The Jobs No One Wants

Plow covered by sand, Cimarron County, Oklahoma. U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

In 1908, one year after Oklahoma became the 46th state of the United States, in an area theretofore known as No Man’s Land, three thousand families of Mennonites, Volga Germans, Irish and British arrived from far away to the town of Boise City to begin new lives in a town with tree-lined avenues watered by artesian wells, fed by three separate railways and surrounded by fertile land.

Except there was no town. They had been defrauded. There were no trees, no water, no railroad, no houses, banks or stores. Even the deeds to their land were fake. They were in the middle of nowhere.

So what did they do? They dug a well, planted food and started building.

You might say they had no choice, but that is not the point. Their resourcefulness was breathtaking.

I suspect that typical people of today could be dropped into the fecundity of a temperate eastern forest in springtime, and would starve to death. And yet these European settlers, using only what they had brought — wagons, mules, horses, cows, supplies — not only survived in that forbidding land, but built a city.

They lived in tents while they built dugout houses in the frozen earth by measuring off and then gathering buffalo and cow chips, laying them in the outline of their homes-to-be and setting them afire. As the fire burned out and the ground thawed, they’d dig out and start over with another layer of chips. Over time, they built the houses up with walls formed from cut sod. Over time, things improved. They raised crops, barns, cattle, and families.

The process was slow but not that slow. By 1912 the town had a general store, telephone company, a drugstore, a tinsmith, a blacksmith, a barbershop, a hotel, a feed yard, a grocer, a livery, and two newspapers.

It annoys hell out of me to hear the media trope that Mexicans are doing the jobs that no one else wants, and that’s why they’re here; that Mexicans are doing jobs Americans won’t do.

They’re saying we’re lazy.

Yet Americans built this country from scratch, with cyclonic energy. We built homes, farms, churches, factories, schools and, yes, saloons and fences. We built cities, but more than that we built communities, and a nation.

We made some terrible mistakes, such as overplowing the Great Plains and creating the Dust Bowl, but we weren’t lazy. We were up before dawn and didn’t even have the word siesta.

My own German and Irish ancestors worked hard and were tough. Today, most of us no longer know how to dig a well, build a house out of sod, or live off the land. What’s been lost, however, is the not the will, it’s the know-how. The perception that we can’t cook and clean for ourselves, grow our food and raise our children — that we aren’t self-reliant — is not just offensive, but absurd.

Let’s talk about what people “don’t want to do.” We don’t refer to jobs like picking crops and janitor as “things we want to do.” We call them work, and have to get paid to do them. That’s no different from Mexicans.

We’re told that Mexicans are cheaper, just like Walmart is cheaper. But are they really? Not when you factor in the costs to our social ecology. No decent society has the goal of reducing its people’s wages. Wages are the incentive to work. They are good things.

Adam Smith understood this rightly when he invented capitalism. If it’s not worth it for us to work, or if the government pays us to not work, we won’t work. Even though a man with a job is a happier man. Even if we were saints, we’d still be human saints. Competing to be paid less immiserates everyone.

This article originally appeared in The Connor Post.

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