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Davis Journal

All jobs are important – even less pleasant ones

Nov 01, 2021 10:01AM ● By Bryan Gray

Paul Krugman won a Nobel Prize for his analysis of economics, taxes, and employment issues. While he is revered by political progressives, he is scorned by staunch capitalists who hold firm that profits trickle down to lower-paid employees.

This past week he expressed his thoughts on the post-pandemic challenge of hiring employees. I agreed with much of what he wrote, but he stubs his toe when he says workers rightfully reject “lousy jobs.”

Krugman believes today’s dearth of employees has little to do with liberal unemployment benefits. “Conservatives blamed extended jobless benefits reducing the incentive to accept jobs,” he notes. “But states that canceled these benefits early saw no increase in employment, and the national end of enhanced benefits last month doesn’t seem to have made a difference either.”

In his view, “Long-suffering American workers have been underpaid and overworked for years and may have hit their breaking point…in a rich country that treats many of its workers remarkably bad.”

He is correct that the wealthy have gained much more than the average worker. Adjusted for inflation, the typical male worker earned virtually no more in 2019 than he would have 40 years ago. But Krugman loses me when he admires workers “rethinking their lives” and leaving “lousy jobs,” and either retiring or finding “less unpleasant jobs” in different industries.

Here’s my problem with this view. First, very few American workers are treated like dogs in the workplace. If Krugman believes this, he ignores the plight of sweatshop workers in Africa, Central America, and some Asian countries.

As for “lousy jobs,” hold on one minute.  All work should be considered valuable; a “dirty job” is still important.  All jobs can at times be “unpleasant” and it is arrogant and elitist to expect all job tasks to be a sweet form of puff pastry.

A garbage collector provides as much service (and to a greater number of people) as a software developer. A roofer ascending an icy slope in January is as admirable as an architect working in a climate-controlled office. Drilling concrete to discover a leaky pipe is as helpful as analyzing an income statement from a couple applying for a mortgage on a starter home. There may be little glory in moving a box from a warehouse shelf to a waiting truck, but this task affects more people than that of creating a juicy new video game.

I can honestly say I have enjoyed and found satisfaction in every job I’ve worked: swimming pool cleaner, janitor in a messy bakery, bartender in a blue-collar country tavern, high school teacher, journalist, printing salesman, and an author. I never whined that someone else had a “classier” job. I never felt like I was an oppressed worker expecting a better deal from society. Yes, wages should be more equitable, but I always felt fortunate having even the “half-loaf” of American prosperity. Hating your job is a self-defeating depletion of your own worth and self-esteem.  

Not all jobs are soothing and pleasant. That’s why it’s called work.