From the MRW Water Cooler
Q:Well, I’ve already posted on unions, which could potentially be a contentious topic. So, I may as well go ahead and step right in it, since I already have my boots on. Another topic that’s been on my mind as I read the posts in this forum is: IMMIGRATION. Actually, I’ve been thinking more about illegal immigration and its economic effects, but legal immigration has an effect on the U.S. labor force, too. As my inability to sleep continued on Saturday night, I saw what I thought was a very interesting program on BookTV. Mark Krikorian and a panel at the American Enterprise Institute were discussing Krikorian’s book, “The New Case Against Immigration: Both legal and illegal.” You can watch the show here: http://www.booktv.org/program.aspx?P…&PlayMedia=Yes. The panel talked a lot about work and education. A lot of it was actually quite relevant to the types of things being discussed here. I’d love to hear the views of the forum when it comes to immigration (legal, illegal, whatever) and how you all seeing it impacting work in the US, and any potential movements or programs which may be inspired by mikeroweWORKS. Whaddya think? Thanks! WG
One of the points I try to make on Dirty Jobs concerns the forgotten benefits of doing “undesirable” work – both for the individual and for society. Figuring out how to be happy while being uncomfortable is one of life’s great challenges, especially in a culture that has come to equate satisfaction with leisure. So obviously, when I see a person doing a job that no one else envies, I see a “good thing.” I see something noble. But if I look closer to see what that person looks like, or whether or not he is a citizen, I stray from that basic observation, and into another conversation – i.e., this one. It’s not central to MRW or Dirty Jobs, but it’s certainly relevant. So here we go.
Personally, I think it’s a crime that a Canadian and a Mexican and a Syrian might be held to different standards when trying to become a citizen of this country. If we’re going to have rules, (and I think we should,) they ought to be universal. (How lenient or strict is yet another matter.) But the heart of the issue is not the “legality” of an immigrant, in my opinion. After all, we have remedies for law breakers, and the laws in question are on the books. We seem to be having trouble enforcing them however, and I think that’s due to the schizophrenic nature of our national identity. We are at odds with our own definition of the “American Dream,” specifically, with two competing desires.
1. The desire to participate aggressively in the world economy. We want to purchase from everyone, and import from everywhere. We want to sell our stuff for top dollar, and buy at rock bottom prices. As CONSUMERS, we have come to see this as our right, and we are loathe to compromise.
2. The desire to be comfortable, and see our children prosper. We want opportunities for our loved ones that match or exceed our own. We believe our standard of living must always be on the rise, and our definition of what a “good job” looks like has evolved to meet that expectation. As AMERICANS, we have come to see this as our right, and we are loathe to compromise.
There is a chasm between our desire to participate globally, and our desire to be comfortable. Unfortunately, we simply cannot play in the world economy without lowering our own standard of living. And yet we try. Over and over, we try. We are determined to maintain our quality of life while outsourcing our manufacturing base, trading with whomever we please, and still honoring the inscription on Lady Liberty. We can’t let go of anything. And yet, we are surprised by foreign sweatshops, tainted food, poisonous toys, and our own stubborn unwillingness to deal with illegal immigration.
Like so many other “problems,” the immigration issue is really a symptom of something else. In this case, a national identity crisis, and the creeping belief that Hard Work and Dirt are things we have earned the right to avoid. I wonder sometimes if the real “threat” of immigration has less to do with the “legality” of some workers, and more to do with the fact that so many are willing to sacrifice in a way that we are not?
The Hungarian grocer around the corner from my home in Baltimore worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for 25 years. Mr. Kovac came here legally. Then, he brought his entire family over, and most of his old neighborhood. He took responsibility for them. Made sure they learned the language. And he eventually prospered. How many Americans are willing to work like that today? How many parents today would see Mr. Kovac as a role model, and hold him up to their kids as an example of what they should aim for? The hard truth is this – our collective Work Ethic has been trumped by people who dream of a standard of living lower than that to which we aspire. Immigration, legal or otherwise, puts that reality right smack in our face. And we don’t like it. In fact, we resent it. We don’t like to be reminded that the world is full of people who are willing to work harder than us, in exchange for much less. What to do? Build a fence? Ship ’em back?
