April 16, 2008

The Carpenter You'd Rather Be

Justin Katz


We'd like to encourage this sort of conversation, so commenters will have a very short leash for ad hominem with this post.

Matt Jerzyk's response to my post about the rich giving their money to we in the working class strikes me as so tangential as to raise a wholly separate topic, and as so misrepresenting what I've written as to be a response to a wholly separate person. That said, I think he raises some interesting points of distinction between his worldview and mine:

I have seen you write on several occasions about how much you appreciate this rich family's wealth; a wealth that allows you and your coworkers to keep working on their many luxurious projects.

You reason that if this rich family moves or if they stop spending money, then you and your coworkers would be out of a job.

I can understand your concerns about your own job. That is a baseline concern for all of us.

But, doesn't your point limit the opportunities that are facing the 21st century American tradesman? Is your crew truly confined to working for one rich family? Do the presence of rich people define opportunities for carpenters in RI? Are there no entrepreneurs among you who could strike out on your own and work on building green homes and commercial spaces (quite an emerging and lucrative market these days)? Or, you wouldn't rather be rebuilding America's crumbling bridges, roads and infrastructure?

I don't doubt that you want your particular job to continue - we all do. However, there is something to be said for untethering the American entrepreneurial spirit and seeing what can happen- in the construction industry and in all industries.

Relying on the presence of only a few hundred wealthy families for the economic development of our state just seems a tad naive, a bit unrealistic and incredibly hopeless.

To begin with the non sequitur, the statement of my post was that we do have a mechanism for transferring wealth from the rich to the working-class: it's called the marketplace, capitalism. It does not follow from that suggestion that my primary concern is for my own specific job. It follows even less that I'm arguing for total economic reliance on our state's few hundred wealthiest families.

As to my professional biography, the company for which I work has had clients across the spectrum, several at any given time, and all of my side work has been for working-to-middle class families. There are some notable differences from one project to another, although I don't know that I'd rate any as preferable on their basis. Moneyed projects offer the opportunity to do some very interesting, very involved work that makes a hammer swinger feel a bit more like an artisan. In my industry, the worker has a sense of "the right way" to do things, but that often must be compromised for the sake of budgets, usually at the direct request of the client. With the rich, the fight between funds and workmanship is not as dramatic.

On the other hand, lower-end work brings the satisfaction of efficiency and, more importantly, of appreciation. Those who've worked for what they have are tangibly more excited by improvements, and that's a very gratifying thing to see.

Me, I like variety, so I'd surely be unhappy with either niche's being my foreseeable future. It speaks to the difference between Matt's point of view and my own that (1) he's so compelled to drape a job like carpentry with political meaning, and (2) he throws commercial spaces in the mix and asks about transportation construction.

From the carpentry perspective, I'm sure there would be new and interesting aspects to an explicitly "green" project, and I'd love to take one on. But, contra Matt, I'm not interested in limiting "the opportunities that are facing the 21st century American tradesman." The game isn't zero sum, and a casual observer can see that there are not "green" projects languishing for lack of carpenters. (If they were, the general pay of the trade would be going up.)

As for commercial work, to my experience, it lacks both the edification of the high-end project and the appreciation of the lower-end private work. Concerning bridges and roads, while I'd love to undertake an old-style New England covered bridge, transportation and infrastructure projects are generally for the heavier tradesmen, such as masons, welders, and excavators, not carpenters.

This thread all unravels to the truly peculiar apex of Matt's comment:

... there is something to be said for untethering the American entrepreneurial spirit and seeing what can happen- in the construction industry and in all industries.

What could he possibly mean by that? It would stretch credulity to the breaking point to suggest that I was (or am) advocating for the high-end construction submarket to be an especial area of focus at the expense of other submarkets. Yes, as a tally of man-hours, my current project has probably kept a couple dozen people employed full time for a cumulative year, while proportional projects for the working class have kept a few people busy for a cumulative month. But for Matt's riposte even to make logical sense, he must be implying a government forced shift of private construction dollars to publicly funded construction projects. That's not just a "tad" and a "bit." That's dangerously naive, unrealistic, and hopeless.

For the most part, the funds that support so many local workers building and rebuilding summer homes for the rich are not available for taxation. The owners tend not to be full-year residents, and if they were to find that they could no longer afford to lavish themselves in this way in Rhode Island, they'd find somewhere else to do it. Even with full-year residents, the difference is mainly one of threshold for redistributive pain. The progressives' willingness to insist on the right kind of commerce would certainly result in lost revenue to the state, less money in the states economy, and lost jobs. (Emphasizing that mine might be one of them is merely an attempt to invalidate my testimony.)

Bringing about this shift of opportunities would add layers of unnecessary government bureaucracy, as the public sector goes about its inefficient business of transferring the wealth, deciding to whom to give it, overseeing its distribution, and regulating its usage. The entire process, moreover, would funnel money and power through a limited social point that would be sure to attract manipulators and despots.

