A subtle division

There was an interesting theme in Hillary Clinton’s address to the Democratic convention tonight: that if you were willing to work hard, anything was possible. Similar notes were sounded last night by Michelle Obama, if I remember correctly. Lots of references to Americans not being quitters, getting back on our feet when we’re knocked down, etc. I don’t remember hearing the theme of “working hard” hammered like this at a Democratic convention before.

That sets up an insidious “us” and “them” comparison. “We” are the ones who persevere and work hard and strive to succeed. So who are “they” – those people who give up, are lazy and aimless? I suspect the Democrats are self-consciously working to counter the “welfare state” image they have. I fear, too, that as an African-American candidate, Obama has to work double-time to counter the negative stereotypes. I’ll be curious to see whether this “work hard” theme sticks and works as a strategy.

Speaking of work: I’ve been getting a crash-course in basic economics in one of my projects. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some local college economics teachers on what the core ideas of the discipline are (and how we should assess student understanding). It’s been interesting to see how economists model the decisions we make.

For example: say you earn $10 an hour at a basic hourly job. You get a raise to $15 an hour. Do you 1) cut your hours back, since you can work fewer hours and make the same amount of money, 2) keep hours the same, or 3) increase your hours, since the “cost” of your leisure time has gone up. Personally, I’d incline to #1, but the instructor I was talking with emphasized the economic analysis that leads to #3. Using the idea of “opportunity cost,” it used to “cost” me $10 to watch an hour of TV (since that was an hour I could have potentially working). Now it costs me $15 to watch an hour of TV. Clearly, if I suddenly had the opportunity to make $200/hr on a given day, I wouldn’t be watching much TV, so he has a point. đŸ™‚ But I was also disturbed by the implications of that “theory” – that as wages rise, people have more incentive to work longer hours due to the “cost” of leisure (up to a point, of course, when leisure time is so scarce no amount of money would make you give up that last remnant… unless you’re a total workaholic, of course).

I’ve said this before, but I hope to get back to more regular writing on this blog (if anybody is still hanging out on Y360 to read it). I’ve got some writing projects in the hopper for work and personal explorations, so I get some of my ideas out on e-paper there. I miss this forum, though, and hope that Y360 turns out to be a viable community.

Till next time,


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s