I admit, my sense of justice is offended by cheaters who fly under the radar and break the rules, especially when so many others have done it right. It sickens me, and if I could flick my fingers and end illegal immigration ended tomorrow, I would. But that wouldn’t change our insatiable desire to get paid as much as possible to work a cushy job in a safe environment that guarantees a good pension, decent health benefits, and enough money to buy whatever we desire for as little as possible. That is our standard. That is our expectation. That is our dream.
For those lucky enough to have such things – people like me, and hopefully you – there is not much to do on a day like this but count our blessings, and be grateful.
It sounds as though you think we as Americans should lower our standards in order to compete and deal with the world market. Am I reading this correctly?
No. I’m suggesting we adjust our expectations, if we’re going to trade with people who see things differently. Ultimately, the World Market will define terms like “value” and “quality” and “humane” in a way that reflects the collective attitudes of its participants. Look at it like a crowded classroom. Some kids are smart, others, not so much. In the end, there is an “average intelligence” in that classroom – a standard – and the teacher will proceed in a way that addresses the median. Likewise, there will be “standards” created by the combined players in the global economy. I’m pointing out that those “global standards” will affect our “national standards.”
Personally, I feel that the constant effort to better our standard of living is not just the right of every American citizen, but of every citizen on this planet. -platypusgirl6341
If we’re talking about adequate food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and education, I’m with you. But once that baseline is achieved, then what? At what point to we re-embrace thrift, and resolve to get by with less?
Why should we lower our standards? -platypusgirl6341
Because we are surrounded Platy – literally surrounded – by things we don’t really need, and can’t really afford. The average American has more debt than savings. We are so completely over-extended it boggles the mind.
I feel we should hold others to our standards or not deal with them at all.” I hear you. If you had a son in the aforementioned classroom – one of the smart ones – would you feel good about the fact he was enhancing the overall intelligence of the classroom, or would you feel anxious that his potential was being smothered because of all the dummies around him? Most parents, given the option, would want their son elsewhere.-platypusgirl6341
We have abolished common place child labor in our country, and yet gladly buy from countries that embrace it. Then we act all shocked and offended when some news story comes out about five year-olds working their fingers bloody in China, Pakistan, or some other country. Why do we even still deal with these countries then? Why not just say, “Until you get your act together and treat your own people at a standard that at least is humanitarian, we’re not buying your crap.” Because we are truly and deeply addicted to crap.
I feel America needs to take a stand against inhumane behavior, not lower our own standards to make us feel OK about it. -platypusgirl6341
Here, I think you’re talking about “ethical” standards. Earlier, I think you were referring to the basics – a “standard of living.” When I say “standards,” I’m referring to the consumer expectation we have in this country, and the way we define success and happiness.
It’s not right that we should ask or demand that someone sacrifice more then another person for a job. This is where legality becomes problematic. Not just because an illegal alien is willing to work for less pay and no benefits, but also because a company can force them to do just that.-platypusgirl6341
To my knowledge, no company can force an alien, legal or not, to do anything.
They have no system to protect them. They can’t complain, they can’t do much at all. They came here for a better life. Should they have a chance at a life that is better simply compared to what they came from or a chance at a life that is good by American standards?
If they’re here illegally, I’m not sure I care. If they have obeyed the law, I’m not sure it really matters. We all get to determine our own baseline “standards,” and we all have a past that makes them relative to our current situation.
People from countries with lower standards, historically, come to this country and do the work for less pay and less, or no benefits. Now, just as it was then, the answer isn’t to become resentful or lower our standards, the solution instead, I think, is to raise their standards.
Here, we might genuinely disagree. I don’t think it’s advisable, or really even possible, to raise the standards of another person. That can only be done by the individual.
Then what’s to stop these standards from rising out of control until nothing is good enough to meet them? Balance. It’s not workers and the middle class that are sending our economy into a tailspin with their highfalutin’ standards. -platypusgirl6341
From what I’ve seen and read, the middle class is choking on personal debt. The middle class is living in homes with interest-only mortgages, and driving late-model automobiles. The middle class has embraced neither austerity nor thrift. They have worked hard and spent harder to keep up with the Jones’s and completely accepted the notion that massive personal debt is OK. They are living beyond their means. The middle class might not have caused the economic tailspin we’re currently in, but they are not blameless, and they are not victims.
