The news hook for this post is the Hilary Rosen/Ann Romney flap, but in truth just about every week offers some hook for the following observation: Rich people don’t have jobs, they have hobbies.
If any multi-millionaire CEOs and investment bankers read the Sift (love to hear from you), they’re probably screaming at me: “What do you mean I don’t have a job? I have the toughest job in the world! I work 80 hours a week, and the stress follows me home. Waitresses and coal miners are slackers compared to me.”
Whenever the national conversation turns to inequality, the corporate media gives us gobs of stories about and testimonies from the hard-working 1%. Probably some of it’s exaggerated – waitresses and coal miners don’t have publicists, after all – but maybe a lot of it is true.
By all accounts, Bill Gates was very focused during those years when he turned his first Microsoft billion into fifty more. Warren Buffett may spend every waking hour researching Berkshire Hathaway’s next big investment. For all I know, Kobe Byrant and Tiger Woods train like maniacs.
It doesn’t matter. Rich people have always devoted a lot of time and effort to their hobbies. That doesn’t mean they have jobs.
You know what a job is? It’s something you do because you need to eat, or because your family is counting on you. You don’t necessarily hate it, and maybe you’d even keep doing it if you didn’t have to. (I used to get my hair cut by an 80ish guy who just liked feeling useful and talking to people. He told great stories about barbering on luxury trains back in the day.) But that’s the whole point: If it’s really a job, you do have to.
That’s the only test that counts. It’s not how hard you work, it’s what happens if you stop. If quitting means real hardship for you or your family, you have a job. If you keep at it even though you could spend the rest of your life skipping rocks at your house by the lake, you have a hobby.
I’ve got nothing against hobbies. The Weekly Sift is a hobby. One way to describe the Marxist vision of Utopia is that we’d all be hobbyists, and the world’s work would get done by people who just wanted the satisfaction of doing it. (That vision even works sometimes: Wikipedia, open source software, and so on.)
People have hobbies for fulfillment, for identity, to get out of the house, to make the world a better place, to test themselves against worthy adversaries, and for a lot of other creditable reasons. People have jobs because their kids need braces.
It’s not a difficult concept.
And that brings me to the Romneys.
Like most Republican politicians, Mitt Romney has been having trouble figuring out how to respond to the fact that women don’t like him. Across the country, Republicans have been pushing policies that (at best) are insensitive to the needs and desires of the vast majority of American women. Democrats have packaged that as a “War on Women”, and polls show that their message is working. In particular, it’s working against Mitt, who had to endorse a lot of War-on-Women policies to compete with Rick Santorum for the votes of social conservatives.
What to do?
Romney still has problems on his right flank, so he can’t just shake the Etch-a-Sketch and draw a more feminist set of policies. Instead he’s been touting Ann as his connection to the women of America. (That’s patronizingly close to a some-of-my-best friends-are-women defense, but it’s all he’s got.) Women, Ann tells him, don’t care about so-called “women’s issues” like contraception or equal pay:
My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me, and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.
On CNN’s AC360, liberal talking-head Hilary Rosen objected that even if we shift away from social issues to economic issues, Ann Romney is not the best person to represent women’s interests.
Guess what? His wife has never actually worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing.
And that brought down a hailstorm of outrage, because it allowed Republicans to brand Democrats as anti-Mom. How dare Rosen say Ann Romney has never worked? Ann raised five boys – that’s work enough for anybody! And so on.
Yes, a lot of effort goes into raising five boys to adulthood, and Ann may have done a fair piece of it herself. For all I know, she could have changed all the diapers, nursed all the colds, and packed all the lunch boxes. If so, she must have been reasonably good at it, because the kids seem to have turned out fine.
But here’s what makes all the difference: She didn’t have to. If Ann lifted a finger around the kitchen or nursery, it was because she wanted to. She found it satisfying, it was part of her identity, or she had some other motive unconnected to necessity. If her search for fulfillment ever turned her in a different direction, an upscale domestic-help agency could have dispatched an armada of well-qualified maids and cooks and nannies to Romney Manor in no time at all.
So whatever vomit-wiping, homework-correcting, and cheese-sandwich-grilling Ann did was part of her hobby, not her job. If it ever became too much for her – for one night, a weekend, or forever – she had the option to become Lady Ann and have the servants call her whenever the boys did something cute or fun.
It isn’t like that for most American moms, whether they work inside the home, outside the home, or in somebody else’s home. They have jobs.
It wasn’t like that for my Mom, a housewife who differed from Ann Romney in about a quarter of a billion ways. Mom took pride in providing a good home for her family, but it was a job, not a hobby. Dad worked two jobs of his own, so most of the time there was no back-up.
Cooking in particular was a job. Mom took pride in keeping us well fed, but she rarely bought cookbooks or experimented with recipes. She had an adequate repertoire and stuck to it. Early in their marriage, she nixed Dad’s suggestion of camping or rent-a-cabin vacations. “If I have to cook,” she said, “it’s not a vacation.”
It’s too late to ask her, but I doubt Mom would have picked Ann Romney to be her voice in the halls of power. I don’t think they had a lot in common. Hobbyists and job-workers rarely do, even if (by all outward appearances) they’re doing the same things.
Maybe someday everybody will live in Wikipedia World, where the work gets done by hobbyists and nobody is driven by economic necessity. Some of us get to spend a lot of time there now.
But most people don’t. They have jobs – in the home, in the factory, in the office, or out in cyberspace somewhere. Working a job is a central fact about their lives — which is precisely why you won’t figure out what they want or need by talking to hobbyists. Not even hobbyists who work very, very hard.