Friday, September 30, 2011

maybe it isn't about jobs. A yeoman's perspective.

There was an interesting comment recently on an NPR Marketwatch episode. An economist said - and I'm paraphrasing- something about the differences between jobs and work:

Jobs is a political sound bite. Jobs are paychecks and taxes, and a method for politicians to sound good.

Work is accomplishment and the feeling that you've done something worthwhile.

This brings up a point that I've been mulling over for quite a while- yeomanry.

The word yeoman has quite a history, but in the US it primarily referred in the past to the independent small landholder. Essentially small market and subsistence farmers, who formed the basis of Jeffersonian Democrats, who were then called the Republicans. (Obviously these labels have nothing to do with either the modern Republican or Democrat parties.)

There are a lot of things that go along with the classic yeoman basis of politics-

* Strict interpretation of Article I limiting the role of federal government.

* the idea that the independence of a landowner is the basic unit of honest civic virtue as you are more independent of the government and less likely to aggravate tendencies towards corruption.

* Foreign policy is designed to spread an "Empire of Liberty"

* the Bill of Rights is central to the prevention of tyranny

In modern terms, some changes need to be made to definitions and application, but you'll notice here that the later idea of the worker and the working class are not very compatible.

Let's expand the notion of the American Yeoman to include the cottage industry, the self employed, the small business owner. Yes, we've moved beyond smallhold agriculture as the primary basis for our economy.

Contrast the idea of the independent yeoman- who makes his business, farm, or work a basis for economic independence, with the worker- who demands someone provide a job, with a paycheck.

Often this becomes a situation where the job is demanded regardless of needs for the job, profit, or practicality. The idea is that the job should be guaranteed to exist, and be provided. In a sense, the civic virtue of creating wealth is replaced by the idea of entitlement to a job for support.

I really don't mean to sound harsh about this, most people want to do something productive and make a living. But our training- mandated in our school system- has shifted from making your way to the security of being employed.

To address education in detail at this point would likely not be very useful. But it is necessary to note that our education system has changed in a dramatic way from a largely private, locally oriented system to a Prussian Model government system that was created- openly- to create willing, submissive, workers. If you are a product of that system, some thought and revision of your views may be necessary to accept the idea that a nation of millions of independent yeomen could even operate.

I would like to present and idea, an updated version of yeomanry, some basis for moving forward in a world where industrial and production oriented employee systems cannot compete with the lower labor costs of nations that lack our guarantees of liberty and freedom.

I do think that free and unencumbered ownership of a physical space is a valid basis for a yeomanry. It may or may not be a farm on 1 to 640 acres. It may be a condo, which presents some problems in that you can't independently own a structure and land, but your ownership is a share of a larger conglomeration. It may be a house in a suburb. But some form of ownership does provide a sound foundation for the security and independence of a person or household.

Lacking that, other forms of ownership can form a reasonable basis. Shares in ventures present problems for me due to my views on corporations presented in other posts. But under the current system, they are still a valid basis- provided there is some involvement in the corporation's business. Ownership of a small business is another basis.

The idea here, centrally, is ownership, instead of provided labor.

If you look at times in our history when the various versions of the American Dream are running along with a decent success rate, when standards of living are rising, when the outlooks are positive, you see a large amount of ownership on a yeoman level- a smaller, more independent level.

Startups, small contractors and technical businesses in the 40's and 50s, the hundreds of small ventures in every year of the 19th century. The general store, the craftsman, and still, the farmer.

These also, of course, create jobs. Not everyone is suited to, nor wants to be, a yeoman. That's okay- as long as the opportunity is present to progress, and to obtain even in the lowest manual laborer some secure ownership- be the preference and ability for a trailer or a hobby farm or a urban condo co-op.

The other side is an odd mating of the government dependence to provide a job for, and the corporate idea of ownership by a few who employ in an increasingly serf-like fashion, the public.


Here, of course, we run into the problems with the national party platforms.

One the one hand, you have the Democratic insistence that the government provide the meal ticket through any number of avenues from direct government employment to subsidizing jobs in companies the employee can have no stake in.

