Ah, Labor Day! For me it’s usually a day of conflicted duality.
Last year my old boss made us work on Labor Day. For him, it was just another opportunity to make more money for himself. Strangely enough, though, he gave himself the day off. We did all the work and, as usual, he received the bulk of the riches we made while sitting on his ass. Another capitalistic win-win!
This year I have a new boss who, even though he’s equally greedy, at least allowed us the choice to work or not. Gee, what do you think I picked? Hello three-day weekend!
My boss for the previous five years made us work every single holiday except Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Yes, we even worked Christmas Eve.) So I’m grateful that the new boss makes it optional. Even if it does mean a day without pay.
As I said goodbye to my new boss on Friday afternoon, his biggest worry was that his wife wouldn’t let him work on Monday. For him, work is an escape from home, family, children and his wife. I find that sad. Life isn’t about how many hours you can spend at the office. It’s about the quality time you share with the people you love. The boss loves money.
For me, Labor Day represents a day free from the pain of my work life. Being able to escape the bullshit – even for only one day – is a precious gift like nectar from the gods.
I appreciate you, Labor Day. And, it might surprise some folks, but what we celebrate on Labor Day we basically owe to a union. (I know that is a curse word to some.) According to DOL.gov, “The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union.”
The Central Labor Union of New York, Brooklyn, and New Jersey was an early trade union organization that later broke up into various locals, which are now AFL-CIO members. The establishment of the CLU predates the consolidation of New York City (1897) by nearly two decades and is best known as the organization that created the American Labor Day holiday. (Source: Wikipedia.)
The idea of a Labor Day originally started in the states until eventually it was formally recognized by Congress.
Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. (Source: DOL.gov.)
Recently my boss asked me about city government and what I would do if I was in charge. It’s always a mistake to engage in discussion of things political or religious with people you don’t like, but even more so at work. He wanted to know if I sided with the “no taxes” nutcases in our county.
I explained that, at least at the local level, I supported even bigger government.
This really took him aback. When he asked what I meant, I said that I enjoy having having things like strong police and fire departments. I said that I would go even further and actually grow our city services. I think we should have our own department of animal control rather than relying on the county which devotes a single person to that function. A single position for the entire county who only scratches the surface and doesn’t accomplish much.
The county also closed all branches of the library. I said there is no reason why the city couldn’t have a library of its own if that is something the people support and are willing to pay for. I used to live in a town smaller than this one and it had an awesome city library. I spent a lot of time there when I was growing up.
“Libraries should pay for themselves,” he said. “If the market doesn’t support them then they shouldn’t exist.” Then he trotted out the most knee jerk red herring of them all. “Besides, we’ve got the internet.”
I disagreed. I argued that libraries provide a benefit to society that can’t be measured by merely looking at how much they cost.
“I would never vote for you,” he said.
I think I responded with something about not wanting to live on his planet, one that I described as “knee-deep in petroleum.” Can you imagine what it would be life if humans did nothing except that which was profitable?
On another occasion we discussed an imaginary worker I’m going to call “Mediocre Fred” (for the sake of simplicity).
Fred is an honest, hard-working guy. He’s worked ever since he was 16. He has a high school diploma. Older now, and single, he works 40 hours a week. He makes minimum wage, has no benefits of any kind, no health, no dental, no vacation days, no paid days off, no sick pay. If he takes a day off for a holiday or vacation, he doesn’t get paid for it, so he usually works 52 weeks, only taking a couple of days off per year.
Fred is a decent, law-abiding, decent human being who believes in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. And he’s never taken a penny of government assistance and he pays his taxes. Thanks to labor law, Fred gets two 10 minute breaks a day and a 30-minute unpaid lunch period. Without those laws, his boss would think it was fair to work him all day with no breaks under constant threat of termination.
The subject of discussion: How should a society treat a person like Fred?
Again I unwisely got sucked into a discussion with my boss who, as usual, took a hardline position. He said that things like a car, a television in the home, a telephone, cable, pets, a computer, internet access should all be considered as “luxuries” for someone like Fred.
I was fairly astounded by this. “What the fuck is Fred supposed to do? Get off work, dutifully go to his completely bare home, and sit on a chair and do nothing but daydream until it is time to report to his next work shift? Fuck, according to you, he can’t even go to a goddamned library. What the fuck is this guy supposed to do? What kind of fucking life is that?”
The Federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour. (Some states optionally have higher minimums.) If Fred puts his nose to the grindstone and works 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year (no holidays) he can earn a whopping $15,080 a year. Even at that low amount, the refund estimator at 1040.com says that Fred will still owe about $573 yearly in federal taxes. Withholding won’t do the job and the estimator shows that Fred will end up owing a payment of $173 on April 15th.
