Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Of Clogs and Enron

“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:
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
Marvin Kitman
The Kitman Plan for Peace in the Middle East: Two Proposals
Weekend Edition
October 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
My History with Alexander Cockburn and The Financial Future of CounterPunch
Paul Street
For Popular Sovereignty, Beyond Absurdity
Nick Pemberton
The Colonial Pantsuit: What We Didn’t Want to Know About Africa
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Summer of No Return
Jeff Halper
Choices Made: From Zionist Settler Colonialism to Decolonization
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Incident: Trump’s Special Relationship With the Saudi Monarchy
Andrew Levine
Democrats: Boost, Knock, Enthuse
Barbara Kantz
The Deportation Crisis: Report From Long Island
Doug Johnson
Nate Silver and 538’s Measurable 3.5% Democratic Bias and the 2018 House Race
Gwen Carr
This Stops Today: Seeking Justice for My Son Eric Garner
Robert Hunziker
Peak Carbon Emissions By 2020, or Else!
Arshad Khan
Is There Hope on a World Warming at 1.5 Degrees Celsius?
David Rosen
Packing the Supreme Court in the 21stCentury
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Threats of Death and Destruction
Joel A. Harrison
The Case for a Non-Profit Single-Payer Healthcare System
Ramzy Baroud
That Single Line of Blood: Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah
Zhivko Illeieff
Addiction and Microtargeting: How “Social” Networks Expose us to Manipulation
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
What is Truth?
Michael Doliner
Were the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a Mistake?
Victor Grossman
Cassandra Calls
Ralph E. Shaffer
Could Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Hearing Ended Differently?
Vanessa Cid
Our Everyday Family Separations
Walaa Al Ghussein
The Risks of Being a Journalist in Gaza
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal and Treachery—The Extremism of Moderates
James Munson
Identity Politics and the Ruling Class
P. Sainath
The Floods of Kerala: the Bank That Went Under…Almost
Ariel Dorfman
How We Roasted Donald Duck, Disney’s Agent of Imperialism
Joe Emersberger
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno’s Assault on Human Rights and Judicial Independence
Ed Meek
White Victimhood: Brett Kavanaugh and the New GOP Brand
Andrew McLean, MD
A Call for “Open Space”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail