Bob Crachit as the oppressed, modern office worker

Bob Crachit may be irrepressible but his condition mirrors those of many a modern office worker: bad boss, long hours, and a small and cold office. While the book A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, Crachit’s position reminded me of the modern office as described in Cubed. A quick description of Scrooge’s building from A Christmas Carol (the Project Gutenberg version):

The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn’t replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.

It doesn’t exactly resemble the modern office park but does hint at what we know today. Scrooge and Crachit presumably work within walking distance of work but home and work life has clearly been separated. (Scrooge regularly eats at a tavern on his way home.) Scrooge is fixated on the bottom line while Crachit hopes the job can (barely) support his family. The conditions inside the office are all about maximizing the profit: not too much space, not very warm, a boss who controls the setting. This is the white-collar employee laboring for the capitalist within a controlled office.

Of course, Scrooge reverses course at the end of the book and I wonder if his change of heart would extend to a different kind of office. When visiting Bob Crachit and family, Scrooge suggests: “I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!” The second to last paragraph suggests his demeanor certainly changed. But, would this extend to having a brighter, warmer office with a more ergonomic setting for Bob?

Still on the road after all these years

In light of the recent heat wave, Derek Thompson over at The Atlantic asks why more people don’t telecommute:

The answer might have more to do with psychology than economics. Even if we’re technically more productive at home, we feel more conspicuously productive at work. You might think a recession would lead to more telecommuting since it reduces overhead and increases work hours. Instead, telework among the formally employed has slowed in the last three years.

Thinking back through my personal experience, this strikes me as correct. In the past, I’ve held several jobs that I could telecommute into, but I always felt like my time was suspect since it couldn’t be obviously verified by showing up to the office. For all of the inconveniences of commuting, at least I clearly received “credit” for my office appearances.

An argument: Democrats need candidates who can appeal to white voters

This is an issue I’ve seen mentioned in a few places now: the Democratic Party has some difficulty in recruiting minority candidates who can win the white support that is needed to be able to be elected for offices beyond the House. Here is some of the analysis from National Journal:

Of the 75 black, Hispanic, and Asian-American Democrats in Congress and governorships, only nine represent majority-white constituencies—and that declines to six in 2011. Two of the party’s rising black stars who sought statewide office this year were rejected by their party’s own base. And when you only look at members of Congress or governors elected by majority-white constituencies (in other words, most of the governorships and Senate seats, and 337 out of 435 House seats), Democrats trail Republicans in minority representation.

In fact, Republicans experienced a diversity boomlet this year. Cognizant of their stuffy national image, party leaders made a concerted effort to recruit a more diverse crop of candidates. That resulted in more than doubling the number of minority elected officials from six to 13—and a ten-fold increase (from one to 10) in the number of minorities representing majority-white constituencies.

The numbers reflect an inconvenient reality—even with their more diverse caucus, Democrats face the same challenges as Republicans in recruiting, nominating, and electing minority candidates to statewide office and in majority-white suburban and rural districts. The vast majority of black and Hispanic members hail from urban districts that don’t require crossover votes to win, or represent seats designed to elect minorities. They are more liberal than the average Democrat, no less the average voter, making it more difficult to run statewide campaigns.

These are far from trivial facts. This means Democrats lack a bench of minority candidates who can run for statewide office, no less national office. Most Democratic minorities make a career in the House, accruing seniority and influence but lacking broad-based political support.

How this issue is addressed by both political parties could have a significant impact on American politics in the next few decades. As the demographics in America continue to change away from a large white majority, I would expect that more minority candidates will be elected to such offices. But whether these changes reflect, even roughly, the demographics of the country or specific states, remains to be seen.