Friday, June 1, 2012

Philosophy Without A License: Jobs And Money Edition

Yesterday, Politico reported:
Speaker John Boehner doesn't mince words.
Let's call bulls--- bulls---," he told House Republicans in a closed meeting this morning.  "This election is about jobs, jobs, jobs."
Whenever I hear a politician throw the BS flag, I'm reminded of the Harry G. Frankfurt classic On Bullshit.  The web version that became the book is available here.  Frankfurter opens his classic essay with a useful reminder:
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, or attracted much sustained inquiry. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves.
Pointing out that BS is ubiquitous and ill-defined is fun, but Ed Kilgore prompts me to up my philosophical game a bit.  Kilgore writes, "So the election is “about” jobs, but not that green stuff that people do jobs to get—you know, money."  In short, people work, not just to work, but to get money to buy food, clothing, shelter, education, and entertainment.  In short Kilgore reminds readers of Aristotle's observation: "Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good . . . ."

In other words people go to work because the work gets them something not because the work is their ultimate goal.  Charles Hughes Smith adds practical perspective about the most obvious goal, money:
If you go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator and plug in $1.60 (the minimum wage in 1969 when I started working summers in high school) and select the year 1969, you find that in 2012 dollars the minimum wage should be $10 per hour if it were to match the rate considered "reasonable" 43 years ago, when the nation was significantly less wealthy and much less productive.
If the election is supposed to be about jobs, but jobs no longer fulfill the function they did 50 years ago, maybe it's time to recognize the political BS for what it is, and change the focus of the election to creating a society where jobs are a means to a better life not an end unto themselves.

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