We are respectfully continuing the tradition (started in Prairie Fire) of publishing pieces by Norris Alfred. Norris published the Polk Progress, a weekly Nebraska newspaper that lasted 82 years, from 1907 until its last issue in 1989. Norris was honored in his time—he was named Master Editor by the Nebraska Press Association and received a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in 1980—but his observations on human nature and politics in his “Polking Around” column, as well as his unpublished journal, are what make him so accessible to readers today.

Jobs and Satisfactory Living

August 27, 1987

We take issue with the assertion that having a “job” is the prime reason for living. A “job” is admittedly necessary for “earning” a living. But “earning” is not, necessarily, “learning.” Living is a learning process that should continue until the final breath. When a business entity—corporation, or whatever—announces plans to locate in Nebraska and create a certain number of “jobs,” our cheering is subdued by questioning the quality and “kind” of jobs, not the number. Humans are not automatons. The words are not synonymous.

Nebraska, Inc. was not the goal our pioneers envisioned when they settled this land. More likely the reason was opportunity, and that word means much more than “job.” Opportunity takes in the full range of living, not just an eight-hour workday. To live a “full” life means a 24-hour schedule that is not dedicated to a “job” but to realizing individual potential.

Lately, the daily Nebraska news has been loaded with heroic corporations investigating the state’s economic “climate” and maybe deciding to locate a processing or manufacturing plant that will create a number of “jobs” and save the state from the agricultural doldrums and bankruptcy.

One of these outfits is searching for a place to locate its headquarters for national operations and this, of course, will mean “jobs.” In the news readers have been bombarded with “job” numbers lately, until the suspicion won’t down that the promoters of all these potential “jobs” envision permanent prosperity. Or, at least, want readers to think and believe that is the goal they have in mind for Nebraska.

We hope none of our state’s elected and appointed officials is so enthusiastic about this rosy future that they sacrifice their responsibility to govern even-handedly. Incentives for making the state attractive to industry can, eventually, cause a loss of state government independence as the economy becomes more dependent on industrial plants and less on seeded acres of green growing plants.

Not so long ago, the news was full of corporate takeover artists (the Boesky Bums), and for a state to become economically dependent on industries subject to this possibility is to risk the state’s future for immediate and, possibly, temporary political satisfaction. What comes to mind is the attempted take over of Goodyear by corporate raiders, and how close Lincoln came to losing its Goodyear manufacturing plant.

The closing of manufacturing and processing plants has brought economic distress to many states and communities. More and more, as corporations buy each other out in billion-dollar deals, these decisions are made by officials in headquarters located far from the community or state. The rule to observe in offering tax incentives and land for industries to locate in Nebraska is a negative. “Don’t become economically dependent on those industries.” Learn the lesson of the smokestack industries and the economic disasters they caused to the cities and states in which they were located.

The primary interest of any industry is profit. Small or large, industry can’t exist without it. The “pursuit of happiness” of workers is secondary to the industry’s pursuit of happiness.

What must be avoided is making individual citizen’s living dependent on industry. Always keep in mind—industry is dependent on people. The governor of Nebraska’s (the governor of any other state, for that matter) first priority is to govern the entire state, not just a portion of it. Governor Orr has been emphasizing manufacturing and processing to the detriment of farming. She has a bigger-is-better concept of farms that accepts as inevitable a continuing decline in the number of farms, while they increase in size and the number of farmers decreases.

This discouraging prospect is not inevitable. Federal farm programs, as they are now designed, encourage and reward large farming operations, and this can be turned around. It won’t be turned around by Governor Orr, or even considered. The first step in turning it around was accomplished when Initiative 300 became an amendment to the state’s constitution. This amendment says, figuratively, that people are the state’s most important product. Governor Orr wants to knock that amendment out of the constitution.

We have stated often in this proudly parochial newspaper that the state government’s goal should be “more farms—more farmers.” Mechanical efficiency combined with chemical farming is not the wave of the future in agriculture. The huge surpluses of grain attest to the failure of ever bigger farms, which are now totally dependent on federal subsidies. Government support price has now become the price. This was evident when the lower support price for corn was the basis for news stories about the loss of income that will be the result for Nebraska’s corn growers.

The weekly newspaper is people-oriented.. Do readers remember the cabinet member in Eisenhower’s administration (we think) who said, or at least implied, that what’s good for General Motors is good for the United States? If we correctly recall, the entire quote was: “What’s good for the United States is good for General Motors and vice versa.” What’s good for corporate business and industry in Nebraska is not, necessarily, good for Nebraska. Our state, county, and city government officials need to keep that in mind and temper their enthusiasm with caution. A “job” is not a guarantee for successful living.

Published in the March 2009 issue of Prairie Fire/prairiefirenewspaper.com. Links to Prairie Fire may be broken due to a change in web hosting.