Tuesday, September 6, 2005
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September's anti-Book of the Month
The topic of Slate's Book Club this week is Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream . The book is about Ehrenreich's efforts to create a fictional persona and land a job in "media/public relations work." Along the way, the career self-help industry is mocked.
Let's see how the reviewrs went for it. Hmmmm.... Tyler Cowen didn't like it very much:
Well, one would have expected Cowen, a free market economist, to dislike Ehrenreich. Surely Alan Wolfe, the other reviewer, who believes that capitalism, "cause[s] needless suffering to far too many innocent people," has a more positive take?
Do not read the whole thing.
UPDATE: Kieran Healy weighs in on Ehrenreich and suggests an intriguing alternative read.posted by Dan on 09.06.05 at 03:06 PM
I don't plan to read this, but I have read Nickel and Dimed. Cowen's statement about that book is nonsense. Ehrenreich was trying to live the way a typical low wage worker would. In fact, she had some advantages (knowledge of English) that many such workers don't have. Cowen seems to think that she should have quietly accepted her lot as a low wage worker rather than struck to so-called 'upper middle class" dreams.
That being said, Ehrenreich's old book showed a lamentable lack of knowledge of economics. She ranted on at length in that book about how the house cleaning company she worked for charged her services at $22 per hour, but gave her only $5 or $6 per hour, ignoring all the costs that are involved in the cleaning company's number). She also spent a lot of time blasting Wal Mart (where she worked), ignoring the fact that Wal Mart actually helps to provide cheap goods for lot sof poorer Americans.
So she's economically illiterate and obsessed with class warfare.
Cohen's remarks make one think that maybe Cohen never actually had one of those nasty jobs. He (or she) says
" She had no church, no family, and no reliance on friends for financial or even moral aid."
Um, yeah. That about sizes up the situation for a lot of poor people. Thats why they are poor. If they had those supports very often ... they stop being poor.
But family, church and morality are desparately fickle supports, as people who are poor know. A nice university job, like Cohen's will do wonders next to poverty boosted by a good work ethic. Church might be great, it might not. But nothing works like 50 grand in the bank. Thats just how the game is set up.
Capitalism is great. It produces all sorts of really useful things as well a oceans of things that are just useless and stupid. It creates wealth and it creates poverty. It is not a perfect system and no sane person ever said it was. It has to be governed and its failings have to be recognized.
Thats why I like "Nickled and Dimed". It said, "no the system doesn't always make everyone free and happy."
Capitalism is not abstract like Communism. It does not guide toward a distant hopeful good. It charges off in one direction or another, much like a force of nature. If you can ride it, you get rich. It you can't, it eats you. Why is this hard to accept?posted by: exclab on 09.06.05 at 03:06 PM [permalink]
Nickel and Dimed is a fine book, or at least a fine idea for an essay that was stretched into too long a book. The new one sounds daffy, but who can blame her, after a best seller comes another book, who thinks Steven Levitt's next book will be as entertaining as Freakonomics?
In the US the low minimum wage makes it much more difficult than in other Western countries to get up the ladder.
This is reflected in recent income group mobility statistics that show that the US is no longer the 'land of opportunity' that it once was and that people are more mobile in other developed countries than the US, wheras this was once the opposite.
The US is also richer than almost all other reasonable sized countries. The low minimum wage and higher high wages may contribute or they may not.
exclab, there are many flavours of capitalism. The US's current finance capitalism is just one of them. In them it is easier to get wealthy than in any other system that has ever been tried.
I completely agree. There are many kinds of capitalism as there are finches. Capitalism changes. Its not a creed or a right. What I object to is the assumption taken by many that the poor are some how ignorable because they don't fit the model of a creedful, righteous capitalism; the idea the capitalism is a destiny or a good. Capitalism, in every form I have heard of, creates poverty. I don't that means we shouldn't have it. We just have to be aware of its flaws. It always has flaws. So you have to maintain it. Just like a machine or beuracracy.posted by: exclab on 09.06.05 at 03:06 PM [permalink]
"Capitalism, in every form I have heard of,
Does that mean other economic systems have no
You may want to read about [or google] conditions
But, I guess, if EVERYONE is EXTREMELY POOR,
It has INSTITUTIONALIZED it. :-}
The problem in the US is that while many
But compare that percentage to non-capitalistic
The proto-socialist model of Europe may
While US capitalism may not be the best
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