Would you rather be a plumber or a lawyer?
Recently, I needed to get a water heater system installed. I can do some DIY but electrics is not my forte, plus you need a qualified electrician to be legal.
So I called one. He came to the house and gave an estimate of 500€. That’s steep, I thought. When I enquired, he explained to me that it was a two man job and it will take at least two hours. The hourly rate was 100€.
Then I thought:
First, how much of those 4 (2×2) hours were skilled work and how much unskilled?
In my estimation, they did 10 % specialized, skilled work and the rest was unskilled, anyone could have done it. But we paid 100% of it at the high rate.
And second, How much does a Doctor or a Lawyer makes per hour?
Less than that, in fact a lot less than that. Even in the US, where Doctors are highly paid, the average rate can be about $80 per hour. In Spain, where I live, is much less, about 20€.
Are we been ripped off?
Well, not exactly and yet, it seems a bit unfair. To become an electrician, a plumber or a mechanic you need 1 or 2 years training, to become a doctor you need 10.
So, should Doctors make 10 times more than electricians?
That’s not an easy question to answer. In principle, yes, Doctors work very hard, save lives and carry a lot of responsibility. They should be compensated for all these years they spent burning the midnight oil. But, why are they not?
Supply and demand.
Having a middle class profession carries some prestige. People are proud to say I’m a lawyer, an accountant or an engineer. Not so much for the guys that fix your boiler or your car.
This makes a lot of people to enter white collar professions and not as many entering the blue collar world. This has caused an over supply in certain professions and a scarcity on others. Even to this day, and despite the disadvantages, most people prefer to do professional rather than manual work. There is a stigma to it.
Not only there is no God, but try finding a plumber on Sunday
I personally know airline pilots that earn less than flight attendants and doctors that make less than nurses. It’s not all about the money, it’s about status.
Blue collar vs White collar.
The definition of middle class is not clear cut but let’s say, for the sake of simplicity, that anyone than went to college and end up doing white collar work is middle class. Some can be extremely affluent while others barely get by, so it’s not necessarily about how much they make, it’s about the mentality.
Middle class people tend to value intellectual pursuits like reading or writing while working class are more practical and down to earth.
Precisely, that practical mentality is what make them better off in life. They choose short, to the point training rather than years of college paying student loans for no guaranteed return. Also, they have a more entrepreneurial approach to life. They see an opportunity, they take it. Meanwhile the rest of us keep thinking and thinking and never act.
It’s not uncommon to see company owners practically illiterate employing high profile economists, lawyers and engineers. One can help but wonder:
If you are so smart how come you are not rich.
I’ve ask myself that question many times (considering myself smart, arrogantly of course) but it’s not completely clear. It seems to me that too much thinking and too much information leads to inaction. Of course, action without thinking leads to mistakes and failure but by trial and error eventually people succeed.
Advantages of being working class.
- The time spent in training/education is considerably less
- The hourly rate is usually higher
- There is very little unemployment
- They start earning earlier, join the property ladder earlier and have no student loans
- Their jobs are less insecure and they can pivot easier or start their own businesses
It didn’t used to be like this
Long ago, being middle class was warranty of a well off life, not any more.
Unemployment, underemployment, student debt, property prices and diminishing salaries make middle class life less appealing than ever before.
And that’s not all, A.I is coming fast and it’s going to take some of those jobs.
So, shall I become working class?
Well, the thing is…
I’ve never seen a middle class person becoming working class successfully. We just don’t have what it takes. But I’ve seen it the other way round.
We are forced feed with the idea of study, go to college, get a degree then a good job, a mortgage… and it is very difficult to go against that mindset. Can you imagine an architect laying bricks?
It’s all about mentality
We’ve been programmed to think that there is a rank and the higher you go the better. Even working class aspire to become middle class one day or at least their children. They don’t realize it ain’t so great here.
Disadvantages of being middle class
Middle class people are trapped in their comfort zone, and it’s not even very comfortable at all.
Job security and high wages are a thing of the past. We have been squeezed like an orange and there is not much juice left.
But the main drawback is that we are allergic to risk. We are the play safe class. The rich take calculated risks, the laboring class too, albeit in a different fashion, but white collar, never.
Very few middle class become entrepreneurs. In the book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” Robert Kiyosaki explains why. Those who make it, do it by working for themselves, not others. They become financially literate, invest and start their own businesses. The rich Dad is actually working class, with very little formal education while the poor Dad is a professor.
That’s why you see economists working for self-made-men. Surely the former knows more about money than the other, at least theoretically, but they don’t have what it takes.
Professionals have had an easy life, never taken any real risks and when they realize they should, it’s too late. They have too much invested.
But not all is bad and not everyone should rush and become a plumber.
What is good about being middle class?
I have many friends who are working class and they have certain traits that I try to imitate like, the can do attitude, the entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to negotiate in any situation and their hands-on approach to life.
On the other hand, I like my ability to think about the future, my love for reading and learning and my flexibility in social situations.
What will I recommend to my kids?
I will recommend them to use the best of both worlds:
- University is not a must but long life learning is
- Think about the future and yet don’t be afraid of failing
- Be creative, sociable and honest
- Don’t take anything for granted and don’t become complacent
The class divide make less and less sense now, it’s a relic of the past. Let’s not become victims of self fulfilling prophecies.