Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jonathan

If you haven't seen Dave Ramsey's Town Hall for Hope, I strongly recommend you watch the whole thing (which, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can do for free now!). Here is a segment at the very end, in which Dave describes a young man named Jonathan and provides a cautionary tale about not valuing people like him enough:



Expressed in these terms, one of the major problems we are going to have in getting back on our feet as a country is that, in many of our most important private and public institutions, we are systematically holding our "Jonathans" back in order to let the "non-Jonathans" keep up. In recent news, two decisions by the Obama administration highlight this mindset: the Chrysler bankruptcy and the discontinuation of the Washington, D.C. school voucher program.

In the case of Chrysler (and, more broadly, the entire American auto industry), many people point to the company's inability to adjust its labor costs to reflect actual market conditions as a major reason for its downfall. The labor unions involved, particularly the United Auto Workers (UAW), have fought against giving back anything gained for their members, even though many of those gains came during a completely different market reality for the company. Add to that the "legacy costs" to the company of health care and pensions for former workers, and one can see a large part of why the company fell on hard times. But when it became necessary to make sacrifices in order to keep the company alive, it was not the UAW who "took one for the the team." Rather, Chrysler announced plans to close nearly 25% of its dealerships across the country -a part of the industry full of entrepreneurs, family businesses and, generally, "Jonathans"- while the UAW had to settle for... 55% of the company!

Like the American auto industry, the American public education system is in bad, bad shape. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in Washington, D.C., where fully half of the city's public schools receive a failing score for federal education standards. An innovative vouchers program -supported, among others, by the principal of the private school President Obama's own daughters attend-was created to serve as an institutional "Jonathan" of sorts: it sought to find out what parents and students wanted from an education, and figure out ways to make that happen. However, under much pressure from teachers' unions, the Obama administration announced earlier this month that no more students would be accepted into the program, which would then cease to exist when the current group of students completes school. This prompted Megan McCardle of The Atlantic to write:

I think that there is probably a special place in hell reserved for politicians who betray our nation's most helpless children for the benefit of a sullen and recalcitrant teacher's union. There they spend all eternity explaining to their victims why they couldn't possibly have risked their precious babies' future in the public school system, yet felt perfectly free to fling other peoples' children into it by the thousands.
As you can see, one common denominator between both of these examples, as well as in the Postal Service (where I work) is the dominance of labor unions. In my own experience, I've seen "Jonathans" who work hard and care deeply about their customers -as well as "anti-Jonathans" who are just the opposite- both receive the security of a guaranteed 40-hour work week and a set schedule, while those they work with take a cut in hours to balance the total allotted to each office. The point is, whether they are "Jonathans" or not is totally irrelevent: the only area of the Postal Service in which an individuals merit (or lack thereof) is either rewarded or punished is in management, outside the realm of the "craft" (union) jobs.

So, if Dave Ramsey's thesis is that our country needs more "Jonathans" to be able to regain prosperity, and labor unions are a hindrance to the discovery and nurturing of these people, what is the logical conclusion? For us, at least, it has been to short-circuit the system. Educationally, this is happening through our decision to home-school our kids. Occupationally, so far I've been limited to refusing to join the union (which I would do anyway, considering how much money it funnels to anti-life politicians). For now, that's all I can really afford to do...

But enough about me; how about you? I 100% guarantee that, if anyone reads this, at least some of you will disagree with my views. What are yours? I look forward to seeing them in the comments!

1 comment:

The Red State Ranger said...

Post-guy,

I tend to agree, but I also tend to think it goes even farther. The unions are a symptom, not the illness. No one seems to work for a calling anymore, or even for the sake of work, they just work for the mortgage. As a result, taking care of #1 means guaranteeing yourself tenure, not taking care of the customer.

And I wonder if it goes even deeper - as society falls away from the negative and ascetic views of spirituality, they tend to forget this is a fallen world you have to work to maintain.

And in that, I think it is very closely related to the progressive ideal of the perfectibility of society and mankind as a whole through the mastery of social, biological, and bureaucratic sciences.

I've been mulling over that shift in attitudes for a while now, if you can tell. One of these days I'll actually flesh it out some.

Keep writing. We're reading.