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Hullabaloo


Saturday, May 07, 2016

 

On valuing "hard work"

by Tom Sullivan

During a teaser for an upcoming NPR segment last night, a well-worn phrase caught my ear in a new way.

Avik Roy had written in Forbes magazine how insightful conservatives (himself) see Donald Trump not as one of their own, but as a nationalist (emphasis mine):

One insightful way to think about the nationalist vs. conservative divide is to ponder the case of Asian-Americans. If conservative values are the values of family and hard work, then Asians are the most conservative demographic group in America. They have the highest median incomes ($66,000 vs. U.S. median of $49,800), the highest percentage of college graduates (49% vs. U.S. median of 28%), and the lowest rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births (17% vs. U.S. median of 41%).

And yet, in 2012, Asian-Americans voted for Obama over Mitt Romney by a margin of 49 points. Hispanics, by contrast, “only” voted for Obama by a margin of 44 points.

This is the deficiency—and in many cases, the hypocrisy—of nationalists who appeal to “values voters.” They claim to be celebrating hard work and family, but they make no effort to appeal to immigrants—and non-Christians—who embrace those values in greater proportion than do those whose grandparents were born here. The appeal to “values voters,” in effect, has become a coded appeal to identity politics for white people.
Yet one might deduce that if conservative values include hard work, perhaps "hard work" is itself coded language for branding non-conservatives (of whatever color) as, oh, I don't know ... takers, slackers, parasites?

Regarding hard work, define hard. What makes work "hard work"? How do we know this? Does work's hardness give it more inherent value than work that is not hard? (There seems to be some expected relationship between work hardness, median income, and conservatism.) Do conservatives have something against work that is easier? Like, say, sitting in an air-conditioned high-rise wearing an expensive suit and being paid six figures to make money manipulating money? Can we really call that hard work (or productive at all)? Do conservatives really value hard work more than easy work? Or do they simply value cleverness more? But then, valuing "family and cleverness" just doesn't have the right cachet, does it?

Come to think of it, much of the work in this town where housing costs are high are pretty poorly paid. So poorly that, as the joke goes, "There are lots of good jobs here. I know people who have two or three." Perhaps those hard workers are not clever enough?

Or is hard one of those hated, moral-relativist terms whose meaning morphs depending on who wields it?

I once wielded a jackhammer in Georgia and finished concrete in South Carolina in the summer heat. That was pretty hard work by my standards. But at pay slightly above minimum wage, my hard work wasn't valued commensurate with what you would think it would be to hear professional conservatives who don't have to do hard work proclaim how much they value it. If I'd been older and raising a family, we might have qualified for public support (funded in part by my paycheck) just to survive on my hard work.

Or do true conservatives consider taking a "handicap" acceptable only when they are on the golf course?