Will Work for Free: The Democratic Mantra

Last night at the Democratic convention, Michelle Obama defined “the very best of the American spirit” as “teachers in a near-bankrupt school district who vowed to keep teaching without pay.”

Work without pay: it’s certainly American.

Update (12 pm)

This, of course, is not the first time an Obama has praised working for free. Remember Georgia Works?


  1. Donald Pruden, Jr. a/k/a The Enemy Combatant September 5, 2012 at 11:16 am | #

    I am an American of African descent, so let me be the first to note the irony: An African-American woman touting the virtue of toil without benefit of compensation.

    I can’t add anything to that.

  2. Nicholas Roberts September 5, 2012 at 11:27 am | #

    The Four Freedoms 2.0: From Pay, From Dissent, From Organizing, From Representation

  3. troy grant September 5, 2012 at 11:39 am | #

    Follow Jesus or Mammon?

  4. Jimmy Reefercake (@JimmyReefercake) September 5, 2012 at 11:45 am | #

    Gave me a chuckle. Its the same thing in the progressive media, there are so many working for free, even the ones who make a little money are sort of resentful of the time they spent for free, so there isn’t much incentive for folks with the most talent to enter the area….know what i’m saying?

  5. Glenn September 5, 2012 at 11:58 am | #

    The Stakhanovite movement was so great a success in Russia. It’s now come to the Unitary State of America.

    Is it really wise to follow a failed example?

  6. wisedup September 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm | #
  7. brahmsky September 5, 2012 at 12:22 pm | #

    Will teach for food. Or, for just the hell of it.

  8. Glenn September 5, 2012 at 12:48 pm | #

    Amendment XIII
    Section 1.

    Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    [Slavery and involuntary servitude shall continue to exist within the United States, and any place subject to their jurisdiction, when used as a punishment for crime where the party shall have been duly convicted.-my edit]

    Section 2.
    Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation [Should it choose to – my edit].

    The means of making black voters a reduced factor in elections is exemplified by their purge from voter rolls through the commonly used exceptions in the Fifteenth Amendment by targeting individuals to be purged by finding reasons other than race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

    The Constitutional exception allowing slavery remains due to the conditional ability to use slavery as a court imposed sentence.

    See: “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II” by Douglas A. Blackmon

  9. David Kaib September 5, 2012 at 1:26 pm | #

    But do they get lunch breaks?

  10. Aliothemage September 5, 2012 at 1:43 pm | #

    They are willing to work for free because their Marginal Utility is zero if not negative. They just prefer zero over more leisure time

    you leftists should learn more economics and less marxism

    • Donald Pruden, Jr. a/k/a The Enemy Combatant September 5, 2012 at 2:05 pm | #

      If labor’s Marginal Utility is zero, then why are employers willing to hire them for zero wages? What is the point of labor for an employer if that labor does not provide value in the product that such labor produces? The employer gets SOMETHING from SOMEPLACE (sales of the produced widget) as a consequence of labor. This is how labor inserts value for the employer into the product. It is not that hard to understand.

      Oh, and who among the potential consumers is expected to pay zero for products sold by an employer who pays zero wages? After all, zero labor value translates into zero wages. Therefore, zero is the price the laboring consumer should expect to pay for products made by other laborers. And zero is the profit that the employer should expect to make, right?!

      It is the height of idiocy to claim that labor trades off leisure because the toil of labor is worthless (does labor really think so little of its own leisure?) rather than the fact that employers are greedy bastards trying to wring profits out of the products of labor’s toil. Labor trades away leisure because (thanks to greedy employers and the governments/elected officials who love them) wages plummet, which in turn demands more of labor’s time to make up any portion of the loss. This is why so many individual workers will work multiple low-wage jobs just to stay afloat.

      Are workers supposed to work for free?

  11. Benedict@Large September 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm | #

    Poor dear. She probably just got her conventions mixed up.

  12. Anne Brandscheid September 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm | #

    Anyone heard of the word “volunteering”? This is done by folk who, out of the goodness of their hearts, believe in helping others merely for the benefit of the recipients who in this case are children. Greed rules the world and money is king but thankfully there are better people out there too. They will win in the end!

    • henry blodget September 6, 2012 at 1:32 am | #

      anne, please think a little. its not volunteering when you’re under contract to receive pay for the work you do but the other party doesn’t hold up its end of the deal by…you know,not giving you pay. And its also not volunteering when you’re terminated for not showing up anymore because you dont get paid.

