Against Austerity & Reality

Greeks, French, along with Spanish and other protesters, have taken to the streets to protest reality. They have worked themselves into an outrage at their own fecklessness, indolence and hedonism. Of course, they don’t blame themselves. It is work capitalism or maybe those thrifty but dour and stingy Germans, who insist on people paying debts and working hard. They call for strikes. What does it mean when someone who doesn’t work goes on strike? Does he stop doing what he usually does and actually work?

Karl Marx wasn't good for much but he did come up with some good quotes. One fits here. "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

A century ago workers in Europe fought to get a fair share of their own labor. They were the ones who made the things that others consumed. They were outraged at whole classes of "parasites" who did little or no work and yet enjoyed the material benefits of the work of others. Most of these non-workers didn't feel the need to do much of anything. They felt entitled to what they got. Their positions were guaranteed by the power of the state, w/o much reference to what they did or didn't do.

America, then and now, was a little different. We had rich people, but our culture has never respected idleness, among the rich or the poor. We didn't have much of a class of inherited wealth and even those guys felt the compulsion to at least appear to do some work.
I have experienced an interesting cultural difference between Americans and Europeans. (Of course this is not universal, but it holds a great deal). Americans look back to their poorest ancestors. We brag about our grandfather who immigrated from the old country with nothing. It is important to us to point to humble beginnings. This shows the gumption of our ancestors and ourselves. My European friends are not impressed. They usually point to their richest or most eminent ancestor. This doesn't impress me. If your grandfather was eminent and you are not, what does that say about you?
I think we still have that persistent cultural trait. We don't like rich people who live off the fat of the land, but we also don't like the poor people who live off the fat of the land. Everybody should have some work, preferably a vocation. I despise people who don't work, unless they have a really good reason. I like it even less when these members of the non-working classes work themselves into hysteria about getting what they think they deserve.
Don't get me wrong. It is not about money. People can have a vocation that doesn't pay them much or anything at all. In fact, it is part of a complete life to have such a vocation. But it should be rigorous. Not this kind of drifting around and taking to the streets.

This is the problem. People in many places have voted or borrowed themselves benefits w/o putting in the work required to create the wealth that supports them. It was a nice ride as long as it went. But when you reach the end of the line, you have to get off.

I listened to the radio today with interviews of French and Greek people saying that they wanted to choose growth over austerity. It would be great if the choice was that easy. Who wouldn't choose growth? But those are not the options available. The options are work harder or get less. Unfortunately, given the profligacy of earlier decades, the choice might be to work harder and still get less, in hopes your kids can have more. I have met people in Europe who are in their thirties, still undergraduates, who have never done any real work yet in their lives. This needs to stop.

Complaining about the injustice doesn't do much good. It makes me think of the fat guy who decides he no longer wants to be fat. He doesn't like either choice of exercising more or eating less, so he just chooses to protest against the injustice of thin people.

We Americans are not as bad off as the Greeks, French or Spaniards, but we have some of the same ingredients at work. We experienced the non-working class protestors and we have many who want to expand the welfare state. The problem for us and for them is that in the long run we can only really have what we are willing to work for and pay for. It is a practical, not a political decision.

Posted by Christine & John at May 7, 2012 10:30 AM