Sunday, May 16, 2010

Disinclination to work

In the present instance, going back to the liver-pill circular, I had the symptoms, beyond all mistake, the chief among them being "a general disinclination to work of any kind." What I suffer in that way no tongue can tell. From my earliest infancy I have been a martyr to it. As a boy, the disease hardly ever left me for a day.
— Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat


I know I am posting too many things at one time, but this bit that I have just read is too brilliant to pass by. The Conservatives and Classical Liberals are oftentimes accused of being heartless pigs who do not care for the poor. Figures are oftentimes cited to reveal the levels of unemployment and poverty. And the solution is more free soup, more governmental charities.
        In his book, The Worldy Philosophers (hardly a work of libertarian economic philosophy), Robert L. Heilbroner writes (p. 24 in the 7th ed.):
Sir William Petty, an astonishing seventeenth-century character (who was in his lifetime cabin boy, hawker, clothier, physician, professor of music, and founder of a school named Political Arithmetik), claimed that when wages were good, labor was “scarce to be had at all, so licentious are they who labor only to eat, or rather to drink”. And Sir William was not merely venting the bourgeois prejudices of his day. He was observing a fact that can still be remarked among the unindustrialized peoples of the world: a raw working force, unused to wagework, uncomfortable in factory life, unschooled to the idea of an ever-rising standard of living, will not work harder if wages rise; it will simply take more time off.
        The idea of gain, the idea that each working person not only may, but should, constantly strive to better his or her material lot, is an idea that was quite foreign to the great lower and middle strata of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and medieval cultures, only scattered throughout Renaissance and Reformation times and largely absent in the majority of Eastern civilizations. As a ubiquitous characteristic of society, it is as modern an invention as printing.
        Not only is the idea of gain by no means as universal as we sometimes suppose, but the social sanction of gain is an even more modern and restricted development. In the Middle Ages, the Church taught that no Christian ought to be a merchant [good news for the Jews, eh?], and behind that teaching lay the thoughts that merchants were a disturbing yeast in the leaven of society. In Shakespeare’s time the object of life for the ordinary citizen, for everybody, in fact, except the gentility, was not to advance his station in life, but to maintain it. Even to our Pilgrim forefathers, the idea that gain might be tolerable — even a useful — goal in life would have appeared as nothing short of a doctrine of the devil.
Now, I must point out, from my experience of having lived in New Orleans for four years, that the attitude described in the first paragraph of the quote is not unique to the “unindustrialized people of the world” — it is prevalent among many sub-cultures of American society as well.
        I know a Jew from Manhattan who was in real estate business in New Orleans. He would buy apartment buildings and renovate them to rent out. He employed one man who, according to my friend, was a very talented craftsman. Gaining his services, however, was very difficult. First, to find him, one had to cross a bayou on a boat. Second, even if found, the guy was most of the times in a state of intoxication from various substances. Third, even if employed, he more often than not would not show up to work.
        Now, if one personally wishes to stay poor, that’s his business (and there is a difference between “advancing one’s station in life” to the point of being able to buy a yacht vs. to the point of being able to buy two pairs of tefillin for each son and send all children to good schools, and maybe buy some Jewish books and invite a few guests for Shabbos). But if he wishes to help other poor people, he must encourage them to help themselves and provide them with economic means to do so, not encourage the government to hand out free soup to keep the poor barely alive.

53 comments:

The Real Shliach said...

There's a famous anecdote (abbreviated here) re: a guy who's found fishing and is very successful at is. He only catches enough fish as his family will need for the day, and then he goes home. Someone asks him, "Why not stay fishing all day, and catch a lot more fish?" Fisherperson answers, "Then what?"

"Then you can open up a store."

"Then what?"

"Then you can expand, and start a fish company."

"Then what?"

"Then you can build a big skyscraper downtown to manage your IPO."

"Then what?"

"Then you'll be super rich."

"Then what?"

"Then you can take time off to go fishing."

"Nu, so why bother in the first place?"
---
Point is, where are your goals? A Jew has this world, but it's only a courtyard for the world to come, his goal is not just to enjoy himself. For a goy, however, what's the point? To enjoy himself. If your enjoyment comes from something, why strive harder when you've got what you want?

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Because, as a result of a little investment of time, one can enjoy himself even more. Going on a vacation to Europe is more enjoyable than going to a local pub.

Plus, I disagree that for a goy, the simple carpe-diem–styles of pleasures are all that can be philosophically said to be.

The Real Shliach said...

That's what you think. Many people would rather stay home than go running about.

Of course it's not like that for all goyim, but for a substantial percentage... And many Jews (even frum ones) are the same way.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Every person can improve his life in one way or another. Jews or goyim. And those who do not wish to work have no right then to rob those who had been working the time that these people were fishing.

I don’t think if you gave these people extra money, they would refuse it or will not find what to do with it. And in most cases they will spend it on themselves — on the same pleasures or riches that they were claiming not to care about — rather than giving it away to charity or, better yet, investing in some things that would improve other people’s lives (like a business that would give more people jobs).

The Real Shliach said...

Huh? As long as no one is costing anyone else, what's your problem?

I don't think you understand that many people's motivation is not to go out and do great things, but rather to be comfortable.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

That’s my point. As long as the fisherman does not demand that Bill Gates pays his hospital bills, all is good. But in most cases, in the modern society that is not the case. People do not strive for better life style and then, suddenly, those who did strive have to pay for these people’s medical bills, these people’s children’s education, and so on.

I would have no problem with certain marijuana-smoking denizens of New Orleans if most of them were not sitting on welfare and food stamps.

Re: bigger and greater things vs. lifestyle: I understand and I empathize myself. But what I am saying is that there is always room for improvement for anyone. I repeat: how many people who want simple comfortable lifestyle would refuse a gift of one million dollars? One thousand dollars? (Let’s say they were told they have to continue drawing the same salary as they had been, before the gift, but now they have all this extra money available.) Most of these seekers of simple lifestyle would immediately acquire new riches.

And by new riches I don’t mean necessarily Mercedes or yachts. I mean little extra things that would allow them to continue in their comfy little lifestyle and their hobbies.

The Real Shliach said...

Well, there's nothing I can do about that.

Me too.

KISS.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Sure you can. You can participate in the libertarian objective of freeing the masses from statist philosophy. It took individual strong men to change the course of history.

KISS?

The Real Shliach said...

Why should I want to change it? I would love the lifestyle.

Keep It Simple Stupid.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Because the alternative is better. Living under capitalism is always better than under socialism.

But most people don’t. And don’t want to.

The Real Shliach said...

Who said anything about economic systems?

Well, they're morons.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Economic systems are also economic vectors.

People are morons for wanting to afford to have extra Shabbos guests?

The Real Shliach said...

What are you trying to say?

For Jews, that's fishing. Having a second home in the Caribbean is not a fishing boat by anyone's standards.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

I think the point is to try to work hard enough that you can live the particular style you’re interested in living and pay off all your living expenses (including medical and tuition bills for the whole family) without relying on anybody’s aid.

And after that there is also the aspect of helping those less advantageous (e.g., immigrants or the people who have not yet reached such a level). And after that there is always a way to do hiddur mitzva, but let’s ignore that for now.

To be complacent until one reached such a level is stupid. But such a level is already not an easy thing to reach on one’s own efforts.

The Real Shliach said...

Yes, you can always do better and better, but ideally, would you rather work ten hours a day and bring home gobs of money or work four hours and spend the extra time learning and doing good deeds?

Yes, of course, it is very difficult, but we can all incorporate these values in some form in our daily lives.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Well, for a Jew, learning and doing good deeds is equivalent of self improvement in gashmius that the goyim must seek as their avoida. (Although, it’s difficult to love Hashem b’chol m’oidecho if you don’t own even the small vessels.)

As they say, a Jew’s gashmius is ruchnius. (Unless, of course, the Jew is a woman. In that case, according to the system, her ruchnius is gashmius.)

