RAGGED RON

In keeping with yesterday's post about the Establishment Republican view of what ails us economically, here's Ron "Can you believe I beat Feingold? Me neither!" Johnson explaining why the minimum wage is just fine where it is:

JOHNSON: Bottom line: when you’re a good worker you don’t stay at minimum wage for long. Trust me on that. (Crowd laughs)

It’s not universal. It’s not universal, but trust me as an employer, as an employer I certainly didn’t want to lose good employees. And so you actually have a better marketplace. And so if your employer is not paying you good wages and you’re a good worker, you go look for other places. Now that’s hard to do, that’s hard to do when we have such high levels of unemployment. But again I would get back to we don’t have a very attractive place for business investment.

To summarize, being a "good worker" means that you'll make more money. If you are stuck at a low paying job, by implication you are a Bad Worker. Bad! We do that outside, mister.

When I hear logic such as this I always wonder…do people like Gingrich and Johnson actually believe that this is the way the world (or at least the economy) works? That the job market and wages are as described in Chapter 3 of a junior high economics textbook? Or do they realize that the worldview they're promoting is ludicrous but do it anyway because it's politically expedient? If it's the former, from where did this understanding of the economy arise? In Johnson's case it certainly isn't from personal experience; he married into a rich family that put him at the top of the family business. I guess that was his reward for being a Good Worker.

I reference Horatio Alger often on here – he of the classic 19th Century juvenile literature exemplified by Ragged Dick, wherein plucky, bootstrap-pulling protagonists rise from vagrant or shoe shine boy to powerful socioeconomic status using nothing but their own "luck, pluck, and diligence." The reason I so often reference him here is that his oversimplified worldview, packaged and aimed at children (today we'd call him a Young Adult author, although that genre is now known as Teen Paranormal Romance) as it was, perfectly summarizes the modern conservative understanding of social class, labor markets, economics, and the state. Everyone who works hard makes it! The world is a fundamentally Good place and it will reward the deserving! A magnanimous rich or powerful person will notice your outstanding qualities and pull you up the social ladder!

Alger is widely scorned today, much as we can assume that modern authors aiming at tweens will be scorned by future generations. However, America during the Industrial Revolution was a ready market for his literature – simple, inspirational stories intended to make young people feel like life might hold something other than misery for them. But his books were stories, not empirical studies. Even Alger himself, ever the chipper fellow, understood that his fiction for kids was not an accurate representation of how the world really worked. Yet here we are more than a century later and the gospel of wealth and social mobility in a classless society has become a rare trope in fiction…but a disturbingly prominent one in real life, if the attitudes of our ruling class are any indication.

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34 Responses to “RAGGED RON”

  1. Owen Says:

    What's particularly brilliant is how he acknowledges his argument is rubbish because of the unemployment rate but ploughs ahead with it anyway and hopes no one notices.

  2. Arslan Says:

    FIRST!!! All you in the Western hemisphere can suck it! Because I'm posting from the future.

    Anyway, my suggestion is that they MUST not truly believe this kind of nonsense, because if that were the case they would not have achieved their position in life. There is the crap the rest of us are taught in school, and then there's what they teach you in business school, which in this context is basically squeeze as much as you can out of the employee for as little as possible.

  3. Arslan Says:

    Uh…ok…SECOND!!! Owen's probably in Australia or something.

  4. DiTurno Says:

    Actually, I think you're oversimplifying Alger: while the heroes do succeed because of pluck and sticktoitiveness, there's usually an element of luck. If I remembering correctly, Dick in "Ragged Dick" rescues a drowning child and someone who sees that offers him a job.

    So in many ways, Horatio Alger is less of a reactionary than the mouthbreathers in the modern conservative movement.

  5. Jude Says:

    These people are actually worse than Alger; he admitted that luck had a part to play in his chracters. Indeed, every single protagonist he created needed a wildly improbably stroke of luck to succeed, Ragged Dick included.

    In Johnson's view (or the bullshit he peddles to us plebs), luck doesn't even enter into it. It's all about diligence–fuck pluck and luck. No, there's no element of chance, peasant; if you work hard, you'll be rewarded. No rewards? Clearly you are a slothful and undeserving sinner.

    Just that simple, just that stupid, and just that detrimental to the country as a whole.

