Originally Posted by Treko
Well I have to disagree on a few points. (i) Slavery, for example, is not honest work -- quite the antithesis, I'd say that's about as dishonest as any industry can be. These people are either self-employed or work for small businesses, so the comparison is not well taken. (ii) My point was not that I or anyone else is incapable of shining our own shoes (I have done it before, and will again when the need arises), but rather that the simple fact that I can
do something does not mean it is morally repugnant for me to pay someone who specializes in the same task (and has both higher levels of skill and economy in terms of time); especially when the effect of that attitude would be to deprive the shoe-shiner of work. (iii) The reasons many people opt for the quick 'on-the-foot' shine have to do with the speed of the service and the on-the-go fix for scuffed or worn looking shoes. While some may affect that look in certain circumstances, in others it is shabby and potentially even disrespectful of those you may be meeting with. Obviously this is something of a 'micro-cultural' phenomena, but in certain industries (banking, the law &c.) in NYC, at least, people tend to opt for highly bulled dress shoes.
'Off-the-foot' shines and shoe repair are not uncommon, but serve different functions and offer different benefits (and generally demand more time -- a day or sometimes more vs. two or three minutes). I sense some cognitive dissonance when the same work, hidden from the eyes of the customer, is somehow more noble and less degrading. I suppose it is the height of the chairs used that inspire discomfort in your view of the practice (ironically, they are propped up as a matter of sensitivity to the posture of the employee -- not to instill some regal self-regard in the customer). I think to assume people get shoe-shines to feed some vapid need to feel superior to another person is reading into the entire scenario something that isn't there.
I could buy starch and various steamers and irons and laundry equipment and expertly launder and dry clean my shirts and suits. I could refuse every opportunity to ride in a cab because I am quite capable of driving and could rent a car instead. I could cut my own hair (again, with less but passable skill) instead of mocking the barber by sitting in his chair. I could make myself dinner every night of the year, and never imply to a restaurants' wait staff that I am somehow their better because their job requires carrying out my meal. I could refuse the assistance of bellhops, being physically capable of carrying my own bags to my hotel room.
to accomplish any or all of these tasks without relying on the services of other people is not really the point (in my view). In taking the above course of action I would be selfishly denying the right of other people to make a living out of zealous individualism, weighing down my schedule with countless extra tasks (that in the past might have been carried out by domestic labor, a more degrading institution in my opinion) and achieving lesser results. Or I could employ the services of my neighbors, as they employ mine. These people are not servants or slaves, they are industrious and free people who are working hard to make a living. I have worked as a waiter and a caddy, and would not have been thrilled had customers persistently 'honored' me by bussing their own tables and carrying their own golf bags (many of them perfectly capable of both).
Everyone must pick and choose what services and people he has the resources and need to do business with, and what tasks he must handle himself. But I see no need to yoke some moral judgment on this particular service because it is not altogether common in every part of the country. Where the market exists it exists for a reason, and barring some evidence that it is truly exploitative or unfair I see no reason why people should not be free to make up their own minds on whether to frequent such a business, or employ such a service.