On Labor Day 2009

JJ_main_01On this Labor Day 2009, it is fitting to reflect on the lot of working people in the USA. Those of us fortunate enough to be employed are working harder than ever. A recent labor report announced that in the second quarter of 2009, the American work force produced the largest increase in output since 2003. As Walter Kirn notes in his 9/06/09 New York Times editorial, “What caused the jump is open to speculation, but I imagine it was partly because of nervousness. … Anxiety is nature’s most plentiful stimulant. Under its influence, trembling fingers fly.”
How sad it is, then, that a vast cross-section of our work force remains on the job today, on this rare holiday designed to honor labor. From department stores and restaurants to gas stations and universities, millions of people went to work today. My institution gave the administrative staff a holiday, but it was work as usual for the 12,000+ faculty and students on campus. Might we remind the powers-that-be that charity is supposed to start at home? As Jean-Jacques Rousseau noted in 1762: “L’essentiel est d’être bon aux yeux des gens avec qui l’on vit. Défiez-vous de ces cosmopolites qui vont chercher loin dans leurs livres des devoirs qu’ils dédaignent de remplir autour d’eux. Tel philosophe aime les Tartares, pour être dispensé d’aimer ses voisins » (Emile, Livre 1).
If Labor Day is, as we hope, to have lasting significance for the American people, may all employers heed Rousseau’s advice and take care of their own. One last day of respite to enjoy summer’s bounty will not make us less productive. Who knows, it may be just the boost we need to out-produce the competition in the hectic months ahead.

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