For a goy to be complacent with his livelihood is the same as for a Jew to be complacent with his learning. For a goy to depend on someone as a result of this complacency (and as a result force the government to rob that person) is the same as for a Jew to rob his rabbi’s time of learning by calling him to ask Halachic questions that the Jew himself could have looked up had he invested more time into learning as opposed to being complacent.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

In general, my whole point of this post was not so much to criticize certain approaches, but to explain why, despite improvement in capitalism, there is improvement in average income, but the levels of poverty stay the same. If people belonging to certain groups are brainwashed into beliefs that “books and a job are for white man”, no capitalism will help.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

(And these beliefs are supported by the free soup that the government provides for these people.)

The Real Shliach said...

This is why the world needs more sociology majors.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Ideally my answer would be that the world needs more Economics majors, but since most universities brainwash their students with Keynesian fallacy, the world needs more science and math majors, who can recognize the truth when the see it and thus will immediately see the truth of Austrian model of economics.

Also, the world needs more business majors. And good business schools. Especially Jewish world, I would say.

The Real Shliach said...

What's the Austrian model?

A Suede Ḥossid said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austrian_School
mises.org

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Not that I am such a blind follower of everything. I just think that they make general sense; more sense than the alternatives.

The Real Shliach said...

Ah hah.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

To see an article pertaining to current economic crisis, read this: http://mises.org/tradcycl/econdepr.asp

More said...

Improvement in gashmius is not avoda for goyim. c"v. Where did that idea come from? It's bizarre.
I believe in a strong state that will a. pay medical costs of "lazy goyim" who can't afford it.
b. food stamps
c. much more importantly, fund their schools to give them decent educations, which is something that they do not currently have.
d: and not give out the fictitious random handouts to which you keep referring.

Mor said...

You can't expect anything from anyone who hasn't received an education. It is simply unfair.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Answer the question about the hammers. For the public:

Imagine we have an isolated village, in which we have a factory that produces some kind of goods — e.g., hammers. Now, everyone in the village wants hammers. Currently there are 500 people living in the village. The factory can produce only 50 hammers. The owner of the village makes the price on hammers such that fifty richest people in the village can afford to buy the hammers. (This question is not about monopolies. If you’re worried about monopolies, you can imagine there are five factories, each capable of producing only ten hammers, and they compete with each other, thus making sure the price is the “fair” price.)

Questions:
a) Do you think that the owner of the factory acts in a fair way by making the hammers affordable only to the richest people?
b) If you were a mayor of the village and wanted somehow to make sure that more than fifty people can buy the hammers, what would you do?
c) Let’s say, you force the owner of the factory to lower the price of the hammers such that even the poorest member of the village can afford them. Will this make everyone in the village have a hammer? What will this do to the hammer market and hammer industry? (I.e., what effects can you foresee in the short term and in the long term?)
d) Let’s say, you give the poor members of the village (those who could not afford a hammer according to existing market prices) a hammer voucher — something that he can give to the owner of the factory to receive a hammer back (the owner can then go to the government of the village and get paid for the voucher from the taxes paid by all villagers). Do you think this is a wise solution? I.e.: Will it make it possible for all the villagers to have a hammer each? What do you think it will do to hammer prices? Would that be fair to the members of the village who could afford hammers beforehand? What will this do to hammer industry, in the short and in the long term?
e) After answering/thinking about the above questions, what do you think is the single problem why the hammers are not affordable to all villagers? What is the best solution to the problem?

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Sorry, the owner of the factory makes the price.

Mor said...

Please admit that improving in gashmius is not avoda for goyim.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Taking baby steps, explain to me why the idea of government-run schools is better than the idea of government-produced vouchers for people to go to private schools. A bit like food stamps or section 8 housing.

Why are all your efforts towards helping the poor people by giving them free stuff, as opposed to: a) making the stuff more affordable (by making the industries producing the stuff more healthy by de-regulating them) and b) making the poor people able to afford these things by making the economy healthier and increasing employment (not artificial employment, but real employment — i.e., by giving tax breaks to the industries that then employ people)?