  6. buckyblue Says:

    They have to believe this because it keeps up with their opinion that they made it on their own. Ron Johnson literally believes he made all of his money on his own, father-in-law be damned. Started reading 'Outliers' by Gladwell. Just finished the first few chapters but his point up until now is basically, if you 'made it', you were lucky to have some amazing opportunities that you were successful in exploiting. Even Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Well worth the read and goes against everything Newter and Ronnie are saying.

  7. Jude Says:

    DAMN YOU DITURNO!

  8. c u n d gulag Says:

    And Lord know Johnson made money the old fashioned way -(No, not the oldest fashioned way, which is being born into it) – he married into it!

    Now, why didn't I think of that?

    If not that, maybe I should have chosen a richer dick to penetrate a rich vagina, so my personhood would have started in some velvet lined womb-room.
    Life is, after all, full of choices!
    My bad…

    And, outside of the truly insane Conservative (but I repeat myself) politicians, most of them know better.
    But their entire political livelihood depends on selling snake oil to the rubes. (Only rubes and idiots – but I repeat myself again – vote against their own best interests).

    And if there are two things that there's NEVER a shortage of – it's political grifters peddling snake oil, and rubes with heads even emptier than their wallets.

    At least the Romans could blame lead in their water. What do we blame, talk radio and FOX News?

    I know – blame it on the fluoride in the water!
    It may have hardened our teeth, but not to the extent that it apparently hardened our hearts and heads.

  9. Darby Withers Says:

    "When I hear logic such as this I always wonder

  10. Darby Withers Says:

    …do people like Gingrich and Johnson actually believe that this is the way the world (or at least the economy) works?… Or do they realize that the worldview they're promoting is ludicrous but do it anyway because it's politically expedient?"

    No, no, no, you are thinking like a sane person. There is a third option: This is an argument they put forward to mask the REALLY crazy shit they believe, which is probably something like this…

    "God takes care of each man, so that the lower classes should not raise themselves above the higher classes, like Satan and the first man who tried to rise above their proper status. " –(St. Hildegard, 1957)

    1957!

    http://www.traditioninaction.org/religious/n032rp_SocialClasses.htm

  11. ladiesbane Says:

    Let's also consider that during the Industrial Revolution's heyday in England, the Magna Carta was in tatters. The best chance the Occupy movement has is to follow the Chartists — but they seem to lack long-term goals and focused leadership. (I don't mean organizers.)

    But Ron Johnson and other bootstrappers have something in common with most of the liberal anti-establishment types I know: their beliefs fell in line with their experience and their urges. Anecdotal evidence may be weak on paper, but nothing means more to the person who experienced it. Johnson might truly be a super-boss, promoting and enriching the lives of all his workers. It doesn't mean all bosses would do the same.

    And he might be a boss who never gives a dime raise, since no one can ever work hard enough to earn it. People often learn only the lessons that fall in line with their existing desires. Two people can experience the same event and take away opposite impressions. We often see what we want to see. Just as with religion, good people see the good, and selfish/greedy people take away a license to steal.

  12. DES Says:

    @DiTurno: Dick in "Ragged Dick" has the good sense and discernment to rescue a RICH man's child. As several other have pointed out, biological and/or marital proximity to wealth seems to markedly improve one's bottom line; lacking either of these options, Dick was successful in securing a wealthy man's undying gratitude. He then parlayed this unbelievable stroke of luck into a better life for himself.

    Oops, did I say luck?

  13. IR Says:

    "The world is a fundamentally Good place and it will reward the deserving!"

    Wrong. They don't believe that it's a fundamentally "Good" place. Instead they believe it's a fundamentally fair place. Or in other words, they believe in the Just World Fallacy.

  14. Sarah Says:

    Wrong. They don't believe that it's a fundamentally "Good" place. Instead they believe it's a fundamentally fair place. Or in other words, they believe in the Just World Fallacy.

    And then when anybody dares to complain about, say, somebody who *does* work hard and can't get by (like that lady from yesterday who worked as a waitress and cashier until she was EIGHTY YEARS OLD) they say "life's not fair." Bastards.

  15. Monkey Business Says:

    The CEO says "I will take 50 cents of this dollar, because I'm the CEO." and the board agrees, because the CEO picked the board.

    The Vice President says "I will take 25 cents of this dollar, because I support the CEO." The CEO agrees, because the VP is his guy.

    The Director says "I will take 15 cents of this dollar, because I do good work." The VP agrees, because it's easier than firing him.

    The Manager says "I will take ten cents of this dollar, because I directly manage people and it's hard work." The Director agrees, because he used to be a manager.

