“The Second Act Industry,” a Response

Recently I came across an article published by the New York Times titled “The Snake Oil of the Second Act Industry” by Alissa Quart. She details how middle-aged people, especially those who are stressed by their lack of retirement funds, attempt to pivot their career lives to make more money before they retire. She details some problems with the industry surrounding this phenomenon, termed the “second act” and the problems with the industry. Overall, she argues that the middle-aged are being taken advantage of by the second act industry and the government needs to provide more social support. In this piece, I have responded to specific portions that I felt deserved a response. The full article can be read here.

 

“I call the businesses propelling that promise of reinvention the “second-act industry,” and it includes for-profit universities, certificate programs and coaches getting in on the new trend — all of them helping, for a fee, people who are trying to get back into or ahead in the work force.”

Some of these programs may in fact take advantage of the middle-aged people they purport to help, as this article asserts. However, some of the blame may be on the people using these services and their blind trust in the programs or degrees being offered. Some investigation into the service, the promised results, and the actual results could help people weigh the pros and cons of such as products and services. That does not mean it would be easy, but if more people become aware of how careers are changing and how hiring practices are changing, it would become easier to adapt to the current job world and discern between scams and legitimate companies.

 

“The industry appeals to anxious and sometimes underqualified middle-aged students who are enticed by a constellation of websites, special programs, self-help books and gurus.”

People are drawn in by the promise of more earning power. The methods purported may be questionable and the price may be too high, but people are willing to pay for it. I agree with the later assertions that something needs to be done to help the middle aged people who fall into this trap, but I do not agree with the proposed solution. As more people test strategies for the current job market and given a larger body of proof, it will help the aging members of the work force adapt more effectively.

 

“To survive as workers, we have to deny, on some level, the realities of our bodies — bodies that age and give birth. While more people are working later in life because of happy things like longer life expectancy, they are also doing so because of very sad things, like a lack of Social Security benefits or retirement plans.”

It is unfortunate that so many people have planned their retirement with Social Security in mind. This places a burden on taxpayers and fuels emotionally charged arguments for why it must be kept, such as, “it cannot be repealed because people rely on it.” When people have the capacity to plan for retirement by saving money, they may partially have themselves to blame for their newfound poverty. However, a lot of people either do not have extra income, have relied on faulty retirement savings methods, or did not save enough to account for inflation and the increased living costs that come with being older. This is a problem, and it will take time and effort to “fix it” and to take care of the elderly people who are currently relying on Social Security benefits.

 

“The real problem is that middle-aged people are unlikely to have pensions or savings because of inadequate federal social support in this country. Unfortunately, individual ambition… doesn’t always do the trick.Yet we continue to believe. Perhaps it’s because the roots of our faith in second acts are long.”   

Federal social support comes from the money taxpayers make. The more the government forcibly takes from those working now, the less they have available to use for themselves and their families. Instead of solving the problem, this could just move more of it to younger people. In fact, based on this article and what I already know about this problem, it seems like federal social support enacted in the past helped cause this problem, not that further social support programs will fix it. I talk about this more in a later paragraph.

 

“So instead of putting the blame on people caught in this bind, what if we had better anti-ageist work policies? What if companies were incentivized to hire older workers? And what if middle-aged people who are casting about for a second act had real societal support while they did so, like free after-school programs for their children or a monthly basic income guarantee, like the one now being piloted in Ontario?”

This is not a solution I would back. In fact, if such a program were presented to people in my community, I would vote against it and encourage others to do the same. These “free after-school programs” will cost money, and who will pay for them? Taxpayers. Who pays for Social Security? Taxpayers. Instead of people voluntarily helping others who need it, either financially or in some other way, the government forcibly takes money from everyone in order to help them. This government welfare is often not the best way to help the person in need, or it is ineffective. Additionally, having more of these tax-funded programs will require higher taxes, thus decreasing the benefit for those who it is supposed to be helping. If instead private institutions or groups of people came together and either raised money to help people in this situation or volunteered their time to help them, that would be more effective and would not require the government to steal money from everyone.

 

“We should look to create fixes for middle-aged workers that are not solely reliant on private inspirations or pricey new degrees. We need public solutions for midlife career atrophy and joblessness so that people don’t get into even deeper debt and blame themselves for their failures.”

These public solutions will require increased taxes, which hurt everyone. The “pricey new degrees” are not effective, yes, that is true. In the changing job market, tangible skills are more valuable than a degree, because so many people have degrees. The value of the degree has decreased but the price has increased. While yes, the middle aged people facing this problem might be prone to blame themselves, it is not a social or societal problem for the most part. The government has lied about Social Security, presenting it as a form of “insurance,” and misleading people as to how it functions, contributing to the problem. Back when FDR enacted the New Deal and instituted Social Security, it was intended to be temporary. Instead, people protested attempts to repeal it after the economy had recovered from the Great Depression (not even because of the New Deal, as Tom Woods details well in 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask). Now, it has been around long enough that people plan for Social Security to help supplement their retirement savings. Will it be hard for people when or if it is repealed? Yes, because they are dependent on this money that is taken from all the working people and handed to them. But it is not and should not be the government’s job to take care of people in this way. We should be caring for each other, not relying on the government to help people.

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Racial Inequality, William Blake, and a Biblical Perspective

This post is adapted from an essay I wrote for a Liberty University English class.

In 1789, eighteen years before slavery was abolished in Great Britain, William Blake published the poetry collection Songs of Innocence, among which is the poem “Little Black Boy.” Blake condemned slavery, which was evidence of the rampant racial inequality of his time (“Blake and Wordsworth”). Interestingly, the same year that Blake published Songs of Innocence, the French stormed the Bastille, and the ideology of freedom initially upheld by the French revolutionaries was reflected in the goals of abolitionists, both American and British. Other materials were published that year, such as a description of a slave trade ship, a report on the slave trade, a speech about slavery by William Wilberforce in the House of Commons, and a former slave by the name of Olaudah Equiano published one of the first books by a black author (Wikipedia). Attitudes about race were changing for the better, leading to increased equality. In the 1960s, as in the US, there was more progress made towards racial equality. The UK passed the Race Relations Act in 1965, which was the first legislation addressing racial discrimination; in 1976 they passed new legislation with the same name, making racial discrimination illegal (EqualityHumanRights.com). William Blake’s poem “The Little Black Boy” uses racial imagery to convey spiritual truth and oppose the slave trade.

The poem is as follows:

My mother bore me in the southern wild,

And I am black, but O! my soul is white;

White as an angel is the English child:

But I am black as if bereav’d of light.

 

My mother taught me underneath a tree

And sitting down before the heat of day,

She took me on her lap and kissed me,

And pointing to the east began to say.

 

Look on the rising sun: there God does live

And gives his light, and gives his heat away.

And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive

Comfort in morning joy in the noonday.

 

And we are put on earth a little space,

That we may learn to bear the beams of love,

And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face

Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

 

For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear

The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice.

Saying: come out from the grove my love & care,

And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.

 

Thus did my mother say and kissed me,

And thus I say to little English boy.

When I from black and he from white cloud free,

And round the tent of God like lambs we joy:

 

I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear,

To lean in joy upon our fathers knee.

And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,

And be like him and he will then love me.

 

In this poem Blake writes from the perspective of a black slave boy in the southern U.S. to promote a biblical view of blacks as equal to whites. In line two, Blake states that the boy has a soul, despite the popular belief at the time that black people do not have souls (“Blake and Wordsworth”). For slave owners, claiming that black people did not have souls served as a justification of their owning slaves and treating them like animals, who are also believed to lack souls. American and British slave owners who believed the Bible is God’s word might have defended slavery by proof-texting a passage such as Ephesians 6:5, which tells slaves to obey their masters. Ephesians 6:5 defends slavery only if the literary and historical context is ignored; slaves in biblical times were often repaying a debt and were freed after their debt had been paid, unless they chose to remain the master’s slave. Blake insinuates throughout the poem that all people, regardless of skin color, are equal in their relationship to God (lines 3, 9-14, 17-20, 22-28). This is a biblical idea; as Galatians 3:28 (NIV) says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The black boy compares an English child to an angel because of his white skin, viewing himself as “bereav’d of light” (lines 3-4). It had been made clear to blacks that they were inferior to whites; it was ingrained in the culture and in their minds that they were lesser than whites, even when they were striving for equality. The culture, in this case, was wrong; all people are equal, because all are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). All people are the same in a fundamental aspect, making them all equal.