Jerzyk's mode of "untethering the American entrepreneurial spirit," in other words, can only result in lost jobs and less varied, less gratifying employment for those in the working class who manage to stay employed. The vision dehumanizes us as cogs who must find meaning in the political wonderfulness of a more restrictive system. And (perhaps not without calculation) it benefits a class of people — not doing too poorly, already — of meddlers and would-be social engineers.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Yesterday was my liberation day. After moving out of state last April, I paid my last dollar into the black hole of Rhode Island. Truly, a great feeling.

Matt Jerzyk is right about one thing: keeping your job is a baseline concern for everyone. So he an his ilk are working hard to protect the status quo in Rhode Island. That's all Crowley et al are doing, protecting their own cushy deals. You can't blame them for that.

As for me, I'm gone. Two masters degrees and two reasonably high tax payers are gone. Every day in Rhode Island I felt I was getting ripped off by paying a premium for bad services, inefficiency, and mind-bending arrogance of government. That wasn't the deal-breaker tho. The deal-breaker was horrible schools that cost top-dollar. My kid will not be entered into that system, nor will I support it with my tax dollars.

Jerzyk's logic is so circular and misinformed its hard to fathom it. In one post, he celebrates the entreprenuers. At the end, he advocates chasing the wealthy away. The wealthy he is chasing away are those very same entrepreneurs.

Bye, RI - you'll never see another dime of my money ever again.

Posted by: Goggles Paisano at April 16, 2008 9:16 AM

Question: Did Rhode Island's investment in historic buildings revitalization via tax credits create a boon for the construction industry in Rhode Island (even though the projects were not "publicly funded construction projects")?

Answer: Yes. Strategic government incentives can stimulate the economy in meaningful ways that create longterm and sustainable economic development - from rebuilding historic mill buildings to manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels.

Posted by: Matt Jerzyk at April 16, 2008 9:59 AM

Matt writes: "Are there no entrepreneurs among you who could strike out on your own and work on building green homes and commercial spaces (quite an emerging and lucrative market these days)?"

Gee, and here I was thinking we were in the middle of a housing market crisis, and massive deleveraging of the economy that is sharply cutting new investment in residential and commercial real estate. That's what the results from public companies like Toll Brothers show. But why let reality interfere with your rhetoric, right Matt?

Just who is going to pay for building all those great new green houses, Matt? And who is going to buy them? People who just can't wait to move to RI to enjoy our high taxes, bad schools, worse welfare programs, crumbling infrastructure, and corrupt, entrenched, anti-business political environment? I guess our great beaches will make up for all that, right Matt?

(snip) those of us who actually have to personally contend with the economic and social impact of RI's broken system don't have that luxury.

Posted by: John at April 16, 2008 11:00 AM

Maybe if Jerzyk actually knew what "striking out on your own" truly entailed, he wouldn't be so quick to suggest it, particulalry here in RI.
Furthermore, is he suggesting that one should "strike out on his own" to do better for himself, and make a lot more money, so he could then contimue to slam him, only this time for being one of those rich scumbags?

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at April 16, 2008 11:40 AM

It never ceases to amaze me that some of the people who lecture us in blogs and the media have probably never had a hard day in their lives.-I'm talking about Steven Brown for one-he apparently lives off his attorney wife in Barrington while he holds down a parasitic little"job" with the ACLU poking his beak into evreything and generally trying to make our lives miserable.Another beauty-Greg Gerritt-i asked him once how he made a living and he admitted that his wife supported him.How nice.These drones are even worse than the rich kids,because no one gets to pick their parents.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 16, 2008 12:16 PM

Move along. Nothing to see here - just another excuse to take cheapies at Jerzyk, that's all.

Posted by: rhody at April 16, 2008 1:24 PM

Justin, you argue for wealth redistribution favoring the wealthy with your personal anecdotal evidence. True, wealthy people do employ people, own and hold large tracts of land as open spaces that otherwise would be chopped up and developed. Evidence of those positive effects can be seen in our state in Newport, Jamestown, and Westerly.
A veritable army of leaf blowers, cleaning crews, painters and other service people clog the streets of the east side of Providence. Diaper services, too. ( since it is less polluting) But you fail to convince with any evidence that the Bush tax cuts are a cause for this. The wealthy are always going to employ people to maintain their property. They have the means and desire to add to their holdings. Good for them! Bravo! And you are right to suggest that they are a positive part of the whole. But the tax cuts were nothing more than a looting of the treasury. The top pays less than what fairness requires. Warren Buffet acknowledged this when he pointed out that he paid a lower percentage in taxes than his workers. Sometime stinks in America. Taxes should be fair and should reflect the democratic construct – we are in this together. You seem to be the one doing the social engineering – let the wealthy few own all of the goods because they know how to handle it. We dummies would just screw it up.

