Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Tools of the Trade

with 4 comments

 So.  I was thinking over the discussion yesterday, and what occurred to me was this:

I don’t think we have a problem in  this country these days with  lots of people thinking work is beneath them, or that it is contemptible in the way Aristotle thought it.

In fact, especially in the United States, we seem to have made a fetish of work.  We boast endlessly that we work longer and harder than anybody else.

The entire CEO, big law corporate lawyer class spends more time in conspicuously working than it does in conspicuous consumption.

Get into the office at six and don’t leave until  midnight?  No problem.  Come in o n Christmas Day to make sure that deal gets done in Tokyo?  Absolutely.

The problem is not that we disparage work, but that an entire class of people–most upper middle class professionals, for instance, and our hyperworking class as described above–think some kinds of work are so mindless that ANYBODY can do them. 

And the class of workers they think this about–plumbers, electricians, mechanics, construction workers–are not only not unskilled, but often are very skilled indeed.

I  invite any of you to learn how to fix your own plumbling.  I know people who’ve managed to do it.  I don’t know a lot of them.

But you can see this attitude driving a lot of law and, worse, a lot of court cases for racial and sexual discrimination–oh, THAT?  Any  idiot off the street can do THAT.  If there’s any kind of disparate impact, the only POSSIBLE explanation is invidious discrimination.

I’m not saying invidious discrimination doesn’t exist.  Of course it does,  in some individual cases.

But the disparate impact rule is curious as much for the way  it is not applied as for the way it is.

The single largest example of a requirement that results in large scale racial disparities is the steadily increasing number of jobs that require “college” as a basic credential.

Not only do “underrepresented minorities” graduate from high school at a far lower rate than Asians and whites, but they graduate from top-tier colleges and universities at an exponentially lower rate.

By the time you get to top tier law and medical schools, or even business schools, you’ve hit tokenism right in the face.

Even so, almost nobody  is arguing that the standards in place in all these things amount to  “institutionalized racism” or that they should be changed so that “underrepresented minorities” can be more fully represented.

And even when somebody does make such an arguement,  it never prevails in court.

Part of that is because of a truism:  you tend to support the system through which you, yourself, were successful.

Judges don’t strike down law school requirements for disparate impact because they’re convinced that law school requirements are fair, just and objective–they’re the same requirements the judges themselves had to meet, and they’re sure they’re important.

But what has made this situation  really dangerous, and really destructive, is the  other half of it–the half that says OUR requirements are legitimate, but THOSE jobs are so stupid they can have no legitimate requirements.  Anybody can do them.  They don’t require intelligence, or knowledge, or skill.

It is under that set of assumptions that we  have seen court rulings and agency regulations that gut the requirements for getting licensed in a slew of skilled trades, and skilled tradesmen’s unions forced to adhere to “goals and timetables” that can only be fulfilled by cheating somewhere along the line to  keep the numbers up.

But  it’s not really that simple, because this is a country that loves lawsuits.

So if you send a guy out to do a job and he does it badly, and an accident ensues (think buildings exploding  in Philadelphia)–your company  is going to be civilly liable, and it’s probably also going to be criminally liable.

So you can’t just cheat. 

And  you can’t get out from under another problem–once you START cheating, you can’t ever hold the line. Once you change requirements in order to get your numbers up, you’ll also get up your numbers of OVERrepresented majorities with qualities you don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.

The  problem is actually not invidious discrimination, but bad school systems that teach little or nothing.

The sane way to  handle all this would be to demand that even schools in poor and minority districts teach what they’re supposed to be teaching.

But that won’t work, either, not because teachers are sacrosanct, but because the judges and bureaucrats making the decisions HONESTLY don’t believe that the jobs  in question  have any real skill requirements.

Those are stupid  jobs for stupid people.

Anybody can do those.

And t hat’s your cheerful for today.

Written by janeh

August 15th, 2013 at 7:50 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Tools of the Trade'

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  1. Isn’t that thinking work is beneath them and contemptible? The idea that anyone can do it, that it requires no skills and no knowledge? The idea of it being honourable to do any honest job well, no matter how menial or simple, is long dead. A few of the adult children of friends of mine have gone through stages – or are still in the stages – of sniffing at low-pay jobs as being beneath them, while staying at home living off their parents isn’t. It’s not that they can’t DO the jobs, of course. They’re just too menial and interfere with their social life.

    I haven’t run into many people thinking that the skilled trades don’t require skills, though. That attitude is usually reserved for jobs as store clerks, cleaners or in child care, except for the few people who talk a lot about how they can do any job anywhere better than the incumbents, but somehow never seem to actually try to become employed in one of these high-paying higher status jobs which allegedly anyone can do.


    15 Aug 13 at 9:19 am

  2. The comment on racial preferences was perfectly true, but completely misses my point. Let me repeat exactly what I said:

    “That said, it’s common in classical philosophy to despise the acquisition of wealth by trade or production, leaving only inheritance and war. I suspect it’s one of the reasons economic progress seems to stop more or less with Pericles. Tell your brightest most eager students that studying the mechanical arts is beneath them and that while wealth is necessary profit is dirty, and after a while you’ll find them all lapping up tax money rather than creating wealth.”

    Got that? Trade and production. Now take a good look at our rulers–the top levels of the political parties, who write our laws and claim a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. They have none of them EVER produced anything, nor engaged in honest free-market trade–unless you actually believe in Hillary’s Miracle of the Cattle Futures. They all seem to have wound up quite wealthy, though. Compare the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the writers of the Constitution, who actually owned and operated mines, foundries and farms, who bred livestock and engaged in real law rather than influence-peddling.
    Our current rulers know that even should they leave office, they will never have to do business under the laws they write, and in any event believe themselves to be morally superior to people who do business at all. They are, after all, engaged in “public service.” Hence Obams’s speech at Smith for instance, and the abiding belief of the rulers that they are better judges of what conditions are necessary for prosperity than those vulgar people who actually build factories and make things.

    Yes, there are lawyers who bill for many hours a week. But the fruits of modern American philosophy are the preppies who became political science majors, acquired law degrees and then ran for office. THEY, not the “educated upper middle class” are our rulers, our “great-souled men” and a very poor job they’re making of it.


    15 Aug 13 at 10:35 am

  3. This popped up in a blog I read. Serendipity? I think it’s spooky how apt it is for the current discussion. And, in these seemingly Apocalyptic days it’s heartening to see that not everyone in Hollywood is an airhead.

    Enjoy. (Sorry, JD. Don’t have a transcript.)



    15 Aug 13 at 9:45 pm

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