Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Reprinted from Issue Number 24, March 15, 1997
Ilistened this morning to American employers complaining bitterly about how “da woik ettick ”, in the lilting Brooklynese of one building contractor, is dead and gone. When he ran a one-man business, he explained, customers complimented him on the quality of his work. He never had any “call-backs” to straighten out some mess he’d made. Now the number of those “ call-backs” has skyrocketed because he just can’t find help that’s competent, or gives a damn about the job.
It made me think of an experience I’d had in London 20 years ago, when I was buying an inexpensive guitar to play while I was visiting there. It’s hard for anyone under 30 to believe, but, as Jimmy Carter was campaigning for President, what I witnessed at Woolworth’s hadn’t spread yet to America, although I knew what caused it and that it was only a matter of time before it arrived here.
I’d selected the merchandise I wanted and stood at the counter for the shopgirl to take my funny-money, ring up my sale, and let me get on with my touristing. The little instrument cost 9 pounds, or about $13.50, in an economy where the value of the pound had crashed, making shopping very pleasant for Americans. I also bought a couple of antique swords while I was there—an 1832 French artillery “cabbage cutter” (itself a replica of a Roman gladius), and a Wilkinson cavalry saber with Queen Victoria’s initials worked into its hilt—and a Bowie-shaped Persian dagger with a handle carved like a horse’s head from some lovely striped brown stone. Little did we know, inflationwise, what that pitiably ignorant, demented Georgia peanut farmer had in store for us.
Anyway, I stood at the counter waiting and waiting while the girl mouthed Cockney-accented endearments to her boyfriend on the phone and discussed it all with a coworker. Both girls could see me, they just didn’t give a damn. After about 15 minutes, my wife—who’d lived in London half her life—was livid. She was about to do something unpleasant about it, when I asked her what she reckoned these girls made, and how much they could reasonably expect to take home.
The answer to both questions—thanks to an oppressive class-system you have to witness to believe, the mean-spiritedness of English employers that makes Scots appear generous and open-handed, but mostly to a government that regards the people it’s supposed to serve as chattel property—was almost nothing. Why should these girls stir themselves to serve me? What did they stand to gain by it? Would it buy them an extra scone, or enable them someday to leverage themselves out of the grimy East End? Hell, no. Would it damage their microscopic prospects to let me wait while they enjoyed phone-sex with their boyfriends, who were undoubtedly “skiving off” on their own jobs? Same answer.
No matter what liberal Democrats claim to the contrary, we don’t have a class system in America, believe me, we don’t. Here, if you don’t like the “station” in life to which you were born, and you have a modicum of moxie, you can be anything else you want, and people will heartily congratulate you for it.
In the Old World, if you speak with the wrong accent, wear the wrong tie, even show too much (or too little) shirtcuff at the end of your jacket-sleeve, you’re doomed to whatever your daddy did for a living. Try to change your accent, tie, or shirtcuffs, that’s worse; it makes you a “bounder” who doesn’t know his place. This cultural disease shows in every aspect of English life. The minute I got home, I felt like getting down on my hands and knees and doing a Pope John-Paul II, giving the good old American kerosene-soaked tarmac a big wet sloppy smooch. In a magazine article I wrote shortly afterward, I said that Shaw was right: Brits and Americans are two peoples separated by a common language. Our “cousins” more strongly resemble the Japanese than they do us.
One begins to see what Karl Marx—who lived in London—may have been getting at and why John Lennon moved heaven and earth to make sure his younger son was born an American. And yet these class-based observations fail to account for why, over the ensuing 20 years, the rude behavior of those English shopgirls managed, exactly as I predicted it would, to migrate to these shores.
Seven-eighths of everything is tax. Over half of every dollar you make, on average, ends up being paid in taxes to one government or another, federal, state, county, or city. Not to mention fire, sewer, water, and transportation districts. Those to whom you pay the other half of your income, for all the little things you need to stay alive (or to make your life worth living) are infested with the same parasites—except that you end up paying their taxes, as well, through increases in their prices that wouldn’t otherwise have been necessary. As if that weren’t enough, the price we all pay for what it costs to comply with idiot regulations chops our mangled purchasing power in half again.
Say you make $30,000 a year. On average, you get to “keep” $15,000, which only buys $7500 worth of goods and services. Except that, thanks to all those wheelchair ramps, the orange paint on steps and railings, endangered snails, and mountains of annual paperwork, it’s really only $3750 worth of goods and services. The question isn’t why this civilization finds itself gradually succumbing to English Shopgirl’s Complaint, but how it manages to survive at all!
Now try this experiment: would you be willing to get up earlier, work harder, stay later, smile at the customers, get it right the first time (or at least stick with it, no matter what, until you got it right), if you were paid eight times as much as you are now? In concrete terms, if you make $30,000 a year now, how would it affect your work habits if your take-home jumped to $240,000?
We’ll find out, the day America (which chose to do so many other things so differently from ancient, evil Europe) stops beating people up and killing them—or threatening to do so—in order to steal seven-eighths of what they earn.