    • Donald Pruden, Jr. a/k/a The Enemy Combatant September 6, 2012 at 9:10 am | #

      Do YOU want to attend college at a cost to you of tens of thousands of BORROWED dollars a year, gaining a skill that will affect the lives of tens of thousands of children, earn a master’s degree in said skill, take a battery of exams to demonstrate your proficiency in said skill, and obtain State licensing that permits you to practice said skill, go back to college for re-training in the advancements in said skill, get re-licensed periodically to be permitted to continue to practice said skill — and all of this only to perform said skill as VOLUNTEER labor?


  13. Brian A. Graham September 5, 2012 at 6:17 pm | #

    Poor Dear. She probably thought she was still on the board of TreeHouse Foods one of Wal-Marts biggest suppliers. The First Lady received $51,000 a year in compensation for a part time gig and approximately $70,000 in stock options when she resigned after two years in 2007. She didn’t work for free. I guess Neoliberalism works for those connected at the top.

  14. Jeremy September 5, 2012 at 8:50 pm | #

    Probably a better link for the Georgia Works program is Mike Konczal’s description (http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/is-the-georgia-works-program-a-failure-how-could-we-tell-and-would-we-even-care/), if only for this passage:
    “So I could say, ‘This certainly looks like a way to run a low-skill temp agency giving weeks of free labor to employers, employers who already probably have monopsony power and labor that is effectively deskilled, with taxpayers picking up the tab.’ A neoliberal would then respond, ‘Well this program gives people the market dynamism of the choice to be choosing in the market of choice for the market of uncompensated labor, a choice market that synergizes with employer’s full choice of market wages,’ and in our age that would somehow constitute a strong retort. Repeat that enough and the policy fellowships will just start falling into your lap.”

  15. Mitchell Freedman September 6, 2012 at 12:43 am | #

    Was anyone else struck by the navel gazing of both Michelle Obama’s speech and Julian Castro’s speech? They were saying America is a great country because, 20 years ago, they each got into elite colleges. Isn’t that great? (Sarcasm alert) And Michelle made it sound like it’s just fine that she and Barack had college loans that were more than their first mortgage. That was her channeling Ann Romney, I suppose.

    Neither dwelled on the fact that the ladder has been pulled from kids with crushing college loan debt. Neither dwelled on the many studies showing how class mobility has essentially stopped in the US.

    I could only sigh at the way in which pundits fell all over themselves over those two speeches….

  16. Ron September 6, 2012 at 1:03 pm | #

    So was she really glorifying “working for free”? I didn’t take that from her speech at all. Wow! I’m really surprised to see this on Corey’s site. At this moment, I’m really beside myself. How could I have missed that from her speech? Overall, I simply don’t agree on the parsing of that particular statement in her speech.

    • Donald Pruden, Jr. a/k/a The Enemy Combatant September 6, 2012 at 1:40 pm | #

      We all know Ms. Obama’s point in that moment of her speech, given the context: she is referring to selfless generosity for public purpose in moments of trial. No one here faults her for that. As a Lefty Pinko I admire that spirit in people and it proves a point that I should not have a lot of trouble impressing on others, but I do, which is that people are almost always at their best when times are their worst. Those worst of times can take many forms: wars; famines; floods; blackouts; earthquakes… and ruthless budget cuts that savage the people’s social services. I certainly count that last a “worst” and as a disaster. See this story which happens to be the case to which Ms. Obama refers and understand why, and understand as well why the unpaid teachers are in this wise the moral equivalent of Samaritan-style rescuers pulling people out of raging waters: http://www.good.is/post/teachers-in-bankrupt-pennsylvania-school-district-pledge-to-work-for-free/

      The problem, however, is that education, derived and activated by the best that is within us is, is a public good. It is not an act of charity but a social necessity. As such it should be compensated, well compensated, and at public expense.

      I cannot believe that I have to make this argument!

  17. donnadiva September 7, 2012 at 3:22 pm | #

    If there’s one thing the Democratic and Republican elites share it’s a disdain for working people and the belief they should work for a little as possible. The difference is that Republicans are a little more honest about wanting to be King Shit over a 3rd world pile of dirt. The affluent Democrats concoct elaborate fantasies where union busting and wage suppression, along with “reforming” the social safety net, will somehow lead to a comfortable, orderly, and technologically progressing society. IOW, they’re delusional.

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