A Suede Ḥossid said...

What is avoida for goyim? My understanding has always been that it’s taking care of this world:

a) making the world more beautiful
b) finding out more about the world
c) enjoying the world
d) creating more beautiful society

All the while, of course, believing in G-d and making sure that 7 Noahide Laws are kept. (But the Noahide Laws are all lavim. What are the positive commandments for the goyim.)

Btw, one of the reasons why goyim should improve the world is for Jews to be able to live comfortably in it to be able to do mitzvos and learn Torah. I.e., goyim should invent and mass-prodice mp3 players, so that I can listen to Chassidus while slicing brains. Or so that you can write papers about Yiddishkeit on your laptop produced by the evil capitalist pleasure-seekers. Or so we can mass-print beautiful editions of Gemara, Shulchan Aruch and works of Chassidus, which before the greedy goyim invented the printing press would have to be hand-copied and thus would be affordable only to few.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Do you know why Jews could not afford wine and challah in Europe? Because the economy was bad. Because people had the exact attitudes described in the quote. They couldn’t care less about improving their lives.

Nowadays we can afford glatt kosher meat and kosher wine and shmura matza because of the greedy goyim (and greedy Jews too). Or not greedy goyim and Jews, but the goyim and Jews who want to increase the amount of gashmius that can be made into a keili for Elokus. (How’s that for a positive twist?)

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Of course, now that Rubashkin is in prison, the sacred dina d’malchus is kept. And the kosher meat prices are so high that some families which were balancing between eating kosher meat and not eating it now cannot afford to eat it and eat treif meat instead.

But hey! Illegal immigrants are not hired on this particular plant.

Mor said...

a. Who said that I have a problem with vouchers? You are right. I happen to think that, since there are x schools and 1000x students, vouchers are supremely illogical and that the best solution - if the goal is really for all children to receive good education - is to support the schools directly. Whoever thought of them was not thinking clearly.
b. Because, as you yourself have pointed out, we can not really help them if they will not help themselves. They can do nothing without educations. Having a good economy is not enough.
You still have not responded regarding the avoda question.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

a. I am talking about a situation when the government completely pulls out of education. I.e., no public schools at all. People have a choice where to send their kids to school (which private school). If a family cannot afford education and cannot get scholarship from the school or private charities based on merit, the government gives the family scholarship for the kids to go to school. Merit can play a role in terms of whether a child should be allowed to go to a more expensive, higher-level-of-education school.

(I still don’t think government-run charity would be as good as private charities, since a lot of money will be wasted just on bureaucracy, but, as I said, baby steps.)

b. Giving them free soup only encourages them to look for more free soup. Forcing them to work encourages them to seek a job.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Re: avoida: look above (if you haven’t yet).

Mor said...

EDUCATION IS NOT FREE SOUP. Education should teach necessary information, and, more importantly, values. The Rebbe was very into this. As you keep pointing out, giving people opportunities when they don't already have a work ethic and goals is futile. Then why do you keep on saying that all that is needed is to stimulate the economy? I'll tell you why. Because first you want to justify Canada's better economy, but second you want to justify not spending money on public schools. You can't eat your cake and have it too.
So how do you give them a work ethic and goals? Give them a meaningful education with teachers who care.
It would be best if the vast majority of the government money which was set aside for welfare of younger people (not senior citizens) was sent into the school system.
Also, your idea about shutting down all of the schools and opening up completely new ones with a voucher system is, again, completely unrealistic and impractical.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

On the one hand, first, I think it's funny that you say that education is not free soup, since free soup is free soup (and kal vachomer, education). Wouldn't you agree that dying from famine is worse than remaining an ignoramus?

Second, I wasn't talking about education — I was talking about free soup. I.e., living expenses, food, cheap housing, welfare, etc.

On the other hand, I agree with you that education is very important to give. More important, perhaps, than actual welfare.

