The electrician and his sidekick were here this morning to install a few outlets at hip height, so I don’t have to crawl painfully on the floor to plug in a vacuum cleaner, a laptop, or a heating pad.
This guy, Dave, has been the electrician of choice for the past 30 years, so we’ve become casual friends. We’re both beginning to enjoy the vicissitudes of old age — he more than me, I’m sure, since he does a lot of physical work. While the two men were working, I was fiddling with installing a new battery-run doorbell (one of the previous Happy Handyman homeowners took out the hard-wired doorbell!), and I remarked that compared with the one I put in eight or ten years ago, it’s a piece of junk. That, of course, kicked off the Going-to-Hell-on-a-Handcart conversation.
Dave remarked that he feels unhappy in the 21st century, because so many changes keep coming so fast. He doesn’t like either the changes or the pace of change.
I said, well, if you’ll recall that’s exactly what our parents said when they got to be our age.
He said, that’s true. But there was a difference between 20th-century change and 21st-century change. In the 20th century, the changes put people to work: people had jobs. The opposite is happening now. Fewer and fewer people have jobs, and those who do don’t have very good jobs. Then he clucked about the stupidity of sending all the decent jobs offshore — and the harm it’s doing to America.
One thing that’s good about having a trade, I said, is that they can’t offshore electrical installation.
That’s true, he said. But the problem is, when people don’t have decent-paying jobs, they can’t afford to have maintenance work and improvements, like installing outlets where you can reach them, done right. So they either don’t do them, or they just jury-rig things to try to keep them going as long as possible.
You’ve been in Mexico, he continued. You’ve seen how the construction and infrastructure are thrown together, just enough to hold it up for a few days. That’s because nobody can afford the material or the skilled labor to do a proper job. They toss things up, they patch things together just so they’ll last until tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, they’ll figure out what to do then.
Well, that kind of thing is happening here more and more. When repairs need to be done, they either don’t get done or they don’t get done right, because people can’t afford to hire an electrician or a plumber. They’re just not earning enough.
I think I’ve talked before about the Third-Worldization of America. As Dave said in passing, the only people who benefit from the changes we’re seeing today are the very wealthy and the upper-level, extravagantly paid executives of huge corporations.
Listen to the workingmen. They’re the people who are on the ground, trying to make a living with American jobs — you could say they’re the canaries in the mine. And in my opinion, they have a clearer, truer view of the health of our country’s economy than does any theoretician in academe or any politician in Washington.
What they have to say will curl your hair.
Image: Lineman installing a new transformer. Dave Pape. Public domain.