Views on politics and current events

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Economy's Good, Unless You're The Lazy Semi-Rich

From The Sundries Shack

Am I supposed to feel sorry for this man or what?

ROCK FALLS, Ill. — Alan Beggerow has stopped looking for work. Laid off as a steelworker at 48, he taught math for a while at a community college. But when that ended, he could not find a job that, in his view, was neither demeaning nor underpaid. So instead of heading to work, Mr. Beggerow, now 53, fills his days with diversions: playing the piano, reading histories and biographies, writing unpublished Western potboilers in the Louis L’Amour style — all activities once relegated to spare time. He often stays up late and sleeps until 11 a.m.

Back in the day, this man’s neighbors, who had been helping him in the lean times when he wasn’t working, would have stopped their help and pointedly hinted that it was high time he acted like a man and took whatever job he could find to provide for his family.

But that’s a day long gone. Now, he can just borrow some money without much worry about paying it back, leach off the income of his wife, maybe snag some money from you and me courtesy of the government, and look down his nose at the jobs that are available.

Again, back in the day (well, further back in the day and on another continent), the people carried pitchforks and torches against the elites who acted like this. Anyone remember Marie Antoinette?

Today, it’s the people who can more or less afford to act like this and, since their sense of shame seems to have evaporated like spit in the noonday sun, they’ve decided that pitchfork and torch-carrying are jobs that are beneath them.

Just call it another job that Americans won’t do.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein also wrote about this article and made a couple assertions that seem to me ridiculous. I’ll let you judge.

First, he writes:

But on another level, this is related to the decline of unions, the breakdown of the manufacturing sector, and the shift to a service economy. Where once blue collar jobs offered the sort of benefits and salaries that allowed for a sense of dignity and purpose, a greeter at Wal-Mart is low-skill labor that refuses to masquerade as anything else. That, of course, was the primary use of unions: to force employers to treat even lowly employees as valued labor deserving of respect and all that goes with it. But in a stagnating market where most of the blue collar growth lies in non-unionized sectors, many men simply can’t bear to follow their lost job by letting go of the dignity it afforded them.

His conclusion may be accurate, though I don’t believe it is, but the route he took, through labor unions, isn’t even close to the mark. Labor unions never existed to make sure that your boss or mine as to say “please” to you and to make sure they never make you feel like pond scum. They exited to make sure that your boss and mine didn’t work us to death when we were 14 years old for a buck a day. There’s a wide gulf between the actual reason labor unions have existed and what Klein thinks they should be doing today and it skews his thinking badly.

Because if you believe that a vital component of a job is to give you a warm fuzzy, then you have to believe that the men in the article are tragic figures deserving of our sympathy and perhaps a big government program instead of spoiled people who would much rather put their families’ financial security in jeopardy than go find a job with less dignity than they feel they deserve.

Which leads us to Kleins wrap up:

And try to do so without judgment — these men are making terrible financial decisions in order to forestall worse personal admissions. If the left still possessed a labor consciousness, we wouldn’t rest until the service economy offered the dignity and compensation to ensure that the scores of workers who will migrate to its industries in the coming years could do so without grievous psychic damage.

Grievous psychic damage? What on Earth is Klein talking about. Who among us hasn’t taken a “joe job” for a little while to pay the bills until they could find a better one? Who among us hasn’t had to occasionally step back in our careers in order to move forward again? I sure as heck have and, while I didn’t like doing it, I don’t wake up with gas station booth flashbacks and I don’t weep uncontrollably every time I drive past a QuikShop.

I think that Klein coddles these men far too much, but that’s a vital difference still etween left and right. One believes that the only life worth living is one that never knows a moment outside the warm bath of self-regard and the other knows that sometimes life involves hard and unfulfilling work.

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