Canada doesn't have better economy. It has slightly better poverty ratings. The economy is products, jobs, wages. The market. People who are not for some reason part of the market (not necc. of their fault) are not a part of economy (at least directly; indirectly they are a burden on the economy, when the government siphons off the resources that could be use as capital investments to make more affordable and better products and more jobs), although they are, of course, a part of the society.

Meaningful education with teachers that care = good education. Good service. From economics point of view, "give them good education" is no different from "give them good cars". Most people could not afford cars 100 years ago. Why? Because car industry has not had time to develop through the cycle of selling cars for the highest possible profit and investing the capital into production of better and cheaper cars. Take that cycle for 100 years, and even I can buy a car (and a better car than 100 years ago). Now, if the government got itself involved in the car business, you would have cars that would be much worse. Labor unions -- ditto.

(That, incidentally, is what a good economy is. When you have a job, and you're able to buy good products for cheap price. I don't just mean luxuries. I mean staples. Or food. Or netbooks. To get jobs and new, cheap, good products you need capital investment by private entrepreneurs. Government has no means to do that. That is why any industry in which the government gets itself involved becomes poisoned.)


Why is my system unrealistic and unreasonable? There are plenty of businesses that have been privatized. You sound like some people in Russia who were saying in the 80s that if we privatize collective farms, people will starve, since no farmers will want to work.

Or like people nowadays who say that if we abolish NIH, private sources will never fund fundamental research. It's utopia in reverse (dystopia?).

The only way to improve education is to put it on the market. When schools compete with each other, their quality will rise. If a school owner knows that if his school quality is worse than the other school's, he will go out of business, he will have more incentive to improve quality (or make education cheaper and more affordable to people who don't care about better education). It's really no different from any other business. Like computers. (In computers we have little crappy Dells that are available for poor people and expensive crappy Macs which are available for rich people. So, there is a choice.)

[Actually, do you know what Russia's biggest problem during Tzar's regime was? What to do with all that extra grain. During the Soviet times? Where to import all the necessary grain. Both were totalitarian regimes. Under Stalin, people were shot for speaking out or because Stalin was suspicious of them (intelligentsia), but what does this have to do with economic system? The reason why the government had to be totalitarian was that people willfully would not give up their own stuff, but the system itself was working al pi Marx. You could say that Russians are shlemazels, but that doesn't explain why the same Russians had to import grain under Socialists and didn't know what to do with it under the Tzar.]

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Also, I don't understand why someone can't take a loan to go to school. I am paying a significant chunk of my income for my college loans. I will continue paying it for a while.

The Real Shliach said...

Sorry for interjecting at this late point, but it just came to me: what's the Torah's opinion? "Eziehu ashir? Hasameach b'chelko."

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Note, also, that I am not saying that in terms of meaningfulness and importance, education is the same as cars. I am saying that the way it works in terms of economics (as a service provided by a group of people for the public, for which the public pays and which it benefits from to improve its life), they work acc. to the same principles.

(This is where divorcing intellect from emotions helps.)

A Suede Ḥossid said...

TRS: for a Jew or a for a goy?

Also, it would seem that nothing is worse than being happy with one's lot in ruchnius. So, for some people, extra gashmius is a way to fund extra ruchnius. My mom, for instance.

The Real Shliach said...

Ich vais nisht re: a goy.

Well duh, it's only talking about gashmius. And if someone's gashmius is takeh their ruchnius, who am I to argue?

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Taking quotes out of context is always a nice way to make a forceful argument.

"Someone who takes even a prutta from someone else takes his whole soul." -- Rambam, Mishnei Torah, Hilchos Gezeila v'Aveida

(Ergo, Rambam was a libertarian!)

The Real Shliach said...

Who took a quote out of context? (besides you, I mean).

A Suede Ḥossid said...

You said that one is happy who is content with his lot. But, a) the quote’s context applies to a Jew, b) it applies to gashmius lishmoh, c) the quote is unclear in practice. The famous question of the school of praxeology is: if you’re sitting at the bottom of a well, and you see no way of getting out for the moment, should you be content with your lot? (Note that I am not asking whether you should be joyous, because a Jew must always be joyous. But being joyous and not striving to improve one’s situation are two different things.)

