Re: hiring servants
From: Kay Argyle (
Date: Wed, 5 Jan 2000 15:29:32 -0700 (MST)
Despite the long economics preamble, this does circle back around to
cohousing.  Honest.

I agree you've got your own definition of "servant," Scott.  By many
criteria, so is a doctor a servant.  Yet judging job status by vacation
time, my brother's lifestyle (his letters are full of digitized slick-rock
biking photos, and he reviews different scuba diving locations for a local
store's website) would indicate a doctor gets a heck of a lot more vacation
time than I do _and_ has the money to do something with it.

If I pay somebody to deliver my letters, they're a servant, right?  And of
course piecework jobs are traditionally among the lowest paid (honestly,
33c?).  I really should deliver my own letters so as not to degrade the US
Postal Service.  -- Of course, if I make this noble speech to our mail
carrier, he's going to reflect that somebody told him the people living
here were a little odd.  ;)

People of devalued classes (women, minorities, poor) aren't always given
choices about their work.  For many positions high status, or its markers,
are a necessary qualification.  Valuable jobs should be given to valuable
persons.  Sometimes, especially under the double whammy of being black
_and_ poor, etc., it's the person judging themself (did I mention I work at
a traditional female job?).

It all boils down to POWER (as usual).

Whether a worker is disrespected, demeaned, maltreated, depends on whether
they have power in the relationship -- if they are valued, if they can go

All jobs have two roles, worker and client.  If you do a thing yourself
rather than hiring, you occupy both.

Where these split, a third role appears, the employer, handling the
exchange between worker & client.  The power balance shifts, based on
factors like rare skills, collective bargaining, or a depressed economy.

Power can be taken by the worker rather than given by the employer.  As
mentioned above, the person has to _believe_ they have choices.  If you
don't believe, opportunity can pound on the door, lean on the doorbell, tap
on the glass, and bellow your name, but you won't hear it above the tv's
fantasies about brand-name sports shoes.  Or you're cowering in the back
room, convinced it's trying to lure you out like a trolling angler fish.

For most of a capitalist economy, worker, client, and employer are separate
entities.  The employer can side with either worker or client -- its
inclination depends on whether it values/identifies with the client, like
MacDonald's (customer is always right), or worker, like the IRS (burden of
proof on taxpayer).  

For a servant (traditional sense), client and employer are combined.  Hence
the secondary meaning of lowliness.

For self-employed professionals or craftsmen, the employer by definition is
the worker -- and especially for valued services like medical care,
frequently holds the power.

So, to avoid unfairness to us "differently incomed" individuals, whether in
hiring with dignity or not creating cohousing serfs -- Empower the worker. 

Some of the most satisfying work I've done was stuff that if I did it, it
got done my way (look at the plate next time you eat at the common house,
Scott -- I wanted Corelle, I researched and persuaded, and I _got_ Corelle.
 ;)  Time will tell if I did too good a sales job on the woolly thyme for
the path).  Some of the least rewarding were jobs someone else decided
needed doing, their way, and I couldn't get out of.  That is a defining
characteristic of servitude -- so build in an escape clause, even if it
means allowing residents to buy out of work.  And keep in mind (we've had
this discussion before, too) that you can't always do it cheaper yourself.

Kay Argyle
Wasatch Cohousing

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