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A strange kind of justice

Via Instapundit, Megan McArdle highlights and comments on a meme circulating amongst liberal bloggers which purports to contrast the uncertainty facing innocent UAW workers to the sleazy executives of banking and financial firms who received a cushy 12-figure bailout from Uncle Sam.

Ms. McArdle notes:

[F]inancial executives have been fired in large numbers and taking pay cuts that reduced their income to a fraction of what was expected six months ago. Auto workers have not. Financial firms are in the process of laying off hundreds of thousands of their best paid workers (50,000 at Citibank alone); auto firms are not.

The shrinkage of the financial industry, and the vastly reduced pay prospects of its workers, seem entirely reasonable to me, though of course extremely sad for people who put themselves through expensive rounds of schooling in order to secure luxe jobs on Wall Street which have now disappeared leaving them broke and trying to sell the houses and cars they can no longer afford into a panicked local market. But I am fairly sure that the auto workers do not want the deal, as a class, that those rapacious financial executives have been given, which includes horrifying job insecurity, massive paycuts at the discretion of their managers, and for many or most of them, the knowledge that they will almost certainly never again earn a tenth of what they had set their lives up to expect. Believe it or not, having your life ripped up in front of you and your industry destroyed, and all the plans you made fifteen years ago to build a secure future evaporate, doesn't get magically more fun because you've got an MBA.

Some observations are in order. First, liberals routinely complain that overall, Americans are poorly educated (especially after an election where Republicans are victorious), yet their economic policies seem to aggressively single out educated professionals to bear the greatest risks and suffer the biggest financial losses. In fact, crypto-Communist progressives seem to want a system in which educated white collar business and financial professionals are deliberately left to the mercy of the system, while average blue collar members of the working class end up with totally secured jobs, health benefits, and pensions.

Perhaps this has to do with another tired leftist meme: the oppressor vs. the oppressed. Marxist-influenced thinking naturally casts the white collar man as the oppressor; he is "the man," the one who creates "the system" and then bends and breaks its rules at his leisure, the one who never has to worry about where his next meal is coming from because he can always tap into the vast resources of "the system" any time he needs to. I believe that this kind of thinking has made such a fetish out of "protecting the workers" that many progressives have completely lost the ability to understand that humanity exists in all social classes and at all levels of income.

Consider the case of Arthur Andersen LLP. This once mighty provider of accounting and consulting services was destroyed when its management was convicted of obstruction of justice and the company was forced to surrender its CPA licenses and right to practice, as a result of its hand in the massive fraud at Enron Corporation. What had any of the nearly 28,000 Arthur Andersen employees who lost their jobs done to deserve their fate, other than to be working for the "wrong" company at the "wrong" time? For that matter, what had most of the 22,000 left jobless by the collapse of Enron done that was wrong, except once again to work for the "wrong" company at the "wrong" time? Did anyone on the left beg for the government to guarantee their jobs, or to subsidize new job salaries in order to guarantee their previous rates of pay? Did any Democrats demand that the government should restore the value of the 401(k) retirement accounts of these unfortunate workers?

Of course the fundamental flaw in the bankers vs. UAW comparison is the assumption that "all" the senior employees of a bank are responsible for its failure, while "none" of the assembly line workers at GM or Chrysler have anything to do with the condition of the company. And as Ms. McArdle pointed out, even though the banks were "bailed out" (that is, given a line of credit that allowed them to maintain a positive cash flow) they were still forced to drastically slash costs and lay off hundreds of thousands of employees. At this point, it seems that the UAW will except few, if any, reductions in the Big 3's blue collar labor force.

Now Barack Obama says he wants to create 2.5 million new jobs through infrastructure expansion and research into alternative energy. But I wonder, is it fair to ask an MBA who earned $150,000 a year as a mid-level bank executive to take a $20 dollar an hour job as a bulldozer operator? Would the UAW approve of a $75,000 a year assembly line worker taking that job, at that rate of pay? Right now, who is sticking up for the MBA? Who is working to guarantee that he always has good jobs in the finance sector available?

Ms. McArdle's comments actually raise an important question: why work and study intensely for four years in high school, just to qualify for admission to a top university; then work and study intensely as an Ivy League undergraduate so that you can compete for a position in a prestigious graduate school program in finance or mathematics or economics; then compete for a choice position at a financial firm -- if you know that there is a very real possibility that all of it can suddenly be yanked out from under you with no benefits, no guarantees, and no safety net?

While I obviously don't believe in exploiting the poor or the undereducated, I seriously have to wonder about a society that provides multiple safety nets for those who won't (or in the case of the mentally or physically challenged, can't) take risks and make sacrifices, yet treats ambitious, hard-working, self-sacrificing individuals as undeserving, or spoiled, or worse -- evil villains.

Unfortunately we still have a handful of robber-barons in the contemporary guise of crooked CEO's who reward themselves lavishly while building houses of straw. When those houses come tumbling down, the white collar professional, who loves his family just as much as the blue collar worker, who worries about his mortgage and car payments and retirement just as much as the blue collar worker, and who probably pays a lot more in taxes than the blue collar worker, ends up hurting just as much as the blue collar worker. Maybe some people think that seeing the white collar man suffer is payback or "justice" for the plight of manual laborers, but it isn't.

I'm not demanding a union for professionals, or more government subsidies; all I would like to see is some parity in the way that our culture and our leaders treat white collar and blue collar employees. After all, they -- we -- are all workers.


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Comments (10)

If white collar excutives f... (Below threshold)
retired military:

If white collar excutives from Enron were a substantial voting block for the democrats they would have to worry about their jobs no matter how badly their busines did.

But that is living in the democratic world. In reality
"But I wonder, is it fair to ask an MBA who earned $150,000 a year as a mid-level bank executive to take a $20 dollar an hour job as a bulldozer operator?"

a. When I told my father that something isn't fair to find the person who told me that life was fair and tell them that they lied.

b. If they want to eat and it is the only job they can find than the answer is YES. I am tired of hearing the mime that there are no jobs out there. They may not be what you want to do, or pay you want you want but THEY ARE THERE. Qualify your statements with "there are no jobs" to say "There are no jobs to pay me want I want to earn and doing want I want to do".


Echoing the above comment, ... (Below threshold)

Echoing the above comment, it's not about economics, education, pay level or anything other than votes; politicians protect those who vote for them, and more importantly, those who contribute money to their campaigns.

This makes too much sense f... (Below threshold)
Kat:

This makes too much sense for the liberally impaired. The UAW is what the buggy whip employee was in 1910, that is, on borrowed time and our money.

why work and study... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
why work and study intensely for four years in high school, just to qualify for admission to a top university; then work and study intensely as an Ivy League undergraduate so that you can compete for a position in a prestigious graduate school program in finance or mathematics or economics; then compete for a choice position at a financial firm -- if you know that there is a very real possibility that all of it can suddenly be yanked out from under you with no benefits, no guarantees, and no safety net?

If a commeter made that point I would accuse them of making a straw man argument. It's highly unlikely that any kid entering high school has such a long term plan in the first place and then abandons it because of some level of uncertainty. After all, there is a very real possibility of dying along the way to that goal.

Most people who achieve an MBA can work and make good money in just about any company above the mom and pop level regardless of what that company does. However, the possibilities of an autoworker are far more limited, and if they do find other work, it will be for a lot less money. UAW jobs are an aberration in our free market and they will become less and less lucrative or they will go away. However, for them to all go away in a short time would pull done many other workers making market wages, and that's why the auto bailout is worth trying.

Life isn't fair but it gets... (Below threshold)
Thomas Jackson:

Life isn't fair but it gets worse when you have a president who thinks a bigger, costlier BIG DIG for every city in America is the solution. But once he spends about four trillion dollars and doubles the national debt everyone will be making 70 dollars an hour, unfortunately this will buy you a cup of coffee.

Who siad the American voter isn't a dolt?

"I'm not demanding a union ... (Below threshold)
screw the economy:

"I'm not demanding a union for professionals, or more government subsidies; all I would like to see is some parity in the way that our culture and our leaders treat white collar and blue collar employees. After all, they -- we -- are all workers."

You're not going to get any parity. That ship has sailed, along with any likely chance of fixing the mess we're in "within the system" anytime soon.

The people have spoken, and they've voted for bread and circuses.

I worked my ass off for 8 years, EIGHT FREAKIN YEARS, having full time and part time jobs while supporting myself through undergrad, so that I could have a shot at the graduate degree I'm about to receive. If I'd known this was coming, I'd have kept my $11/hr part time guard job and gone fishing 3 days week for the last 8 years.

I am actually worse off now with the student debt and advanced degree - even though there is still demand for my skills and jobs available- than if I'd spent the entire time I'd been in school working a menial part time job instead. The difference in hours and pay, after taxes, is simply not going to be worth it. I'm spending more time trying to find ways to opt out of the economy than I am trying to find employment in my field.

Stick a fork in this country, it's done.

LaprarieYou lose t... (Below threshold)
JFO:

Laprarie

You lose the debate, any shred of credibility you may have as an author and prove your utter stupidity when you toss around labels like
"crypto- Communist progressives."

When did you you stop being a "fascist"? Get the point?

retired military and Thomas... (Below threshold)
Mike:

retired military and Thomas,

You are both right about the concept of "fairness" - there isn't any such animal, even when the government tries to guarantee it for you.

What I am asking essentially is, why are some jobs "more equal" than others? Why do we go to such effort to protect specific classes of workers and their salary and benefit levels? The irony, as it appears to me, is that the efforts of the unsecured white collar workers are what largely finances the security of the blue collar work force.

MacLorry,

You are correct in pointing out that everyone doesn't have that level of ambition. However I have personally known some who did, especially one very smart young lady who graduated HS as valedictorian, scored a 30 ACT, graduated with her bachelors with honors in 3 years, and then went to law school. She doesn't work for a banking firm now, but if she did, and she lost her job, would it be right to ridicule her and say that she deserved what she got because she was spoiled and overpaid and "unfairly benefited" from the system? Not that you would do it, but there are plenty who would.

The other thing is, if you want that Harvard MBA, and you don't have family ties to the school and you are not a minority, you literally have to start preparing as a high school student. The same holds true for someone who wants to be a doctor. You really have to start working early.

"It's highly unlikely th... (Below threshold)

"It's highly unlikely that any kid entering high school has such a long term plan in the first place..."

But you forget that these young people develop these goals and aspirations mostly through early encouragement from their parents. When that encouragement goes away and is replaced with a shrug of the shoulders and a warning ...

Michael, strictly speaking ... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Michael, strictly speaking Andersen did not surrender its CPA licenses ... the CPA license is an individual certification, awarded to individuals who pass the requisite set of exams and promise to abide by the governance protocols of the AICPA. Andersen's executives lost their CPA licenses through exercise of that ethics provision.

As regards the MBA, don't forget that any degree, no matter how glamorous, is just a tool, and does not entitle a person to expect a specific renumeration simply because they have one. One reason I chose Accounting for my MBA concentration instead of Finance, is because I saw this coming in 2006. I am sympathetic to those Finance-MBA types, but I consider that they made a choice, presumably an informed one, and risk comes along with yield in any case.




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