The Tuesday: Get a Job

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about things I see and hear at 7-Eleven. To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link ...

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BY KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON July 20, 2021
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WITH KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON July 20, 2021
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Get a Job

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about things I see and hear at 7-Eleven. To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

Get a Job
Your local 7-Eleven is a very different place at 7 a.m. than at 11 p.m. or 7 p.m. I worked the overnight shift at a 7-Eleven for a while — way back in ye olden days before the normalization of vagrancy transformed every commercial establishment from Starbucks to 7-Eleven and every public place from parks to busy intersections into makeshift homeless shelters and psych wards — and even in a relatively sleepy college town, things got pretty weird around 3 a.m. on Saturday. When the bartenders say, "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here," some of those people end up at 7-Eleven.

But 7 a.m. on a Monday is a different scene altogether. The people who work for a living are up-and-at-'em and in want of coffee. My neighborhood is in that stage of gentrification where you can't afford to buy a house here anymore, but you're still five miles from the nearest Starbucks, and the people who work in your more classic clock-punching type jobs don't much hit the local hipster café, with its oat milk and vegan pastries.

There was a bit of a line at 7-Eleven on Monday, and I overheard a bit of conversation between the two women behind me. One was telling the other that she expected a busy day at work, because she was going to be updating some spreadsheets for her employer, which, she said, takes all day. When she started the job, she said, she didn't know what Excel was, and she told her friend that the first time her employer had asked her if she knew how to work with spreadsheets, she thought they were having a conversation about bed-linens. She learned how to use the program from YouTube videos. It was impossible to miss her pride in this. A couple of years ago, she didn't know how to work with spreadsheets, and now she does, and she has a different kind of job and, to some related extent, a different kind of life. Her world got a little bigger and a little richer. She deserves to be proud.

That's the part we should pay more attention to in our debates about employment and labor policy.

Of course, it is good — and necessary — that people use their time and energy doing economically productive work. We all thrive or starve together. You know about the guy who tried to make himself a sandwich? He ground wheat into flour, milked a cow and made his own cheese, made salt from seawater, etc. It took him half a year and cost $1,500. The same guy spent four grand making a suit. And though he endeavors to make these items "from scratch," he doesn't really — not until he is making his own tools out of iron he mined with his own hands. The division of labor is what makes civilizations work in physical terms. The more efficient the use of labor — human action guided by human intelligence is the most precious of all resources — the more prosperous your society is.

And it also is good — and necessary — that people earn income from doing productive work. Earning a living not only allows people to take care of themselves and their families (and their communities) in their material needs but also allows them to do so in a way that gives them a measure of independence: The client who is forever reliant upon a patron for his daily bread is never really free, never really at liberty in his own life. That's a big part of the difference between being a very highly skilled (or simply in-demand) worker vs. one who is more easily replaced: You have more choices about how you work, when you work, where you work, with whom you work, and for what you'll work. That, in turn, gives you more choices about everything from where you live to how your children are educated. This makes people more satisfied about their situation and more confident in their ability to sustain and improve it.

But it is also good — and necessary — that this is something that in most situations people earn themselves. We could give people more choices about things like where they live and how their children are educated by simply giving them money. And, in some cases, that's what we should be doing: There are people with serious disabilities, children and elderly people without competent families to care for ...   READ MORE

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