03 September 2006

Lamenting the lack of "noblesse oblige" on Labor Day

So, the hotel where I stayed in Philadephia for the APSA annual convention this past weekend provided TWO free morning papers - The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Whether either of these publications qualitfies as an actual newspaper, is, of course, another story, one that I will not pursue here.

In any case, on Friday (1 Septmber '06 - page W2) I came across a piece in the WSJ by Sally Beatty in what looks to be a column entitled "Giving Back." Her specific title here was "Support for Resort Workers," and her concern is with the plight of workers in swanky resort areas - "the Hamptons," Aspen, Colorado, and so forth - who cannot afford to actually live near the places they work.

Here is her hook: "In wealthy resort areas, there is no shortage of glitzy charity benefitss for causes with social pedigree, from art museums to hosptials. But helping out the area's working poor - the people who trim the residents' hedges, mow their lawns, and clean their houses - has never been much of a priority." It isn't that the obscenely rich in places like the Hamptons are not philanthropic. As Beatty laments, for wealthy residents, "helping the local working poor doesn't have te same kind of cachet" as other sorts of "causes." Her aim, I supposes is to try to redirect some of those charity dollars by appealing to the sense of duty among the wealthy.

What planet is Beatty on? First, for her it seems that the hardships that workers in resort towns endure (I hesitate to use the phrase "resort communities" because that provides a veneer of attractiveness to what are unquestionably quite objectionable sorts of inequality) are problematic largely because they generate inconvenient by-products (e.g. traffic congestion) for the rich. Second, Beatty conveniently overlooks the fact that the "working poor" really do exisst in every "community" in the country. In that sense she seems to be blind to places like Ontario County. NY where I live or Monroe County, NY where I work. Neither are resort areas in any real sense. Finally, Beatty frames the problem of economic inequality as one of charity instead of acknowledging that it is a political problem. That the latter is the more apt view seemed to me uncontroversial. If you think otherwise try any of these for a start: Kevin Phillips Wealth & Democracy (Broadway, 2003); Lawrence Mishel, et. al. The State of Working America 2006-2007 (ILR/Cornell UP, 2006); Edward Wollf. Top Heavy. (The New Press, 2002). I only wish Sally Beatty would.

Have a great Labor Day!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post - I think the issue of low income work and its effects on individuals and families is very important and should be about politics not charity as you eloquently argue.

The limited sections of the news today that focus on labor (you would perhaps imagine there would be lots given the holiday) and not sports (a welcome diversion for some no doubt) almost all highlight the growing levels of inequality in the US - the NYT features the difficulty of entry level workers.

One piece that caught my eye fom a couple of days ago that you may find interesting is an opinion piece about organic farming in Salon - "Squeezing out local produce" By Tom Philpott. This ties together the "lifestyle" choices of the wealthy and middle class, with their impacts on the working poor, similar to the issue of resort towns that you mention. Apparently as the demand for organic food has increased more and more large scale retailers have entered the market - thus cutting the mark-ups for small organic farmers down. This coupled with a heightened attention to immigration and a smaller pool of immigrant workers has created a situation where organic produce is going unpicked, rotting in the fields.
This at a time when food "insecurity" (read hunger) is a significant problem - according to Census Data made available by Childstats.gov 20% of children in the US experienced some kind of "food insecurity" in 2004 the latest year figures are so far available.

Well I should stop there you likely get the point, the Salon piece can be found at http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2006/08/28/organic_decay/

the statistics at

04 September, 2006 08:48  

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