Equality in God’s sight is Blake’s focus in “Little Black Boy,” though equality and fair treatment from whites was also important considering blacks were slaves, both in Britain and America. In lines thirteen and fourteen, the black slave boy relates what his mother taught him: “And we are put on earth a little space, / That we may learn to bear the [sun] beams of love.” The sun seems to symbolize the trials men face on earth. This is reminiscent of James 1:2-4, which says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (NIV). It seems from the black boy’s hope that the English boy will one day love him that Blake saw a future day when whites would realize they were not superior to other races and equality would be gained. At the very least, the final lines emphasize that all of God’s children are equal in His sight, or, as a popular phrase among Christians puts it, “the ground is level at the cross.”

William Blake masterfully used racial imagery to teach his contemporaries about equality in Christ. It was surely not a popular message for slave owning Brits or Americans at the time, but it is a biblical one. The poem decries the prejudice inherent to racism and the slave trade and points readers to Christ. It was vital to the abolitionist movement that blacks be viewed and treated as equal to whites, and Blake communicated this well in “Little Black Boy.” Of course, racial equality did not stop there, and freedom for slaves was only the first step. A lot of progress has been made. Today on the internet there is an upsurge of racism, not towards “people of color,” generally, but towards whites. While some say things about “reverse racism isn’t real” or similar things, racism is any prejudice against someone because of their skin color or race. All people should be viewed as equal insofar as they are human regardless of race.

 

References

Equality Human Rights. “A History of Human Rights in Britain.” https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/what-are-human-rights/history-human-rights-britain

Liberty University. “Blake and Wordsworth.” (Video presentation.)

Liberty University. “Historical Context and Wollstonecraft.” (Video presentation.)

Wikipedia. “1789 in Great Britain.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1789_in_Great_Britain

William Blake. Songs of Innocence, “Little Black Boy.” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43671/the-little-black-boy

 

Pro-Choice vs Pro-Life: What do People Believe?

Several months ago, I started a discussion about abortion in the DeviantART forums. I wanted to examine people’s perspectives and positions on the issue in more depth and encourage the participants to think critically about where they stand. Throughout this article I will be using the positive monikers for both sides, pro-choice and pro-life in order to avoid biased language. I will not explain my position, only the perspectives I encountered in the informal survey. Also, there are more arguments that can be made in favor of either side of this issue, but I will only discuss the ones used in the discussion forum.

The majority of responders were primarily pro-choice, supporting the position that a woman can choose to have an abortion. Close to a third of the responders were primarily pro-life, against the option of abortion in most, if not all, circumstances. A small minority held positions that were mixed, ambiguous, or otherwise unclear based on the content of their messages.

The pro-choice positions tended to focus on bodily autonomy and when an embryo or fetus is or becomes a person. Bodily autonomy is the idea that each person should and is able to choose what they do with their body. In the context of the abortion debate, it is generally argued that when the unborn child is unwanted, it can or does infringe upon the bodily autonomy of the woman. That is, that the woman can remove the embryo or fetus because it is in or part of her body. The issue of personhood is more complex and varied in the pro-choice camp. The general consensus, however, is that the unborn is a potential life, because it is not a fully developed human. A pro-choice person may consider the unborn a person at any point ranging from conception to after birth and will likely have some reason for when they consider life to begin. Additionally, the time at which the pro-choice person considers the unborn to be a person will change whether they find late-term abortions acceptable or not.

