Sunday, February 09, 2014


Ross Douthat is one of the few right-wingers who acknowledged that the recent Congressional Budget Office report didn't really say that Obamacare was going to kill two million jobs. Douthat knows that the CBO report was talking about voluntary departures from full-time work. However, he's profoundly troubled by these departures, and he thinks his fellow conservatives are as troubled as he is:
... liberalism has a very important choice to make. It's possible to defend Obamacare's overall goals while also recognizing its potentially perverse effects, and conceding that we should try to minimize the number of low-skilled workers exiting the labor market.

On the conservative side, ... [b]oth "rugged individualist" right-wingers and more communitarian conservatives tend to see work as essential to dignity, mobility and social equality, and see its decline as something to be fiercely resisted.

The question is whether tomorrow's liberals will be our allies in that fight.
Hey, conservatives: you think work is "essential to dignity, mobility and social equality"? You think a reduction in full-time work should "be fiercely resisted"? Then why aren't you angry at employers, who aren't providing this work? Why doesn't it upset you that big companies are sitting on piles of cash but aren't creating any jobs?

And if your deep distress at the possible damage indolence might cause to poor people's souls won't inspire you to ask your precious job creators to actually create a few more jobs, why aren't you supporting -- no, demanding -- a massive New Deal-style government-funded make-work program, which could easily happen if you backed it because it would also be supported enthusiastically by liberals?

Douthat says conservatives believe in the value of work. Maybe that's true. But what's undoubtedly true is that conservatives believe the failure of poor people to work is a swell object lesson, a demonstration that society's losers deserve to be losers, never mind the fact that their loser status is the result of hiring decisions made by society's winners. Conservatives don't fiercely resist any change in the marketplace for labor, even if the change would give poor people all that work-generated dignity. They'd much rather keep the poor poor, so they can point and them and sneer.


Raymond Smith said...

Conservatives live by the rule of "I got mine screw you" philosophy. They will screw over their own members if they get between what they want. They rise higher by using all that they see for their own gain.

John Taylor said...

The real fear among the right wingers is that this will tighten up the labor market. Maybe giving workers more leverage to demand more money. Perish the thought!

Jules said...

You're missing the Standard Douthatian rhetorical trick here.

At least, I assume that to you, Work provides Workers with a living wage, makes every attempt to protect them from harm and unfair treatment. You know, things that really are conducive to "Dignity, mobility and social equality." (Also, a healthy economy because someone has to buy all of the crap the Job Makers are selling. However, none of the Douthats of the world seem to understand this part of the Capitalism Equation.)

But unless I've missed something, M. Scraggle Beard has not been demanding we boost the minimum wage to something real people can actually live on. So when he says Work he means any Work, that any blessed Job Maker might need done, is a thing to be desired.

If Job Makers only create part time minimum wage jobs that involve standing up to your knees in toxic waste, Liberals have to be satisfied with that, because Liberals said they wanted people to Work, right?

It's the equivalent of saying that if you want to do something about hunger, you'll support his plan to give the poor tainted meat and bread that is mainly wood shavings and rat hair.

Frank Wilhoit said...

There is a much larger issue here. The entire notion of "work as essential to dignity" must be discarded. It became irrelevant over 200 years ago, with the invention of the steam engine -- by a horrible, crippling coincidence, right about the same time as the drafting of the United States Constitution.

The practical effect of steam is that there is no longer, and never again will be, anywhere near enough work to go around. No political or economic thinker since has even begun to wrap their minds around this fact: two hundred years of utter and universal failure to grasp the essential fact of the situation.

Instead, entire political systems have been built around attempting to simulate "full employment", by creating make-work jobs that degrade their holders and add no value to society.

Seen in this light, the modern notion of individual autonomy as earned by work is philosophically incoherent and morally a sadistic trap. Now it is becoming practically infeasible as well, creating conditions that seemingly require action: but we have spent two centuries deliberately refusing to consider any possible alternatives, so we are starting from well behind.

John Taylor said...

Great point. Humans are more than just wage slaves. As long as capital controls access to resources required to exist, that is what we'll be.

Victor said...

Marx, basically said, "Capitalism, suck!"

Unfortunately, he pre-dated Freud and his studies of human psychology, so his theory of Communism was fatally flawed by not accounting enough for human greed - and desire to feel superior to other people.

If Socialism isn't the wave of the future, and Capitalism remains the dominant economic theory, then most people on this planet, are totally screwed!
Me, included.

Yastreblyansky said...

"conservatives believe the failure of poor people to work is a swell object lesson, a demonstration that society's losers deserve to be losers, never mind the fact that their loser status is the result of hiring decisions made by society's winners"

Yes, as they want poor women to be pregnant and immigrants to be illegal. Our function is life is to demonstrate to them how superior they are. (With the added bonus in the case of the immigrants that they can be stiffed on wages.)

Yastreblyansky said...

Julia: Yes but Douthat wouldn't be interested in the tawdry physical benefits of work, would he? On the spiritual plane wading in toxic waste and eating wood shavings would actually be better.

aimai said...

I don't understand the right wing approach to health care at all. Its just a floor below which people are not supposed to fall into complete immiseration. Its not some kind of weird benefit, like a new maserati in every garage. Its not even like the Earned Income Tax Credit or a guaranteed basic income. Health insurance/health care coverage doesn't do anything but improve the quality of life people have--it doesn't obviate the need for education or work.

Its only the bizarre fact that we have had, up until now, an employer based system for health insurance that health care is seen as at all part of the employment scene. BAbies need health care and they aren't employed. Seniors need health care and they usually aren't employed. When people get really sick or are injured they usually can't work as hard, or at the same jobs, as they did before they got sick.

Its only by twisting up the meaning of words and ignoring the specific history of work and health insurance inthis country that you can even bother to have this conversation.

People need to see doctors and get health care. They will continue to need to work to support themselves and their families. One thing has zero to do with the other.

Roger said...

Douthat gets a full-time salary for part-time work.

No one in her or his right mind thinks that Douthat's work affords him dignity.

ladyblug said...

Excellently stated. I wish I could be that articulate.

Jules said...

Yastreblyansky - So long as it is understood that Ross will never be expected to get his hands dirty.

Because ... um ... only poor people can spiritually benefit from such employment. And Ross would hate to deprive them of Karmic Brownie Points.

Greg said...

Always magical thinking from these people. Create your own "financial freedom" regardless of what employers might or might not offer you, because...well, because everything is awesome and life is full of abundance. It just is, okay?