Philosophy Weekend: The Nanny State and the Nanny Job

No word has been thrown around more during the USA presidential election of 2012 than “jobs”. The single greatest failure of the Obama administration, according to Mitt Romney and his supporters, is the unemployment rate. More jobs, we are told, will save the economy, and Mitt Romney has pledged to create 12 million new ones. Here’s a typical Romney quote about working women and day care.

“I wanted to increase the work requirement,” said Romney. “I said, for instance, that even if you have a child 2 years of age, you need to go to work. And people said, ‘Well that’s heartless.’ And I said, ‘No, no, I’m willing to spend more giving day care to allow those parents to go back to work. It’ll cost the state more providing that daycare, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.’”

It’s so easy to tangle Mitt Romney up in his own words that there’s often no sport in it. This quote caused Romney some problems because of the arrogance it expressed towards mothers who might wish to raise their children rather than put them in day care. But there’s more to examine here. The final phrase of the quote — “the dignity of work” — is revealing in ways that go beyond gender.

The sacred ideal of the full-time job is one of the major themes of the Plutocrat/Randian wing of the Republican party, and, beyond that, of American culture as a whole. This comes out often in our current debates: the coddling of “job creators”, the singular obsession with unemployment rates, the idea that health insurance is best managed by employers rather than by the federal government. This idea that we are better off trusting our employers than we are trusting the federal government is an idea that most of us who actually depend on full-time jobs for our livelihood can only laugh at.

The free job market, according to the Plutocrats, assures excellence through the profit motive, through natural selection. Unlike the mediocrity, dishonesty and dependency of the so-called nanny state economy, an economy rooted solely in free enterprise and capitalist self-interest will invigorate and inspire us all. But what about the mediocrity, dishonesty and dependency we all see inside the free job market?

Capitalism doesn’t always produce excellence, and it’s prone to nepotism, dysfunction and corruption. My disillusionment with the ideals of free-market plutocracy began twenty years ago, when I worked as a software consultant at the headquarters of the JP Morgan bank on Wall Street. The first shock for me (as I’ve related before) was that the bank’s internal society was split in two. There were the rich kids from the prep schools, who tended to have gotten their jobs through family or expensive-college connections. Then, in dingier cubicles, eating lunch in a separate cafeteria, there was my society — the multi-ethnic, no-family-connections gang of hard workers who were rewarded with good pay, but stood little chance of ever crossing over into the privileged side.

Advancement through hard work? Oh, we worked hard. But there was little opportunity to advance within my project team at JP Morgan, because my entire department was not doing anything important. It’s hard to excel when your entire project’s mission is a phantom. We spent two years building a demo for a new trading system that never got put into production. Nobody seemed to care whether it got used or not.

Sometimes my friends and I sat around trying to guess why our project was being funded. Perhaps it was some sneaky kind of tax write-off. Or maybe the bank higher-ups needed to tell their stockholders that they were spending a certain amount of money on innovative technology, and created departments iike mine so they could check off “yes” on an “innovate technology spending” checklist. Regardless of the business logic behind our phony project, the real world result was that there was no chance for any of us to advance ourselves through “excellence” in this job. It’s pretty hard to be excellent when nobody cares about the work you’re being paid to do.

I shouldn’t complain, because my phony, pointless Wall Street job paid me fairly well, and was much more cushy than the average American job. Many Americans find similar levels of aggravation at their jobs, and are disgusted to work for businesses that emphasize low quality products or shady objectives, who report to bosses who got to be bosses through nepotism rather than skill, who are not given any information about how the business decisions that affect their work are being made, yet suffer when these business decisions fail, who sincerely try to rise to higher levels through extra effort and long hours but find their paths utterly blocked.

Sure, it’s a free country and anyone stuck in a dead-end job can change jobs. But, when we depend on our jobs to provide for our families and even to provide us with health insurance, it’s often not simple to make this kind of change. Also, many Americans are so discouraged and beaten down by one dysfunctional workplace after another that we have stopped believing we can improve our lives by making a change.

At its worst — and it seems likely that this worst case happens frequently, constantly, all over this country and this world — our imprisonment in dysfunctional and dishonest workplaces descends to conditions of psychological cruelty. Bosses and co-workers are often insensitive, but sometimes they are also sadistic. The spiral of despair and humiliation found in a dysfunctional workplace is similar to the spiral of despair and humiliation found in a welfare state. The more beaten down you get, the harder it is for you to lift yourself up.

It’s amazing, absolutely amazing, how much freedom and beauty and fresh air and sunlight and joy and recreation and travel and fun and family togetherness Americans routinely give up, just to punch the clocks and collect their paychecks at jobs they hate. Two weeks of vacation a year? Half an hour for lunch? One week for paternity leave, one week to spend with your brand new baby? We live like this because we feel stuck, because the dreams have been beaten out of us, because we can’t find a way out of the trap.

When I hear conservatives and Republicans speak of the evils of the “nanny state” — giving away healthcare, education, transportation, you name it — I try to ask them if they have thought much about the evils of the “nanny job”. It’s a topic that’s been barely talked about at all. We need to talk about it a whole lot more.

12 Responses

  1. Why so glum, chum?
    Why so glum, chum?

    Stupid corporate job allowed you to make this great web site.

    It allowed you to change the world.

    What was meant for evil, God meant for good — even atheists can understand this Genesis 50:20 paraphrase.

  2. Dysfunctional workplace,
    Dysfunctional workplace, jeesh, I have managed so many dysfunctional places that it has broken my heart. When I see a homeless person walking outside in front of my workplace, the only thing that comes to my mind is “freedom.” I dream of getting fired! I, and almost every person I have managed over the last seven years or so, have constantly been on the brink of bankruptcy. I once managed a group of 12 associates, six of them had their homes foreclosed. They started living together as a result. One of them stayed in an efficiency, but was known to have “slept outside in his car” when that week’s commission check was small. The breakroom refrigerator is filled with Raman noodles, peanut butter and jelly. At least fastfood places have dollar menus, but that diet causes obesity. Obesity in the poor, so sad. If Romney becomes president, I guarantee you, I fucking guarantee that you will start hearing arguments justifying violence as a means of expression. The brainy kids of Occupy are justified, but look what happened. What affect did they make? Big business media just ignored them altogether and you’d think they disbanded or something. Violence may become fashionable again, and I wouldn’t blame them at all after what I’ve witnessed. Violence as a form of patriotism.


  3. Participatory Economics.
    Participatory Economics.

    Everything you want is there. Why turn away from it? Especially, why turn your face toward capitalism and the myth of the free market?

  4. Cal, thanks for the pointer
    Cal, thanks for the pointer to Participatory Economics. I googled and read a bit about it and I like it. Yes, this is the type of initiative I would definitely get behind. I’m now considering writing some more about this movement — feel free to send me more info about it.

    TKG, well, really I’m not complaining for myself as much as for many people I know who hate their jobs and feel bitter and hopeless about it. I’m no longer a victim of oppressive jobs myself, since I’ve learned to assert myself at the workplace, and since I also tend to leave a job quickly if I’m not happy there.

    I can do this because I have high-demand tech skills. Many Americans, though, are less able to change jobs easily. I hate to see the way they get pushed around, and I have to speak up about it.

  5. …that trap is abosultely
    …that trap is absoutely there. the trap of letting your occupation dictate your personal culture. most do get snared. notice the weckage of our society. divorce, abuse, obesity, etc., etc. the pursuit of money to save us and make us safe.

    but a few hold onto the reins of their life, actually keep to the God-Family-Work priority sequence. most any non-athiest will talk this talk, but very few walk this walk. it is a tough road, full of sacrifices and uncommon sense. in truth, most in the corporate community support this type of life, especially if it is authentically being pursued.

    it’s the corporation if feel sorry for these days. our society is creeping in. a good company/boss/leader is very clear about what the mission is and rightly expects maximum pursuit of the mission during paid hours. for capitalistic success, it cannot be any other way. for long term capitalistic success, it must be done with insitutional integrity. it’s committment, and it goes both ways. commit honest working hours to many american companies for an extended period, and a bounty can be earned. in addition to a month of vacation, health benefits, and retirement cash. patience is required, restlessness endured. we are the world’s financial beakon for a reason. again, only a few can resist getting caught up in the noble pursuit and trample their God and trample their family….

    ….also, you’re right about the dullness of the obbession in our politician’s economy-talk around jobs and the jobless rate. statistics that back up this or that. its all about getting elected so the grease can ooze. i don’t believe any of that garbage: if you don’t have a job, go get one. if you can’t find something to eat, go to a church.

    the catholics and baptists are notorious for benevolance, and i’m sure a muslim church wouldn’t let a family go hungry. the jews are notorious for festivals and food. founding fathers didn’t talk about no jobs or food. in fact, george washington himself counted upon local businesses and churches to feed his troops. it’s the american government’s responsibility to ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. the citizens are responsible for the culture. too many are trying to influence culture through politics. or worse, put all their hopes and dreams into the election of their guy. neither one of these guys are going to make our dreams come true.

    if we really wanted change, we would vote for a woman. until then, i’m hitting the snooze button and will laugh in my sleep.

