Chris Matthews is barely tolerable, but if your stomach feels strong today this six minute Hardball clip is interesting viewing. Matthews sits between a Heritage Foundation drone (appropriately named, as you will see, James Sherk) and an absolutely incoherent liberal d-bag as they debate unemployment.

Having already insulted him, I have to give Mr. Sherk a little bit of credit. He did as well as possible with an argument that inspires absolutely no sympathy. He refers to published studies and evidence more than the typical right-wing talking head, keeps his temper, and comes off as something better than Satan's butt boy. That's more than most of the Heritage/Cato/PNAC bobbleheads manage. In particular I think one aspect of his argument has merit: unemployed people may – although do not necessarily – limit their job search to jobs they consider "good enough" for them.

There is some truth to this, although there's no reasonable way to measure it. If I became unemployed, I would not start sending out applications to Burger King. I'd likely say "I have a goddamn Ph.D., and in light of the 20 f'n years it took me to obtain it I am going to hold out for a job that puts it to use." In other words, Sherk is correct in one respect. The availability of unemployment benefits (assuming I qualified by being laid off) would keep me from taking "any old job." If I had six months of benefits, I would look for an academic job for six months. When it ran out and the next step was eviction, then I'd swallow pride and see if Wal-Mart needs a cart wrangler. I don't think I'm exceptional in this regard. The world's lawyers and MBAs and accountants aren't likely to start delivering pizzas the moment they lose their jobs.

Where the wheels fall off (circa minute 4 in the video) the argument is the proposed solution. It's so ridiculous that Matthews' laughter obscures about 30 seconds of the exchange. If you can't watch the video, Sherk brings back Ronald Reagan's favorite remedy: telling out-of-work people that they need to move where the jobs are. Let's briefly overlook the bleedingly obvious impracticality of such advice (as if unemployed people can afford a cross country move) and look at the more troubling implication.

Sherk makes a big mistake by combining this remedy with the argument he's presenting here. Note that he is not saying people should move to Nebraska (his example) to get equivalent jobs – teachers getting laid off in Ohio and finding teaching jobs in Omaha. He is arguing both that people should take whatever job is available AND they should be willing to move to do it. So, as Matthews guffaws, when an Applebee's opens up in Denton, Texas unemployed people in New York City should be willing to move there for the job.

And this is why he ends up looking like such an ass. Not only is it depressing to think that we've come to this as a nation, but how does anyone work up the gumption to tell people, either in person, on TV, or in Heritage Foundation white papers, that this is the course of action they need to follow? How can a six-figure foundation fellow in the Beltway say with a straight face that people need to start moving across the country for minimum wage jobs?

I guess it's pretty easy to do this, apparently, given how common it is becoming. I generally do not subscribe to the empathy fallacy, the argument that a person needs to experience someone else's life to intelligently comment on it. In my field, for example, it's not well-received when white people do research on black or Latino politics. Even among people smart enough to know better there is a "What can you really know about black voting behavior?" attitude. This is patently ridiculous. My point with this example is that I don't believe that the media or politicians need to be minimum wage peasants in order to understand us little people. Any reasonably thoughtful person, even the millionaires in the Senate, can understand the problems that unemployed and/or low-income people face if he or she is willing to sit down and think about it.

The problem, I suppose, is that part about being thoughtful and willing to think because the Beltway elites are getting unreasonably comfortable giving edicts to those of us in the lower castes, edicts that belie their privileged status and ignorance of what life is like for the bottom 99%. Whether it's Mika Brzezinski (born into the political elite, and I can only assume embarrassing the hell out of her father) telling the little people that they need to "get used to" having Social Security cut or Congressmen turned gubernatorial candidates claiming that government needs to tighten the screws on food service income because waiters are making $100,000, haughty politicos and pundits with six- (or seven-) figure incomes really shouldn't be telling us what kinds of sacrifices we should be happy to make.

Mika Brzezinski doesn't give a shit if SS is cut because she can fund her own retirement 10 times over. Tom Emmer has no idea what a waiter makes (in Minnesota, apparently the average for full timers is under $19,000) because he hasn't had a real job in 20+ years. These facts being true of almost every elected official and media celebrity, why can none of them draw the conclusion that discretion is the better part of valor? "Maybe I shouldn't lecture people who depend on SS about why they should get used to cuts so that my income bracket doesn't have to pay more in taxes." "Maybe someone who makes $200,000 per year on the books as a Congressman shouldn't go after people who serve coffee to stoners at Denny's for minimum wage." "Maybe as a 'fellow' who makes six figures to sit on my ass at a wingnut welfare foundation and occasionally to babble on TV shouldn't be telling unemployed professionals that they need to suck it up and work at Chik-fil-A."

