Last week, Duke beat Butler to win the Men’s Basketball National Championship.
The win and the game itself may not have much to do with politics, but in a country where people will relate anything to politics, it can be thrust into the national political narrative. For David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, the game was the perfect illustration of how poor and middle class people do not work as hard as rich people. As an intellectual and elitist columnist, Brooks’ stance on the matter is disgusting, out of touch and emblematic of bigger problems.
Brooks develops this point in an online discussion with fellow Times columnist Gail Collins. He says that the game was “widely cast as a class conflict – the upper crust Dukies against the humble Midwestern farm boys.” Since Duke prevailed, Brooks attributes their win to “hard work on defense” and says this shows how “the rich are not always spoiled. Their success does not always derive from privilege.”
That is all he had to say; it is true, Duke is regarded as top private school for people of means. This is true; it is the Boston College of the south. If he had finished there, he would not have ignited a controversy, but being a columnist, he had to make some grander point. Namely, he said the Duke players’ willingness to play hard and tough on defense is emblematic of “how for the first time in human history, rich people work longer hours than middle class or poor people. How do you construct a rich versus poor narrative when the rich are more industrious?”
It is almost too easy to laugh at this statement, if only because Brooks says that he was cheering against Butler because they are poor. More interestingly, Brooks is saying that rich people are rich because they work harder. He does not even limit this to a rich versus poor argument. Instead, he divides it into rich versus the poor and the middle class. This statement is so horrifying, not just because it is an old worn out cliché, but because it is what fuels the conservative, small government mindset.
The poor and middle class do not work hard; therefore they do not need government protecting their rights at the workplace. The poor and middle class do not work hard; therefore, the government does not need to subsidize health care costs. The poor and middle class do not work hard; therefore, there is no need to have successful government programs like food stamps to help families buy food. In short, the poor and middle class do not work hard; therefore, there is no need whatsoever for the government to play any kind of a helping role.
Obviously most sane people would disagree. Monica Potts wrote a blog at the American Prospect and made several important points. First, Potts did some research and could not find proof that the rich work more than the poor.
Second, what kind of jobs is Brooks talking about? Sure, accountants may work 80 stressful hours a week, but it is a profession they chose, went through extensive education for, and they probably drive to their beautiful home in a nice car. It is nothing compared to, as Matt Taibbi put it, “working 80 hours a week digging ditches for a septic-tank company, or listening to impatient assholes scream at you at some airport ticket counter all day long, or even teaching disinterested, uncontrollable kids in some crappy school district with metal detectors on every door.”
Third, Potts writes “I suspect that low-wage earners just aren’t allowed to work as much as they might want to … their bosses aren’t going to let them work overtime just because they need more money.”
I think this is the most important point. I work at Roche Bros. in Eastern Massachusetts, where the company recently instituted a 32 hour cap on part-time workers to escape paying employees benefits. We now have our hours, as Potts writes, “Intensely managed by [our] superiors just so [we] don’t get more money or qualify for benefits.”
At Roche Bros., one part-time co-worker who does the same amount of work as a full-timer and who used to work 48 hours a week saw 16 hours of pay go out the window – money he sends back home to Guatemala. Another coworker skipped his three vacations to get the money lumped into on paycheck because he is Haitian and had to send money home after January’s earthquake. Now he has to work straight through until next January or he has to take unpaid vacations. Think he is going to get bailed out by the bosses? Think again.
Everyone has a hard-working friend who has climbed the ladder quickly and achieved a high-paying job, but more often than not, poor and middle class people are mired in low-pay, low-reward jobs – not because they do not work hard, but because of the American economic system. Their hopes lie in their children. For his stupidity, Brooks should go work a full 48-plus hour work week of a middle class plumber – suddenly a two-day weekend might seem glorious. Send him out to a low wage job; force him to pick mushrooms, work as a janitor or cut grass for a week.
I’m sure any of his co-workers would trade their easy jobs for the hard life of a New York Times columnist.
Nick Milano is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]