Telling stories

Laziness and the Freelance Writer

Posted by southwrite on May 19, 2014


People today are lazy and they don’t wanna’ work. I hear that phrase a lot in one form or another. I saw that recently in a series of comments on Facebook. One went like this: …People just don’t have work ethic anymore. I’ve seen it in every single job I’ve been in and almost every business I walk in. People come in late, leave early, do the bare minimum not to get fired. They don’t give a damn about anything…

Whenever I hear this I tend to stop listening. These broad condemnations of everybody (expect me and my elite friends) aren’t based on facts or the most half assed of flimsy research. Instead it’s at best anecdote and hearsay colored by ideological bias and a deep seated psychological desire to feel superior. If these conversations go for long, undercurrents of classism and racism begin to emerge. This poster was not talking about superior “white collar” people, but everyone else – the hoi polloi. The lower classes just don’t have the same work ethic as their betters and we all surfer for it.

Nobody really challenged this idea. In fact, it began to seem that the participants – most freelance writers like me – agreed. Maybe they just didn’t want to say so. They know that they work long hours meeting regular deadlines. In fact, a lot of people do agree with it – even those who are put in the lazy class.

This idea is important because it shapes our politics and our public policy. It’s used as a justification for increasing income inequity. Remember Mit Romney’s infamous 47 percent? During the 2012 presidential campaign he told a crowd of wealthy donors:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. … These are people who pay no income tax. … and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

The fact that this group included a great many senior citizens, veterans and others who puzzlingly inclined to vote Republican seemed lost on most people especially pundits. While the 47 percent have incomes too low for federal income tax, they do pay federal payroll taxes that support Medicare and Social Security and many also paid federal excise taxes, along with state and local sales, property and income taxes. In fact, Romney’s 14.1 percent rate was actually lower than that paid by many in this group. The poorest fifth of Americans paid an effective tax rate of 17 percent.

Reality is more complicated than our ideological or personal ideas. It’s hard to imagine how the country, much less business, goes on with so many people unwilling to work. It even harder when you consider the amazing increases in productivity that American workers have turned in over the decades – despite not reaping any of the rewards. It also doesn’t explain the large number of lower income people who hold multiple jobs to make ends meet. I know some of them myself and they don’t have time to be lazy as they’re running between jobs, finding daycare for children and handling the daily grind of survival without support.

The factors that determine whether someone is rich or poor go far beyond hard work. Being self-employed and hanging out with other freelancers I know we all tend to be consumed by work. None of us are lazy, we all work hard, but we also know that success is not determined by how hard we work.

As a freelance writer I’ve learned that survival, not to mention success, depends on many different things. Some I can control. Some I can’t. And, that’s true for most of us – whether rich or poor.

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