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Jean Bethke Elshtain


Everything for Sale

In an entirely free market, nothing is sacred.

A headline on the front page of the New York Times for March l9, 1997, one clearly designed to tug at our sentiments, proclaimed: "4,000 Hearts Full of Hope Line Up for 700 Jobs." And the article was effective. We learn of Gayle Blanding, who put on her best dress and kept repeating over and over: "I have great confidence. I have great skills." But the "38-year-old unemployed woman still trembled as she rode the A train from Harlem to midtown Manhattan yesterday" despite the fact that her l9-year-old daughter kept whispering into her ear: "You're going to get that job."

Lasidy Honoret had taken an unpaid day off from his $5-an-hour cook's job in order to apply for a position as a staff member at the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan, reopening soon after renovations. An 18-year-old kid? No, Mr. Honoret is 33, from the Dominican Republic, and a lawyer in his old life. He has worked in factories and supermarkets since he hit New York. He had had a dream of going to Harvard and of sending money back to his 7l-year-old mother. But now he's mashing potatoes at a Boston Market and wondering why he left home. Well, you get the picture. Seven hundred jobs. An explosion of applications. The hotel expected l,000 folks to show up. Four thousand did. The police had to erect barricades to help shuffle the surge of hopeful and desperate humanity along in an orderly way.

For most of us, this is an unhappy story. Seven hundred people will get decent jobs, at least by comparison to what they are now doing and earning. That leaves 3,300 hopefuls shorn of hope. It's the way the market works, we will be told. It's the way the market must work. But for us noneconomic types, something is amiss. We think there should be more and better jobs. We think that a trained lawyer should probably be doing something other than doling out mashed potatoes at a chicken chain. But then we remember other stories. This is America. You've got to start someplace.

A few of us recall tales told by our immigrant ...

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