    The Employee asks " May I have a penny, so that I might feed my family, send my kids to college, or pay off my student loans or credit cards?"

    The CEO, VP, Director, and Manager all reply "No, it would mess up the wage scale."

  16. johnsmith1882 Says:

    @buckyblue:

    i just finished 'outliers', too. we're like gladwell pals! (compelling read, all kidding aside) i thought of the same thing when reading this post (gladwell shows that the alger stories are a myth, a smokescreen for the rubes to act against their own self-interest; even the rockefellers of the world needed boatloads of luck, being the right age at the right time, in the right place, etc.), but i come to the opposite conclusion.

    there is just no way that these guys believe their own rhetoric. a) because they've never worked a day in their lives, and even a doofus like johnson has to be able to see the conflict, and b) it's all just a smokescreen for the rubes, so they act against their own self-interest. 'work hard, and you will be rewarded, just like me, who married into money!'

    the problem is, the rubes eat this sh!t up. cuz it's those 'other' people, you know who i mean, that are lazy, and inherently bad. it's all part of the 'get the poor white folks to direct their anger at the poor brown folks, instead of who is really fleecing them' plan. the poor white folks _want_ to be misled, because, well, if the poor brown folks aren't at the very bottom, who is?

  17. johnsmith1882 Says:

    @johnsmith1882:

    there was recently a study done, to this effect, that i can't find on the intertubes right now. basically, the lower you go down on the income ladder, the higher the support for tax cuts for the rich. the poor white folks who only have the poor brown folks beneath them economically, are all for income disparity, because at least _someone_ is poorer than them.

    "if god didn't want them sheared, why did he call them sheep?"

  18. johnsmith1882 Says:

    @c u n d gulag: i see that you've already covered the rubes. well, i agree. by the way, you comment on many of the blogs i read, too. if bucky and i are gladwell pals, you and i are blog buddies. the timmy tebot thread on lgm the other day was a classic (i use a different name over there), the one commenter arguing with every other poster; it's like reasoning with a 'winger.

  19. c u n d gulag Says:

    johnsmith1882,
    I keep the same moniker at all sites so that, just like anything I write that people might like, when I inevitably say something stupid, that can also be attributed to me, too. It keeps me in line, almost like using my real name.

    And that Tebow (all rise!) thread was a classic!
    And, while I can hardly wait for his inevitable fall from "God's" grace, in the meantime, that praying, dying-duck pass throwing, fool, and the MSM assholes who cover him, are an endless source of amusement.

    See ya around!

  20. Rick Massimo Says:

    "To summarize, being a "good worker" means that you'll make more money. If you are stuck at a low paying job, by implication you are a Bad Worker."

    Johnson: "And so if your employer is not paying you good wages and you’re a good worker, you go look for other places. Now that’s hard to do, that’s hard to do when we have such high levels of unemployment. But again I would get back to we don’t have a very attractive place for business investment."

    Translation: And if you ARE a Good Worker stuck at a low-paying job, go get another one. If you can't find one, give your bosses another tax cut until they has so much money in their pockets that they literally don't know what to do with it besides give you a good-paying job. Because this has totally worked before.

  21. johnsmith1882 Says:

    @c u n d gulag:
    yeah, i'm in a bit of a transitional phase with my screen name. this one is getting stale, the new one just 'pops'. i've been keeping this one where it's already registered, and starting up with the new one elsewhere. would like to say that it's because of continuity and accountability, but really it's because when i've tried to change it, the comment filter flags it and leaves my comments in blog limbo. and my comments are each and every one solid gold; i owe it to the world to ensure that they all see the light of day.

    anyway, in the spirit of continuity and accountability, i'm 'proverbialleadballoon'. (see the symmetry with the double l's and o's, the first set melting the words together like creamy goodness? the way the d and the b mirror each other? it's beautiful, i tell you, goddamn beautiful!)

    as for timmy, he was amusing until the bears gave the game away on sunday (i'm a bears fan, and haven't been this p!ssed about a bears loss since the super bowl (okay, he's still amusing, just a lot less so this week)). the media trying to tell me that he is a majestic condor is what is so annoying, when empirically he is so obviously a duck.

    sorry to derail the thread, ed. …and now back to the rubes and the lies they like to believe.

