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What's a Job Good For?
The Ludwig Von Mises Institute ^ | April 1, 2011 | Jeffrey A. Tucker

Posted on 04/04/2011 9:49:06 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet

Most people say that a job is good for making money. So, if you don't need money, what's the point? The fabled English aristocratic class of the late 19th and early 20th century apparently thought that way, if the caricatures painted by Jeeves and Wooster, Brideshead, and the like have any truth to them. Their main job was getting dressed and undressed. It seems like young Americans are thinking the same way.

Doug French drew my attention to some statistics from the Wall Street Journal on teenage employment that knocked me out. In 2000, slightly more than a third of 16- and 17-year-olds had jobs. Today, in 2011, it is 14 and 15 percent. These are shocking numbers. But in retrospect, I've seen enough anecdotal evidence to back them up.

I was speaking to a group of 200-plus high-school students (location I will not disclose) and I casually asked how many of them have worked in a retail environment, working directly with customers. Not a single hand went up. Shocked, I asked the question more broadly: how many have had a job that yielded a paycheck? Not a hand went up.

In talking to parents, it seems that a new attitude has taken hold among them. Their kids don't work. They are in school. They should spend their extra time doing sports and studying. Work is for the lower classes. What's to be gained? Putting the kids to work implies that the breadwinners in the household can't provide for their offspring. What are they going to do with the money they earn anyway? Buy more iPhone apps?

And there's also the problem of legal restrictions. Hardly any 16-year-old is worth the prevailing minimum wage, which has risen dramatically over the last five years. No employer would choose a teen over an adult willing to do the same job for $7.25 an hour. Also, schools require all kinds of permission slips — because of ghastly "child" labor laws — and what employer wants to jump through those hoops? And it is ever harder to fire people you hire so few are willing to take the risk of hiring kids in the first place.

There are vast opportunities today for independent contracting in the digital world, where no one cares about nonsense like age and minimum wage and the like. Ideally a kid would jump right in. But, without the character formation that leads people to acquire and profitably use skills, this isn't going to happen in most cases. Becoming a digital self-starter is something that happens only once work habits are ingrained.

Faced with all these barriers, the culture has adapted. Since, as we know, no parent has ever made a bad choice for the life of their own beloved offspring, parents have just decided that working is for other people's kids, not theirs.

And so fewer and fewer people know anything about the workplace. They will sit in desks and run around on fields until they are 24 years old and then present themselves, fully formed, to waiting employers who will proceed to cough up as a reward for staying in school.

Well, what's the loss? Let's talk about the loss by talking about what might be learned from a job that will go unlearned.

There is the "work ethic," a phrase that is batted around all the time, but what does it really mean? You have to actually work to acquire one. As innumerable titans of the Gilded Age attempted to tell us, no young person is born wanting to work. How do you learn to come to thrive on it?

To have a "work ethic" means the willingness to experience discomfort on the way toward the completion of a job done with excellence. This doesn't come naturally. The "natural" thing is to stop doing what you are doing when it begins to be something discomforting or when more is expected than you want to give. But this approach goes nowhere. In fact, if this is your approach, you trim more and more until the point that you become a sofa slug, which pretty much describes — a whole generation.

I recall when I was ten or so working on a roofing job with my great uncle. It was in the middle of a boiling-hot summer. We were balancing ourselves on a black, slanted roof, banging nails into things. After about 30 minutes, I thought I was going to die. We continued working up there for hours and hours. Finally he said it was time to take a break. I shoved the garden hose in my mouth and swallowed what must have been a gallon. He went inside and drank a cup of coffee. Now that was inspiring.

I have an early memory of my brother's first job on a construction crew. He came home the first day looking like a zombie. We spoke to him but he could not speak back. He held onto the wall as he found his way to his room and collapsed. It was this way every day for weeks and then suddenly he got the hang of it. He became a machine. This was one summer that gave him a lifetime work ethic.

Other memories of my early jobs include: repairing organ pipes in a high loft, crunching pigeon bones under foot and wearing a protective mask; drilling water wells in the blazing sun; scrubbing honey off tables in a fish restaurant for which I served as busboy; collecting paper plates from 500 tables after a lunch catered by the company that hired me as gofer; fighting off mobs of people who were trying to buy the $10 pants that went viral in a retail outlet; feeling terror that the piano I was moving up a flight of stairs would double back and crush me; picking up tiny pins on dressing room floors in a department store; learning to run the floor-waxing machine in the china department and later having nightmares that I hit an entire shelf of fine crystal.

You quickly learn in any job — and especially low-paying ones — that it hurts to work, physically and mentally. You must focus intensely for longer than you really want to. You do things you don't like. You can find every excuse to drift off but you can't because there are tasks that must be done. And if it is the right kind of job, if you don't do the task, it doesn't get done and then everyone up and down the line that depends on that task finds their tasks are harder and so everyone hates you.

If you are cleaning bathrooms, you must make sure there is toilet paper there, else customers are going to be very unhappy. If you are frying fish, you have to change the grease or else you will destroy the whole business. If you are moving a fence, you have to dig deep holes or it will fall down in six months. And so on. You learn to avoid these bad results in the only possible way: by completing the task.

We are not born into this world of plenty understanding that there is a direct relationship between what we do and what the consequences are. Quite the opposite: the very definition of immaturity is failing to take responsibility (as our mothers always said). Well, how do we learn about this connection between our actions and the results? There is no better place than the workplace or commerce generally. We work, we see the results, and we are paid. This is direct. It is beautiful. It emblazons on the brain the relationship between actions and results.

School doesn't always teach us this, and besides, the "action" in school is pretty limited. It is about studying, which too often means mimicking what the assigned authority says. In real work, you have to be creative. You exercise volitional control over your body and what it does and you see the results. And the results are not abstractions like As, Bs, and Cs, but very material: dollars and cents that can be used to acquire anything. And this reward comes from using the whole of yourself in a productive activity.

As John Wanamaker, the pioneer of marketing, said, a

well-ordered, modern retail store is the means of education in spelling, writing, English language, system and method. Thus it becomes to the ambitious and serious employees, in a small way, a university, in which character is broadened by intelligent instruction practically applied.

That's it! Work is like university — a real university that builds up a person and makes him or her better than he or she would otherwise be!

What you get out of a job is all about what you bring to the job, and what you bring must be more valuable to the employer than what you take out. I recall some bum who once worked with me who snarled: "No way am I straightening ties for minimum wage." Very interesting perspective. He wanted more money to do more work. But that's not the way it works. You have to do more work in order to get more money. You must provide more value than you extract in order to advance.

Work (and I should specify that I mean private-sector work) is the best way to learn this hugely valuable lesson and carry it with you your entire life. This is surely a feature of what we call the work ethic.

A part of this means acquiring a sense of the need to serve others in order to gain for your service. This is the very essence of a job, whether it is frying up potatoes, crushing boxes out back, or planting shrubbery. You are always doing something for someone else. If you do enough of this, you begin to make this need to serve part of your mental outlook.

I've never understood the celebration of "volunteering" for a soup kitchen or whatever. Most of the "customers" are not grateful and the employees are mostly self-congratulatory about their wonderful pious deeds. Far better would be, for example, a fast-food restaurant where people pay and where workers are truly serving others — in their own self-interest. This is the ideal. This is the setting where true virtues are learned.

You might say: oh, this whole world of commercial life is the big phony. The service providers pretend to like customers because the business wants money. And the customer is faking it too. You could say that, but then there is this: if we behave a certain way all the time for years, we might eventually find that our minds conform. We become sincere. We begin to value others for what they do and give. We learn how to get along, how to appreciate differences among people, how to look for unique qualities in others and see their merit.

Someone once said that a capitalist society is a friendly society. This is not surprising at all, since the essence of capitalism is mutual service, cooperation, and trade to the betterment of the whole. To take part in that reshapes who we are. It makes us better people.

Contrast this with the blasé existence of desk sitting, couch potatoing, or working in the public sector (they don't call it "going postal" for nothing). It's the private sector and its commercial ethos that can give us that thing we need most: self-improvement.

What strikes you immediately about jobs in commerce especially is how forward-looking they are. It takes some getting used to. If you had a bad day without many customers and sales, there is always another day. If you had a good day, there is another day coming and you can never be sure of how it will go.

So you learn to live in a world in which bygones are bygones and the future is always uncertain but possibly bright. In commerce, there are no grudges because today's seeming enemy could be tomorrow's customer, coworker, or business partner. The past is merely an assembly of passing data; it is the future where the action and excitement are. And in this way, a job in commerce is completely different from the world of sloth in which neither past nor future matter, or in school, where the past is stockpiled and never goes away.

