FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Of Clogs and Enron

by Susan Davis

“From clogs to clogs in three generations.”

(England, 1700 forward, variously.)

According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, this saying might have originated in Lancashire, one of England’s earliest industrial regions. “The clog, a shoe with a thick wooden sole, was commonly used by factory and other manual workers in the north of England.” I’ve seen clogs in English museums that look like flat wooden sandals attached to elevating metal frames, a kind of 18th-century platform shoe to keep the wearer up and out of the muck.

This proverb also turns up as “from shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations,” and “clogs up, clogs down.” The idea is that families can fall in social scale as quickly as they rise, and this was apt in the English industrial towns of the 18th and 19th centuries, where some potters or weavers became factory owners very fast, only to lose their fortunes and see their children return to the factory floor. “Clogs up, clogs down” conjures a lively image of people in clumping uphill to live in a mansion, and clomping back down again, in search of more modest digs. There’s a suggestion of cyclical justice, that people who’ve gotten too big for themselves have been justly cut down to size, by some sort of generational logic. “Seldom three descents continue good.”

Shifting to the United States, it’s well-known among demographers and social historians that with the exception of some very rich American families, like the Rockefellers or Vanderbilts, wealth here churns more than it holds steady. There is a lot of stability, and very great concentration of riches at the top of society. Most people don’t rocket from working-class to leisure class, no matter what you see in the lottery advertisements, and most of the very wealthy don’t end up sleeping under cardboard on the Bowery, no matter what Manhattan tour guides tell you about the homeless. But in the middle there’s tremendous instability, and in any generation just as many people are downwardly mobile as are upwardly mobile. I should correct that and say that in recent years more people have been downwardly mobile, since two of the hallmark social changes of the last thirty years have been the the declining American wage and the evisceration of the “middle,” both due in large part to the loss of solid, well paying blue-collar jobs.

So I couldn’t help but think “from clogs to clogs in three generations” as few months ago when I read all the complaints about the Justice Department’s prosecution of Arthur Andersen. Enron took its giant auditor down with it. Andersen employees were laid off as as company’s big clients lost “confidence” in Andersen’s ability to produce reliable and trustworthy financial statements.

The argument in the papers and on CNN was that it was irresponsible to prosecute a company, no matter how criminal its behavior, because so many innocent families would suffer. Of course, huge numbers of former Enron employees are suffering because of Anderson’s creative accounting tactics. What the complaint in the press meant is that presumably innocent managers making $100,000 a year are being laid off, and it is the loss of their class security that is unacceptable.

During the 1980s and early ’90s hundreds of thousands of factory workers lost good jobs, and the government did nothing to intervene, nor did Lou Dobbs take the feds to task for allowing such miserable upheaval. In Philadelphia alone in the 1980s, 100,000 blue-collar jobs vanished. But that was” restructuring” and the new economy; what’s happening now is “irresponsible prosecution.” Managerial workers and professionals, Lou Dobbs included, always think it can’t happen to them. Of course there’s nothing in the least bit natural or generational about this economic upheaval, but it’s starting to look like it can happen to anybody.

Clogs up, clogs down.

Susan Davis teaches at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. She can be reached at sgdavis@uiuc.edu

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 08, 2016
John W. Whitehead
Power to the People: John Lennon’s Legacy Lives On
Mike Whitney
Rolling Back the Empire: Washington’s Proxy-Army Faces Decisive Defeat in Aleppo
Ellen Brown
“We’ll Look at Everything:” More Thoughts on Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan
John Stauber
The Rise and Fall of Obamacare: Will the Inside Story Ever be Told?
Ted Rall
Ameri-Splaining
Michael J. Sainato
Mainstream Media Continues Absolving Itself From Clinton, Trump Election Failures
Ralph Nader – Mark Green
Divest or Face Impeachment: an Open Letter to Donald Trump
Gareth Porter
US Airstrikes on Syrian Troops: Report Data Undermine Claim of “Mistake”
Martha Burke
What Trumponomics Means for Women
Ramzy Baroud
Fatah, Hold Your Applause: Palestinian Body Politic Rotten to the Core
Steve Horn
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General Pick, Introduced First Bill Exempting Fracking from Drinking Water Rules
Joe Ware
The Big Shift: Why Banks Need to Stop Investing Our Money Into Fossil Fuels
Juliana Barnet
On the Ground at Standing Rock
Franklin Lamb
Aleppo Update: An Inspiring Return to the Bombed Out National Museum
Steve Kelly
Hidden Harmony: on the Perfection of Forests
December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba After Fidel
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewal of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail