David R. Henderson  

Chef Rudy's Virtues Project

My take on Reinhart and Rogoff... Eat Your Pizza, or, The Beginn...

When I was 16, I had a job at the Minaki Lodge in Minaki, Ontario from which I was fired. (Why was I fired? That's a whole other story. It had nothing to do with my work ethic.) After I was fired, I still needed to find work because I needed to make money to pay for college. I was starting at the University of Winnipeg that fall.

So a few days after I was fired, I was hanging around the Lodge and Chef Rudy came by. He asked me if I wanted to work in the kitchen helping run the dish washer. I'm guessing it's because he had seen me mop floors and clean bathrooms every day for 4 weeks and had never seen me slack. The offer, I think, was $1.25 an hour. (This was in 1967.) I said, "Sure, but Rod Carey [the manager of the Lodge, the one who had fired me] will never let you hire me." "Leave that to me," he said, "Wait here." A few minutes later he came out to where I was sitting and said, "You're on. Start tomorrow at 8:00 a.m." So I did.

But within a day or two, I started sleeping in a little and showing up at 8:15 or 8:20. After the third day of this in a row, Chef Rudy and I had the following dialogue:
Rudy: You need to get here on time. Get an alarm clock.
Me: I have an alarm clock.
Rudy: Do you use it?
Me: Yes.
Rudy: Then what's the problem?
Me: The alarm sounds, I turn it off, and then I turn over and sleep another 15 minutes.
Rudy: That's the problem. Show up tomorrow on time or you're fired.

So, from then on, I did show up on time. I didn't get fired, and I thrived in my job.

I tell this story for two reasons. First, you hear people often say that low-wage jobs are dead-end jobs and that you don't learn much of value. I learned a huge amount of value, and being punctual was one of my first big lessons.

Second, my friend Don Boudreaux has a blog post this morning, titled "Dan Klein's and Lotta Stern's Virtues Project," in which he tells how another of our friends, Dan Klein, and his wife, Lotta Stern, are encouraging their daughter to be virtuous. The first virtue highlighted is punctuality. I think their project is a noble one and it well could work. My point is different, and it's one that I think both Don and Dan would agree with in a New York minute: the market teaches virtue.

Think back to Chef Rudy. Rudy's main goal was not to make me virtuous. His main goal was to get a good worker to show up on time. His incentive worked and I became marginally more virtuous.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (12 to date)
bobroberts17e1 writes:

I lived in a small town (population 40,000) when I was in high school, and played the viola in the school orchestra. About my sophomore year, my orchestra teacher thought I should try out for the community symphony. It was a paying gig, about $12 a rehearsal, which was big money to a kid who had never had a job before.

So I auditioned, not thinking I could get in (lots of kids tried out, mostly violinists, but didn't get in). To my surprise, they were impressed with my audition, and told me to show up to the next rehearsal. I think they gave me a seat because I was a violist, and they're kind of hard to come by in a small town.

My orchestra teacher also played viola in the community symphony, and during rehearsals for the second concert we had that season, I ended up being his stand partner (I sat by him). I was on the left, which meant that we used my music during rehearsal, and we'd mark it up with comments and changes we'd make during rehearsal.

Being the unorganized 15 year old I was, I forgot my music a few times during the semester, but my orchestra teacher usually had his, and we'd just use it instead. Well, the night of the dress rehearsal I ended up forgetting my music for one of the pieces we were playing. So halfway through the rehearsal, a dialog like this ensues:

Me: "I think I forgot Tchaikovsky's 5th. Do you have yours?"

Orchestra teacher: "What do you mean you don't have your music?"

Me: "I think I left it at home. I was working through (some hard section) in the music."

Orchestra teacher: "This is a dress rehearsal. If this had been the performance, and I didn't have my music, what do you think we'd do?"

Me: "Uhh... go home and get it?"

Orchestra teacher: "NEVER forget your music. EVER. You are paid to show up ready to play at 7:00 PM. That means you need to be ready at 6:50 PM with a sharpened pencil, your instrument ready and tuned, and YOUR music on the stand."

In hindsight, I'm pretty sure he purposefully forgot his music so he could teach me that lesson. I was very lucky to have someone who not only wanted me to be a good worker/musician, but also a more virtuous person. I'm also glad I learned that lesson at a dress rehearsal, not a performance.

Andrew writes:

Great story, but with regards to low-wage jobs being dead-ends, most people would say that applies to low-wage jobs in middle age (McDonald's french fries cooker at 40) as opposed to low-wage jobs as a teenager.

MingoV writes:

I don't think parents should encourage their children to be punctual. Instead, parents should set good examples by being punctual, and they should demand the same of their children. That approach applies to other virtues such as honesty, respectfulness, politeness, and helpfulness. After all, future employers will not encourage virtues; they will fire those who don't have them.

David R. Henderson writes:

Great story. Thanks.
Parents should do a lot of things. I'm glad that even if they don't, employers encourage virtues by firing people who don't have them in sufficient quantity.

Saveyourself writes:

David, love your story. Reminds me how effective "on the job training" is as a viable substitute (or supplement) for formal education. One of the many reasons the minimum wage law is so evil. That law prevents young people from learning the most basic norms of business by making it illegal to hire them when their productive potential is lower than the legal minimum.

I am curious why you call punctuality a virtue. Do you mean to suggest that there is something moral associated with meeting someone else's expectations? Or do you just intend virtue to mean "a commendable trait?"

David R. Henderson writes:

I am curious why you call punctuality a virtue. Do you mean to suggest that there is something moral associated with meeting someone else's expectations?
No. It's because there's something moral associated with keeping your own promises.

Ken B writes:

The neighbours were a seriously messed family, with a drug addict mother seeking to emigrate (from Canada) to Florida because the welfare benefits were good (paging Bryan Caplan!). Her son was young and little attended. He dropped out of school. He seemed to be getting into some trouble too; the cops were at the house once in a while. But to make money he asked to mow our lawn and some others in the area. Weeding and mowing, the acme of menial work. He quickly learned to be punctual and diligent; my partner only spoke to him about once, early, and since then he's been scrupulous. Now, after his mother has abandoned him, he is running his own lawn care business and going to vocational college.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Ken B,
Sweet story. Thanks.

Tim writes:

(from Canada) to Florida because the welfare benefits were good (paging Bryan Caplan!).

You should probably pay better attntion to Caplan's argument, he's sympathetic to objections regarding the largesse of the welfare state being an issue with open borders, and he proposes a pretty straight-forward solitution: immigrants don't get welfare state benefits. Much more humane than our current system but an actually sustainable situation.

Ken B writes:

He learned another virtue too: pride. He does great work for us, his first customers, and there is never any sense of obligation about it: he takes pride in doing a good job, himself, and his independence.

Had he been just a few years younger he'd have fallen into "the system" and not the supposedly heartless market.

Ken B writes:

You find that persuasive? That America is ready to accept two-tier citizenship, with a racial skew, long term? Well, to each his own; I prefer to believe in unicorns myself.

But it seems to conspicuously fail another test, which is answering the objections of those who fear new immigrants will vote in major, unwelcome, changes. Your idea creates new incentives to do so, and new opportunities for demagogues. You bolster the Steve Sailer position.

Tracy W writes:

MingoV, I think most parents want their children to be punctual, polite, etc, even when their kids are beyond parental demands. Demanding that your kids do things a certain way when you can control them can help encourage them to do so later on, by such means as habit formation, but if the adult child doesn't want to be punctual, polite etc then they won't be.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top