The Carpenter You’d Rather Be
We’d like to encourage this sort of conversation, so commenters will have a very short leash for ad hominem with this post.
Matt Jerzyk’s response to my post about the rich giving their money to we in the working class strikes me as so tangential as to raise a wholly separate topic, and as so misrepresenting what I’ve written as to be a response to a wholly separate person. That said, I think he raises some interesting points of distinction between his worldview and mine:
I have seen you write on several occasions about how much you appreciate this rich family’s wealth; a wealth that allows you and your coworkers to keep working on their many luxurious projects.
You reason that if this rich family moves or if they stop spending money, then you and your coworkers would be out of a job.
I can understand your concerns about your own job. That is a baseline concern for all of us.
But, doesn’t your point limit the opportunities that are facing the 21st century American tradesman? Is your crew truly confined to working for one rich family? Do the presence of rich people define opportunities for carpenters in RI? Are there no entrepreneurs among you who could strike out on your own and work on building green homes and commercial spaces (quite an emerging and lucrative market these days)? Or, you wouldn’t rather be rebuilding America’s crumbling bridges, roads and infrastructure?
I don’t doubt that you want your particular job to continue – we all do. However, there is something to be said for untethering the American entrepreneurial spirit and seeing what can happen- in the construction industry and in all industries.
Relying on the presence of only a few hundred wealthy families for the economic development of our state just seems a tad naive, a bit unrealistic and incredibly hopeless.
To begin with the non sequitur, the statement of my post was that we do have a mechanism for transferring wealth from the rich to the working-class: it’s called the marketplace, capitalism. It does not follow from that suggestion that my primary concern is for my own specific job. It follows even less that I’m arguing for total economic reliance on our state’s few hundred wealthiest families.
As to my professional biography, the company for which I work has had clients across the spectrum, several at any given time, and all of my side work has been for working-to-middle class families. There are some notable differences from one project to another, although I don’t know that I’d rate any as preferable on their basis. Moneyed projects offer the opportunity to do some very interesting, very involved work that makes a hammer swinger feel a bit more like an artisan. In my industry, the worker has a sense of “the right way” to do things, but that often must be compromised for the sake of budgets, usually at the direct request of the client. With the rich, the fight between funds and workmanship is not as dramatic.
On the other hand, lower-end work brings the satisfaction of efficiency and, more importantly, of appreciation. Those who’ve worked for what they have are tangibly more excited by improvements, and that’s a very gratifying thing to see.
Me, I like variety, so I’d surely be unhappy with either niche’s being my foreseeable future. It speaks to the difference between Matt’s point of view and my own that (1) he’s so compelled to drape a job like carpentry with political meaning, and (2) he throws commercial spaces in the mix and asks about transportation construction.
From the carpentry perspective, I’m sure there would be new and interesting aspects to an explicitly “green” project, and I’d love to take one on. But, contra Matt, I’m not interested in limiting “the opportunities that are facing the 21st century American tradesman.” The game isn’t zero sum, and a casual observer can see that there are not “green” projects languishing for lack of carpenters. (If they were, the general pay of the trade would be going up.)
As for commercial work, to my experience, it lacks both the edification of the high-end project and the appreciation of the lower-end private work. Concerning bridges and roads, while I’d love to undertake an old-style New England covered bridge, transportation and infrastructure projects are generally for the heavier tradesmen, such as masons, welders, and excavators, not carpenters.
This thread all unravels to the truly peculiar apex of Matt’s comment:
… there is something to be said for untethering the American entrepreneurial spirit and seeing what can happen- in the construction industry and in all industries.
What could he possibly mean by that? It would stretch credulity to the breaking point to suggest that I was (or am) advocating for the high-end construction submarket to be an especial area of focus at the expense of other submarkets. Yes, as a tally of man-hours, my current project has probably kept a couple dozen people employed full time for a cumulative year, while proportional projects for the working class have kept a few people busy for a cumulative month. But for Matt’s riposte even to make logical sense, he must be implying a government forced shift of private construction dollars to publicly funded construction projects. That’s not just a “tad” and a “bit.” That’s dangerously naive, unrealistic, and hopeless.
For the most part, the funds that support so many local workers building and rebuilding summer homes for the rich are not available for taxation. The owners tend not to be full-year residents, and if they were to find that they could no longer afford to lavish themselves in this way in Rhode Island, they’d find somewhere else to do it. Even with full-year residents, the difference is mainly one of threshold for redistributive pain. The progressives’ willingness to insist on the right kind of commerce would certainly result in lost revenue to the state, less money in the states economy, and lost jobs. (Emphasizing that mine might be one of them is merely an attempt to invalidate my testimony.)
Bringing about this shift of opportunities would add layers of unnecessary government bureaucracy, as the public sector goes about its inefficient business of transferring the wealth, deciding to whom to give it, overseeing its distribution, and regulating its usage. The entire process, moreover, would funnel money and power through a limited social point that would be sure to attract manipulators and despots.
Jerzyk’s mode of “untethering the American entrepreneurial spirit,” in other words, can only result in lost jobs and less varied, less gratifying employment for those in the working class who manage to stay employed. The vision dehumanizes us as cogs who must find meaning in the political wonderfulness of a more restrictive system. And (perhaps not without calculation) it benefits a class of people — not doing too poorly, already — of meddlers and would-be social engineers.