  22. D.N. Nation Says:

    Ron "Can you believe I beat Feingold? Me neither!" Johnson

    …because Russ Feingold ran a dogshit campaign, then retired in shame. Coward.

  23. Andrew Says:

    I'm a good worker, and I make six figures.

  24. sluggo Says:

    Spoiler alert: Tim Tebow is the Anti-Christ.

  25. Jimcat Says:

    Andrew says:

    "I'm a good worker, and I make six figures."

    Well good for you. For every one of you, there are about a hundred who work as well as you do and make a lot less.

  26. Southern Beale Says:

    It is the Great Republican Disconnect. I sorta wrote about it today in answer to Gene Marks' "if I were a poor black kid I'd study hard and work hard" BS.

    The problem is that conservatives are really still drunk on that American Dream-flavored Kool Aid. If you work hard and get a good education you will succeed, you will triumph! Except .. you won't. If you work hard you'll climb the ladder! Except .. you won't. The mechanisms for ensuring a degree of fairness has been under assault in this country for a generation. Things like unions and affirmative action and Pell Grants and Head Start programs have been hacked away at for 30 years by the mighty hand of the Free Market. Meanwhile, the plutocrats keep selling that "just work hard and you'll succeed" line, but we have fewer and fewer Horatio Algers to show for it.

    The inherent hypocrisy of this worldview is not lost on the people. It's why they're taking it to the streets. It's why Frank Luntz's merry pollsters had to tell the Republicans to STFU with their Occupy Wall Street mockery.

    My only conclusion is that, this is how empires die. Perhaps, this is how conservatism dies. But something needs to step up and take its place. I don't like the plutocracy I'm seeing.

  27. Sarah (aka Teen Services Librarian) Says:

    Couldn't finish reading after you called Alger a YA novelist. Anyway, Alger would NOT be classified in YA, he'd be middle grade at best (or more likely, kids chapter book.) I won't get into responding to the rest of the snideness about YA lit. Not worth it.

  28. Chris Says:

    JOHNSON: Bottom line: when you’re a good worker you don’t stay at minimum wage for long. Trust me on that. (Crowd laughs)

    Because soon, greedy bastards like myself will ship the job overseas! (Crowd laughs)

    I mean, wages have been stagnant for decades: yeah, they'll go up! (Crowd laughs)

  29. Ed Says:

    I apologize for mischaracterizing the intended audience of Alger's fiction.

  30. freeportguy Says:

    Funny, because on the other hand, former MLB manager Leo Durocher said "Nice guys finish last".

    So which one is it: Work hard and you will succeed, OR it takes an SOB to succeed?

    Actually, neither is THE recipe to succeed. It always depends.

    But for crying out loud, the GOP should stop spreading the friggin myth of the reward meeting the effort. We've all seen enough of "it's who you know" to know better.

  31. Chicagojon Says:

    (today we'd call him a Young Adult author, although that genre is now known as Teen Paranormal Romance)
    Awesome — great throw in on a quality post

  32. Ellie Says:

    As someone who has spent more than my fair share of time around rich people, my take is that you hit on the main issue with the word "Gospel".

    Yes, the kind of rich people to whom you refer really do beleive that Hard Work = Success (and also that Lack of Success = Proof You Didn't Work Hard, kinda by definition). They beleive this the same way that religious people believe in God and whatever dogma they've subscribed to. Things like experience and evidence are irrelevant, because they have nothing to do with Truth. There is an Amerian religion of capitalism (or at least a version of capitalism), and the Hard Work = Success equation is just one of its Truths. Period. You or I might question the One True Faith and/or various tenants (and employ our silly "facts"), but by definition, that means we're heretics, and cannot be trusted.

    Really, it is that way. I went to school with people like this. I don't think they're lying – I think they Believe.

  33. Doug M. Says:

    Am I the first person to point out that Horatio Alger was gay as a spring lamb? Hm, apparently so.

    Most of his books involve handsome young men who work hard, are honest, apply themselves… and have the great good luck to encounter a kindly older man who takes a friendly interest in them, appreciates their wonderful qualities, and gives them a much-needed helping hand up the ladder. Or, in 21st century parlance, it's about sugar bears and twinks.

    (The gay thing isn't speculation, btw — Alger lost a pretty good job over it.)

    Doug M.

  34. Nancy Irving Says:

    Ed, if by any chance you haven't read Nathanael West's "A Cool Million," I think you'd really enjoy it. It's funny if you've never read "Ragged Dick," but hilarious if you have.