Labor Day Must Listen: “Why Do We Work?”

One of the segments on WBUR’s On Point this morning, “Why Do We Work?”  From the teaser:

We work to live, we live to work. Most of us lucky enough to have a job give most of our waking hours to our job. Why? Just for the paycheck? Our guest today says work for many of us is reduced to a paycheck, but what we yearn for is the right to work hard, to give to our job and our team and feel respect and self-respect.

I only caught about half of the segment but it was very good.   The featured guest, Barry Schwartz, was no pollyanna.  Yes, there will always be crap, deadbeats, etc. to deal with but, if we choose to, we can create work environments which defined by positive achievement rather than dealing with BS.

Two Three other Labor Day links:

A chart for Labor Day

From a report by Josh Bivens and Larry Mishel that I linked to in last week’s Digest (but have only skimmed to date).  Paul Krugman posted a nice top-level takeway yesterday evening.  From his concluding paragraph:

…the next time you hear someone claiming that middle-class families have, in fact, seen a big rise in living standards, you should know that to the extent that this is true (which is less than claimed), it’s mainly about working more hours. Pay really has almost stagnated despite rising productivity.

NAFTA was a bad deal for U.S. workers. That’s one of the reasons I expect bad things from the TPP.

I’ve made multiple TPP-related posts of the past months – find them as well as older ones here.  (Just click the “TPP” tag over on the right.)  In terms of what we might expect if the TPP is enacted, it’s worth looking back at NAFTA and it’s consequences.   NAFTA was enacted in 1994 under Pres. Clinton.  From my perspective, Ross Perot got it right was accurate with his prediction.  It’s turned out to be an awful deal – an estimated 700,000 U.S. jobs lost.

Economic Policy Institute (EPI) economist Jeff Faux and UC-Berkeley economist Brad DeLong had a public exchange last summer re the merits of NAFTA – Faux taking the position that it’s turned out to be a bad deal and DeLong taking the position that it’s been a net benefit:

And Robert Scott of EPI adds his two cents on Faux vs DeLong:

If you’re an investor I can see why you might view NAFTA favorably.   If you live in the U.S. and work for a living I do not see how you could view it favorably.

(For what it’s worth, I’ve cited DeLong favorably dozens of times.  NAFTA and his inclination to support the TPP are rare – but predictable – instances where I believe he is badly wrong.)

Samuel Florman, “Nice Work”

From Samuel Florman’s “Nice Work”, originally published in the May 1976 issue of Harper’s:

What do people want out of life? That is one of those questions whose answer can be shaped by the way in which the question is posed. Straightforward statistical studies find that job discontent is not high on the list of American social problems. When the Gallup poll’s researchers ask, “Is your work interesting?” they get 80 to 90 percent positive responses. But when researchers begin to ask more sophisticated questions, such as “What type of work would you try to get into if you could start all over again?” complaints begin to pour forth. The probing question cannot help but elicit a plaintive answer. Which of us, confronted with a sympathetic organizational psychologist, or talking into Studs Terkel’s tape recorder, could resist tingeing our life’s story with lamentation, particularly if that was what the questioner was looking for? Compared to the “calling” that Terkel says we are all seeking, what job could measure up?

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Honor Labor

Sept. 1, 2014

Yesterday my daughter asked what I’d be doing at work tomorrow (i.e., today).   I told her I didn’t have to go to work because it’s a holiday, Labor Day.  She asked what Labor Day is.  We’ve talked about Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day as holidays which commemorate the sacrifices others made so that we could live better, safer, freer lives.  Labor Day hadn’t come up before.  I told her that it’s a day where we remember people who stood up for those who work for a living, people who insisted that when you do your job that you be paid fairly for the work you do so that you can pay for your food and the home that you live in – that it’s a day where we remember people who insisted that you not have to put yourself in danger when you go to your work – that it’s a day where we remember people who insisted that you not have to work all day every day in order to keep your job – that you be allowed to take weekends off and have a vacation.  My wife got her a book from the library last week, Brave Girl:  Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909, so maybe at least some of what I said clicked.

I’ll hazard that the vast majority of people reading this post have paid vacation, employer-subsidized health insurance, and go to work in workplaces which are covered by OSHA safety standards.  We’re pretty damn fortunate to have those things.  We should take a moment today to think of the people who helped make things like 40 hour workweeks, paid vacation, and workplace safety standards a reality.  We should also take a moment to think of the people who are committed to seeing that those things are there for everyone who works for a living, not just the upper-middle class.   Finally, we should also take moment to think of those for whom 40 hour workweeks, paid vacation, and workplace safety standards aren’t in the cards.

With that, Shirt by Robert Pinsky: Continue reading