’re disposed of like used toilet paper. I see it happening in the area where I live, where it is rare for employees in firms to last more than a year. Can the majority of the workforce be that bad, or is there no incentive for an employee to stay? Is it that productive for any employer to have a constant job turnover?

Since you appear to be into the intellectual pursuits, you might find it to your benefit to find an organization in your region that needs volunteers to help people who have real baggage to carry around. I am thinking of organizations that help homeless veterans or hospitals that care for stroke victims, or a host of other worthy organizations. While you would not be paid in cash, it might cause you to realize that there is physic income from doing good work.

A wise person once wrote that the best way to help yourself is to help others. Over the past 5 years I have done charity work. I sincerely believe that the only time a person should look down at another is when they are offering them a helping hand. So what you say is true. It has enriched my life far beyond any kind of monetary enrichment, and has made me productive in a different way.

It is not too late, sir, to become productive member of society but you are rapidly running out of time.

I will admit to taking offense at your letter the first time I read it. But as I thought it over, I came to realize that in your own way you were trying to help me. For your concern, I thank you. Your letter reminds me of my father when he used to say “I’m going to talk to you like a dutch uncle,” meaning of course that he was about to tell me his thoughts about what I was doing, in no uncertain terms.

Whether this response changes your opinion about me or the others mentioned in the article is of little concern to me. My objective in responding was not to put you in your place, or change your opinion. If this response has caused you to think more deeply about the issue of men no longer looking for work, then my efforts have not been in vain.

We agree that 4-5 million men no longer seeking work is troubling. For me, it says that the economy is not good, that free trade as it is being practiced now is not to the benefit of our society, that our escalating trade deficits are undermining the very values that you have espoused in your letter. But to blame the workforce and the ones that for various reasons are no longer in the workforce for these problems, is like blaming a wet sidewalk for a rainstorm. They are results, no causes. We need to dig deeply, do a root cause analysis on these issues. Putting the blame on the displaced, disposed, disenfranchised worker is heartless and shows a lack of compassion. Not to say that there aren’t instances where ‘tough love’ isn’t called for. But we must never forget that to be tough without the love takes the focus off the problem and lays false blame.

I hope this letter finds you well and prosperous.

Alan Beggerow


Dancho said...

Alan, I just want you to know that despite the (weird, in my opinion) negative feedback you've received you did a great service in agreeing to be interviewed and in taking the flak like a man. I'm an unemployed middle-aged guy and I was greatly encouraged by that article. I don't feel like the last man on earth--and that means a lot.

As far your "contribution to society" it just plain amazes me that people expect that old hogwash to be taken seriously. HELLO! Remember ENRON? Tyco? Worldcom? THE REST? Those people are just the tip of the iceberg. The morality of today's business world is simple--screw you. What "sharp" business executive would recommend that we all work "for the good of it?" Can't you see them bursting out laughing at that? Work is torture. If you don't have to work, then, my fine friend, DON'T.

That's what the management of America would say. These people who tell us that we are "morally bound" to "contribute" should shut up and go talk to the "power elite" who control the wealth of this world. Tell THEM to contribute. Tell THEM to "do good." Tell them to consider "right" and "do right." One guy sits down and the loudmouths scream about "lazy loafing men." A multinational corporation plunders the country and these same jokers are paralyzed. By what? Ignorance? Inability to understand the immensity of the crime? Stupidity? Who knows? Maybe they only like to take cheap shots at helpless people. They haven't the courage to attack anything "scary." They just like to sound brave when it's easy to be brave.

Alan said...


Thanks for your very kind words. I agree with everything that you've said, and you said it very well.

The Times article has put a name and a face to the plight of labor in this country. That name and face seems to be me. Flak? You wouldn't believe the nasty things floating around out there about me, my wife, evne our little dog that was in the picture with us on the front page of the Times.

The article has created a firestorm. There is an incredible amount of debate going on about this issue. It is an issue that is long overdue for debate. I'm proud to be a part of it, despite the flak, for it is an issue I feel very strongly about. American labor is the backbone of this country, and they've taken it on the chin for far too long.

Yes, it is amazing the moral and societal obligations I and other working folks have, while the money elite can do whatever they want for the sake of profit. Double standard, isn't it? But it has always been so between the haves and have-nots. The biggest problem the nay-sayers have with me is that I have the audacity to speak my mind, saythat the ecomony is far from rosey for many. I have spoken out of turn, don't know 'my place', and have said to hell with my obligations to society. Are they that afraid of someone who 'tells it like it is'?

Thanks for visiting 'Random Thoughts'. There seems to be much I still have to say, so I hope you come back and visit.

Take care, and I hope things get better for you very soon.

Site Meter