What’s happened to our English word: “professional”?.The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers: “b. engaged in one of the learned professions” which seems to exclude being paid for playing ball. “Professionals” once called up images of doctors, lawyers, public accountants and such, folk with much knowledge of a complex field of study. Beyond that, a professional was expected to adhere to a canon of ethics promulgated by his profession and to offer his services to the general public with some attention to the public good as well as his own rewards. Is that the image that appears today when the word is used?
I suspect that the pro ballplayer gets the nod instead. And he isn’t even an independent practitioner; he works for a salary. If his calling has a canon of ethics, it is imposed upon him via fines and officials, though not so often as to impede his efficiency in his game. And nobody seems likely to inquire of him concerning the public good.
It seems to me that his is a loss and that it has been brought about by government. Professionals were self-employed, dependent upon and answerable to their clientele. The customers of professionals weren’t called that; they were variously, “patients” or “clients.” Merriam Webster again: Client: “a person who engages the professional advice or services of another”. That’s a relationship, it indicates trust and respect, both of which had to be earned and then maintained by a successful professional…one of the reasons for those canons of ethics.
But then the government decided to help. No more Abe Lincolns becoming lawyers by apprenticing to an established practitioner. You have to go to a specified school, get an approved degree and pass an approved exam, much of which has little to do with the practice of law today. You need a government license. The same is largely true in accounting and medicine. A primary effect of these barriers has been to close these careers to increasing numbers of young people, from what I can see. We seem to see as many crooks and incompetents as ever.
Our professionals were self-employed, independent practitioners whose earnings were determined by the market they inhabited, which meant that a reasonably large number of people could pay their fees. Now, a lawsuit is beyond the resources of a majority, H&R Block only exists because people can’t afford to pay a CPA for tax work and uninsured patients depend upon charity or survive–or not–without care. The burdens imposed upon professionals by government have to be paid for somehow, by somebody.
Finally, there are few professionals today in independent practice. The greater number are paid employees, following orders and policies handed them from a management, an insurer and increasingly now, from government. Doctors for instance, seem largely to be mid-level technicians providing services defined by insurers or an Obamacare bureaucrat. Professional judgement has devolved into rules imposed upon lawyers and accountants by their malpractice insurers.
The pros aren’t really pros any more, seems to me, but they still make pretty good money. Even that is vanishing for doctors, courtesy of Obamacare. Government payments for Medicare patients are reduced with worse to come; doctors are retiring early. Law school grads are having trouble finding jobs and ironically, now that more accountants are female, fewer are needed.
So who’s left that’s really “professional” today? Our volunteer military are employees; so are those ball players. Even actresses, for that matter and though some may be pretty independent, their canon of ethics remains unpublished so far as I can tell.
I have it…professional writers! Nice try, but no again…nothing particularly learned about writing and they lack clients with a relationship. And their canon of ethics..?
About as close as I can see today is an elected politician…except of course, for the canon and knowing anything useful…