Tony Esolen asks a vital question in a stirring post-election ramble:

What’s left?  The overschooled and the underschooled, both of them unusually dependent upon government largesse, or upon government largeness.  I’m not speaking of welfare alone here.  Think of the doctors, lawyers, social workers, teachers, realtors, and technocrats whose livelihoods in one way or another are based upon the family breakdown that characterizes our cities.  Or perform the thought experiment in reverse.  Ask, “What would happen if people in our cities married before they had children, stayed married, attended church, raised responsible and noble children, provided for all of their most basic needs and for most of those, like celebrations, that really sweeten human life?  Who would be out of work?”


  1. What bothers me about analysis like this is that it places the problems all in the cultural realm, as if that were severable from the economic realm. This endorses the unfortunate split of political economy into the crippled half-disciplines of politics and economics. This is not possible without each discipline collapsing into mere ideology, since these are mutually dependent orders. Yes, we need strong families first of all, but that is both a cultural and an economic problem. To take but one data point, the wage for median male worker has been flat for 38 years. In fact, its a bit less now than it was in 1973. The flattening of wages in the face of increased expectations and productivity encouraged women to enter the work force, which put further downward pressure on wages while further weakening the family. Everything is not reducible to economics (as in the popular Freakonomics series, but everything humans do has an economic base, and to talk about one side or the other of the equation will always give us a distorted view.

  2. What do you think the author meant by “technocrats”? Civil engineers? Investment bankers? I don’t understand why such people would be out of work if humans were angels.

    Also, I don’t see why doctors would be out of work. Would people no longer get sick? Would they no longer get old? Would they no longer desire health-care? Also, health-care spending employs a lot of people aside from doctors — people with intermediate levels of education; including nurses, orderlies, and administrators (from secretaries to CEOs).

    The author’s image of our economy has huge gaps. Does he really not know the economic basis of our cities? He should read a few Wikipedia pages. Just off of the top of my head, I think that a few big employers are finance (both business finance and personal finance), health care (and associated research), and technology development (e.g. engineering firms). In general, large companies tend to have their headquarters in cities.

    If he is really wondering who would be out of work in his “simple and virtuous” society, he can look to all the people involved in producing the frivolous junk and vapid entertainment that sucks up a big chunk of disposable income. All of those retail workers (including managers), all of those truckers and dock-workers, and also the factory workers.

  3. Reminds me of an article in the Atlantic a while ago – found it:

    Something to ponder as we once again try to get the economy going.

    By the way, I can say the same – growing up as close as I did to the Imperial City, we still got bottles of fresh milk, eggs and strawberries from the farm next to the tract houses. All gone now, but it’s coming back, also. Lose some, win some. Have to remind myself to pay attention to what I pay attention to.

  4. ARicketson misses the author’s point. It seems to me to be implied in the piece that if the culture did in fact look like Esolen portrays it people who work in positions which are largely cleaning up the crap of modernity would, in a healthier society, be employed elsewhere. Among the employed there might be fewer bureaucrats and more care-givers, fewer drug-and-alcohol counselors and more visiting nurses, fewer garbagemen and more small farmers, and so on. In other words, the rhetorical question “Who would be out of work?” is not meant to imply that there’d be little or no unemployment, but rather that the unemployed class would look rather different than it does today. Is it not beyond the realm of possibility that “all the people involved in producing the frivolous junk and vapid entertainment” might, in a healthier culture, be employed in making things of value that last?

    • I interpreted his question to mean “which jobs would not exist” — and I figured that the people who fill those jobs in this world would find other jobs (yes, even lawyers).

      Thanks for listing the occupations that you think would be more common.

  5. Wikipedia’s a decent place to start for “technocrat.”

    I can imagine a reduction in the number of doctors (not complete elimination, obviously) if families improved their diets, which tend to suffer from the breakdown of families because of the loss of time, as single mothers can tell you. Fast food, etc. Examples abound.

    • I don’t think that the Wikipedia definition provides any clear delimitation of who is a technocrat and who is just a technologist (someone’s whose job involves specialized technology). If you take a narrow definition (societal government), then there are rather few jobs for technocrats and they are hardly worth mentioning in this context. If you take a broad definition (e.g. technology firms where the engineers run the show), then I don’t see any reason to expect these jobs to disappear.

      As for doctors, it all depends on which patients doctors spend their time with. If it’s young people (perhaps obese people), then I can see how a change of lifestyle could affect the demand for medical services. However, if it is older people, then I don’t think that there would be a big difference. Old people will get sick and need medical care; a healthier lifestyle may postpone the need for that care a little bit, but it would also probably extend their lives and keep a rather constant amount of medical care per person (though less care per person per year).

      My impression is that older people are the main consumers of medical care, though this may be biased by my knowledge that the aging of the baby-boom generation is expected to increase medical costs in the US. (i.e. I may be confusing total levels with the level of increase). A quick search does not reveal any data on this.

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