United Airlines having a paying passenger violently dragged off the plane by law enforcement officials is still dominating the news and Facebook (see Thanks, United, for making me proud to be a former Delta Airlines employee). Cicero was famous for saying “The cash that comes from selling your labour is vulgar and unacceptable for a gentleman … for wages are effectively the bonds of slavery.”
If we step back from this I think we will discover that it is waged labor that is at the root of most of the unhappiness and suffering that occurred in Chicago. The way that the bumping was set up, passengers would have missed a day of work if they had accepted United’s offer of a travel voucher and a hotel. It seems reasonable to assume that if none of the passengers had a job, at least four would have said “sure, I can hang out near O’Hare airport and play games on my phone for a day.” Certainly the doctor who was beaten up wouldn’t have been so passionate about getting to work if he didn’t have a job.
Probably the flight attendants, gate agents, and police officers were made unhappy by all of this as well. You might argue “Well, they get a fat paycheck so we shouldn’t be sympathetic if they suffer a bit to collect it.” Yet, except possibly the police officers when the value of their pensions are included, none of these folks have as much ability to consume as a non-working American who uses the means-tested government-run economy thoughtfully (e.g., $60,000/year apartment in Cambridge, New York City, or San Francisco, free health insurance via Obamacare, food stamps (SNAP) from USDA, Obamaphone for chatting with friends). Certainly none of them would have the after-tax spending power of a thoughtful child support plaintiff in Massachusetts, California, or one of the other states that offers unlimited child support. (See the Massachusetts chapter for a jobless plaintiff who out-earns her University of Pennsylvania classmates by 3.2X.)
It seems safe to say that many of the people involved in this incident were “stressed-out” at the time and are now unhappy. These bad feelings are not measured very well when looking at life choices of work versus welfare or work versus child support. Some people might try to factor in the suffering that comes from spending 50+ hours/week commuting and sitting at a desk doing tasks that one hasn’t chosen. But I don’t think that I’ve seen an analysis of the outside-of-working-hours suffering of which this United Airlines incident is an example. The incident occurred on a Sunday, theoretically a day of rest for at least most of the passengers, but plainly the stress of having a job that required attendance on Monday morning was a factor for many people.
Readers: What do you think? Given that we’ve built a society where work is option (see Book Review: The Redistribution Recession), are we adequately communicating to young people about just how miserable working is?
- “It’s Not Just Fox: Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Harassment” (nytimes, April 10, 2017) in which the special misery of women in the workforce is highlighted. The Times says that roughly 50 percent of women are sexually harassed due to their decision to enter the labor force.