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Plus, who said I was taking a quote out of context? Rambam takeh was a libertarian. A minirchist.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Also, it is interesting to me that A"R in his Shulchan Aruch explains that this world is nourished by the breath of little children learning Torah. If, chv"sh, they would stop, Hashem would destroy the world.

Therefore, he says, we are allowed to tax the community to provide children with Torah education, since all of us are benefiting from it, and if it didn't happen, the world would be destroyed.

It's interesting for two reasons:

a) A"R finds it necessary to justify taxation;
b) He explains the reason for taxation in this case as a payment for a service that you already use and as support for something that is necessary for everyone to exist.


Now, what is the excuse for taking livelihood of people to pay for the education of non-Jewish children? (Or Jewish children not in Torah, cv"sh.) It's always nice to think "funding X for the poor" in terms of you having some money and giving it to the poor for X, which is undoubtedly a worthy cause. But when you think that you're using violence to take other people's livelihood from them against their will to fund X, it's not quite so rosy.

I agree that X is a nice and important thing. But to force someone to pay for it against his will? Shouldn't there be a good explanation and justification for it? (And utilitarianism is not a good justification.)

Mor said...

If we live in a society with the uneducated things will not be good for us
A. Because there will be violence and things (because they have not been taught morality)
B. Because people who have not received motivating education will not be motivated to increase capital or whatever it is, and the economy will lag behind.
C. Therefore, it is for our own benefit to subsidize public education. Public school teachers provide us with a service.
Of course they can take out loans. But they won't until they are motivated - by the education they receive.

A Suede Ḥossid said...

Utilitarian approach does not work.

a) It does not work for praxeological grounds (too long to explain here, may devote a post for it). You either believe in something lishmoh or you don't believe at all. Otherwise, it cannot be grounds for morality. (I am not explaining the argument; just stating main thesis, which is, if you don't know the argument already, most likely unintelligible.)

b) It does not work on moral grounds. How do we know what's best for society? Are we allowed to commit an act of robbery to benefit the society? What about an act of murder? Genocide? If the society decides (democratically) that it's best for its needs to slaughter a group of people, what right do we have to say it's immoral? The voice of people has spoken: it's better this way for the society.

I also think the metzius of what you're saying is wrong. Economy in US is better than in Canada. Those that have seichel and willpower to get ahead, get ahead. Anybody, however poor, can get ahead in the US with enough work.

And I think the effect of taking money out of the industry (the money that can be used to improve products, create new products and services and create jobs by expanding the industry) has greater adverse effect than whatever positive effect public education may have (if any). Face it: public anything is a charity. It does not pay off for the society at large. It only makes "social section" figures look better and helps individual people (which I am not against, btw, but since we are talking utilitarianism here...).


Also, public education turns out idiots en masse. I would say it is doing the society more disservice. Definitely 90% of the people I went to school with brought down the progress of society after graduation.


[This is not to say that there is no unemployment due to oppressive elements such as government and labor unions messing with marginal benefit of labor, etc. If there were no minimum wages or labor unions, unemployment would be lower.]

A Suede Ḥossid said...

I am not, however, against charity in education -- not at all. I think this charity should be private. But if already you make it public, don't be so quick with it; at least stop and ask questions, and also do it intelligently.

Also, I cannot really explain why the education in the Soviet Union was so excellent (objectively -- I am talking about not learning anything new in high school except English after I came over; and the education after the Collapse became worse than in my mom's time, for example). That's the part that needs explaining. The education in America, in UK, in Canada, in France, all sucks. I think we should blame this on superior Russian intelligentsia culture.

(I am talking about the quality of education in general. There were, of course, a few mishigasim that came with the system -- e.g., propaganda as a part of history education, etc.)

Anonymous said...

I regret, that I can help nothing. I hope, you will find the correct decision.