We need blue-collar horse sense

Published 10:10 am Friday, July 23, 2010

The article in The Washington Post filled me with hope: There’s a trend toward college-educated people getting into the trades.

One 29-year-old fellow in Washington, D.C. — he has a degree from Notre Dame — considered going to law school, like many others in the lawyer-saturated town.

After watching his friends work long hours as paralegals — and watching his lawyer pals sign their lives over to their firms — he did something sensible.

Email newsletter signup

He became an electrician’s apprentice.

He’s not alone. The Post says more 20-somethings are forgoing the white-collar world to become plumbers, electricians, mechanics and carpenters.

I think it’s great.

This country was designed by people who worked with their hands.

Ben Franklin started off as a printer’s apprentice, a messy job. His trade helped him master communication, business management, politics and human nature.

George Washington, a farmer, toiled in his gardens to cross-breed the perfect plant. He was forever trying new ways to cultivate and harvest his crops.

Many of our Founders were farmers. They were humbled by the unforgiving realities of nature.

Hands-on labor made these fellows sensible and innovative. Their good sense is evident in the practicality of the Constitution.

We have lost touch with such common sense.

The shift happened over many years, of course. Industrialization moved Americans to the cities and, gradually, to paper-pushing jobs in the service industry.

Now we’re a country of white-collar snobs with an underdeveloped understanding of how things work.

The snobbery starts in high school. Parents and guidance counselors both point kids toward college and white-collar careers — they save the blue-collar careers for the kids whose grades aren’t so hot.

It makes no sense.

A skilled laborer earns more than many lawyers do — and likely enjoys his work more. Show me a dozen lawyers and I’ll show you 11 people who have considered driving a cab for a living.

Skilled laborers are good for our country — white-collar folks are not always so good.

Consider an important white-collar maxim: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle then with BS.”

I’ve seen highly skilled BSers establish long careers without producing anything of any value.

Blue-collar workers cannot BS their way through their work.

An electrician mixes up the hot wire and ground wire only once.

A carpenter is kept honest by his level — he measures twice, cuts once.

A plumber’s skill is evident when the water valve is opened and the pipes don’t leak.

Blue-collar workers have no choice but to develop horse sense — to develop efficient ways to solve real problems.

There was a time in America when many white-collar jobs were also infused with horse sense. An employee started as a bank teller right out of high school. He’d work his way up, through performance and sound judgment, to the highest levels of the organization.

Now any old Ivy League graduate can become an investment banker and put his company, and country, at incredible risk as he pursues a multmillion-dollar commission.

I hope more college-educated folks leave the white-collar world to become skilled laborers.

I hope we stop glamorizing careers on Wall Street, the legal profession and many other paper-pushing businesses.

I hope more people use their hands to produce something of value every day — and use their practical, decision-making abilities to help resolve other challenges we face.

If we don’t get a serious infusion of blue-collar horse sense, God help this country.

Tom Purcell is a freelance writer is also a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.