With a job in commerce, you have your finger on the pulse of life itself, the thing that is active, moving, growing, and reflective of changing social values and interests. You have something that becomes you, something that gives you bragging rights, something that connects you to others. You become defined, skilled, useful, experienced. You have stories. You are in some measure liberated from the authority structures you inherit from birth and from growing up, and you adopt new ones of your own choosing.

Now, consider all of this and imagine whether teens really are better off not working. Research has demonstrated that retirement in general "leads to a 5–16 percent increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activities, a 5–6 percent increase in illness conditions, and 6–9 percent decline in mental health, over an average post-retirement period of six years."[1] And this is after a lifetime of work. The effects on the mind are much worse with the young who have never developed the mental habits that come with working.

Do we really want to deny all of this to an entire generation and then expect these people to just leap into the "real world" at the age of 24 or so, fully formed? They will not be formed. They will not be ready. They will be less useful, less skilled, less productive, less shaped in their character, less ready to be free and responsible. Sorry, but languishing and pretending to study aren't substitutes.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Education; Society
KEYWORDS: college; economy; education; minimumwage; privatesector; teens; work; workethic; workplace
Wow!
1 posted on 04/04/2011 9:49:09 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
It's good for being a wage and tax slave.

Have a nice life.

2 posted on 04/04/2011 9:52:38 PM PDT by Paladin2
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To: Paladin2

Please read the article.


3 posted on 04/04/2011 9:53:46 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet ("You cannot invade the US There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass." Yamamoto)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

I’ve met many parents with the attitude that school is their child’s work and actually pay them to not have a job. These kids come into jobs with no skills and a huge sense of entitlement. I had the good fortune of being put to work in my family’s business at the age of 13.


4 posted on 04/04/2011 9:56:11 PM PDT by JMS
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

BTTT


5 posted on 04/04/2011 9:56:41 PM PDT by Jet Jaguar
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
Doofus, I did.

When I wuz a kid (well into the last century) my parents wouldn't let me get a job (as a regular thing) to buy a Jeep with a plow. Now I overcompensate by having > 10 vehicles and a bedroom full of computers. Sometimes the human spirit can break through.

6 posted on 04/04/2011 10:00:15 PM PDT by Paladin2
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To: Paladin2

On that note, though:

How to Start an Online Business for $100
http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/153311/how_to_start_an_online_business_for_100.html

10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job
http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2006/07/10-reasons-you-should-never-get-a-job/


7 posted on 04/04/2011 10:01:51 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet ("You cannot invade the US There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass." Yamamoto)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

I had a job for years. Now I’ve gone virtual Galt.


8 posted on 04/04/2011 10:08:48 PM PDT by Paladin2
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To: Paladin2
Now I overcompensate by having > 10 vehicles and a bedroom full of computers. Sometimes the human spirit can break through.

And people end up on "Hoarders". What does the human spirit have to do with pathological acquisitiveness?

9 posted on 04/04/2011 11:10:23 PM PDT by Minn
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job

1 Reason You Should Never Take Advice From Amway Zombies and other assorted hucksters pushing a "system": Their system always seems to include money going from your pocket to theirs, so their sincerity and the wisdom they are imparting is very much in doubt.

The fact of the matter is, learning a well compensated trade and managing your money well is a far more certain path to riches than any "online system".

10 posted on 04/04/2011 11:24:12 PM PDT by Minn
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

What good is a job?

Earning your own way without suckling at the govt. teat.

Self respect.

That’s two.


11 posted on 04/04/2011 11:52:12 PM PDT by hoagy62 (Help stamp out crack-pull up your pants.)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

There is no one “right” answer to kids and jobs. My oldest son didn’t have a steady job while in High School (he did mow some neighbors yards and do some haying in the area) and we only bought the necessary stuff for him. He knew that if he wanted extras he had to get a job. We also paid him (and our other children) for their grades ($10 for A’s, $5 for B’s) and that pretty much all he earned. Now he is working an average of 80 hours a week in the Army. He is a hard worker and a great young man.

My middle son, wants more, so he did go out and get a steady job. All of my children have gotten good grades and participate in sports.