Like you I work in the building trades. I own a RI incorporated business. I appreciate and can concur with your comments about the differences and rewards of the jobs we do. I just contracted a residential roof and repair job for an elderly couple. Nothing fancy. No special features. But you are right- there will be a good sense of satisfaction and pride for myself and my crew in a job done well.

Posted by: David at April 16, 2008 4:34 PM

David Be Warned. Justin will try to bite those who would bite the hand which feeds him. Its dog eat dog in Justin's capitalistic world. I'm for the weathly staying here and continuing to employ all kinds of workers including carpenters. And they should also buy littlenecks and oysters with reckless abandon.

Posted by: Phil at April 16, 2008 6:37 PM

I will only respond one time to those who seek to change the topic and make it about "Matt Jerzyk" instead of the issue of economic development and the economy.

For a group of people who idolize rich people and create ideologies and policies to support them, you certainly have a lot of hate for my dad!!!

Maybe when he comes into town for my law school graduation we can throw a party and invite all of the AR man-crushers!

You see, the great thing about my dad (and my mom) is that they grew up poor and were instilled with the value of sacrifice and thus they believe that the recent wealth that my dad has made at Yum should be spent by them while they are still living.

So those of you who think that just because my dad has a high-paying job means that I am also wealthy better think again! In fact, I have never made more than $40k per year (although i strive to and my law school loans sort of require it!)

Seriously, though, folks. Is there a reason that we can't keep this conversation on topic? Are you that lacking in ideas that you have to engage in personal attacks?

Posted by: Matt Jerzyk at April 16, 2008 6:53 PM

I've got responses in the works to some of the things said, here, but I have to say I'm sympathetic to one of Matt's points: to the extent we make the discussion about him and who he is, we allow him to seem as if he's offering the intellectual side of the debate.

The policies and social programs he espouses are fodder enough; why allow illustration of that to turn into a discussion of his family?

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 16, 2008 7:58 PM


Two points. Matt never replied to the substance of my post -- so much for his alleged interest in a discussion about economic development.

Second, if Obama's hypocrisy with respect to small town Pennsylvanians who quaintly cling to religion and faith is fair game, why isn't the hypocrisy of a rich kid blogger who chides hard working carpenters for their lack of entrepreneurial and environmental zeal, while appearing completely ignorant of the larger economic context in which this charge is made?

This vaguely reminds me of a point made previously by an AR poster, who noted that RI Republicans' (with a few exceptions) tendency to fight by Marquis of Queensbury rules does not help their cause.

Posted by: John at April 16, 2008 10:28 PM

Jerzyk-I have challenged you on the issue of criminal aliens and the Governor's executive order and you have ducked an honest exchange-here you are a law student and you don't seem to have a good understanding of immigration law,or maybe you do and just dissemble for public consumption-in any event my impression of you is that you like to have a tilted playing field-I don't post on your blog,but I read it sometimes and I am aware that you put forth many inaccuracies with regard to the immigration issue(so do some people who oppose you)but you obviously need your own Greek chorus to reinforce your attitude of knowing everything there is to know.You and Segal make a matched pair.
Crowley isn't woth spending time on.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 16, 2008 11:23 PM

Given how everybody here's reacting like Jerzyk flew planes into skyscrapers or something, he's obviously doing something right.
Other than the fact that his family members are being dragged into this, I fine the desperate vitriol directed at him almost humorous. I guess when he reads these posts, the "rich kid" learns what get-a-lifers sound like.

Posted by: rhody at April 17, 2008 12:18 AM

Here's the problem with Matt's commentary:
He's headed towards that slippery slope that government stimulus programs are better for the economy than a 'rich family' providing work opportunities.

In other words, the government should be the entity dictating market forces like some knight in shining armor versus private enterprise.

I just have major qualms with his issues with rich people employing others to do work for them.

Posted by: donroach at April 17, 2008 6:21 AM

Matt-I have ried to get you into an open debate about something you think you're an expert on.Instead you make threats to an anonymous poster.You've kind of made yourself a public figure,and you haven't shown "Mike" to be a liar.
I personally don't care about your private life,but I think you're afraid of losing in a battle of ideas and facts-too bad because I have never accused you of being unintelligent or anything but being a socialist manipulator,which I think you are.
Why did you feel you had to explain your personal relationships?I doubt anyone here gives a damn except "Mike".
You're very thin skinned.I can't print what I've been called,but it only matters if it comes from someone I care for or respect-otherwise I just blow it off.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 17, 2008 6:07 PM

It's not just Mike, Joe. The discussion got off the issues and got personal. Justin is at least making a token effort to control the mob mentality Mike has loosed here.
Besides, I doubt if any of our own personal lives could withstand the colonoscopy Matt's has gotten. He had to do what he had to do - ignoring the matter did NOT make it go away.

Posted by: rhody at April 17, 2008 7:37 PM
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