These are all entirely reasonable thoughts that, with a minimum of introspection, a reasonable person might conclude. Unfortunately the wealthy, the elite, and the conservative – and often the three overlap – lack shame and believe that it is their god-given right to lecture people who aren't as wonderful as them, dispensing advice that they would never follow. "My advice is for the little people – I'm different" used to be the kind of argument that would force a public figure to start keeping the company of bodyguards. Now we've relabeled it "common sense" and it is one of the many weapons wielded by the half of the working class who think they will benefit if they kill the other half as ordered.

Be Sociable, Share!

38 thoughts on “GALL”

  • HoosierPoli says:

    It's not surprising at all, really. For the "invisible hand of the free market" to work in the JOB market, labor capital has to be perfectly fluid. Now, it's pretty obviously NOT, so these glibertarians are annoyed at the unemployed people for screwing up their macroeconomic models.

  • I think someone who has not experienced poverty would be able to sympathize with the plight of the poor by "sitting down and thinking about it" (and there are some aids to doing that if one finds it necessary; "A People's History of Poverty in the United States," which I used to write one of two papers on poverty last year, comes immediately to mind). The problem is that millionaires, congresspeople who keep getting re-elected, and especially millionaire congresspeople who keep getting re-elected have absolutely no incentive to expend energy towards that sympathy. And frankly, looking down on other people makes them feel good, a little bit like high school all over again.

    Don't ask me to explain libertarians/republicans/teabaggers who are unemployed or working multiple minimum wage jobs and lecturing other people about why unemployment compensation and healthcare reform are so terrible, though.

  • There's another reason that "move where the jobs are" fails to solve anything. There's no such place in America with a surplus of jobs looking for workers. If a new Wal-Mart, or a new factory, or a new software development firm, opens up anywhere in the country, there are plenty of qualified, unemployed people right there to fill all the available positions.

    Again it makes me want to boot some heads: all the people talking about the laziness and moral failures of unemployed people are acting as though there is a job waiting for every unemployed person. There isn't.

  • There's something else you're missing here.

    Even at the worst of the current recession, unemployment for people with bachelor's degrees or higher was around 5%–or what economists refer to as "full employment."

    The lack of empathy doesn't just stem from the pundits/gasbags/think-tankers lacking personal experience with joblessness–it's that nobody they know has dealt with it, either.

    Remember your 4th of July post about self-segregating classes (which was excellent, by the way)? That's at work here, too.

  • Great post, but we're still just providing color commentary for an armchair revolution – meaning as ticked as we get – there is still no actual inscentive for "the masses" to do anything organized about things. Instead, we each sit in our easy chairs and holler at the TV. People don't educate themselves as to what is actually beneficial policy for themselves – even the concept of 'marginally better policy' provided by the watered-down version of liberal currently in power is still not sold – unless you count it being sold as "we settled for shit". Instead we watch something that feels comfortable – fear, because fear is a shared emotion – and if we're all afraid and paralyzed to do something then – damn – we're together and united… and not doing anything aobut it.

    Liberals who go on "balanced" news programs need to be on saying "You sir are a lying sack of shit with no morals. Your policies may provide some short term relief to the poor, but provide no infrastructure, no support, no maintenance. You are gutting services, forcing deeper class segregation, and otherwise ensuring that those who are currently have-nots are never able to break free from the yoke of the haves." Instead we try to be reasonable, provide an actual thoughtful conversation, and continue to let lies be broadcast and served to us as politics.

    Every once in a while you hear the "…first up against the wall when the revolution comes…" sort of statements – but we are too passive, too conditioned, too frightened, and too uncommitted to actually do more than just say those things. Because we have too much to lose today, we're willing to lose more tomorrow. Instead we just provide our color comentary to an armchair revolution which we are willingly losing.

  • One thing I've always wondered: Isn't it maybe better, economic policy-wise, for the abruptly unemployed to have a chance to hold out for whatever their definition of a 'good job' is? Having someone who's highly trained–whether they have a Ph.D or 20 years experience as an underwater welder–puts their skills to waste. I'm guessing Sherk would say they're welcome to keep looking for another teaching or welding job while they flip burgers, but taking that minimum wage job is bound to slow down their job search waaaay down–it's not like their new boss has any incentive to let a newly-trained employee leave, and they're not under any mandate to give employees time off to go to interviews. I'm not just speculating, this was been a problem for me when I worked in food service and tried to get out. And the longer you're out of a profession, the harder it gets to get back in. At 6 months, you're an unemployed welder. At 2 years, you're a former welder.

    And for people who don't have the education or experience to get out of shitty jobs, a sudden influx of formerly-white collar workers is bad, bad news. When the last 5 people a McDonald's hired have a BA or an MBA, there's a good chance HR will start skipping over applicants sporting a GED. You can see this in places with chronic over education and high employment–isolated college towns and Portland, OR come to mind.

    Human-interest stories about the crappy economy always focus on the former banker who now works as a gas station attendant. But what about the guy who can't get a job as a gas station attendant because all those jobs are now going to college graduates?

  • Clearly, Mr. Sherk has read roughly the first half of THE GRAPES OF WRATH, as that seems to be his paradigm for the solution to an American family's economic woes. Just as clearly, he hasn't read the second half, because he doesn't appear to know what happens after the Joads get to California.

  • tinamou,

    I think you have it wrong. The gas station jobs aren't, and won't, go to the overqualified candidates. They won't be hired–willing and able as they, perhaps, are–unless they lie about (that is: under-represent) their education or qualifications. Nobody hires an MBA to work at a gas station, or a MFA to wait tables. Why would you go through that expense and time to hire and train them when they'll just leave the second a better job (for which they are qualified and/or interested) opens up?

    Yes, here in sunny, silly Austin we see some of that same phenomena as in Portland, but mostly not; HR doesn't stop looking at GEDs (they're cheap). You will find the odd waiter that has an advanced degree, sure. Ask them if they listed all of their academic credentials when they got the job, though. Betcha most of 'em didn't.

  • Sator Arepo–I see your point, at least in the short term, but over the long run, I think the truth is somewhere in between–the percentage of Americans with college degrees has meandered ever-upward over the last few decades, and with it, the minimum qualifications for many jobs have gone up incremnetally too. Office drone & secretarial type listings often demand a batchelor's degree rather than a HS or associate's degree, unskilled workers are expected to have graduated high school, and skilled labor has slowly swung from on-the-job training toward a tech school first, employment later model. I think this downturn will push that trend a little further, as the unemployed people with MBAs settle into office jobs a tier or two below their last position, the people with undergrad degrees go down another notch or two, and so on. People who are highly educated aren't going to be unemployed forever, they'll just wind up pushing everyone below them down a notch.

    Also, I'm not sure that omitting some qualifications means you leave all those middle class advantages behind. College grads are much more likely to be white, know their way around business etiquiette, and so on. That's certainly not universal, but there are a lot of little cues besides a diploma that make an interviewer think 'Hey, I like that person. She seems like a real go-getter.'

  • Last comment, I swear…

    Ed, I bet Thinking Really Hard about the peons is what got Sherk to where he is. Dude needs to do some listening.

    No white political scientist is going to understand black voting patterns without doing emperical research. If she wants to delve into voter motivation, she's going to need to do a bunch of interviews. (I'd say the same is true for black political scientists wanting to understand macro level behavior, but I digress) Sitting in a wingback chair and trying to work it all out a priori is just going to fail, and since she's never even had any personal experience to draw from, she might fail in some spectacular ways.

    Similarly, I'm guessing Sherk hasn't had much experience being unemployed without good prospects. So he sat down and thought real hard about it, read some intro economics texts that say things will all work out so long as everyone makes 'rational' choices and people have perfect information. and decided people should go where there are jobs. But he obviously didn't talk to anyone in the real world, or he'd have noticed that he's full of shit. Like Jimcat said, there's no where in the US right now where business is booming and jobs are plentiful. And if he'd talked to anyone actually dealing with unemployment, he'd know that the whole 'rational decision' model isn't what's actually sensible for people to do. In a model, moving for a crappy job is better than staing put with no job. But in practice, there are all kinds of costs–the cost of moving, of giving up your friends, family, and professional network, etc. If only one person in a couple is unemployed, moving just to see if a state with 7% unemployment is better than one with 10% unemployment is especially stupid. I could go on, but I'm sure everyone gets the point.

  • Fuck the moneyed, starry-eyed believers in the Invisible Hand. Fuck them hard and fast with something the size and approximate roughness of a fire hydrant.
    I'm a poor SOB, and yeah, that's maybe my fault for not getting a degree, or single-mindedly pursuing a single job track since I started working at 16. And maybe many of of my fellow working poor are pretty stupid about how they spend their money(ok, no real maybe there, they are stupid) but none of that really fucking matters in face of reality.
    Crank down the screws of austerity just a quarter turn on the poor and they find themselves thinking, "Eat, or get evicted?"
    Tighten down those same screws on the top 10% and they're thinking, "Shit, Escalade or E-Class?"
    The two questions aren't comparable.

    Burn the rich for fuel, but sequester the carbon.

  • Bob Hopeless says:

    Great post, Ed. Have to second what Ben says above…what's most amazing is the degree to which the lower 99% seems inclined to take this offensive, sanctimonious finger wagging. Not that I am sure what the hell they're supposed to do about it when no one (least of all hopey changey) appears to be offering an alternative narrative.

  • Just wondering which upcoming year will become our 1789 and Mde. Guillotine comes out of retirement. I think even the elite of our nation are starting to crap their pants as they realize they have absolutely no control over the avalanche they set off.
    People don't have to starve to have a revolution ( America had the best- fed population on earth in 1776). It can come about when the masses begin to percieve the loss of something they had or was promised to them.
    Maybe 2 decades from now.

  • Crazy for Urban Planning says:

    As the worlds foremost unemployed urban planner for since december of 2008 (when i graduated with an m.a. and moved back home) i must say i concur with tinamou's thoughts about jobs. i have applied for hundreds of jobs from dec. 2008 to now and have gotten 25-30 phone interviews, flown to seattle for one interview, but not gotten a job (another interview on thursday afternoon for portland, or ironically enough).

    maybe my perspective doesn't quite touch on the ideas addressed with this (i.e. unemployed dude with lots of bills or debt coming searching for a job – i have no bills and can live with my parents until they die in theory). however, i've worked my ass off looking for a job, i spend 20-40 hours a week nearly every week looking at local government, state governments, county governments, even terrible – its fucking not easy to get a job anymore. would i take a job at wal-mart or mcdonalds? i've applied for quite a few places that i felt were ecologically conscious or would be fun to work at (book stores, sporting goods places, even best buy) – but fuck – Chris Mathews said this well – these positions get 250 applicants in Montana! I don't have any retail experience, so i'm screwed. i would even speculate that ed would have a hard time finding a job doing something like that.

    in any case – i spend too much time thinking about this topic – its time to drink beer and weep.

  • Nice post for Bastille Day. Storm the barricades!

    The problem is that the lower 99% are not informed about what the 1% want to do, so they don't think there is a reason to storm the barricades. We just mire further into our misery, certain we can't do anything about it and sit back down in our recliner.

    I think we all feel like I thought people in St. Petersburg looked like they felt when I visited in 1995–resigned to being screwed. Seriously. Everyone I saw there just had this look of grim resignation on their face–sure, the Iron Curtain fell, but so what? They're just getting screwed by new overlords. Same is true for us. Sad, ain't it?

  • maybe if Mika had been born in Russia, as her father was, rather than NYC after he had immigrated, she'd feel differently. Or not.

  • You trying to tell me that the American REvolution was driven by the masses?
    Time for a G&T re-ed camp for bb, yes?

    Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Adams^2, Hamilton, Hancock,…,n,n+1,

    These dudes don't strike me as working class heroes.


  • "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
    – Thomas Jefferson

    Yeah, that Jefferson guy would be totally down with corporate personhood and Wall Street excess.

  • Aslan Maskhadov says:

    Comrade, I fear that in America, the working class will storm the barricades to enthrone, not destroy, the power of the ruling class. The country is still too politically and historically illiterate. People, including liberals, have absolutely no idea what socialism means.

    And I hate to be a doomsayer but since others are predicting a permanent decline in America's standard of living(which is already far behind many other industrialized nations), it is possible that even without the high unemployment, America might undergo a change to something like contemporary Russia, where people are forced to flock to major cities(in Russia this means Moscow, where 80% of the wealth is concentrated) not so much to get a job but just a job with a decent salary and a chance for some kind of economic stability.

  • bb, who were the minutemen? Who made up the Contienental Army? The landed gentry? Merchants from Boston?
    Aslan: I did not say that the upcoming upheavel would take on a Leftist character- the first Right- Wing Christian Nationalist who adopts a populist pseudo- socialist platform will go very far.

  • "Now we've relabeled it "common sense" and it is one of the many weapons wielded by the half of the working class who think they will benefit if they kill the other half as ordered."

    David Simon hit on this during The Wire. The half trying to kill the other half as ordered know deep down that they aren't actually going to win anything, they just want to be that side that loses more slowly.

    Skyrocketing incarceration rates, the lack of real wage growth, the obesity epidemic, our general inability to avoid Paddy Chayefsky's vision of democracy in the age of electronic media…

    Even Bubba knows that the rust belt is coming soon to local theaters. If he's lucky, he's got a GOP congressman in his district protecting his right to work for $12/hr at a non-union job at Toyota or Subaru from those bastard union organizers in Detroit.