So I don’t have a problem with treating school as the child’s job, but I can see how some parents “pay” their children WAY, WAY too much for school. I am not going to make them completely become a member of the rat race before they have to. I think if they can enjoy their childhood, then you should let them. They have the rest of their life to be a worker drone/taxpayer, IMHO.


12 posted on 04/05/2011 12:08:39 AM PDT by ScubieNuc
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

BTTT


13 posted on 04/05/2011 3:18:48 AM PDT by ClearCase_guy
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To: Paladin2

If you have a job, you’re a soldier. If you own a business, you’re a General. We are all in the same Army and neither can exist without the other. So stop trashing honest work.


14 posted on 04/05/2011 3:57:26 AM PDT by CalvaryJohn (What is keeping that damned asteroid?)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
I wish that this article could be reproduced in injectable form and administered to the idiots I saw protesting in Madison, Wisconsin over the weekend.

Cheers!

15 posted on 04/05/2011 4:08:52 AM PDT by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
My first job at thirteen was helping a neighbor train and care for his field-show labrador retrievers. Two or three hours of standing in Minnesota's mosquito-infested cattails throwing targets, gathering leeches. On a really hot day he'd give me half a beer when I was done. Then back to get the burrs off their coats, spray out the kennels, and feed the crew. Pay was five bucks and a sunburn. Every once in a while he'd let me pop off a few shells from a 20 ga. over-and-under. The dogs would stare at the spot where they heard the shot strike as if they were trying to will a fallen bird into existence.

It was awesome. Still one of the greatest jobs I ever had.

16 posted on 04/05/2011 4:55:09 AM PDT by Snake65
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To: Snake65
What a cool memory. That sounds like a great first job.

My first job at thirteen was being a "mother's helper" Monday through Friday for the summer for a family who had six kids, the oldest one eight and the youngest an infant.

I'm the firstborn of five, so I had the experience.

I taught the six-year-old and the four-year-old how to swim that summer. I worked 9-4 M-F for $40 a week.

It was a fun job and great pay for a thirteen-year-old. My parents made me put 75% of those earnings in my savings account. Smart parents. :)

17 posted on 04/05/2011 5:03:32 AM PDT by Allegra (Hey! Stop looking at my tagline like that.)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

It’s good for paying the federal nomenklatura to do all the fantastic things they do for us peasants.


18 posted on 04/05/2011 2:26:14 PM PDT by WOBBLY BOB ( "I don't want the majority if we don't stand for something"- Jim Demint)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
"Please read the article."

Teach 'em to not just stand there! Manufacture something! And learn to bury a worthless previous generation that tossed all of our more essential production capacity overseas.

From the fascist piece:
"You might say: oh, this whole world of commercial life is the big phony. The service providers" don't produce anything of value. They're too thieving and lazy. They're the worthless eaters--not the young folks that they've outlawed from starting their own businesses (see zoning ordinances, main street organized crime rackets, stealing through flooring leases, bipartisan political tools, NIMBYs, HOA hags, all).

How's that?

The political propaganda from globalists--corporate socialists--claiming to be something else, is getting to be more hysterical every year. They depend on big government to prop up their games.


19 posted on 04/06/2011 3:13:01 PM PDT by familyop ("Wanna cigarette? You're never too young to start." --Deacon, "Waterworld")
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

My point is that many young people need to be taught to manufacture essential products and to compete. I’m one of the rare few older adults doing just that.

As for most of my non-engineering, non-technical Baby Boomer peers, we’ll have no use for you in the near future (or those who don’t teach young folks). Enough young people will learn enough of civics (which current leadership tries to keep away from them) to make things more right (and less left than both political parties keep things now). Hopefully, Social Security and pensions for service and admin. careers will be halted at soon, and probably will after the big default.


20 posted on 04/06/2011 3:21:42 PM PDT by familyop (cbt. engr. (cbt), NG, '89-' 96, Duncan Hunter or no-vote.)
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To: Paladin2
It's good for being a wage and tax slave.

Thank you! The article is correct in that a job can inculcate a strong work ethic, and from my own experience, is instructive in the real world skills required to run a business.

But you are correct - if you're still working at a job after the age of say, thirty, then you're a wage slave. Busting arse to make someone else rich.

Still, I have hope for America. I see hustlers everyday trying to work an angle - many which are legitimate. These are the Bill Gates-iziz of tomorrow.

Sadly, few are native born.

21 posted on 04/06/2011 3:32:45 PM PDT by Big Bronson
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