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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ben Stein's Rant on Work

I enjoy Ben Stein's writings, although I don't always agree with all of his positions. I have heard him speak a couple of times in the past two years (at industry events relating to my day job) and he is articulate, funny and energetic. here is his latest rant on work - it is called "All Play and No Work Makes for a Poor Life."
Posted on Wednesday, November 21, 2007, 12:00AM

As I near my 63rd birthday, I'm stunned at a phenomenon I observe among a number of my friends: They don't know how to work.

That is, they literally don't know how to get up in the morning, eat breakfast, get dressed, and then do a day's work for a day's pay.

With Friends Like These...

One of them, who used to be dabble as a consultant at an advertising agency, quit a few years ago with a modest inheritance, and now has simply no idea of what to do to feed his family. Did I mention that he ran through his money in about 18 months?

Another friend, who was my college roommate and is one of the smartest, most well-read and witty writers I've ever met, hasn't held a regular job in his entire life -- and he's the same age I am. He has a well-to-do wife, luckily for him, and he teaches when he feels like it in local community colleges on a volunteer basis. What he would do if he had to earn a living I have no clue.

Yet another one is a former salesman of Internet ads. He's terribly smart, good-natured, and pleasant, but he simply has no clue of how to make a living aside from sales of somewhat dicey goods online, so now he just hangs out. How he pays the rent is beyond me.

Down, Almost Out

Then there's the makeup artist who would rather die than work at a department store, or at any 9 to 5 job. And since there are a heck of a lot of makeup artists in L.A. and not many stars who are without makeup, she's always one check (courtesy of her boyfriend) away from homelessness. She has fantasies of being a self-help guru, and she's a wonderful woman, but she has no idea of how the world works.

Finally, there's the former ad saleswoman who never really had a grasp on how to do a day's work. Instead, she's spent her whole life cadging jobs from wealthy boyfriends, and fills her days at work gossiping on the phone. Now she's facing disaster on many different fronts as her beauty fades and her intellect, never very formidable, is devastated by alcohol.

This is just scratching the surface.

Notes on Camp

What occurs to me is that while almost everyone I know went to college, very few learned how to actually work -- i.e., how to give an honest day's labor for a paycheck. So here's an idea for a remedy to this lapse: summer work camps.

At these camps, young people would be taught how to get up and get dressed in the morning when the alarm goes off, instead of going back to sleep. After being made to eat breakfast, they'd go shovel cow manure or dig ditches or sort laundry or mail -- actually work every day for eight weeks in the summer.

They would learn that they can't talk on the phone to their pals, text-message (in fact, they wouldn't have cell phones at the camp at all), send email, or play computer games while at work. They wouldn't be allowed to leave early for a phony medical appointment or to look for another job instead of doing the job they're being paid for, and they would have to actually complete a certain quota of work to get their dinner.

This dinner would be followed by a very short lecture or movie about the merits of work, preferably by someone who actually works and has done well in life by working. Once at camp, the campers couldn't leave except for a verifiable death in the family, and then only for three days, which would be tacked onto their stay.

Life Redeemed

You may think this is harsh, but it's not. Hard work is the single most important thing you can learn in life besides devotion to spouse and parents. One reason people become failures and/or criminals is because they never learned to work.

People who develop the habit of hard work don't become bums or drug addicts, and don't wind up in middle age with suicidal self-loathing. "Work, generally speaking, is the single best cure for any malady of soul or mind," said the greatest thinker in English history, Samuel Johnson. (I'm paraphrasing here. The exact quote is slightly different.) Work elevates the spirit, disciplines the mind, conveys self worth -- redeems life itself.

Since so many of us simply never learn to do it, why not have camps to teach it? The kids who went to such a camp would feel a lot better when they did their course than the kids who learn horseback riding or tennis. They would learn pride.

Of course, since they can't go into a summer work camp, there's always the United States Marines.

Make Your Money Work, Too

By the way, let me say it again: I don't pick stocks for the short term, ever. For the very long term, I think the financials are cheap. If you can devote 10 years to waiting patiently, you may well be happy if you dip your toe into the financial services index, the XLF, right now.

The mortgage crunch won't last forever. The commercial paper problems will end. And we'll always need banks. The best time to buy stocks is when everyone hates them, and that's where the financials are right now. So maybe buy a few dollars' worth of the XLF, don't look at it for 10 years, and then check in with me in 2017.

Still, it's no substitute for hard work.

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