In a fine New York Times Magazine article about a woman's futile strruggle to leave the ranks of America's working poor, David K. Shipler makes an important observation about what's sacrosanct in this country. The woman, Caroline Payne, gets a manufacturing job but is required to work rotating shifts -- sometimes days, sometimes evenings, sometimes nights. She can't construct a regular routine, for herself or any caregiver, so she sometimes has to leave her profoundly retarded 14-year-old daughter (who also has epilepsy) home alone -- which leaves her open to charges of neglect. Shipler writes:
Perhaps the most curious and troubling facet of this confounding puzzle was everybody's failure to pursue the most obvious solution: if the factory had just let Caroline work day shifts, her problem would have disappeared. She asked a supervisor and got brushed off, but nobody else -- not the school principal, not the doctor, not the myriad agencies she contacted -- nobody in the profession of helping thought to pick up the phone and appeal to the factory manager or the foreman or anybody else in authority at her workplace.
Indeed, this solemn regard for the employer as untouchable and beyond the realm of persuasion unless in violation of the law permeates the culture of American antipoverty efforts, with only a few exceptions. The most socially minded physicians and psychologists who treat malnourished children, for example, will advocate vigorously with government agencies to provide food stamps, health insurance, housing and the like. But when they are asked if they ever urge the parents' employers to raise wages enough to pay for nutritious food, the doctors express surprise at the notion. First, it has never occurred to them, and second, it seems hopeless. Wages and hours are set by the marketplace, and you cannot expect magnanimity from the marketplace. It is the final arbiter from which there is no appeal.
Business in this country is like an abusive father -- it causes pain, but we need it, or assume we do, assume we'd be left out in the cold without it, so we protect it -- we close ranks with it and don't let anything harm it.