It’s the corporations who can spend less and make more by setting up their factories overseas.” -platypusgirl6341
And in so doing, create a cheaper widgit, which the American Consumer demands, right?
It’s the real estate moguls who sell the houses for hundreds of thousands more then what they’re worth because they want to make money faster.
And it’s The American Consumer who buys that house for hundreds of thousands more than he can afford, because he wants it, right? In general Platy, you are blaming the seller. But in every transaction, there is also a buyer. And plenty of blame for both.
That is a gross over-generalization, Mike. -platypusgirl6341
Guilty. Summing up the collective attitude of a debt-ridden nation is bound to lead to hyperbole. But I’ll stand by the gist of it, and sum it up like this – We tolerate a great many things in this country to maintain our addiction to the life we want.
We’ll trade with anyone, and turn a blind eye to all kinds of abuse.
We’ll accrue massive debt, both personal and national.
We’ll tolerate illegal immigration.
All of these things are a part of the admission fee to the quality of life we enjoy as the richest country on earth. Lowering our consumption standards doesn’t mean compromising our ethics. It means readjusting our desires. Someone needs to give us a new message. Someone needs to tell us to get by with less. Less debt, less square footage, less horsepower, less tuition, less calories, less interest, less everything. It’s not what we want to hear, and it certainly won’t get anyone elected. But it needs to be said.
Are we really that weak in moral fiber?
As a group, absolutely, positively, unequivocally, yes.
That we can’t make the decision to say ‘No’ to a country that abuses it workers and people because we don’t want to pay more?
Again, the evidence leaves no room for argument. The answer is most definitely a resounding and incontrovertible “yes.”
We can’t say ‘No’ to illegally employed factory workers because we HAVE to have the cheapest product?
That is so utterly and completely accurate that I would call it an unassailable truth.
I don’t believe that.
??Then I must assume that you are looking at a different set of facts. ??
I also don’t believe that ethics and consumerism are mutually exclusive.
I could maybe understand the belief that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but surely, you must admit that they are in the world we live in? Certainly in the world market???
If I go to Wal-Mart, I can almost certainly get whatever I want cheaper. I can even get products made in the US. But I’m helping support a corporation that freely deals with countries (namely China) who don’t give a rat’s behind about their workers and care even less about our consumers. Therefore, I don’t go to Wal-Mart.
You understand that you are the exception, right? Wal-Mart, whether you patronize them or not, is the largest retailer in the country. That simple fact helps confirm my answer to your first three questions. We can talk about whether or not that’s a bad thing, but we can’t argue about whether or not it’s true. The very existence of Wal-Mart and the extent of their success clearly reflect the qualities we most value.
I certainly think that America’s passion for quantity should be curbed, but we shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality, whether it is in a product or a person, a corporation or a country.
Platy, the point of all this to say that something MUST be sacrificed if we are going to stay and play in the world market. In this country, we aspire for high quality, low price, and very high standards for our workforce. To ensure all of those things, we play with various outside controls. The FTC, various consumer watchdog groups, the Federal Government, and many Unions, all exist to make sure their particular area of interest is not the one being sacrificed. The World Market has no such controls. And immigrants, legal or not, are workers of the world market.
PS- Good god, this thing’s freakin’ huge!!
You’re too kind
Mike so do me a favor and don’t use this one again. Technically and historically the Emancipation Proclamation did absolutely nothing.
Hi April, This, from The National Archives…
Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free a single slave, it fundamentally transformed the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.
From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery’s final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.
The EP addressed several objectives, and was not a perfect document. But it was absolutely transformational, and clearly linked to the “ethical scolding” put forth by The Abolitionist Movement – which was my only point.
My point is that ethical scolding’s, absent years of committed action and real consequences, are just a bunch of hot air and very easy for people to blow off.
