What The "I Work With My Hands" Guy Left Out

Ok, ok… Matthew Crawford, the guy that got a PhD in Political Philosophy who now fixes motorcycles and wrote about it for the NYT Magazine is no Edmund Andrews.

But as Mike at Rortybomb points out, Crawford still didn’t tell the whole story of quitting the officed class and embarking on a life of satisfying physical labour.

Though Crawford references Alan Blinder’s comments about the crucial difference between labour that can be performed over a wire and performed in person (the latter of which can’t be outsourced to India so easily), he doesn’t draw much of a distinction between skilled physical labour and the kind of soulless service labour performed by many of the poor.

But more importantly is the fact that a lot of “working with your hands” labour, including mechanics of various sorts, are highly protected by political forces. For example, you or I couldn’t just take a couple classes in plumbing or lock-picking and set up shop. A lot of these jobs are heavily cartelized, limiting who can enter them, while ensuring above-market wages. In a lot of these guilds or professions, ones ability to freely enter them is based on having the proper social or familiar connections, again a form of preserving the status quo at the cost of those less fortunate.

That’s not to take away Crawford’s important points. Perhaps the most significant takeaway is that we shouldn’t have an education policy of trying to shepherd every student through high school into academic study at a four-year university, when a) many of these students aren’t cut out for that and b) successful physical labour would prove much more satisfying.

Rorybomb:

…regardless of the paychecks, avoiding the Taylorization of this labour enhances the dignity associated with it, the dignity of labour that is thrown out the window in much of the service economy. Perhaps this is expanded in the book, but the fact that the essays don’t tackle this but instead take shots at office cubicle drones will no doubt play well with the New York Times audience, but I think it dodges some of the more important issues.

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