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Workers, Public Schools, Tradesmen, and Justice

At 1:35 PM -0500 9/27/96, [email protected] wrote:

>If you want to refuse those who are too stupid or anti-social from Public
>Schools in order to improve the social or intellectual climate, you better
>a solution for the resulting cast-offs.

Believe me, I don't mean to be provocative (in a trolling sense), but "I
have a solution."

More students should, fairly early on, be "flunked out" of courses in the
"academic/professional track" and moved into _trades_. For example, the way
many European countries have outstanding vocational/trade schools. The
usual trades: machinists, woodworkers, auto mechanics, technicians of all
sorts, and so on. Few of these trades need, or even benefit from, courses
in history, mathematics (beyond simple algebra and a tad of geometry, not
the really neat stuff about proving Euclid's theorems in novel ways, the
things people like me excelled in, but which left many other students
shaking their heads and barely passing the class), etc. Most of the
academic subjects in high school are neither needed nor remembered.

(And I reject any of the common arguments that Americans need to learn
history, the Constitution, etc. Few of them remember a single word they
learned, and one might as well teach the basics in earlier grades and
dispense with meaningless lectures about how and when the Senate may invoke
cloture, how the Foreign Powers Act modified the 1877 Trade Act, and so on.)

As I look around me, here in Santa Cruz, I see hundreds of "homeless
persons.: We used to call them beggars, bums, panhandlers, winos, hobos,
and drifters. The people unwilling to get up in the morning for a boring
job, the people unwilling to take the donations they get and buy some new
clothes at the Salvation Army (I know people of both sexes who buy their
business clothes at thrift shops, at huge discounts, so I reject any of the
usual arguments that this won't work.)

When I see people working at Taco Bell, Burger King, gas stations, etc.,
and then I see the so-called "homeless," the situation is completely clear
to me. And, like pigeons, if you begin feeding the beggars, you'll have
more of them.

There's a further point to consider. In times past, many of the "marginal"
people had other kinds of jobs. Maids, gardeners, cooks, stable boys,
butlers, etc. (I'm not saying they were all subnormal, neurotic, etc., just
that many of them didn't fit into other sorts of jobs--like running the
town store, raising sheep, shoeing horses, and other "professions," such as
they were then--and working for others as maids and assistants of various
sorts was a kind of sheltered, almost "familial," kind of employment.
Shelter was often provided on-site, further aiding those who might find it
hard to cope with the outside "market."

These jobs have largely gone away. Partly because houses have gotten
smaller (compared to manor houses, for example), partly because of
automation and other technological advances (cars, refrigerators, etc.),
partly because of "egalitarian" sentiments that tend to discourage people
from either hiring maids or from seeing maid service as a longterm career.
(Getting back to an earlier point, that dingbat studying "Sociology 101"
and "History of Consciousness" at Valley Girl Community College is being
_told_ she's headed for a professional career, despite her lack of interest
in academic topics and her marginal abilities....there's no way someone
like her will think seriously of such a "low-class" job as a maid! Better
for her to cadge for spare change and deal some drugs on the side than do
something that demeaning.)

It has also become almost impossible to find good tradespeople. Stories of
good gardeners, babysitters, maids, and even roofers being "hoarded" by
Marin County or Beverly Hills millionaires are only partially exaggerated.
This has a lot to do with the limited supply, and also with problems of
work ethic, honesty, and such things, many of which have changed rather
dramatically in recent decades. Where once a worker in one's house could
mostly be trusted, despite the occasional reports of items of silverware
missing, today's workers are seldom to be trusted alone in the house.
Horror stories abound of "home alone" workers throwing parties, rooting
through the personal papers of their employers, and of robbing the houses
of whatever they could carry.