We agree. However, I believe the examples in question all originated with an appeal of some kind, and a smack-down of the status quo. Of course, scolding is never enough to change behavior in and of itself, nor should it be. Jesus, Lincoln, Susan Anthony, MADD – they all needed to make a case to support their objective. And that’s easier said than done. To your point, most ethical scolds fail (Prohibition, Censorship, Blue Laws, etc.) because a) People don’t like to be scolded, and b) it’s easier to scold than to make a case. But the “scold” is always there. It’s the perceived, “high ground,” and very few arguments are won without owning it.
I don’t expect any sort of apology — you owe none. My point was that QVC, as you well know, is a company that primarily sells consumer goods of questionable value on easy credit terms.
What I know of my former employer, is that QVC developed one of the most brilliant business models I’ve ever seen. Like Wal-Mart, they are an easy target, but also a shining example of what we reward as consumers. (I will say in their defense, that value is subjective, and their credit terms are no “easier” than those of a major card.)
A former public face of this company now rails against Americans’ addiction to cheap crap and living beyond their means.
Crap. Am I railing? I don’t mean to. And if I am, I hope it’s not against crap. Trust me; I have no beef with crap. Hell, I like crap. I’ve built a career on crap. My real beef is with debt. Honestly, I have no objective in sharing my opinion other than to be understood. In fact, I’m answering questions with a level of candor that I’ve been told is probably suicidal. I always have. Look, I make my living on commercial television. I’ve represented many major brands over the years, and will hopefully continue to do so. In fact, I’d like to get a few to help pay for the Trade Resource Center. I understand that my position on consumer spending might seem a bit schizophrenic, or perhaps, the product of a guilty conscience. But I assure you, that neither is true. I like my Ford truck. I like my HP computer. But I would strongly discourage my friends from buying either one, if it meant assuming an amount of debt that was unmanageable. On the other hand, I firmly believe that our nation and our economy will prosper when we get back to the business of manufacturing quality widgets at a fair price right here in the United States, OR, when we remove the restrictions on “free” trade that leave American companies at a disadvantage. All I mean to say is that the real enemy of this economy is un-repayable, personal debt. And no one can control that but the consumer.
Like the philandering televangelist urging as all to repent, like the Philip Morris PR campaigns about the dangers of smoking, it is a delicious bit of post-modern irony.
And don’t forget the guys at Budweiser – “Drink responsibly.” You make a very fair point. What sort of “pitchman” goes around eschewing the evils of debt and conspicuous consumption, while prospering on commercial television? I’m not suggesting my position is prudent. Just honest.
Smartassery being my drug of choice, I made a crack about it. That’s all.
Don’t stop. Smartassery is welcome here. (Takes one to know one – am I right?) But I wonder Jeanine, what you would have said had I come out in defense of large, personal debt? What if I steadfastly protected the status quo of consumerism, and rushed to the defense of a system that not only allows for but encourages a level of debt that will never be satisfied? Would you not see me a just another shill towing the line, an empty suit, bought and paid for by the well-manicured, corporate hands that feed him? Given the choice, I’d rather be your dirty, schizophrenic, guilt-ridden, post-modernistic irony-boy.
This is a great thread, but I’m happy to let it go back to Kay’s original intent to discuss immigration — that’s a worthy discussion on its own.
Threads go where they go. This is still a good one, for all kinds of reasons.
The fact that he started the site on his own should count for a little. However, it is less about his sincerity than the sincerity of the rest of the people posting to this site. He is only one guy and while, yes, it is his site, the success of the site will be based on the sincerity, passion and interest of a far larger group. You don’t need a celebrity (D-list or otherwise) to have a vibrant site (although it undoubtedly helps draw attention to it). The community makes it vibrant and this site, even in its fledgling state, seems to have that in spades. It is the sincerity/passion/interest of the members who are working so hard to provide content to this site that is truly striking.
Well, there it is. I knew this thread would lead to something critical, and you said it PV. (Actually, Jeanine made some great points that I’ll circle back to before the last of the brandy kicks in, but this above paragraph is maybe the most prescient point to date.)
My genuine hope here is to help create a useful resource, and get out of the way. Sure, there will parts of MRW that revolve around the M and the R, but the nuts and bolts will not. I will do all I can to draw whatever attention I’m able, but after that, MRW will live or die on its own merit. It will have to. I don’t have the energy, or the credibility, to sustain a site like this. My name might be in the title, but I cannot be the driving reason to visit this destination. The issues are too big. The real story, if it comes to pass, will be about the genuine fans of a simple show that rallied behind a worthwhile idea and helped to make it real.