There were far fewer pro-life responders in the forum, but they all had some common elements to their position. All of them were opposed to abortion, though some made exceptions for instances of rape, incest, or if the mother’s life was in danger because of the pregnancy. The core of the pro-life position was that abortion kills a human being and is therefore wrong in the same way that murder is wrong. It was also less important when life begins, because the fetus or embryo is viewed as a separate human being from conception.

The main contention between the pro-life and pro-choice positions is the importance of the unborn’s life versus the importance of bodily autonomy. The pro-choice side views the woman’s right to do as she pleases with her body to be more important than carrying the unborn baby to term. The pro-life side holds these in the opposite importance. There is the caveat, however, that in some circumstances a person will have to choose between the life of the mother and the life of the child. The first pro-life person to respond shared their tragic story of having to do just that, and they saved the mother at the expense of the child.

Overall, there is a lot of disagreement over the issue of abortion. Both sides have strongly held opinions and beliefs. If we can understand where people are coming from and why they are either pro-choice or pro-life, we can move forward in productive conversation.

To join the discussion or read previous responses, go to the forum thread here.

 

The Handsome Her: Flirting with Inequality

In August 2017 a vegan cafe was opened in Melbourne, Australia by Alex O’Brien that charges men more than women.1 There is some hypocrisy in how the cafe, called the Handsome Her, is operated. The goal of the cafe’s optional 18% “man tax” was to raise awareness for the gender pay gap and provoke a conversation about the issue, most likely with the ultimate goal of leading to equality.2

handsomeherimage

The goal of equality complicates things for the Handsome Her. Alex O’Brien is concerned about gender discrimination in the workplace, yet the cafe only hires female employees.3 When dining in the cafe, women receive priority seating. These practices by the Handsome Her are more problematic than the optional price increase for men, which is only for one week every month and used to collect money for various women’s charities.

Because most of the discussion about Handsome Her revolves around the price hike, the wage gap needs to be addressed. In America, the UK, and Australia, most of the wage gap is eliminated when men and women in the same position with the same credentials are compared.4 Studies have found that there is still a small percentage of the wage gap that is unaccounted for. However, it is illegal for employers to have discriminatory wages and pay either men more than women or vice versa in these countries. Therefore, it stands to reason that in most cases the rest of the gap is not due to discrimination in the workplace, though it could be due to lingering sexism in society.5 For example, women might be encouraged from a young age to pursue a career with a lower overall pay rate. Additionally, more women work part time, choose to not work overtime if they do work full time, or generally work less to spend more time with their families.6 The wage gap is not entirely a myth, but it is misused and misconstrued when people use it as a generality.

Interestingly, if single women in their thirties are compared to single men in their thirties with the same credentials and experience the women frequently make more money.7 The same is true of blacks compared to whites.8 The racial wage gap has the same stipulations and myths as the gender wage gap.

When I first encountered this story back in August I only read the headline, something along the lines of “Cafe Charges Men More Than Women to Address Gender Pay Gap.” I thought to myself that I would never eat there, because I disagree with the political stand that Alex O’Brien is taking. Because I can choose where and with who I do business, if I disagree with someone’s politics I can take my business elsewhere. I will say that it is admirable that they’re donating the proceeds from the pay hike to women’s charities, but there is a better way they could have done this. For example, instead of targeting the gender pay gap, they could have asked people to tip and donated the tips to their chosen charity.

____________

  1. Sam Duncan, “Cafe charges men more than women and gives female customers priority seating ‘to address the gender pay gap’” (Dailymail, August 4, 2017); Julla Jones, “Cafe charges men 18% ‘gender tax’ to highlight pay gap” (CNN, August 8, 2017).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Tyler Durden, “Cafe Brags That It Discriminates Against Men” (Zero Hedge, August 7, 2017); Jones, “Cafe charges men 18% ‘gender tax’ to highlight pay gap.”
  4. Steven Horwitz, “Truth and Myth on the Gender Pay Gap” (Fee, March 30, 2017).
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid; Thomas Sowell, “The Pay Gap Myth and Other Lies that Won’t Die” (National Review, August 9, 2016).
  7. Sowell, “The Pay Gap Myth and Other Lies that Won’t Die.”
  8. Ibid.