Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Labor Pains

While eating lunch and reading a newspaper in one of my favorite Washington DC cafes today -- Casey's Coffee on L Street, NW -- I was sitting at one of the bar stools overlooking the sidewalk. The scene in front of me was interesting since there was a homeless gentleman (yes an assumption but it is based on my world travel experience -- but let's call him "Tony") who was having a difficult time getting his bicycle operational. As I watched Tony work on his bicycle a professional bicycle courier (another assumption based on my knowledge of the clothing such couriers tend to wear in cities -- let's call him "Fred") stopped by to lend his expertise regarding bicycle repair. After about 10 minutes Fred completed the repair job on Tony's bike so Tony was on his way.

This Good Samaritan scene combined with the Associated Press (A.P.) article I was reading in the paper entitled, "Wal-Mart Deal Assailed", really got me thinking about options for reforming the modern labor market. The A.P. article focused on Wal-Mart's recent legal agreement developed with the US Department of Labor regarding "child labor law violations"

The article went on to explain current US laws and Wal-Mart quotes regarding child labor including:

  • "We don't employ anyone under the age of 16" - WalMart
  • Child labor laws prohibit anyone under 18 from operating hazardous equipment

Two immediate thoughts come to mind given what I saw and read today regarding our labor markets:

  • Apprentice/Indentured Servant programs are worth society's consideration in the USA
  • "Child labor" is NOT always the evil monster the "equal justice community" proclaims it to be

Now before you label me some heartless defender of raw capitalism pursuing profits regardless of societal impact hear me out. First, the homeless man/bicycle courier (Tony and Fred) bike repair scene seemed like an ideal partnering of a person who needs a job/skill set (Tony) with someone who needs an apprentice/dare I say - "indentured servant" not slave of course -- to learn the trade so that the current professional bicycle courier (Fred) gets an understudy working for them so they can build a business as an entrepreneur. Secondly, most humans work their entire life so why should the government impose arbitrary age parameters (such as Social Security retirement ages -- just let us keep our money and retire when we want!!!) regarding WHEN we can begin working?

This is personally important to me since my first "real job" was at age 13 when I secured a dishwashing job at the Tip Top Cafe in my hometown of Ida Grove, Iowa. I will never forget that I was paid US$1.20 per hour AND the US federal government still deducted money for Social Security. For evidence of this confiscatory tax I have the personal benefits/future earnings statement sent to me by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The statement says that the first year I paid into the SSA system was in 1978 and since I was born in 1965 it confirms my "age 13" comment made earlier.

No I was not some "victim" of family poverty or some profit-crazed capitalist who owned the Tip Top Cafe. I was the recipient of an very important life lesson because I was learning how to earn money to achieve what I wanted to accomplish (versus just begging for a handout from m parents or government assistance program) which back in 1978 was attending Boy Scouts of America summer camp. At the time, my father stated that if I wanted to attend summer camp I had to pay for it myself so I simply went out and secured a job, attended summer camp, and eventually achieved a number of honors in the Scouts.

Today after nearly 27 years of part-time/full-time work experience and three (3 ) university degrees I earn an hourly rate well beyond my modest US$1.20 per hour starting wage in 1978 due to the loving guidance of my parents who taught me the importance of a solid work ethic. America's future workers don't need government "help", instead workers need supportive parents and a modern version of "masters" who taught apprentices/indentured servants a skilled profession to enhance both parties' (worker and capitalist) earning capacities.

My sincere thanks to my parents for raising me the way they did.

It's Miller Time,



Julie said...

in 1978 I was working for a hospital at the rate of 5.75 per hour because it was a union job. One that at the time I was proud of and also worked to support myself in college and life. What makes you so special?

Not everyone lives on a trust fund. Some of us just started working harder earlier than others and have reaped the benefits. What's wrong with that?

You chose to delve yourself in politics and media. Chosen to be a life long student (which we all could benefit from).

Some of us have chosen to have a life based on feelings, friends and family.

When do you get there?

Todd said...

I believe you mis-read my commentary -- I praised hard work and I am not a trust fund baby.

My commentary was upbeat and positive celebrating the nuclear family and pointing out that government hurts us via tax policy.


Anonymous said...

Not to be cruel, but really, you must not have been very bright as a child if you had to "learn" about the idea of working in exchange for money. The idea is not not very complicated, really. Well, I guess you have to start somewhere, and with your 3 degrees, maybe you have built on that "learning" in the meantime.

So, I suppose you are an example of how someone with a brightness deficit can overcome it to earn college degrees... =) (just kidding)

One thing though, is you should not generalize from your experience. Most people do not need to "learn" how to work for very low wages while someone else reaps most of the benefit of that work. To prove the point, look at our elites, whether liberal or conservative. Often, their children don't "learn" to work at low wages and they turn out fine, in fact, better than average. I suppose not everyone needs that particular lesson.


Anonymous said...


You are correct in one regard, most people do not need to learn how to work for very low wages. Most people need to learn how to work.