Thank you Potemkin Villager, for pointing that out. And how may ask, did you settle on such a mysterious moniker? It’s rather brilliant.
Doesn’t making a claim to the “high ground” presume that the person you’re trying to convince is on the “low ground,” and aren’t they going to immediately go on the defensive at such an assumption?-Jeanine
Yeah, but right is right, right? Take slavery, (again.) A hundred and fifty years ago, the country was split. Abolitionists took the high ground, to the outrage of the opposition. It got ugly. The abolitionists were seen as righteous, angry, sanctimonious, indignant, assumptive, and profoundly scolding. They were also correct, claimed the high ground, and eventually prevailed. Today, the scolding abolitionists are vindicated.
I’m in the middle of a heap o’ research on social epistemology and trying to examine the idea of socially-constructed knowledge. The world we exist in is literally -built- by socially-constructed knowledge, according to some philosophers. When a paradigm shifts, a la Thomas Kuhn, the world is created anew. But how do you get those little buggers to shift?
Talk, action, challenge, and example. (I don’t really know, but it seems reasonable.
I just don’t think ethical scolding’s, in the usual sense, work. I’ve been particularly looking at global climate change discussions and how people frame their ideas as they talk about it. It’s an issue with a HUGE built-in resistance factor. There are now PR firms whose job is to deliver the eco-soft-sell. Scolding is a big FAIL. Targeted interpersonal connections do better, some say.
By and large Jeanine, you and I are in violent agreement. My entire purpose in Brown before Green for instance, was to restate the green objective in terms not so paternalistic, or as you’ve been saying – scolding. Likewise, in an upcoming special called “Safety Third,” which will challenge the primacy of Safety First, and likely upset the apple cart in a fairly joyous way. But let me ask you – seriously, is there a better way to say “debt is bad” than just saying “debt is bad?” The goal after all, is not to merely slap the wrist of the irresponsible spender, but to use them as cautionary examples.
What’s bothering me about the scolding here in this board is that it quickly turns to finger-pointing.”Other people” have no work ethic. “Other people” don’t respect our laws. “Other people” aren’t raising their children right. It’s alienating, off-putting, and the exact wrong way to bring people on board with a message of hard work.”
From an advocacy standpoint, I think that you are right. Scolding is fundamentally unattractive. But sometimes a clear position needs to be taken. Part of fighting back against a dangerous and stupid ideology involves condemning the behavior. There are plenty of notions that deserve to be maligned, including bad debt. True, scolding may not convert the skeptical or the hard-headed, but it might help bolster those who feel the same, and help crystallize a platform. That’s important.
If I were master of this domain, I would stick to infrastructure and skilled trade’s development here, and leave alone the third rail of “values.” It packs a jolt.
Certainly, the Resource Center will do that. The conversation on the other hand, will go where it wants to go. I’d rather not control that.
“Crap” and “beef” used together twice in one short paragraph? Time for some hand-washing and maybe a call to The Beef Council.”
The Beef Council no longer takes my calls. Nor do the Turkey people.
You are preaching to the choir here, but when a celebrity (yes, dirty post-modern irony boy, there, you) goes beyond his fan base to lecture the little people about personal debt, I think it could be a hard sell.
You are correct, and I appreciate the reminder. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last three years, writing about the dangers of earnestness and celebrity blowhards mouthing off to whoever they can get to listen. I forget sometimes, that many people here may not have read my thoughts about such things. Foolish on my part. I’ve gone on the record early and often, to say that nothing seen on TV or written online should ever be taken at face value. There is no reason to take me at my word, or assume that any of my statements are sincere. They are, and I am, but saying so does not make it true, and I would never hope to “talk” you into something. By all means, be skeptical. Ideas should stand or fall on their own.
Listening to celebrity millionaire Rob Reiner talk politics makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon. And I mostly AGREE with the man. So it’s a tough thing, earnestness in celebrity-land. Good luck with that.
Excellent advice. I’ll take it.