Do Lawyers Work Harder Than Movers?

I’m just now getting to read Lisa Schiffren’s contribution on the Corner to the growing overclass revolt taking the American right by storm:


The doctors, lawyers, engineers, executives, serious small-business owners, top salespeople, and other professionals and entrepreneurs who make this country run work considerably harder than pretty much anyone else (including most of the chattering class, and all politicians). They are not robber barons, or trust-fund babies, or plutocrats, or even celebrities. They are mostly the meritocrats who worked hard in high school and got into the better colleges and grad schools, where they studied while others partied. They pushed through grueling hours and unpleasant “up or out” policies in their twenties and thirties at top law firms, banks, hospitals, and businesses to earn salaries in the solid six figures (or low seven) today — in their peak earning years. Their work ethic is prodigious, and, as Tigerhawk points out, in their spare time they sit on the boards of most of the complex charities and arts institutions that provide aid and pay for culture in America. No group of people contribute more to their community. And now the president, who followed a path sort of like that, and who claims that his wife’s former six-figure income was a result of precisely such qualifications and efforts, is demonizing them. More problematically, he is penalizing their success and giving them very clear incentives to ratchet back on productivity.

First off, as Schiffren notes Barack and Michelle Obama are both high-achieving meritocrats in their own right. Indeed, his entire administration is staffed with such people. She should, perhaps, consider the hypothesis that nobody is being “demonized.” Rather, a judgment is being made that a return to Clinton-era income tax policies in order to finance comprehensive health care reform would serve the national interest.

But beyond that, there’s the obscene implication that if people are poor, it’s because they don’t work hard and certainly not as hard as those long-toiling business executive. As I wrote back in October 2008:

I’m a veteran of several moves of a “let’s get a bunch of friends together and all move a bunch of stuff” variety. Today, I hired a moving company. It was a good choice. It’s also the kind of thing that, on a more political note, really dramatizes how bizarre it is that people often characterize current levels of inequality in the United States as reflecting a desire to reward hard work or say that in the United States you can get ahead by working hard. I’m sure the partners at Jones Day and the wizards at Goldman Sachs work hard, but I don’t think you can seriously deny that moving furniture for a living is hard work.

Indeed, one of the main advantages that professional career offer is precisely that, money aside, they don’t involve the sort of taxing physical labor associated with many low-skill jobs. Guys who move furniture are, of course, working extremely hard. And even your basic retail employee needs to be on her feet for hours and hours at a time while “executives” comfy chairs. And, again, I don’t think the Salvadoran guys who moved my bed found themselves in that line of work because they were too busy partying in college.