And the "nanny tax" and related paperwork needed to hire a person for even
a few hours worth of work has made much casual work (the "odd jobs" that
drifters used to get to earn enough money to eat) almost impossible to
arrange. (Every morning there are Mexicans lined up in the parking lot of a
K-Mart in a nearby town, with contractors seeking to hire temporary
laborers. The contractors know all the forms to fill out, if they bother.
Casual employers like me know they risk heavy fines if caught hiring
"undocumented workers," or failing to dot all the "i"s and cross all the
"t"s, even for a 4-hour job. So much for liberty.

For the last couple of weeks I've been hauling 70-pound stones to build a
retaining wall (don't ask me about the permits I should've gotten), ripping
up redwood deck boards, digging postholes for a new fence, and generally
doing a couple of hours of manual labor every day. While it has its
advantages, in earlier days I could've counted on providing some employment
for someone who today is "a homeless person." No more. They're not
psychologically prepared to do a solid (if unspectacular) job, as they've
been taught for all of their lives that they went through high school and
maybe a couple of years of college (and maybe more) so they could join the
professional ranks....when they see they really won't be joining the
professional ranks, and that they really don't want to make the sacrifices
to, they have nothing to fall back on.

So, in the "olden days," the social bargain was this: I'd spend some of the
money I'd accumulated in whatever manner I had and exchange it with some of
the tradespeople or laborers for their labor. A fair deal for both.

Now, we've got trash littering our highways, but nobody thinks seriously of
having prisoners pick it up (the "chain gangs" when I was a kid), or having
"welfare mothers" out picking it up, or having day laborers do the work.
Ditto for all sorts of other "infrastructure" work that's needed.

(I knew someone married to a honcho in CalTrans, the California Department
of Transportation, responsible for the freeways. He confirmed that "cheap
labor" is barred, by various union contracts negotiated over the years, and
that the starting pay for CalTrans workers is $30K a year...probably more
by now. So, "homeless people" are sitting around begging for spare change
and harassing passersby, welfare mothers are collecting welfare, AFDC, food
stamps, and WIC money for doing nothing except their specialty (as someone
noted, "welfare-powered bastard factories"), University of California
"History of Consciousness" (yes, a real major) graduates are waitressing
tables at local Santa Cruz restaurants (because they can't find employers
who want a "HofC" graduate, as with so many worthless majors), all the
while CalTrans is hiring "transportation engineers" for
far-more-than-market prices to pick up trash on highways. Anybody still
think things are not out of whack?)

My conclusion is simple: Tell people if they don't work, they won't eat. If
they do something others are willing to give them money to do, they won't
get money. They won't get "entitlements" from the government (= taxpayers,
= those who are working, = me and thee). Tell them that a college education
should only be pursued if one has a "calling" to be an engineer, a
programmer (and probably not even that, judging by what I see), a doctor, a
lawyer (on second thought, don't ever suggest they become lawyers), and so

And make it easier to hire people, instead of harder. (And if one hires a
maid, and the maid steals, cut off her hand. We've lost sight of justice,
and people think that ripping off the rich is their kind of justice. This
needs to change.)

Even liberals are beginning to understand the "game theory" aspects. Like
pigeons, if you feed them, you'll have more bums, winos, addicts, drifters,
and beggars. If you give people money when they have babies, whether they
are working or married, they'll drift into having more babies. (Not as a
carefullly-considered choice, but for a variety of systemic, psychological,
game-theoretic, and "path of least resistance" reasons.)

Psychologists and similar psychobabblers call it "tough love." If one
always "enables" an addict, a layabout, a shiftless worker, with excuses
and handouts, the behavior does not change. To save a person, sometimes
harshness is needed.

This is why crypto anarchy's starving of the tax system is good. It may
"kill" some number of people, as nearly any new idea does, but ultimately
it will put things back on track.

--Tim May

We got computers, we're tapping phone lines, I know that that ain't allowed.
Timothy C. May              | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
[email protected]  408-728-0152 | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
W.A.S.T.E.: Corralitos, CA  | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
Higher Power: 2^1,257,787-1 | black markets, collapse of governments.
"National borders aren't even speed bumps on the information superhighway."