Monday, June 13, 2005

Bait & Switch

Here we have Thomas Sowell pulling yet another bait and switch.

Sowell, in case you aren't familiar with his career, likes to argue that there aren't any poor people in America -- just people working, at the moment, for substandard wages.

But that's just now, he cries, waving his hands.

Only 20% of those people will stay at that level for more than a decade! he cries.

So see! No poor people here! What are you liberal whackaloons yapping about? 80% of the people who start out working for minimum wage/loser jobs quit and move on! So what's the PROBLEM?

Uh...gee, Thomas. What could be the problem?

Says Sowell:

What useful purpose is served by stigmatizing work that someone is going to have to do anyway?

Is emptying bed pans in a hospital menial work? What would happen if bed pans didn't get emptied? Let people stop emptying bed pans for a month and there would be bigger problems than if sociologists stopped working for a year.

Having someone who can come into a home to clean and cook and do minor chores around the house can be a godsend to someone who is an invalid or who is suffering the infirmities of age -- and who does not want to be put into an institution. Someone who can be trusted to take care of small children is likewise a treasure.

Many people who do these kinds of jobs do not have the education, skills or experience to do more complex kinds of work. Yet they can make a real contribution to society while earning money that keeps them off welfare.

Okay. First: us lefties do not criticize this labor because it is "menial." Nor do we, as Sowell is implying, sneer at the people who are doing the work.

We criticize the job because it does not pay those who are doing it a living wage. See, we think that if a job is important enough for someone to do it -- like taking care of my children, or dealing with my great-grandmother in the nursing home -- then we ought to pay the person who is doing it enough that he or she can actually survive, decently, on what he or she is paid for the job.

I know that seems bizarre. But, oddly, it's what we want from work, we liberals.

Sowell then pulls his classic bait and switch:

You don't get promoted from such jobs. You use the experience, initiative, and discipline that you develop in such work to move on to something else that may be wholly different. People who start out flipping hamburgers at McDonald's seldom stay there for a full year, much less for life.
Dead-end jobs are the kinds of jobs I have had all my life. But, even though I started out delivering groceries in Harlem, I don't deliver groceries there any more. I moved on to other jobs -- most of which have not had any promotions ladders.

Uh, no, Mr. Sowell. Dead-end jobs are not the kinds you have had all your life. You might have had them as a kid. You don't have one now.

That's point one.

Point two is, people who are emptying bed-pans, working in day care centers, or -- here in Arkansas, charmingly enough -- teaching elementary school, these people are not, in fact, in the same category as a teen-age kid flipping burgers at McDonalds after-school to earn tuition money for college. (In fact, you might look behind that counter, Mr. Sowell, next time you go to McDonalds: damn few high school kids are doing those jobs anymore. They've all been snapped up by desperate single mothers and laid-off factory workers, at least here in Arkansas; and I saw the same thing driving through LA.) People doing those jobs, Mr. Sowell, are, in fact, in that 20% you dismiss out of hand, as invisible. As not there. As not worth discussing.

Because, well -- I don't know why.

Why would Sowell think that many people living in unrelenting, hopeless poverty to be just no big deal?

Maybe because it destroys his comforting little mythology?

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