Columns

Esemplare ’18: The line between romanticism and pragmatism

By
Staff Columnist
Wednesday, September 28, 2016

This past Wednesday I read Anuj Krishnamurthy’s ’19 column (“Making a living,” Sept. 21) with interest. The article puts forth fascinating claims and accurately highlights the many issues inherent in tying an individual’s societal worth to one’s employment status. I strongly agree with Krishnamurthy’s claim that a “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” mentality toward creating jobs ignores the intricacies of modern employment. But I did not agree with what I saw as the article’s main position: Political efforts aimed at creating jobs are deleterious and contribute to the American conflation of material status and self-worth.

On an Ivy League campus, there is without question a certain amount of pressure to find a lucrative job, and this emphasis is misplaced. I will not repeat the tired (though relevant) arguments for finding a fulfilling and enjoyable job, but I think everyone understands to some degree that salary is just one factor among many to consider upon graduation. But in criticizing America’s “myopic hunger for jobs,” Krishnamurthy reveals an all-too-common pretension. While students at Brown, with the benefit of an Ivy League degree, can possibly disregard economic considerations and still earn livable wages, this is not the case for most Americans.

Krishnamurthy romanticizes a vague past period in American history when “jobs were not a reason to do … things.” Aside from this claim being erroneous, I’m not convinced we should raise up a government that “indulged dreams that once seemed hopelessly outlandish” and put down one that seeks to “find every American a good job.” Krishnamurthy’s nostalgia for a time when we “dared to think less about what’s pragmatic and more about what’s possible” is misplaced.

Krishnamurthy’s column specifically references the United States’ reaching the moon as a sign of times when fostering employment was a secondary concern. But romanticizing an era in this fashion is almost always problematic. The American obsession with space travel was more an offshoot of Cold War competition than any willingness to do away with pragmatism.

When politicians decry unemployment and pledge time and resources toward improving the nation’s economic outlook, they are not defining the American people “in purely material terms.” Rather, they are attempting to get rid of the financial and emotional strain of joblessness for as many people as possible. Jobs aren’t all that matter, but it is appreciably more difficult to lead a fulfilling life without the prospect of employment.

Lastly, I believe that Krishnamurthy’s article neglects to consider the context of the present political focus on creating jobs. In an era characterized by technological advancement, more and more workers are being displaced and are seeing the value of their skill sets diminish, a trend that makes training programs and college education more important than ever. As the nation continues along its recovery from a major recession, it is only natural that getting Americans back to work is a primary concern. Seeking to lower unemployment statistics is about more than economic reports. While it would be great to indulge our most outlandish dreams and romanticize the pursuit of less “pragmatic” goals, it would be morally reprehensible to do so while millions of Americans struggle to find work.

Nicholas Esemplare ’18 can be reached at nicholas_esemplare@brown.edu.

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