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Jobs of the Future
Downton Abbey: The Economy of the Future?

Downton Abbey fans rejoice—butlers are making a comeback. The NYT reports on the “new domestics,” the growing body of butlers, cooks, estate managers, private security, maids, art advisors, and chiefs of staff employed by the wealthiest Americans. The really eye-popping part of the story is the salaries, which can get as high as $250,000 per year.

Despite the high salaries, there’s still a lot of unease in America about the growth of these kinds of service jobs. To many, they suggest servility and cultural inequality. But the Times story quotes one estate manager’s take on that question:

“I have spreadsheets on each house,” she said, and she also oversees their detailed calendars. “I have a lot to say about a lot of things. I tell them where they’re going, at what time and who they’re meeting. I reconcile four of their credit cards, oversee staff in all the houses. I work my behind off,  and I would walk through fire for them.”

She recalled a friend protesting when she considered taking the job 10 years ago, and his warning to her, “You’re always going to be the help.”

To which Donna replied, “Unless you own your own business, you will always be the help.”

The ingrained prejudice against service jobs in America—especially domestic ones—is partially rooted in the associations with the cultural baggage of a nobility system like the one portrayed Downton Abbey. We think butlers have less dignity than other kinds of workers, especially in the productive manufacturing work we associate with 1950s America. But with the automation of more and more fields, service jobs are becoming an increasingly important part of our economy.

Does this mean that we’re stuck with a choice between joblessness and aristocratic tyranny? Not quite. For one thing, many jobs won’t be linked to particular households. There will be coaches and trainers and outside specialists of all sorts—think of tutors or personal trainers. For another, even those in low-level service jobs will have more opportunities for mobility that a maid in the 20th-century England ever had. The service economy is coming, but it won’t bring servility with it.

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  • Andrew Allison

    “The ingrained prejudice against service jobs in America—especially domestic ones—is partially rooted in the associations with the cultural baggage of a nobility system like the one portrayed Downton Abbey.” Maybe, although I think it’s much more likely to do with slavery. Given that most of the jobs of the future seem likely to be service-oriented, perhaps the most useful thing that we as a society can do is work on eliminating the prejudice against service.

    • Kavanna

      And perhaps also the prejudice against skilled trades. These are making a big comeback, for good reasons.

      • Andrew Allison

        Interesting point. Do you think that people are reluctant to enter skilled trades, or just brainwashed (by rubbish such as this Pew report) into thinking the have to go to college to have a successful career?

  • Kavanna

    Actually, the top domestic servants of the English aristocracy had it pretty good. Those lower down and more junior, not so much.

    Obviously, in post-modern America, hiring the help is going to cost the 1% a LOT more than it did (in real terms) than it did a century ago. Even at the time of Downtown Abbey, the classes were already complaining about sharply rising labor costs, especially in the more mobile US.

    • Andrew Allison

      When one considers the alternatives available to the lower rungs of domestic servants (those dark, satanic mills, etc.), they didn’t have it too badly either.

      • Jim__L

        Since we’re on the subject of “Downton Abbey”, didn’t “North and South” state that the domestics of northern England could get far better pay in the mills?

        • Andrew Allison

          We’re on the subject of “The ingrained prejudice against service jobs in America”, but never mind [/grin]. I haven’t seen/read “North and South” and look forward to doing so — thanks for the lead. Having read the synopsis, I’d hazard a guess that if, in fact, the pay was far better in the mills, the working environment was not.

          • Jim__L

            Well, on the original subject, didn’t de Tocqueville mention that service workers in America didn’t resent their state like service workers in Europe, because most Americans saw that as a stepping stone to bigger and better things?

          • Andrew Allison

            Yes! The question is what changed that and how might it be changed back (to the great benefit of the un- and under-employed).

          • Andrew Allison

            Thanks again for the referral to “North & South”. It makes a very compelling case for the horrors of working in the mills. I don’t, however, think that a comment from single applicant for domestic employment with a penurious former Parson that “I can get more at the mill” makes the case that mill workers got “far better pay” than domestic servants”. Keep in mind the the later were also housed and fed. Regards.

  • Anthony

    Serving, servility, status, station, etc. reflect features of human social arrangements. America had meant for many leaving Old Country, and its confining class and caste distinctions, social/economic mobility. Consciously or unconsciously your allusion to Downton Abbey and related unease may bring to mind associations of caste/class. Nevertheless, creative destruction of capitalism compels redefinition of 21st century wage acquisition in market economy – so on one level it is all semantics and social identification.

  • Fat_Man

    “Downton Abbey: The Economy of the Future?”

    No. Don’t be silly. The world of Downton Abbey is very attractive to modern Americans because the relations between the classes are driven by bonds of affection and respect. Those bonds were created by a structured society that had a role for everyone, where people seldom steeped outside their roles, and where the roles created reciprocal duties and rights. The upper classes were duty bound to protect the lower orders and the servants were duty bound to serve and respect the upper classes. Everyone belonged to the the Church of England and were witnesses to the life ceremonies of the others.

    We could not replicate that world in America, because our elites are so dismal. They have no concept of duty, and their religions are Marxist Atheism and “Environmentalist” Gaia worship, neither of which has a system of morality. Marxism sends the lower orders to the gulag and environmentalism theorizes turning them into soylent green.

    Our elites hate and fear the lower classes. Our elites structure their lives in complete isolation from the lower classes. The elites are willing to patronize the lower classes, and sink them in welfare dependency, but not to empower them to improve their own condition. There is no more pathological class relationship in the world than the US elite and the American under classes.

    The modern entertainment that shows the future of class relations in America is not Downton Abbey, it is the Mad Max series.

  • TommyTwo

    “The ingrained prejudice against service jobs in America”

    Aha! I now understand why “public servants” do such an abysmal job of actually serving the public: it’s simply their way of protesting their perceived lower standing.

    Thank you for leading me to this insight.


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