It’s not easy being Jeeves. In his GQ investigation of the lives of butlers hired by millionaires at home and abroad (h/t Tyler Cowen), David Katz suggests only a certain kind of person could or would become a butler. Ex-military men and women tend to do well because they are used to taking orders, as are others who have the patience to deal with demanding bosses. One source is quoted as saying that butlers are typically “gay or divorced” because of the stresses the job puts on their personal lives. They are often asked to do outrageous things, at least if the anecdotes in the story are at all representative.
Katz found that while butlers do often live a hard and demanding life, they have real bargaining power, earn good wages, and are not turned servile by their duties:
While it’s easy to assume that anyone who willingly becomes a butler must harbor a notion of his own inferiority, none of the butlers I met were slavish doormats or even particularly humble. From Ford, who thought Claudia Schiffer’s lifestyle beneath him, to Govender, the self-described “ultimate servant,” to Bonell, who’s bringing five-star service to the newly moneyed East, all have healthy egos buttressed by a belief that their way is the best possible way. A happy butler is a Buddhist monk in tails, taking pleasure in the duty itself. Serving, but never servile.Besides, in our new kings-and-paupers economic reality, there are too many ultra-wealthy employers eager to poach him away. At this moment, a happy butler is harder to find than a needy billionaire. Which bestows the butler with something you’d never expect: power.
Katz’s piece is an interesting look at a domestic service industry that is at the beginning of its boom. As the industry expands, people trained in domestic service will find ways of parlaying their skills into other fields, if they so choose. A trained domestic cook, for example, could start his or her own catering business. Several people profiled in the article have switched service jobs several times over the years. In the fluid service economy of the future, many of these skills will be transferable. One day, the words “domestic service” may no longer conjure up an image of Jeeves, but rather of a tech-savvy, well-educated worker who owns a business.