I recently started watching The Wire, and HBO show about the Baltimore city police department and one of my favorite characters from the show is Frank Sbotka, the head of the longshoreman’s union from season 2. There’s a quote from him that I really like; one episode. fed up with the labbyists he’s been paying to try and save the pier he says “We used to make shit in this country… build shit. Now we just got our hand in the next guy’s pockets.” I really like the sentiment of this quote. I think it speaks right to many of the problems we have in the United States today.
I was reminded of the quote when I heard Matthew B. Crawford, the author of Shop Class as Soulcraft talking about his book on NPR. Now I haven’t read the book ( though I intend to) but the cover and Matthew’s story I think immediately call to mind Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The gist of the book is that in our current economy, there is a prejudice against trade crafts and work that involves manual labor as second class. In fact he argues, many blue collar jobs involve as much if not more intelligence and skill than more service oriented white collar jobs.
Contrast this this with all the talk coming from the Obama administration about “rebuilding our nations infrastructure” and articles like this one from the Los Angeles Times about shortages of skilled tradesmen don’t come as a surprise. I think this TED talk by Mike Rowe makes the point nicely: