On The Money
Financial Advice for the Working Class
We sure do work hard don’t we? American worker productivity has risen 106% in the last 20yrs. At the same time, real wages have fallen by 6%. Clearly we don’t mind working harder even when we ‘re not getting paid for it. The average American, even after the economic melt-down, still works more than 50 hours a week, or about half of all waking hours. Far more than the average medieval peasant. Don’t we have anything better to do?
I know they call us the working-class, because we work, but why do we work? More importantly, why do we work for them? By them I mean “the job creators”, the multimillionaires who have engineered our society. Specifically, why do we hope to work for them so much that we excuse them from paying their fair share of taxes, in the hopes that they might create a few jobs? We talk about these jobs like they were angels from heaven, but if you’ve ever worked at one, you know that most jobs suck.
We treat work as a moral obligation. We call it “the work ethic”. It doesn’t matter if the work has any meaning to you, does any good in the world, if it’s work, by golly you should do it, whether you get paid or not. Why should we feel this way about work?
Many people feel a strong moral obligation to their family, but they don’t despise people who don’t have a family. Some people feel a strong moral obligation to to their church, but they don’t hate me for sleeping-in on Sunday. They just want to share “the good news.” Work is different. People with jobs resent those without.
That’s always the first insult hurled at the poor…They’re lazy. They don’t want to work. If they had a “work ethic”, they’d go get low paying jobs, doing hard labor, under dangerous conditions. We resent the poor for not working, even though most of them do work, because we all resent working so much, ourselves.
So, lets face that fact. Work sucks! We need good reasons to motivate us to work. We need to get paid. In the last 30 years, the calculus of work has shifted a lot. Wages have declined substantially. Fewer jobs offer health benefits, and fewer still offer long term security. After a decade of hyper-inflated home prices, fewer workers see home ownership as a realistic aspiration. As the method-actor might say, “What’s our motivation?”
Do we treat the people who really work hard, for low wages, like fruit pickers, farm workers or food service people, with reverence? Do they gain social standing for their obvious strong moral character? Hardly. We do everything we can to make them invisible. We don’t want to see poor hard working people any more than we want to see poor unemployed people. So, if you can’t afford a decent place to live and a healthy diet on your salary, and society is going to treat you like the scum of the earth anyway, why work at all?
When your job doesn’t pay enough to cover all of the expenses of having a job, which include a phone, transportation, wardrobe, decent housing, and a healthy diet, your job slowly consumes you. The longer you work those jobs, the more your quality of life suffers, and the more you subsidize your employers business with your own life force. Do you really feel morally obligated to sacrifice your life for capitalism, while your boss pockets the profits? This makes no sense. So, you can’t really blame people for not wanting to work, especially when the pay is low and the conditions suck.
So, maybe people don’t really need to work so much. Back in the ’70s I visited Tomorrowland at Disneyworld. Back then they promised a future full of leisure time, thanks to the proliferation of labor saving technology. The animatronic “Father” of the futuristic family of the “year 2000” only worked about 25 hrs a week, to enjoy a futuristic approximation of ’50s era material wealth. What happened to all of this leisure time we were supposed to have?
According to Disney, “Dad” spent that 25hrs in front of a computer screen at home. Today “Dad” probably does spend 25hrs in front of a computer screen at home, but that’s in addition to, not instead of, the 50+ hrs he spends at the office. That Disney experience influenced me a lot. I prepared to enjoy a life of leisure. I cultivate a lot of rewarding hobbies, and value my time quite highly.
On the other hand, most of what passes for work in this culture should really be best left undone. For instance:
Every single huge industrial accident, like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Bhopal chemical plant explosion, or the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, happened at work. A lot of unemployed people fish in the Gulf for direct sustenance, working people ruined that. People do all kinds of crazy shit at work, just because they get paid. Including…
If we stopped all oil drilling and closed down all of the nuclear power plants, the planet would thank us, and our quality of life would undoubtedly improve. We really wouldn’t miss that energy either. They would have just used it for a lot of other work better left undone. Like:
Defense industry jobs. Do we really need more bombers, guns and missiles? We’ve got hundreds of B52 bombers sitting out on the desert in Arizona, thousands of tanks, trucks and military vehicles of all sorts, packed in cosmoline, filling cavernous warehouses all over this country. We have tens of millions of rounds of ammunition, millions of tons of bombs, and thousands of nuclear warheads. God help us if we even come close to using up all of this stuff.
The Military. “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” We have a hammer. We hammered Vietnam. We hammered Iraq. We hammered Afghanistan. Has it done us any good? Maybe we don’t need such a big hammer. Maybe we’re all such hammerheads, that we don’t need a national hammer at all.If we just gave all of those leftover weapons to the American people, No one would dare fuck with us!
Advertizing. Try to imagine a world where no one tried to sell you anything you didn’t need. This would take out 95% of the entertainment industry as well. No more TV, except community access, no more commercial hits, just your local musicians., actors and artists doing work that means something to them. Marketing, data mining, consumer behavior research even most psychology jobs would disappear. Some people get paid to design advertizing that helps your kid overcome your objections to sugary cereals and fad toys. Those people really should find something else to do with their lives, don’t you think?
Teachers. No one in this culture knows how to live sustainably on this planet. Why waste so much of our children’s time conveying a bankrupt culture to them? They couldn’t possibly screw up as bad as we have, and shouldn’t think of their elders as anything more than a cautionary example of what happens when you spend too much time in school and not enough time living in the world.
Now you might think, “Those are good, high-paying professional jobs.”, but in fact we would inhabit a much better world if these people just spent the day drinking cheap booze in the park. So when you see someone drinking cheap booze in the park, remember, it could be worse. They could be at work.