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Friday, November 05, 2004

Primal posture

Go read The Myth of the Working Poor by Steven Malanga in City Journal. It contains a good recent history of the Left's intellectual support--if you can call it that--for the expansion of welfare.

The article isn't all economics. How could it be when so much of the Left's argument is non-factual? (See Kathy's post below 24 Hour [Socialist] Party People). Malanga takes time to poke some fun at the canned outrage and first-year collegiate theorizing in Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed, a first person account of her journey among the working poor;

At Wal-Mart, for instance, she's "oppressed by the mandatory gentility" that the company requires of her, as if being nice to customers and co-workers were part of the tyranny of capitalism. (I suspect that most customers, if they encountered a snarling Ehrenreich as a clerk while shopping, would flee for the exit.) Told to scrub floors on her hands and knees by the maid service, she cites a "housecleaning expert" who says that this technique is ineffective. Ehrenreich then theorizes that the real reason that the service wants its employees down on their hands and knees is that "this primal posture of submission" and "anal accessibility" seem to "gratify the consumers of maid services." Never has the simple task of washing a floor been so thoroughly Freudianized.

Posted by Kevin Steel on November 5, 2004 in Games | Permalink


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Ah, it's always a good time for Nabokov:

"Let the credulous and vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can be cured by a daily application of old Greek myths to their private parts."

Posted by: Kathy Shaidle | 2004-11-05 10:48:02 AM

Ehrenreich: "this primal posture of submission"... .
Does she mean the posture of submission demanded by the Islamic fascists prior to beheading?

Posted by: gg | 2004-11-05 11:49:01 AM

Thank you for a great Nabokov quote! What's it from - a novel, essay, one of his shirt cuffs?

Posted by: voon | 2004-11-05 3:46:31 PM

It's not just the Left which worries about the working poor, which suggests that it isn't a problem dreamed up by hysterical do-gooders. Here's a BusinessWeek story from May 2004:

The tone is pretty similar to the Shipler book. "Katrina Gill, a 36-year-old certified nursing aide, worked in one of the premiere long-term care facilities near Portland, Ore. From 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m., she was on duty alone, performing three rounds on the dementia ward, where she took care of up to 28 patients a night for $9.32 an hour. She monitored vitals, turned for bedsores, and changed adult diapers. There were the constant vigils over patients like the one who would sneak into other rooms, mistaking female patients for his deceased wife. Worse was the resident she called 'the hitter' who once lunged at her, ripping a muscle in her back and laying her flat for four days.

"Last month, Gill quit and took another job for 68 cents an hour more, bringing her salary to $14,400 a year. But like so many health-care workers, she has no health-care benefits from her job. So she and her garage mechanic husband pay $640 monthly for a policy and have racked up $160,000 in medical debts from their youngest son Brandyn's cancer care. ...

"A 2003 study of 1990s mobility by two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that the chances that poor Americans would stay stuck in their strata had increased vs. the 1970s. Given the economy's strong showing in the '90s, that's a concern. 'If current trends persist, a greater and greater share of wealth will keep going into the hands of the few, which will destroy initiative,' worries James D. Sinegal, CEO of Costco Wholesale Corp., which offers above-average pay and benefits in the retail sector. 'We'll no longer have a motivated working class.'"

Don't conservatives differentiate between the deserving poor (that is, the working poor) and the undeserving poor any more?

Centrist Democrats have already realized that paying people not to work (i.e. welfare) is a bad idea. They need jobs, not welfare.

William Julius Wilson argues in "When Work Disappears" that it's not poverty which is destroying American inner cities, but concentrated unemployment. Wilson's argument had an impact on the Clinton administration: Clinton expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit, which boosts the wages of low-income workers and therefore increases demand for unskilled labour (unlike minimum-wage laws, which make unskilled labour more expensive and therefore reduce demand). It's kind of like workfare--you're paying people to work instead of paying them not to work.

A couple more references:

Jason DeParle, "American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare."


An excerpt from the Shipler book:

Posted by: Russil Wvong | 2004-11-05 5:18:21 PM

Although there is no evidence for it, reason seems to require that someday, the leftists’ predictions will come true.

If we ever achieve a true meritocracy, that will mean that the most able and motivated are the most wealthy and least able are the least, in a perfect correlation. Once the least able are on the bottom, that is where they will stay. Presumably, the same will be true for their children. More capable parents will have kids with better genes, better education and better opportunities

We aren’t there yet. There are still a lot of undeserving people with the best opportunities. Still, I wish for a society where the best people get the best reward… where there are no hard workers languishing on welfare rolls, no vibrant, creative minds stuck in mindless jobs and no petty morons in senior management. I think that will be the fairest society.

A downside (or at least, an unappealing side) of that perfect society is that social mobility will decrease and the income gap will increase. I can’t help but think that will cause some problems in society.

For now this is a mostly theoretical problem, but an interesting one all the same.

Posted by: Pete E | 2004-11-06 2:29:36 AM

The Socialist dream/nightmare lives on & on & on & on...

Condorcet--- Real equality, final goal of social art.

Posted by: gg | 2004-11-06 4:58:32 AM

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