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Why It’s Evil to Pay Janitors $50,000 Salaries

Posted on May 14 2011 9:36 am
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
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When I argue that capitalism pushes janitors to develop themselves and evolve into people who can create more value for society this isn't what I'm talking about.

I’ve been arguing with my leftist friends again. Bad habits die hard. I still manage to let the dirty laundry pile up for weeks too. Some day I’ll learn my lessons — and have more leftist drinking buddies and fewer days wearing faded t-shirts from college.

This time it’s Chris, an admitted Socialist and proud Union Man. (I suppose I’m being redundant aren’t I?)

An argument that started over the futility of the attempt to create a “digital picket line” to boycott the Huffington Post (Chris’s link was responsible for me suggesting to our star blogger Walter Hudson that he write this FANTASTIC post here) soon drifted over to the subject of the damaging effects of teachers unions. I challenged my friend when he seemed to play dumb on the horrific effects of lousy tenured teachers:

Oh come on, Chris. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Are you disputing the obvious reality that the result of making it much harder to fire elementary and high school teachers is that more bad teachers get to keep teaching kids poorly? It’s very hard to fire a tenured high school or elementary school teacher. The result of this is kids get left behind when they’re stuck with a lousy teacher for a year. Are you telling me that you’re perfectly satisfied with the status quo of the hoops that have to be jumped through to fire bad teachers?

I expected Chris to argue with me about this and insist that I’d been indoctrinated by evil right-wing talking points — not that I was genuinely concerned about children getting a good education. He’d demand that I produce statistics and research only to tell me why each factual piece I provided was somehow inadequate in its statistical methodology or that greater studies were required to prove what I claimed. Very smart leftists won’t disagree with you when the facts are clearly, indisputably on your side. Instead they’ll argue that it’s not adequate to prove what you claim and that instead more studies and research need to be conducted. This could be characterized as Socialism-via-Intellectual-Filibuster. (In these scenarios leftists don’t work to construct new socialist policies that will crush the American economy, but rather just keep the ones they have in place long enough to finish the job of bankrupting us.) Conservatives might be able to advance in the war of ideas but leftists will just keep setting the goal posts further and further away — but only if we don’t call them on it!

(Particularly academic leftists will often insist that online political debates have the same number of footnotes as scholarly papers. If you don’t have three citations to peer-reviewed journals to back up every sentence your write in your facebook comment then you’re not going to persuade them. Not that you’re ever going to change their minds even if you did meet all of their hard data demands.)

Instead, Chris admitted that lousy teachers keeping their jobs was a real problem — and that some form of merit-based pay for teachers might be a good idea. He then cited numerous examples of various teachers unions trying to correct this problem while acknowledging that not all union members and teachers were happy about it. In other words: he was actually willing to meet me halfway and agree on the nature of the problem so we could discuss techniques for solving it.

He seemed to expect that I would be horrified that some of my political opponents might actually be trying to sincerely solve real problems. What he doesn’t seem to grasp yet is that I’m not anti-union; I’m anti-the-problems-that-unions-usually-cause. Conservatives and Tea Partiers’ anti-union public policies do not have the end goal of breaking up unions but of correcting some of the problems that have resulted from union overreach. If unions didn’t actually hurt the people they claimed to be trying to help (as well as the rest of us too) then they would not be on the Tea Party’s radar. This was my response to Chris, which I tied into another economic debate he and I have had recently (which NRB readers might recognize from a sharp post the fiery Megan Fox wrote not long ago):

Well this is a more encouraging response — and further evidence that you are as I’ve regarded you for a long time, a political opponent more prone to decency and intellectual honesty than many in your movement.

But in your opening paragraph there’s still not a recognition of a core reality that seems to divide us. You say that bad teachers should simply be filtered out and not permitted to achieve tenure. That’s of course true, but the reality is that a good number of the bad teachers today may have been good enough to achieve tenure but wouldn’t if they were judged today. Having a job where you’re unlikely to get fired has the ability to change people. Stuff happens in life and people lose their motivation to work as hard as they once did. And that’s a core thing that we seem to disagree on at an implicit level: the reality that in this country people have the potential to go through pretty dramatic changes in their lives. We don’t stay the same people. (Most of the people in the bottom 20% of earners today won’t be there for their entire lives. If you insist on seeing the economic data proving this then I’ll be happy to provide it.)

For example, in the conversation about janitors’ salary I dispute paying janitors $50K per year not because I don’t think the work they do is meaningful and not because I don’t think they deserve to live comfortably. I’ve known plenty of janitors in my time and they’ve certainly been decent people. But the reality is that if people can live comfortably doing work that any high school dropout is qualified to do then there is nothing motivating — FORCING — people to try and push themselves to be something better than they are today. I spent years working entry-level jobs that paid around 25K a year. And what did that do for me? It pushed me to work harder so that someday I could provide more for my family and do more meaningful work. If the call center jobs I worked had paid me $50K per year then I would have had less motivation and would never have been forced to grow and evolve. I might still just be working these pretty easy, low-stress jobs and working on novels between calls. (Call center work is not as stressful as being in the Fight with David Horowitz.)

Thus, when you tell me that you think janitors should get paid $50K per year I don’t perceive that as you doing anything that actually helps janitors. Instead I see you creating a situation in which poor people are given incentive to spend their whole lives doing nothing more valuable than sweeping floors. Being a janitor is a job, not a career. People should aspire to more than mopping.

The honest truth, Chris, is that even though I might work full time for David Horowitz the political positions I advocate aren’t going to be based in some version of a conservative utopia but rather in a reaction to the leftist dystopia that we already see. It’s a politics of pragmatism. If leftist programs actually worked as people thought they did then I’d still support them. (I’d love to pay higher taxes if it meant that healthcare wouldn’t be as much of a pain in the neck as it is now! It sucks that we lose our health insurance if we lose our jobs and then face bankruptcy if something goes wrong. But it’s also a DAMN GOOD motivation to get a new job. If we had single payer healthcare system then I might work some easy, part-time job to just cover the bills and then spend all my time working on books.)

So your advocacy of $50K janitors doesn’t have the real world effects you think they do. All it does is hurt poor people more than it actually helps them — which is an apt description of most leftist political efforts to advocate on behalf of various disadvantaged groups.

Chris hasn’t responded to me yet. But I’m very interested in his answer.

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