As you may have already heard, one of Newt Gingrich's new proposals since taking his turn at the top of the Republican primary Ferris wheel has been to suggest that we fire overpaid, unionized school janitors and hire children -- maybe their own kids! -- to take their place, thus both saving money and giving the youth of today a leg up in a tough job market.
"This is something that no liberal wants to deal with," Gingrich said. "Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy. It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.
"You say to somebody, you shouldn't go to work before you're what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You're totally poor. You're in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I've tried for years to have a very simple model," he said. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising."
He added, "You go out and talk to people, as I do, you go out and talk to people who are really successful in one generation. They all started their first job between nine and 14 years of age. They all were either selling newspapers, going door to door, they were doing something, they were washing cars."
"They all learned how to make money at a very early age," he said. "What do we say to poor kids in poor neighborhoods? Don't do it. Remember all that stuff about don't get a hamburger flipping job? The worst possible advice you could give to poor children. Get any job that teaches you to show up on Monday. Get any job that teaches you to stay all day even if you are in a fight with your girlfriend. The whole process of making work worthwhile is central."
Gingrich made this suggestion at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. As far as I know, no one has yet made the connection between his proposal and the Harvard professor in the news these days, Elizabeth Warren. As I was reminded in reading Jason Zengerle's fine New York magazine piece about Warren, her father was a janitor! Now, I doubt that, working in Oklahoma back in the 50s and 60s, he was as overpaid as all those cosseted custodians of our current day, but still, just for the sake of testing out Gingrich's idea, let's make the case: young Liz Herring really ought to have gone to work as a janitor in place of her dad. If she had, maybe she coulda made something of herself.
Oh, wait. Turns out Mr. Herring cut back on his janitorial work as it was -- because he had a heart attack when his daughter was 12. His wife, Elizabeth's mom, went to work taking calls for the Sears catalog. And Elizabeth started waitressing not far into her teen-aged years.
Still, maybe she would have been better off if she'd had a mop and bucket in hand. Maybe then she could have done even better for herself -- say, gotten a deal pulling down $1.6 - $1.8 million for having occasional chats with Freddie Mac.