Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Hard Work

I don't really have much to add to the volume of commentary on today, when the turning of the year brings us to the day when the great voice of civil rights was stilled.Except this; at the time he was killed, Dr. King had moved on. He was fighting then not just for civil rights, but for civil justice. And, specifically, for the idea that the rich and powerful nation he was born to was called to do more than merely build highways and float aircraft carriers. That as an American citizen he, and all of us, should be able to find and do a good day's work for a good day's pay.

Without having to fear death or injury. Without regard to what we looked like, or the color of our skin, or what we have for genitalia, or where (or if) we worship, or whom we love.

And it occurs to me; that's a truly wonderful, truly revolutionary idea.

What if one of the bedrock principles of this country; of our government, of our society, of our commerce and industry, was that anyone who wanted to work could work?Think about it. We commonly accept - in fact, it's an article of faith amongst most Americans and among the political Right as a body - that there are and always will be people in this country who cannot find a job. Not don't want a job; who desperately, fiercely want to work but cannot get hired.

And I'll tell you; I've been unemployed. I've had friends who lost their jobs. My wife is, at present, looking grimly for a job (in a field in which she is terrific and would be an asset to anyone who hired her, and that's not bias talking). and no one - no one - I know or knew wants to be unemployed.

And yet all around me I get the sense that outside a handful of people there seems to be this vast...indifference at best, and often angry hostility at worst to the notion that there's something wrong with the country, with the system, with the economy when these people are out of work.

The fault is assumed to be the person's; they're out of work because...they're just fucking lazy, or stupid, or shiftless. They won't move, they won't adapt, they won't do this or they won't do that. if they really wanted they could find a job that would pay them enough to live like a 21st Century American (meaning not in a shelter, or under a bridge, or in a warren five-to-a-bed, or eating fucking cat food).

To which I would simply say; bullshit.I've never known anyone who wouldn't try and fly across the Columbia River by flapping their arms if they could land a decent job at a decent wage. Why does this seem like such a damn deadly difficult thing for many Americans to recognize?So maybe today is as good a day as any to wonder; what would our nation be like if one of the most important things on our domestic agenda was finding good work; hard, satisfying, decently-paying work, for every American who wanted it?


Leon said...

However Chief, I think that it has to be said that there are jobs that (at least in cities anyway) that people won't take.

It seems in Toronto, every corner store or dry cleaner is run by a family of new immigrants. They make crap money and are required to be open ridiculous hours. I can't remember the last time I saw an employee in one of those shops that wasn't a visible minority and recently arrived. I think they're willing to accept near-starvation wages as the cost of getting their next generation embedded into the country. And it's a job nobody who's been born here will take.

That said, I think we've spent the last couple decades sneering at "mcjobs". So now we're surprised that people will refuse to work at (for example) McDonalds?

FDChief said...

Because I - for one - couldn't support my family on what I'd make at McDonald's. As it is we're squeezing to get by on my income alone, and I make damn near 50K/yr. Sure, we could squeeze things even tighter. But nobody is going to be able to raise a family in any sort of decent way on $8.50/hr...

And you'll note that the NEXT generation dives out of those miserable dry cleaning/stop-n-robs as soon as they can, yeah?

No question that there are people unwilling to take some jobs. But part of that is that the sort of jobs that actually make you a living are getting hard to come by, and the jobs you can come by require you to eat ramen noodles and sleep in a barrack with a family of 12 - and don't offer you any hope of anything better...

A decent job at a decent wage. Why does that seem so unreasonable?

Ael said...

It is not unreasonable, but it is hard (impossible?) to arrange.

You can go the socialist route where everyone is (essentially) equally poor.

You can go the western route where technology and organization can (and does) make whole sections of the economy superfluous. Economies of scale can be devastatingly effective.

I do not know of a way to organize an industrial society where there is more demand for people than there is supply. We are just that good at making machines to replace people.

FDChief said...

Ael: I can't disagree; the actual DOING the thing seems monumentally difficult. It's the thinking that I'm addressing here.

Rather than - both as individuals and as a society - approaching this as "damn, that's hard...I wonder how we can do it?" or even "deamn, that's just too difficult to do..." we seem to start from the attitude "hunh?"

It's not just that we seem to find the notion that our fellow citizens want to work but either can't find it or can't find anything but miserable shit at starvation wages difficult to overcome, it's that we just seem to accept it as business as usual. We're not irked, we're not upset, we're not fucking furious at the lopsided way the system "works".

It's not that we CAN'T change anything, it's that the default setting is that 1) we don't seem to want to, and 2) we don't even seem to find anything wrong with the setting to begin with.

In all honesty, I really don't know HOW hard it would be; I don't think any of us do, because we've never even really tried...

Ael said...

I have spent some time thinking about this fundamental problem.

