Tom Fiske wrote another interesting piece for you again this week. I found it thought-provoking. Enjoy!
Doing genealogy well often involves knowledge of a country’s conditions and customs and history. I have long wanted to describe the jobs and education of my ancestors, and I found that I needed to know what was going on in each state when they were alive. I got some help when I was researching a book I am writing. It is not about genealogy, but about the US physician who spent much time in the USSR, keeping Soviet cosmonauts alive during the Space Race. That part of his life is a deep, dark secret.
Research for this book has caused me to find my way to the Internet doorstep of Dr. Sergei Khrushchev. He was very close to his father, who was premier of the USSR and perhaps the most powerful man in the world. Dr. Khrushchev is now a U.S. citizen and a college professor—and a very nice, patient man. He has written several books about the life and times of his famous dad, so perhaps he sympathized with a small-time writer like me whose father was not so famous.
As I looked through one of Dr. Khrushchev’s books and examined his family photographs, I could not help making a comparison between his dad’s job and my dad’s job. The pictures were from about the same time and the two men had some kind of a faint resemblance.
My father had an electrical engineer’s education while Nikita Khrushchev had no college education at all. My father was a salesman and Nikita was a factory worker and a politician. They didn’t have many salesmen in Russia. It was an occupation that was not required, which is hard for us to imagine.
In a country where demand far outstrips supply and where people wait in lines to buy most things, salesmen would have had nothing to do. So they didn’t exist in the USSR.
My father was born and raised in America during a time of plenty. There was a surplus of most things and salesmen were needed to sell off the surplus. But it wasn’t always that way. Early in America some 95% of the population worked on farms to feed themselves and the other 5% who were artists, politicians, religious leaders and teachers. Over time and during years of great farm productivity those percentages reversed. Some 5% of the population lived on farms and fed the other 95%. Today, about 2% of us feed the other 98%. (In the USSR, they had a planned economy and central control by the government, where the managers could not even conceive of such farm efficiency. People starved, of course.)
In America, nothing was planned, but the efficiencies of a free people were piled up on top of each other until we are in the position of using a few people to feed not only ourselves, but a large part of the rest of the world.
The times in which people lived and the type of government they had often determined the kinds of jobs people had. After WWII, many millions of Soviet men had been killed. Who was left to do the traditional work of men? Women. And they did it quite well, proving that it was local customs that determined employment, not the innate abilities of the sexes.
So by looking at the environments of our ancestors we can perhaps discover the types of jobs they held, and the educational levels they attained. Then we can get a good idea of the kinds of lives they lived and the expectations they passed along to their progeny. In other words, we can sometimes figure out how we got where are today and perhaps where our children and grandchildren are heading.
I maintain that the “unseen hand” described by the English economist Adam Smith is fully functioning today, making our nation even more productive. That hand fails only when government interferes. But that is a side issue. In my mind’s eye I can see a long line of ancestors, beginning as farmers and moving out from the mass as lawyers, tinkerers, engineers, teachers and managers. And yes, there were a few politicians in the mix. One economist, too. This progression came about as the history of our nation evolved and made room for each type of occupation.