But some people WANT a vast national kindergarten!

One of my pet peeves (which goes beyond ordinary political left-versus-right considerations) is what I see as this country's relentless degeneration into what I've called a vast "national kindergarten" -- more times than I can remember.

Not everyone agrees with me that a national kindergarten would be a bad thing. In fact, there's a piece touchingly called "Kindergarten Communism," by Raw Story columnist Hannah Selinger. In it, she defends communism by arguing that it works in a restaurant where all tips are shared, and all waitpersons pull together. (Well, at least in theory.)

At the upscale New York restaurant which employs Ms. Selinger as a waitperson (is that "waitron" these days?), the employee arrangement is called a "pooled house":

....which means that tips—no matter how much an individual brings in individually—were split equally. On nights that I sold our most expensive wines and entrees to the best Big Apple tippers, I divided what I’ve earned with the rest of the house.

Needless to say, this is an experiment in the successes and pitfalls of a socialist society. The good parts are plentiful; when a server gets weeded (waitspeak for “too busy to function”), it is the responsibility of the entire house to pick up the slack. The house does this out of respect for the concept of teamwork and, more importantly, out of a selfish desire to protect the common monetary interest.

By Ms. Selinger's own admission, however, not all the workers see it that way. One such, um "workmate" (a man she deems "obnoxious") has actually "complained":

Conceptually, this inspires in my coworkers different reactions. One particularly obnoxious workmate of mine constantly complained that some servers didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. They’re lazy, he says, or they don’t sell the same amount of food as he does.
How dare this ingrate complain? What sort of cad doesn't want to share equally? And why would anyone want to work harder, anyway? Certainly not in order to make more money! And besides, it works. Because it's been ordained by the Management Of The Establishment:
if the system didn’t work in some capacity, one would expect that New York’s premier dining havens wouldn’t have adopted it in the first place. At the end of the day, the good points of a pooled house—the sense of community, the understanding that you will be taken care of if you get weeded, the knowledge that everyone is actually working together for a common purpose—outweigh the bad ones.

I bring all of this up because people learn of my extreme political views and, often, accuse me of being a Communist, as if being a Communist were something shameful. My experience with Communism—Communism in the loosest sense—however, has made me more, and not less, inclined to agree with the philosophy behind it. People’s best behavior and best intentions are never extracted from selfish endeavors. That is to say, when one works and lives entirely for himself, he shows nothing of what he can give back to the human community. When, however, a communal society is forced upon a person, as it is in my restaurant, some of the best human traits are allowed to shine.

That last one I placed in bold, because I think it's a remarkably bold thing to say. Normally, when I think of communal societies being "forced" on people, I think of urbanites being marched out into the fields, and stuff like that.

Is anyone forced to work in a premier Manhattan restaurant?

Or might it be that some people work there because they think they might be able to earn a decent living waiting tables? Perhaps even make a career of it? I've known waiters (yes, they called themselves that) who've done rather well for themselves. I've lived with several, and heard their complaints about how tough it is pleasing certain customers, keeping your sanity while working your butt off for tips. The idea is to make money -- as much money as you can. This idea -- making money from work, seems to be a tough concept for the author:

.... that’s an American mindset. We are possessionists, obsessed with belongings and ownership. We are a nation of deeds and titles, a nation mired in proving what we have. In the end, if we have shelter and freedom and family, that should be enough to sate any of us.

The fact that the fulfillment of these needs isn’t enough is disconcerting, because if a pooled house is a microcosm of that elusive Communist society that has never entirely worked, the one truth is that success is a (distant?) possibility. But we need to divorce ourselves from the idea that each of us is directly responsible for certain things and take a more proactive role in living life. As the environment, economy, and government continue to suffer varying degrees of trauma, it feels increasingly important that we leave our individual bubbles and join a community. Call it a manifesto, or call it a practical approach to changing the world, but it seems to me that we could all be better people if we learned what our teachers tried to impart in kindergarten: sharing is good.

Back to kindergarten, and back to the idea that "if we have shelter and freedom and family, that should be enough to sate any of us." What's freedom? Might it not include the right to work hard enough to earn the money to buy, say, a Canon Digital Rebel? Who gets to say what it is that should "sate" us? Obviously, whoever is in charge of the kindergarten.

I have no problem with voluntary socialism of the sort found in small restaurants, if that's what people want. To call it "forced," though, when no one has to work there, is to torture the meaning of force. And to extrapolate from a single restaurant to all of American society (while throwing in a judgment about what people "should" need) is almost as naive as advocating kindergarten for adults.

Call me anti-social, but even within that microcosm, I find my heart going out to the "obnoxious" guy -- the one who works harder and doesn't think it's fair that slackers should get the benefit of his work. He'd do well to find a job in a place where tips aren't pooled, because it sounds as if he just wants to make a real living as a waiter.

Hmmmm.....