I tried making a theoretical budget for Fred. The assumption is that Fred is excellent with money and really good at making and following a budget. His monthly net income is $1,131. He budgets 40% to rent or $452. He also budgets 18% to food or $204. (Those percentages are realistic and based on economist recommendations I found on the internet.) He also budgets $50 for utilities, $20 for garbage, $25 for water bill, $50 for medical expenses, and $25 for clothes and other necessities. That’s one simple fucking budget. And, to please my boss, it doesn’t include ANY of the so-called “luxury” items. Fred doesn’t have a car – he walks or bikes to work – and he has no TV or internet in the home.
It’s noteworthy that Fred only allocates about $600 for medical expenses per year. This is probably enough for a few doctor visits and a few prescriptions. This is also supposed to cover all of his dental needs, too.
That leaves a whopping $330 a month in the “discretionary” spending for Fred. That covers things like savings, entertainment, and unplanned expenses. If we ignore my douchebag of a boss, then it also covers things like TV, internet and maybe a pet. If we factor in some of those things, Fred’s discretionary money shrinks considerably.
If find it interesting that a guy who lives in a mansion on a hill, owns several gigantor SUV rigs and has discretionary spending money more than four times my salary feels it is right and proper to opine about what constitutes “luxuries” for other people like Fred. There’s not a week that goes by when the dude doesn’t have multiple packages full of toys arrive at our shop. iPads, computers, useless shit from fancy boutique stores, and more. Every week! I’d describe his lifestyle as decadent and lavish compared to poor Fred. (Poor in an economic sense.)
Do a comparison between the boss and Fred and it gets worse. Yes, the boss does work longer hours, but that’s in large part because he wants to avoid his home life. Much of his time spent at the shop is spent playing on the computer, napping on the sofa, spending hours on personal calls, and cooking in his kitchen away from home. He may be at the office 70 or more hours a week, but he certainly doesn’t work all of them. Not by a long shot.
And, of course, the other comparison is that Fred is a decent, honest fellow. The boss lies, cheats and steals for his personal bounty. It’s not like he works that much harder than Fred. It can be far easier to lie and cheat your way than do it fairly, eh?
To me, the question is: How does a society value the contributions of these two people? In my opinion the boss is a waste. He performs a function that produces a profit but does little that is of value. Yeah, he is good at getting stupid, bullshit and meaningless products, and selling them to a people that crave such things. But what value does this add to anything? I think it’s sick.
Some people love to bitch about people on welfare and those who depend on “entitlements” and abuse the system. We’ve all heard the belly aching about how some people feel they are “paying for” others. Yet Fred isn’t included in this. Even though some people drop out of high school, he didn’t. True, he didn’t go to college, but he may not have had the same opportunity as some. Or maybe he just didn’t want that path.
What is the American dream? Is it only available to a select few? Should versions of it be available to others? Even those who don’t do important stuff like resell whoopie cushions and fake vomit? How will a society treat someone who stays off the teat and performs honorable work and works full time to support himself? Doesn’t Fred represent that which the bitchers say they want? Someone who supports himself, doesn’t take from the system (he actually puts in) and works hard and is responsible?
Some people are terrified at the thought of a person who doesn’t work. So damn terrified that people like Fred get lost in the cracks.
Is an existence that consists of nothing but being a good little worker going to be enough for Fred? Is that fair? Is it right? I say if anyone deserves a little piece of the American dream apple pie it is Fred. Without workers even the fatcats can’t exist.
The debate about the causality of wealth on the crime rate and other societal ills is a hotly contested one. I personally believe there is a correlation. I believe that if you want people to obey the law, you have to give them something of value that is worth protecting. They have to have something to lose. If we deny people even that much then their choices can’t really be that surprising. Like most things, by doing the right thing up front, we end up making things better for anyone and, in turn, even ourselves. Too bad most people can’t seem to see past their noses that far.
I ask many questions in this post. There are likely an infinite number of answers. But at the very least I hope I give a few of you a little something to think about. I apologize that I’m not very good at expressing these sorts of thoughts.
This Labor Day I hope you will go out and do two things: Save a little extra spit for people like the boss and tip our hats to people like Mediocre Fred, even if he is a theoretical bastard born solely of my fertile imagination! 🙂
Here’s a song about Mediocre Fred. I’m sorry about the video, which has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but it is all I could find on YouTube:
Edit: Aug. 5, 2012: The video originally shown here has been changed due to YouTube pulling it down. This video is here only for the audio of the song. The visual portion of this video is just random from the internet and not related to the specific topics of this post. I apologize, but it’s the best way I could find to share this song.
Man — you’ve put it all out there for Labor Day, haven’t you?
I’m not sure either of them qualify for what I see as participating in the American Experiment. The douchebag boss is a taker and user and does not contribute back. Mediocre Fred is doing nothing on his own to improve his situation. The douchebag is correct in way — a car, nice home, computer etc are not rights. If MF wants some of those things, he needs to do something to get out of his minimum wage situation.
This strikes me as a modern Parable of the Talents. Douche boss has everything and has no sense of charity or community. Mediocre Fred has no ambition. I think they both fail.
Steve, thanks. I appreciate the thoughtful reply.
I see your point about Fred. I’ve been pondering what you said and took an extra day to think it over.
It seems to me that so many decry the takers, the lazy and the users in our system. I understand and share that feeling. I think the purpose of economics itself is intended to be some sort of “fairness” system so that those who work are rewarded and that those who don’t are not. That might even be true at a the broadest possible macro level. But, as we all know, that isn’t the reality at the micro level. There are MANY exceptions. (An obvious one is that you can make more money more easily by breaking rules than by being honest.)
I just have this vague feeling that if society wants more people off the government teat, then it had better provide people like Fred with just a skosh more incentive. Otherwise, why bother? Fred, for all of his apparent lack of ambition, is still doing the right thing. He puts in an honest day’s work. He’s not lazy. He works 40 hours a week. He pays his own way. I think those and other things about him make him a bit unique compared to a lot of the flakes among us. But it’s almost like he gets punished for it.
Perhaps those who see incentive as a motivator for humans to achieve could also recognize there needs to be incentive for people to do the right thing, ambitious or not.
Where is the like*1billion button? I’m having a hard time finding it, but it’s definitely necessary here.
On my blog, and usage of the “Like” button is automatically assumed to be in the billions. It’s all I’ve got. 🙂
Thanks so much for the feedback!
[…] post is an attempt at communicating a feeling. I find myself thinking about my good, good friend Mediocre Fred and his fate in our society. I find myself thinking about a 55-year-old man who lost his job in […]
Fred needs to be replaced by a robot.
That’s it? That’s all you got? What if the rest of society watches what happens to Fred and says, “Hey. Fuck it. That’s what you get for following the work for a living path? Hello life of crime!”
If a certain outcome isn’t rewarding enough no one will choose it.
[…] Like Judge Smalls says famously in the movie Caddyshack, “Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too!” It’s easy to point a critical finger at someone who doesn’t want to flip burgers. The question remains, though, if there aren’t enough “middle class” jobs out there, someone has to work minimum wage jobs, and what is society supposed to do with those people? Are they simply supposed to exist and subsist until they keel over dead with no health insurance and limited access to care? I think the OWS movement wants to know what’s going to happen to people like my little buddy Mediocre Fred. […]
[…] I still await for someone, maybe even a conservative, to comment on Mediocre Fred and his status/fate within our current societal context. You remember Fred, don’t you? […]
Warning….SUPER, EXTRA LONG!!!!! (2 full pages in Word, but hopefully worth it)
…..and as you requested, written by a conservative, well mostly conservative. 🙂
Very thought provoking post. I very much agree with Stevebetz’s brief opinion. I know many Mediocre Freds and Mediocre Wilmas who have never had or have lost their ambition and are like automatons going to work every day and not deviating from the routine to better themselves. As a rebel, I have a hard time relating to them, except when I am feeling depressed and that does not last for too long. I am angered by welfare leaches and frustrated by the mediocres who don’t try. I admit to being jealous of the super rich and at the same time being disgusted by the ones who don’t choose the philanthropist path (my life-long career goal). My sympathies and support go out to the other rebels who continue to wade through the muck and mire, stumbling and falling, and still manage to get somewhere.