When all it takes is 3% of the people to grow the food and 15% of the people to make everything else that 100% of the people want, what are you going to do with the other 80% of the people? The only thing I can think of that has a chance of soaking up all the work is bureaucracy. But that puts us deep into the socialist nightmare.

In Canada, we have tried a number of (un)successful approaches. We have groups of people who live in the rural areas where the unemployment numbers are staggering.

For example, take a fisherman living in a rural fishing village who after the Federal Government let the large trawlers destroy the worlds greatest fishing grounds is out of work. What can he (and all his peers do for a living? The government spends vast quantities of money on the fishermens unemployment benefits. They limit various species fishing seasons (to share what little catch is left).

Alas, it is all pushing on a rope.

You can trot out various alternatives. Tourism? Who would go to the 153rd of 400 tiny fishing villages on the north atlantic. Especially in February?

Art? I suppose some people can paint (and sell) pictures of the rocks and waves. Precious few however.

Services? Yes, there is a huge shortage of doctors up there, but few doctors willing to practice there (and those who do, get burned out). Still, the usual government services still need to exist (schools, hospitals, fire, police), but they can't dominate an ecomonmy (and are dependent on the vibrancy of the economy)

Restaurants? Banks? Yoga teachers? Hard to make a living doing that in a village of 300 people.

Federal and provincial governments have spent a lot of time and money trying to spark up an economy in the rural areas. It never seems to spark a fire.

Relocating to the city doesn't fix the problem if they have too many people in the city looking for work. (it just deprives the fisherman of his family support network)

Past solutions to this problem includes wars, plagues and frontiers.

A serious (i.e. Nuclear) war would indeed fix the unemployment problem, but the side effects are undesirable. We have mostly solved the plague problem (and again, if there is a super bug waiting for us, it probably isn't worth solving unemployment). With 7 billion people, there are no new frontiers

FDChief said...

Ael: A big part of the solution would be to simply reject the idea that wealth HAS to find it's way up the food chain.

There's no real reason that anyone has to make millions a year when some fisherman can't feed his family. We could start with that as a fundamental intellectual concept.

And as for the rest, well, here's what the Democratic Party considered a good the Seventies; "Full employment—a guaranteed job for all—is the primary economic objective of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is committed to a job for every American who seeks work. Only through full employment can we reduce the burden on working people. We are determined to make economic security a matter of right. This means a job with decent pay and good working conditions for everyone willing and able to work and an adequate income for those unable to work. It means abolition of the present welfare system.

To assure jobs and economic security for all, the next Democratic Administration should support:

A full employment economy, making full use of fiscal and monetary policy to stimulate employment;

Tax reform directed toward equitable distribution of income and wealth and fair sharing of the cost of government;

Full enforcement of all equal employment opportunity laws, including federal contract compliance and federally-regulated industries and giving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission adequate staff and resources and power to issue cease and desist orders promptly;

Vastly increased efforts to open education at all levels and in all fields to minorities, women and other under-represented groups;

An effective nation-wide job placement system to entrance worker mobility..."

Good ideas then; good ideas now. But try floating that stuff today - you'd get Malkin'd out of the public square. It's fucking infuriating - we've just thrown up our hands to mumble "the poor will be with you always..."

Podunk Paul said...

I’ve been thinking about the same thing. Job-holders with regular pay and some social insurance are the new aristocracy. The rest of us will soon be doing what people did before the Industrial Revolution – survive for however long on family, barter and whatever skills one has that are useful to the neighbors

Podunk Paul said...

What puts the fix on the system is the cost of higher education. Medical students graduate with death-due-us-part debts of several hundred thousand dollars, engineers and lawyers are not far behind. Students buy their positions on the model of South Vietnam. The debt quenches dissent, reduces professionalism to a cash nexes and encourages – no, demands the exploitation of those who rely upon these professionals. In past time the term for this sort of thing was simony.

FDChief said...

Paul: A big part of the problem, no question. Plus the rigid and increasing distance between the "them" - the people who can afford (or are "legacies") the education provided by the top tier of colleges and universities, where "making connections" also helps you stay in the top 25% of the economy - and the "rest", the folks in the community colleges/bottom-rung state colleges/second- and third-rate public universities.

I'd also agree that another big part of this problem is the increasingly immobile social stratification; a relatively small elite at the top, a decreasing upper-middle-class below, and beneath them the bottom is really falling out as the factory-wage jobs go away.

Rome could exist for centuries with a large, idle, impoverished mob. I don't think we have that luxury.

Anonymous said...

The answer is a system in place with the intend not to give people a decent job but to use them for "profit". So we have a set up where the welfare of a person is not the goal but just their use with little or no regard if the work fits or sustains a person`s a reasonable living. To straiten things out one has to go on his own and create his own little haven because none that has one is going to give it to you cause they got friends, family etc to give it to if they had one.Keep up the good work, you are a very interesting person.