I think the notion of restaurant careerism might be a missing ingredient in the Selinger analysis. I don't know what her intentions are for the future, but I notice that not only is she a regular columnist for Raw Story, but she appears to have had a fine education (at Columbia). Nor does Selinger appear enamored by "the restaurant industry." In another column, she writes,

It wouldn’t be so bad to meet someone spectacular who doesn’t work in the restaurant industry and who doesn’t have a severe drinking problem.
That may mean that she doesn't want to spend her life as a wait-person-tron. And it may be that her disgruntled comrade didn't go to Columbia and doesn't aspire to earn a living as a writer, and that he therefore sees waiting as his life's occupation. I don't mean to suggest that being a career waiter is superior; only that it might give one a different perspective.

Let's hear from one such careerist in the "restaurant industry." A woman named L.T., described as "veteran professional waitress in Austin" (gasp! A real "waitress"? From way down there in Red Country?):

A number of restaurants pool their wait tips and split them up at the end of the shift based on the number of hours worked that shift. It's a system that ensures even pay, but it also allows substandard waiters to survive financially, defeating economic Darwinism. It's good for the bad waiter; not so good for the customer.

A good waiter always wants to keep his own tips and not pool. "No way in hell I'll ever work with pooled tips again," says L.T. "I don't want to have to carry some nimrod on my shoulders and lose money because of it. My table? My money!"

What's this? "Good waiters" want to earn their own money?

All things considered, I think I'd prefer to eat in a restaurant where they let the waiters keep what they earn. If the money goes into a pool, unless the place is run by a small family or a tightly knit group of friends, common sense suggests that this would be reflected in the service.

Fortunately, though, it's still a free enough country that we're not all forced to eat in a pooled house.

In all fairness, I don't think Ms. Selinger has proved that communism works even in restaurants.

(Much less has she presented a good argument for a national kindergarten.)

posted by Eric on 12.15.05 at 08:52 AM










Comments

Obviously, Selinger doesn't understand the demerits of her argument because if she did, she'd realize that her hard work ethic subsidizes slackers, that some people work harder at "the sell" so they can earn more money "for themself," and that when the day comes to force a communal society on people, that's the day the shooting starts.

But, of course, she'd be in charge, so it'd all be good.

William Young   ·  December 15, 2005 11:08 AM

We need to start teaching kids real economics and real psychology. Not fantasies. Seriously. That woman is living in a landscape more imaginary than Hogwarts.

Hurk.

P.

Portia   ·  December 15, 2005 3:53 PM

I rate "tip pooling" right up there with the "group projects" the kids are always having to do in school. The slackers slack and the hard workers end up doing their usual. The only time it is an acceptable practice is in a banquet situation, when everyone really is doing the same thing.

The best among the waitstaff help each other for the good of the house/customer without expecting a cut. Those are the ones who then get the choice schedules, sections and go into management-which can be parlayed into quite a well-paying career...The rest, indeed just "waitrons" (in the sense of their job performance) are usually just passing through while going to school or zeroing in on their "real career". The problem is that the money can be very good (in relation to the time and effort), the jobs are very portable, and the lifestyle can be very enticing.
Many of one's fellow employees may be running absolute marathons on the wild side, but the foodservice industry must be one of the most diverse there is! If all one knows is a bunch of drunks, then find someone there who does something besides go out drinking after-hours every night-- maybe a fellow commie?

American Mother   ·  December 15, 2005 5:19 PM

I have to wonder if she isn't one of those underperformers . . .

Yehudit   ·  December 19, 2005 6:03 AM

I rate employer mandated tip pooling right up there with theft. Not only do I think forced tip pooling is theft, I believe it is theft disguised under the most hypocritcal logic I've ever heard.
Restaurants want their employees to believe that forcing or intimidating waiters to share their tips with other workers is the fair way to run a restaurant and yet the owners themselves are paying their employees as little as possible. On one hand these restaurant stress the merits of their socialistic business practice, shared tips, as the fair way for a business to run and on the other hand they, themselves, choose to run their business in a capitalistic manner reaping as many rewards for themselves as possible.

In a country founded on freedom there is no reason some Americans should have ecomonic freedom and others should be forced to work under socialist ideals. Just as our freedom allows businesses to make as much money as they want without interference, waiters and other tipped workers should be allowed to enjoy capitalism without interference.

As far as employer required tip pooling goes, it's against the law. Requiring that tips must be shared is no different than making tips your property. In law they call it a tort of conversion. In laymans terms it means the crime of stealing. Taking possession of or using another's property without their consent is the crime of conversion. One who uses another's property without their permission is guilty of a crime especially when that property is money such as is the case with tips. Employer required tip pooling is a tort of converision for it converts what is the employee's into that which is the employer's. That which has been converted is the use of the tips customers have bestowed on the employee. When business require that tips must be pooled they are using the tips bestowed upon their employees for their own purposes and as such have committed a crimal act called the tort of conversion. It's stealing. You cannot force your employees to let you use their tips for your purposes. It's no different than forcing them to give over their tips to you. This crime will be exposed. Many business owners are stealing their employees tips and getting away with it. It's only a matter of time untill they expose themselves. Their greed intensifies every year. They will incriminate themselves beyond defense before to long.

George   ·  December 21, 2005 2:20 PM

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