  • comX:

    The troops were led/driven by the people I listed (+/-)

    They were rich dudes that put it ALL (family, farm, and funds) on the line. If it had failed, they wouldn't have gotten around to hanging PFC Gomer Pyle, they would have hung Washington by his private parts and cut Jefferson's tongue out.


  • Yeah, well the rich dudes would'nt have got very far without that 1/3 rd of the American population- farmers, tradesmen, artisans- behind them, now would they?

  • With a firm grasp on the obvious…

    Many of the 1/3 risked their lives, many under live fire. PTL

    The signers of the DOI risked that in some cases (men like Washington), but they also risked their families and their fortunes. Many of them, even in victory, ended up physically broken from being on the run from the Brits, poverty stricken with their property destroyed, fortunes spent, and family members killed, imprisioned, or struck by illness linked to their stand.

    Men like Franklin lost family on ideological grounds. One of his sons was the last Tory Governor of NJ and ended up in England in 1781 never to communicate with his father again.

    Once you get past the possibility of giving your life, the leaders had more skin in the game than Farmer Brown and took that harder road based on their belief in the principles embodied in the DOI.

    John Hancock, for instance, was just about the richest man in Mass. He didn't need no stinkin' revolution.


  • I'm not saying the ringleaders weren't risking their lives and property by taking up arms against the Crown. What I am saying is you can't make a revolution with a couple dozen landowners and rich merchants. There has to be a broad base of support among the local populace or your revolution ends up being a pissant little rebellion. Let's just say I don't believe in the Great Man theory of history.

  • Ahhh yes, that symbiotic relationship between the leader and the led…they need each other for sure.

    What 's that old saying? "If you think you're a leader and there's nobody following you, you're just out taking a walk."


  • Revolution doesn't come from the top – the top is in power, why revolt against themselves?
    It also doesn't come from the bottom – the bottom generally lacks the ability (funds, discipline, planning) to organize effectively.
    Revolution comes from the middle – those near the top of the middle to be specific. Generally those that have the most "discressionary freedom" to lose. I'm making up the term discressionary freedom here. You need to be a large enough segment of the population, educated and have time. The ultra rich have this, but they don't have the driving force.
    So the aspirationally wealthy – those with the potential to be at the top but without the legacy and connections to be there are where revolution stems from.
    Realizing this, this is the crowd that the republicans target – bring a few of them up into the wealthy category, push for policies which benefit them more than the lower middle class and poor, and remind them that it was their hard work which got them this far – and that the poor are lazy. Now, where do they get their news from? Who frames and shapes their world?

    That's right – their the target audience of Fox News…
    And this – this is why there will be no revolution – because these are the people who could potentially drive something like this – but the reality is they are the best able to handle and weather any economic crisis.

    With that revolution in 1776, these folks were looking at the money flowing out of their country and into the hands of the British – and the rules were dictating and affecting their business interests… If Fox news existed in 1776, there would have been no revolution.

    So, if you want a revolution, elect a democrat, push social policy and goodness for mankind, and make the rich and the upper middle have to pay out some of their discressionary income to subsudize the poor. That will give you the revolution you are calling for… unfortunately, they'd be revolting to give us exactly what we are already stuck with.

  • "When it ran out and the next step was eviction, then I'd swallow pride and see if Wal-Mart needs a cart wrangler. I don't think I'm exceptional in this regard."

    Ed – You wouldn't get hired. You would have to lie, or at the least, withhold information about your experience. There are a couple factors at work here. 1) in good times, being overqualified is bad because the prospective employer would see you as not a potentially long-term committment. The money they spend training you would go to waste because you might get a PhD job quickly after starting. 2) You would also be seen a possible disciplinary problem in the sense that they would feel that you feel you are 'too good' for the job, whether or not that would ever happen. 3) In bad times you are competing with a lot more applicants who, no joke, are far more qualified to push carts around than you are.

    The only realistic choice would be another professional career, but that requires training and the small hope that the new job market is superior to the old one.

    Which makes the "them lazy unemployed" argument seem even more stupid.

  • I went to a talk at the Heritage Foundation two weeks ago on counter-terrorism. I felt very out of place, and I just had a feeling that people in there say "Thank you Jesus" every time they feel they do something special. They offered refreshments and food after the talk. I didn't touch a thing because I thought the food was there for a mass suicide, for Jesus!

  • Lili Santillo says:

    I am so happy I stumbled upon your site. I really found you by accident, while I was browsing on Yahoo for something else. Anyways I am here now and would just like to say thank you for a informative post and an all round inspiring blog. (I also like the theme/design), I don't have time to read through it all at the minute, but I have added your website to my favorites, so when I have time I will be back to read more. Please do keep up the awesome job!

Comments are closed.