  6. One of the things that
    One of the things that companies trap you with is the medical insurance. How many people do you know that stick with a crap job because it has insurance? This is why we need Obamacare – to give people a shot at getting a better job or starting their own business, but still being able to afford some kind of health insurance.

    One of the best days of my life was when I was laid off from my corporate job. The sense of freedom was indescribable

  7. ‘job creation’ as a concept,
    ‘job creation’ as a concept, sheesh -i like how the simple nominative phrase ‘nanny job’ addresses it.

    oh, i do dream of the freedom to be a tinker, tailor, cobbler, carpenter, mechanic ad nauseum that nowadays is too luxurious to hope for; original self-employment. freedom.

    there also was once simple base poverty, where one was simply without, and resolving that left only taxation as the only external drain after one’s needs -but now there is no ground our income holds us from hitting but rather there’s a transnat vacuum cleaner beneath us, quite worse than nothing like solid poverty and inability to contribute to taxation. there’s increasingly little point to any supposed ‘middle class’.

    individual liberty is being surpassed by actual national liberty as the issue at hand imho. ‘job creation’? is that really for individuals, or nations as a whole? do we need to take back our country first? from those whom own our ‘representative government’? i think that’s what’s being attempted the world over. we may as well all view it as taking back the planet altogether together…

    in short [*koff*], any view short of a meta view is to me a diversionary tactic. any issue short of the meta issue illusory.
    spring, 2007. [just outside of] caribou, maine. where they’d shut down the Loring AFB.
    that was a great ‘job’. money to be had, hand over fist. the local (and quite small) population ached from the AFB closing, the suckers. 300 cubicles working round the clock, canvassing the country with a monstrous dialing machine. adjustable rate mortgages. wells fargo, prudential life, countrywide home loans, these were our telemarketing clients. i was there a matter of a few months. come late 2008’s crash and subsequent revelations, my sense of culpability was galling. meta views matter.

    i don’t ‘blame’ wall street. i ‘blame’ it’s transnat owners, a vacuous proposition. there’s not a class nor culture nor mass crime to address particularly, i believe. i think all this is pretty amazing, a novel phenomenon, as even the entire industrial age has been. it’s like trying to reverse ecological damage to the planet; impossible to some degree -some of it is practically irretrieveable. even that yet to occur, such as the corporate trashing of the amazon, simply cannot and will not be averted. such flat ‘economical growth’ is ultimately self-defeating. basically capitalism is a cheapening process.

    jobs… our job is to make what *we* make and make it matter again, to ourselves first at least. and die trying, if necessary.

    years ago, i read a great article entitled ‘poetry doesn’t protect you any more’. i keep losing the url and kicking myself for it for all that the author refuted the phrase. well, damn me. time to hunt it down again. time? i forgot. last call has been called… ranting like this is stupid of me, i beg your pardon and do appreciate your forbearance. bless you all.

    we’re running to the stream
    minds in droves
    electremblousness at hand

    youngest america & doom alone
    finger the waters carrying you home
    finger the fingers fingering stone

    we are new

  8. okay, i found it.
    okay, i found it.
    Poetry Doesn’t Protect You Anymore

    “In her thirteenth book, Rising, Falling, Hovering, published in the final months of the Bush Administration, C. D. Wright commits just such an offense as her title suggests -she loiters in all the wrong places. The book, with its halting, unbeautiful, disjointed lines, proves her awareness of the difficulty of writing poetry about war, trade, immigration, Hurricane Katrina, and George Bush. These are intensely politicized issues, claimed by a blunt, politicized language. And so a book on these subjects is a constant tugging between poetry and prose statement, between lyric and document. She levels accusations at herself for her own project: “Poetry/ Doesn’t/ Protect/ You/ Anymore,” making clear the increasing psychological weight of the decision simply to write poems when one is aware of the magnitude of the problems surrounding her in the world.

  9. Re: “Capitalism doesn’t
    Re: “Capitalism doesn’t always produce excellence, and it’s prone to nepotism, dysfunction and corruption.”

    It also feeds greed and ruthlessly steals from the innocent and honest.

    Of course, this is capitalism gone awry with the country’s ingrained “freedoms” out of control to do as we wish as often as we want without any regard of consequences as long as there is a lawyer willing to take on our case for a predetermined amount of money.

    As I’ve said more than once our economic system is that of the game of Monopoly with the winner the 1% controlling all the money leaving the 99% wondering why we are hammering ourselves to this cross of capitalism that leaves us high and dry. The 1% scream that we are headed for an economic disaster if we don’t pay off our debts which is not only the “paltry’ $16.2 TRILLION but our entire TOTAL U.S. DEBT is $58.66 TRILLION which includes all personal debt, state debt, county debt, and city debt. The tricky 1% blame the 99% for getting themselves into debt and now it is WE that must pay it off in order to save our children’s futures..? It seems as though we are being told we must reduce our society to that which we had in the 1800’s in order the give our children and grandchildren a glorious and wonderful future! It makes no sense.

    What our government is not telling us is that amount of debt will NEVER and can NEVER be paid off. Our economic system is so out of kilter that it is necessary to create a new and more equitable system. Damn near anything about our current economy is skewed to benefit the mega-wealthy period. The monopoly game of the 20th Century is over and there is no honest way to continue believing all we have to do is employ everyone in the country and collect taxes from each and everyone of us to pay off the debt… all this when we are at the mercy of the likes of Hurricane Sandy and all she has doled out to the country which conservatively today will easily cost in the BILLIONS adding to the enormous amounts of money we already owe.

    Are we to stop paying our teachers, our public services., i.e. police, firefighters and public officials which make our society running smoothly and according to the interests of the people? Are we to stop our fight for a National Health System that benefits all our citizens? Do we allow Corporate Control to have an even greater say-so in our future, our government be damned?

    I tire of those who exclaim that the government is too big and must be reduced. Where will that leave our public schools, our streets and highways, our parks from city to state to national? Will selling our National Treasures to the highest bidders be the next step to balancing the debt problem? Wouldn’t that satisfy the 1%, eagerly awaiting to purchase Yosemite or Yellowstone? Imagine how much more money they will be able to make cutting down the forests and turning the untouched beauty in condos and giant arcades for all to attend … at a price.

    Corporate America and Trans National Corporations are the greatest threat to the Government(s) until they finally control even them. And we are supposed to worry about a “large government”? At least a government relies upon voters to give the leadership a job and for how long. Corporations are worlds into themselves who answer to only their investors who are never satisfied until more money is made for them, period. The public who are more and more dependent upon the Corporate powers are paid only enough to subsist with the Corporate Leadership unwilling to allow the public any say-so in day to day operations. They want complete and full control of governments, especially the governments that have wealth.

    All this is happening much to our ignorance… our willful desire to ignore the facts. We’re too busy watching football and drinking our six packs of Corporate beer to pay any attention to the country’s problems. Energy, Agriculture, Transportation,Media… even Entertainment are increasingly in the hands of a relative few…. the Monopoly Game still has a few more goals before “they” control anything worth value.

    Anyone who actually believes Mitt Romney will create “12 Million jobs and good paying ones!” will buy into that solely because they are hungry and nearly desperate for any job they can get. The Republican Congress made sure for the past 4 years than ANYTHING Obama offered the public in the way of jobs was squelched… stopped without a reason. They are in the pockets of that 1% and Congressional Leadership is more wealthy than their public paychecks will ever offer them. Unfortunately this includes Democrats that have been taking money under the table for years. Money is the most powerful drug in the world and D.C. is the greatest dealer of that insidious drug than any other place in the world.

    As you wrote, Levi, “Capitalism doesn’t always produce excellence, and it’s prone to nepotism, dysfunction and corruption.” Whenever any society or nation state is infected by greed, corruption, dysfunction, nepotism, greed and theft destroys that government from within. That is where we are at at this point in our political lives and it has infected the majority, if not every government around our world.

    Can honesty ever be reinstated in the political world..? Can we recreate our 20th Century economic system to aid and assist each and every citizen honestly and fairly? It’s apparent to me that is the only real alternative to improving our civilization worldwide and one that would assure the children of tomorrow a strong and powerful foothold in their future… a 21st Century that make good on it’s promises to make a better world.

  10. My old job sucked. My new job
    My old job sucked. My new job doesn’t suck. Had nothing to do with the president. Romney says he’ll create 12 million new jobs? How many of those are strippers?

  11. right on mtmynd 1….could
    right on mtmynd 1….could help but think about starting all over….from Texico Days>>

    In a sign of the times, the United States sold Lousiana to Texas in 2020 so it could actually keep the American government open. Louisiana, long neglected and ridiculed, was too expensive to keep in the Union. Texas paid $1 Trillion dollers and in return got New Orleans and courtroom peace from the Americans. The revolution was over. The cajuns gladly went along, our frenchmen and mudwomen of the swamps. The gator hunters and juke joint jazz queens. America was down to 48 states and half the gulf of Mexico. Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were turning in the dirt. The Second Louisiana Purchase was destined to be a part of Texico lore.

    We can only go there in fiction……however, a capatilistic system with no business second chances culture and aggressive enforcement of a few important regulations would work. in modern day America it will never work due to the passiveness and apathy of the population and the complete and total corruption of the government……………and the grease just oozes and oozes.

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