The Wit and Wisdom of a Privy Builder


By: Brooks A. Mick

If you have ever lived back in the woods where houses still had functioning outhouses, you should definitely read Chic Sale’s small book, “The Specialist.” You will find it hysterically funny. Even if you never used an outhouse, you should read it. It will still be funny, and if you think about it, you can read it as a parable that will teach a valuable political and economic message. In fact, if you understand it, it will enable you to reach policy decisions much more correct than that of the average Nobel Prize-winning economist.

The book is written from the viewpoint of one Lem Putt, a country carpenter and handyman who chose to specialize in building outhouses. You might wonder what great political and economic insight is contained therein. Just be patient and we’ll get there.

Chick Sale was a vaudeville comedian who specialized in homespun humor much as the better known Mark Twain or Will Rogers. The explanation given by his family for the writing of the book is the following: He was a member of the Rotary Club and his tiny book was written as a monologue he could deliver when he was asked to give a little performance at a local Rotary Club meeting as he toured the country. It has been printed twenty-six times over the years since its first issuance in 1929.

But I wonder about that explanation. Note the first publishing date, 1929. That is when the Great Depression began with the Wall Street crash. I propose that Chic Sale wrote this book as a guide for politicians who were going to be cooking up plans to improve the economy.

I won’t review the whole book, but the original incident is the most instructive. Lem Putt had built one of his fine outhouses for a Luke Harkins, a local farmer with a lot of acreage. It was one of his basic “eight-family 3-holer,” because he figured Luke would need a big one for his hired hands. He issued his usual guarantee that, were there any problem, he would return and fix it for free.

Sure enough, Luke called with a problem. The problem is that the hired hands were going into the privy and spending from forty minutes to an hour. So Lem gave it some thought, studied the catalogs to see if they were too entertaining, which they weren’t, and he finally came up with the answer: He had made the seats so nicely rounded and well-shaped that they were simply too comfortable! He got his tools, cut the edges sharper and changed the shape, and sure enough, the hired hands spent much less time in the privy and Luke got a lot more work done on the farm.

Now if Presidents Hoover or Roosevelt had read this little book and thought about it, they might have concluded that creating make-work projects, bailing out businesses or banks, or creating schemes to pay people for being out of work was the equivalent of making privy seats that were just too comfortable. There would be much less incentive to get out of the privy and back to work. Thus a recession was converted to the Great Depression by wrong-headed, softhearted, well-meaning policies.

The same thing is happening since 2008, repeating the problems all over again. Unemployment benefits make the privy seats too comfortable for workers, and bailouts make them too cushy for unions, corporations, and CEOs. We had a liquidity freeze in 2008, the entire financial system was in gridlock, and some infusion of capital was needed. However, Obama continued throwing money at the problem, extending unemployment benefits, bailing out corporations, giving cushy deals to unions—making the privy seats too danged comfortable.

The only question is whether the Obamians are creating a Great Depression deliberately or just through pigheaded left-wing ideology.

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