Work ethic needs some work

November 25, 2011


For more than half my life I was a 99-percenter. I kept my first pay stubs in the news business to remind me where I came from and what was necessary in order to get where I am today.

In 1975, while working at a TV station in Houston, I wrote a letter to a friend in Washington complaining about my stalled career and low salary. “I will probably die here with my boots on, boots bought on a revolving charge and not fully paid for,” I griped. My memory is not that good. He kept the letter and showed it to me a few years ago. We laughed.

At age 37, I was making $25,000 a year with few prospects of earning more. Suddenly things began to change. All the hard work and experience resulted in a better job and more pay.

As a young reporter, I interviewed many successful people. “Where did you go to college and what did you study?” I asked them. “What is your philosophy of life and work ethic?” Rather than envy them, I wanted to be like them.

This is what’s missing from the envy culture of the movement known as Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Envy is greed’s equally bad brother. Those who lack what they think they deserve lust after the money and property of wealth creators. They seem to know little of what used to be called the “work ethic.”

Many in the OWS crowd are also deficient in their understanding of economics. There is not a single pie from which all must eat. Instead, life contains a recipe everyone can follow to make pies for themselves. The pies are not guaranteed to be the same size for all, but if the right ingredients are used, those pies can make anyone self-sufficient.

This is the great philosophical divide that liberal politicians have effectively used to gain power for themselves while dooming increasing numbers of their fellow Americans to a life of dependency, failure and envy.

The recently failed debt commission contained elements of a poison familiar to many who have succeeded in life by their own efforts. Democrats wanted to tax the rich even more, but has a tax increase ever resulted in less spending? When the federal government gets more of our money, it doesn’t suddenly become fiscally responsible. The more money it gets, often, the more it spends.

In an America not long ago, we encouraged persistence. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” was a little saying I often heard growing up. Now it seems the message too many are sending and receiving is, “If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try again; turn to government (or a lawyer).”

I am thankful to live in a country that still rewards hard work, personal responsibility and accountability. But that country, which was my role model as a young man, is rapidly fading into history. Human nature is such that a substantial number of people can be addicted to a government check if they choose not to work. But many of our grandparents taught us by example that the pursuit of success was a noble quest. Parents once bragged about what their children had become.

How many parents are bragging about their kids occupying cities and universities and fouling the ground and streets with human waste?

Bill Bradley, former Democratic senator and professional basketball player, once observed: “Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.”

We should be thankful for such truth. I would be more thankful if it were on the rise instead of in decline.

Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. His email address is tmseditors@tribune.com.


Kat Christian 6 years, 6 months ago

Yes, I believe in good work ethics too. Something less and less young people of today don't fully understand. Yet, there are other elements involved in trying to work up the ladder or just maintaining employment. Our corporations have developed a cultural diseases within each unit. If a person doesn't not live up to that cutural unit's standards they are pushed out. I'm not speaking of "work ethics" here - because a person can be the best worker, and not be in the personality loop or experience being bullied by their bosses. That in itself can meet with a disasterous end to employment. Though we have an Human Resources (HR) industries meant to help out in situations such as this...HAAA they themselves have their own culture and many times work against a person who has been ousted. They will side with the unit first without regard to equality to that person the right to maintain employment, and will do so legally. Maybe the answer is having an outside person with a psychology background monitor HR so they have more to answer to than just the company's (bosses). Perhaps there should be a law against letting go someone who just doesn't fit in with the crowd, but does outstanding work. That would be hard to prove since these people are mostly sabotaged into looking incompatent. Corporations have trained people in becoming cold and uncaring. Crank em in and Crank em out....Its all about image and money these days and forget about the little people. Let them work at McDonalds because I don't like they way they wear their hair, or their perfume, or the way they dress or the way they pronouce words or they just don't smile enough or the sound of their voice or where they are from or who they associate with or they were 1 minute late because they have a life outside of the job and things happen beyond their control at times or they had an emergency for the 2nd time in a year, or they became seriously ill. These should be accepted, not the cause of unemployment...The point is if the work is getting done efficiently these factors should not be allowed to work against a person. The affirmative action in place is too generic to really remedy the discrimination problem in this country.

jayhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

So much focus on corporations and trying to work within someone else's set of rules. Why so little mention of entrepreneurial spirit, of making your own way, setting your own rules. No mention of succeeding or failing on your own terms. Too few consider opening their own restaurant, clothing store, craft store, whatever and making your own way. The reluctance to take the risk involved is part of that diminished work ethic, always thinking that someone out there owes you a job.

Kat Christian 6 years, 6 months ago

Mmmm you have a point here, however with the downgrading of education our young people are not educated in the way of independent thinking. Lets face it there is a lot of red tape to starting your own business and maintaining it administratively which the young folks today (not all) find is a barrier to owning a business. So many kids today graduate unable to barely read beyond a simple newspaper and even then do they really understand what they are reading. I've witnessed so many young folks unable to spell correctly, much less us proper sentence structure and proper language usage. So we have a national problem where I see it. And it begins with education. We don't challenge these kids enough.

voevoda 6 years, 6 months ago

Usually Cal Thomas is the first to cite "Christian values," but not today. Why not? Perhaps because Jesus reproached the rich for their insensitivity to the needs of the poor, and called upon them to give up their wealth for the sake of their souls. Perhaps because Jesus blessed the poor. Perhaps because Jesus and his followers accepted handouts instead of getting "a job." "Blesed are you who are in need; the kingdom of God is yours... Blessed are you when people hate you and ostracize you, when they insult you and slander your very name... But alas for you who are rich; you have had your time of happiness. (Luke 5:20, 22, 24).

neutrakobserver 6 years, 6 months ago

Mr. Thomas needs some perspective in wage stagnation. In 1975 he was bemoaning the fact that he was in a "stalled career, with a low salary" of $25,000 with an undergraduate degree. In 2002, I was excited to be hired as a prosecutor with a law degree in a major city at $34,500. I paid for my undergraduate degree at a public institution myself by working 30+ hours a week. I am $50,000 in debt in student loans for my law degree from a public institution. My student loan payment monthly is higher than my rent. In a span of 29 years my salary has increased from Mr. Thomas's by only $9,500, and I am considered a professional with an advanced degree. I worked nights and weekends, averaging 70-80 hours a week in actual work hours to uphold the law and protect victims of crime; resulting in a gross wage of between 8.30 and 9 dollars an hour. There is something wrong with a system where in the course of almost 30 years the best we can do is increase salaries for individuals by only $9000, especially in light of the fact that health insurance, housing, food, gas and the basic needs of life have increased so dramatically. I work hard, I am not asking for handouts, or a bailout like the big businesses and banks received; I am asking for equity. I am the 99%.

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