Even the most ardent pro-union Democrats (those who aren't advocating an actual socialism) don't include the idea of the employee becoming a stakeholder in the company providing the job.

On the other hand, you have the Republicans, who aim for a minimal amount of regulation and taxation in an effort for the corporatocracy to, apparently, become so wealthy they can generously provide jobs to the public. With but the barest passing nod to the idea of independent work and ownership.


Our nation is full of stories of the successful yeoman. Doctors, researchers, inventors, ranchers- heroes and villains both, of course. Depending on what they did with their success and how far it went.

We lack, increasingly, this core component of our nation. Oh, it's not gone, far from it! But it isn't being taught as an ideal, a goal, nor is it presented as a way out of the increasing economic trap.

This isn't easy to fix. It has become very core to our educational and social structure in many areas for long enough that no one alive can remember what we had before the Prussian Model of schooling and the factory/company man as employee.

Fix it we must. Our experiment in America isn't to create secure workers, it is to birth free, independent individuals.

I cannot stress how much our perceptions have changed. How much you have to look differently at ideas of consumption, jobs, retirement, and education to see another way. But try. Look sideways at everything- look from the perspective of an owner, a stakeholder, a yeoman. Does this or that thing increase your independence from - or your dependence on- government mandates? Corporate control?


A job is a good thing to have. Work is better (whether or not it is a job as an employee). The key to both is to provide an opportunity for stakeholding, ownership, pride, and a sense of civic virtue and duty.

Whether employed or not, give it a shot. Work on something independent- paying off your mortgage early, creating a cottage industry, working for a smaller corporation while owning a chunk of stock that matters. Something. You have nothing to lose but a few episodes of Survivor.


Recall the large bailout of the mortgage industry? We could have bailed them out by paying equity on individual home loans and reducing both the debt level and the negative aspects of the loans. But we didn't. We bailed out the banks themselves, directly- while providing governments with short term money to ...... provide jobs.

If I were to present an economic stimulus bill, it would be backed loans (and support for existing loans) for homes (at a reasonable market price, with some provisions for minimalizing profiteering), coupled with backed loans for businesses- without the red tape. Get people 3 or 6 months of security to start doing something- to start creating wealth.

We need to achieve a yeoman's nation. Not a return to a classic and outdated one. We need to create anew a modern yeoman's nation where the economic emphasis is not on increasing consumer spending, but on creating wealth- on the individual level.

We need to create a new, secure, yeoman's nation based on the ideas of individual independence and self-determination, not dependence on the government or large companies to provide support for increasing dependence through jobs and benefits without the liberty involved in ownership.

1 comment:

  1. The point about ownership as a key concept is a very good one, and valid. It's a particularly good touchstone when looking at how to go about repairing damaged/failing communities & building up real neighborhoods. It's so strange to me though, because the last 10-15 years of my life have been spent working at companies for which I own stock and the company's success/failure directly impacts my own personal wealth. The issue that the blog doesn't address is that we have shifted from a freeholder/farming society to one in which the vast majority of jobs are service-industry jobs. they ARE jobs that people hire someone to do because they don't want to do it. And our society is what devalues being original, intelligence, empathy, and hard work. land ownership, privitization of schools, and small businesses won't change that so long as the dominant cultural paradigm on the media outlets is "Win the lottery!" "Rich people are good, poor people are bad." and "socialism is evil"

    But then i'm one of those crazy people making a very good salary who WANT to be taxed more, and WANT single-payer health care, and WANT a government provided safety net so that nobody, no matter how fucked up or damaged or even lazy, will starve to death or freeze to death or die from an infected tooth. I'd rather people seek to do out of a desire to do the work than a desire to 'be rich'. Strip away the fear of dying on the streets of a big city freezing & starving to death because of an economic downturn, and the possibility rises for people to pursue what they really want. Many won't know what that is. even more won't bother and will want to watch television. But some will leap higher, jump further, and risk greater because they know that if they fall, they can return.