Let me introduce you to … my dad, Bill! Sorry, I don’t do fake examples well. 🙂
Bill was the oldest boy of a second set of kids born to his dad’s second wife. His mom died when he was 7 and his dad died when he was 17. Bill, who was a straight A student, quit school in his senior year to help support his siblings financially. His older (and married) half-siblings did not help. His dad taught him welfare was a last resort (my grandfather had accepted welfare only after losing his foot in a railroad accident, so my dad was already living in poverty). My dad was young and healthy and smart. First he tried the Navy. Eight weeks into that he was 4F’ed, discharged honorably because of a medical condition they missed during his initial medical eval. Not even seeing welfare as an option he went to work at a nuclear power plant. This was back in the 60s, when that was a very unsafe job, but it paid. He married and had 3 kids. All the time he worked for the nuclear power company (15 years) he took every training class they had available and finished his GED. He slowly advanced within the same company into more lucrative and technically challenging positions and made decent enough money that he went from poor to lower middle class. He was now able to afford to build a house with his father-in-laws help. They built it, not a contractor, on land my dad bought from his FIL. While my genius (mean that literally, he was smart) dad was struggling financially his brother was helped through college and became a NASA engineer. My dad was not jealous, he was proud of his brother. Somewhere along the way the house he built was foreclosed on and hard times hit, but he still did not take welfare; he took another position with his company in a far away city and was glad his family could come too. Then he was wrongfully fired after 15 total years of loyalty for a mistake that was made by another guy on my dad’s day off. My dad was disappointed but showed no anger, he just shook his head and moved on. For the next few years he did many crazy jobs, such as working on an oil rig for 3 months. Eventually he went to work for a different nuclear power company for less pay than the oil rig, but he could be home, even though home became another state. So he worked for many more years and raised his three kids, until he got “crapped up” (too much radiation) and was immediately canned with no workmen’s comp. For the first time, my dad went on unemployment (when the max benefit was 6 months). I was 16 and my minimum wage job went to help the family survive. We worked as a family – no food stamps, or any other welfare. My dad was forced to change careers, but did not complain. He just took the training he needed to get and finally got a job in a new career. He eventually became the store manager and all his employees love him because he was fair and kind and made reasonable expectations from his workers. My parents were never rich, but my dad was a success. Why, because he raised a strong family and taught them values and never gave up, until he got cancer. He died when he was 60 years young and left his widow, who for most of their married life did not have to work, with just enough life insurance and retirement that she does not have to work and can devote her remaining years to her church (her choice). Whenever big issues come up, like her A/C breaking, us kids pool funds to help, as it should be.
Adding to Bill’s success is the success of his kids. His oldest daughter went to college and even though she did not use that degree, she has a nice factory job and was able to buy her own house. The middle son went into the military and now has a large family of his own, owns his house and runs his own garage. Bill’s youngest, me, went into the military (after having my first child, there’s a story there); finished 2.9 degrees in 20 years and paid off the loans completely; worked various jobs and second jobs during the time I was a single mom (both during the marriage and after the divorce, dare you to ask about that later); surprisingly found a second husband who had ethics like my dad and ex-FIL; homeschooled three kids, two with special needs, while my husband struggled to keep us afloat as a single wage family and was able to buy our home; and now, with the last child graduating, I am starting to embark on my second career, as soon as I figure out what it should be… Already a success and striving for more successes.
All the never-give-up or accept the status-quo Bill’s out there are my concept of the true American and the way we should all strive to be; not the mediocre, doesn’t give a sh*t, and has no initiative Freds or the “forever” welfare leaches whining at how tough life is, also not making the effort to get ahead. We are the typical American in my estimation, or rather, what one SHOULD be. We all struggle to grab at that American dream, and are happy with what we have, even though we still try to gain more wealth for our kids’ sake.
Who cares if we never become rich, as long as we love ourselves, make choices that don’t cause us sleepless nights, and love our families. Being rich is a dream, and like all dreams, can become a nightmare too. Who knows what part of their soul a rich person has given up to become rich. Maybe they are lucky and made it soul intact and maybe not. I am not going to steal from the rich (through unfairly higher taxes) and use the fact that they may be soulless jerks as the justification (which, I admit, unfoundedly calling them that is a form of jealousy in disguise). That is not the way I was raised. So, I let the rich live their lives and I live mine. That does not mean that I am going to stop trying to work my way into the rich world. If I never become rich, I am still a success on so many other levels. If I do become rich, be assured I will not do anything to lose my soul along the way.
On the other poorer hand, those that are continually on welfare are stealing from my family. We pay 27% of our taxes and a lot of that goes to support a welfare system that is over-inflated with people who should not be there. I understand hard times and temporary assistance for needy families. I approve of that kind of welfare. The welfare thieves are the mom who has six kids by five different men in order to get more money from the government and uses parenthood as an excuse not to work, or the person who while unemployed is not looking for a job at least four hours each day and spending another three or four trying to improve himself so he is more employable. There is so much free training available that is not used.
I hope you were able to make it to the end of this monologue without falling asleep. I also hope you understand me and other conservatives better.