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My Haut Explanation

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In the middle of this post [2] I made the rather trite observation that the most desirable jobs are in the service sector:

Service-sector jobs are the most desirable. Until his retirement, my dad had a manufacturing job: he worked as a welder in a shipyard. Like most parents, his dream was for his children to become doctors or lawyers and the like — that is, he longed for his children to work in the service sector.  Ever hear a parent say “I want my boy to grow up to be a pipe-fitter!” or “My dream is for little Suzy one day to operate her very own sewing machine in a clothing factory!”?

Responding to this paragraph, Bill Waddell (in the comments section) mistakes my meaning when he says:

As a matter of fact, there are quite a few people who would be proud to see their sons grow up to be pipefitters. Machinists, welders and electricians too. They would be proud to see their son not only become a pipefitter, but to own his own truck and be an independent pipefitting contractor. Same with Suzie and her sewing machine. They would like Suzie to become so good that she someday owns a couple of sewing machines and has a small sewing business. It is decent, honorable work, despite your pompous drivel.

I can only wonder how full of his own superiority a man must be to flush a toilet a time or two, take a shower and have a drink of water, then sit down to write clever throw away lines insulting the people whose pride in their chosen line of work made that possible. You cannot possibly fathom the fact that the pipefitters who make your life comfortable would be ashamed to have their kids grow up to be academic snobs.

Let me be clear.  I never said — and I never believed — that my father would have not been proud of me had I become a pipefitter or a welder or a garbage man rather than a college professor.  Nor did I say — and nor do I believe — that such jobs are contemptible or shameful.

A parent’s love and respect, and a person’s worth, are determined by far, far more than employment and income.

Likewise, the attractiveness of a job is determined by far more than the salary it pays or the social status that it affords.

No serious person doubts the truth of these points.  Nor does any serious person question the fact that nearly everything that any of us does in modern society is made possible by the creativity and labor of countless people — some paid highly and holding prestigious jobs; many others paid modestly or even very little and holding jobs that bring their holders no status recognition.  And of course I understand that the house that my family and I live in could never have been built, and would not today operate, without the labor of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, operators of earth-moving equipment, and on and on and on.  I challenge anyone to find anything in any of my writings that can fairly be interpreted as an insult to such workers.

My point was the (again) quite trivial one that the careers that most people aspire to — and the careers that most parents hope that their children will enter — are not jobs in the construction industry or in the manufacturing sector.  They are, instead, jobs in the service sector — jobs such as physician, lawyer, accountant, architect.

Like most folks, I understand why most people aspire to such jobs rather than to jobs in a shipyard or in an assembly plant.  (From 1975 through 1981, I worked each summer in a shipyard.  It’s unpleasant, difficult, dirty, and dangerous work that doesn’t pay particularly well by modern American standards.)  Perhaps those parents (such as mine) who would prefer that their children become physicians or lawyers or accountants or even college professors (rather than become manual laborers) are crass, shallow, and ungrateful materialists.  But I venture to suggest that such parents outnumber those who would prefer that their children work in an assembly plant rather than become white-collar professionals.

So whether or not I’m a snob — whether I’m coldly insensitive or not to the workers who keep my toilets flushing and my automobile in one piece — the fact remains that the jobs that most people want, and that most parents want for their children, are jobs in the mindlessly derided service sector.

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