Have you seen the maudlin photos that the Wall Street protesters are encouraging people to make? That’s an example on the right. I know they’re supposed to make me feel sorry for these people, but many of them make me feel just the opposite instead.
As a society, we’ve become fixated on the idea that someone “provides a job” for us. It’s as though a job is a good or service that someone produces and delivers to our doorstep. I’d like to suggest that it’s time for people to quit acting like consumers and start acting like people who are eager to figure out what value they can provide to others — that those others are willing to pay for.
Let’s take the woman in this random example here. (You can see the various tear-jerking stories here.) This woman is fairly deeply in debt because she has college degrees that are close to worthless. She has a bachelor’s of fine arts and a master’s degree (presumably in art or art history). I’m sure she got the degrees because she loved the subject. But there’s not much of a market for art historians or for teachers of art history. When economic times are good, schools spend more money on such things, because they can afford extras. Right now, they can barely afford to do essentials. Guess what isn’t in demand?
This woman is apparently angry because she is in debt and isn’t employed by a college, but she seems to be overlooking the fact that she’s the one who make the choices that led to her situation. Nobody forced her to choose to study a subject with almost no market value. Nobody forced her to run up $41,000 in student loans to pay for those worthless degrees. She made those choices on her own.
I’m a big believer in trying to do what you want to do — in trying to find ways to follow your dreams. I don’t object to her attempting to make a living with art. I’ve spent my entire life going against the grain and doing things that sometimes made it hard to make it financially. But it was always my choice. Nobody ever forced me to take that difficult path. I could have stayed in a “safe” business culture and done the things that most responsible people did. I didn’t. I took risks. Sometimes they paid off. Sometimes they didn’t. I was happier because of living my life my way — but I’ve never suffered from the delusion that anyone owed me an income because of my choices.
Sometime in the last hundred years or so, we started thinking of a “job” as something someone provided for you. Before the Industrial Revolution, I think it would have seemed like an odd concept to people. As boys grew up, they learned that they had to figure out a trade or skill that they could use as adults to provide for themselves. They didn’t expect companies to do it out of the goodness of their hearts. They didn’t expect a government to do for them. They knew that if they didn’t find something to do in exchange for money (or food and shelter) that they were going to die.
Today, we’re too good for that. We are a rich enough society that we believe we should do something that we want to do and that other people should make sure we’re taken care of. This isn’t reality. It’s not the way the world works or ever will work.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to do what you want for a living, there are generally going to be sacrifices you make because of it. If you’re able to survive that way and do well enough to support the people who matter to you, I highly suggest that you do it. But if your attempts at that fail, the solution isn’t to blame Wall Street bankers or to demand jobs from politicians. The solution is to figure out what you can do that other people are willing to pay for. It’s your problem. Nobody else’s.
By the way, I can tell many of the people holding up these sad photos that managers at fast food restaurants make pretty decent money, especially compared to being unemployed. If they’re willing to work hard and move up through the ranks, they can support themselves. Every fast food joint I’m familiar with is still hiring all the time, but they couldn’t care less about what you know about art history.
Note: I’ve written recently about the left-wing political views of the Occupy Wall Street types, and the Mises Institute has an excellent article about the economics of the issue today.
Update: One of my Facebook friends posted this picture Wednesday afternoon as a response to the pictures being posted by the Occupy Wall Street types.