John Livingston

The Best Anti-poverty Program is a Job

Even prior to Covid, across our country, in all parts of our economy, there has been a decline in the “work ethic”. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers are working less, and their productivity has declined significantly over the past 10 years. Teachers are working less and asking for higher wages at the same time. Same with government workers and government unions that are demanding more pay, fewer hours, and more leave time—even for “pet maintenance”! The American College of Surgeons reported several years ago that the average surgeon works 15% fewer hours and is 20-% less productive than his surgeon counterpart in 2010. People are dropping out of the workforce and retiring earlier—as soon as they can. Today, more than at any other time since WWII, people are working fewer hours, fewer days and fewer years, Work has become a dirty word across all areas of the economy.

We aren’t just talking about burnout in the professions. Try finding a waitress who will get up at 5AM to work the early morning shift at a diner or truck stop. Our government actually paid people not to work during Covid and many are not returning to work. Even though the unemployment rate is low because many people have stopped looking for work, the labor force participation rate is low which measures the number of people capable of working, and we still have not filled almost 10 million jobs since the beginning of the Covid scare. In the military recruiting is down because of the physical fitness of the recruits and because of positive drug testing bilging out many candidates.

Part of the problem is that many in the ruling elite classes have not had to work themselves. We are well into the third generation of family businesses that were given birth in the cold war era of our country. The entrepreneur businessmen that started those enterprises have given way to a managerial class of “maintainers”. Only one in five family businesses survive through two generations, and those that do are usually run by good hardworking businesspeople who continue to have the work ethic of their grandparents. But like I said 80% of those companies have failed because those running the failed companies have not adjusted, worked hard to move forward, or have just sat back and run those companies into the ground or into mediocrity.

Others in the ruling class—many legit politicians, those in the academy and professions, and many in the clergy have become increasingly confused about the value of work and in their refusal to grant moral sanction to work, businesses, or the “market”.

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Capitalism as opposed to commercialism or materialism links the virtue and vocation of one’s work to a moral standard. Commercial-materialism and socialism fail to acknowledge any higher value than profit or utility leading to a truncated view of producers and capital, as well as to labor and consumers with the value of any good or service being measured only by the cost of materials and inputs excluding the cost of labor (human capital, experience, intellectual property).

It is an enterprise that creates jobs. It is people who work. People are physical and spiritual beings and work speaks to our bodies and our souls. Why is it that so many of the elite who always assume the moral high ground, never seem to be able to grasp the moral foundation or basic economic principles of “The market” or of capitalism?

The obvious reason for this is the lack of any experience by the religious with any type of entrepreneurial enterprise. Those other groups in the elite class have very little grounding in a moral teaching other than what they learned under humanistic academics, or by applying their own form of “situational emotionalism”.

There was a recent New York Times article about the “Inhumanity of Work”! They weren’t talking about the exploitation of children or women or the elderly doing manual labor. They were complaining about “jobs without meaning”. How about the value of labor, the pride of being valued for one’s labor, and the elevation of one’s own “human capital” and standard of living and the increase wealth to all society that each individual worker creates?

What progressive liberals fail to realize is that any job increases societal wealth and any government transfer payment that redistributes capital decreases societal wealth, by reallocating scarce resources to less efficacious and productive (used in the economic sense) uses with the understanding that there is a difference between charity and welfare. Charity is “teaching a man to fish and feeding him forever” and is a long-term solution. Welfare is “giving a man a fish and feeding him for a day”. Charity feeds the soul, and the body as does work. Welfare temporarily feeds the body and corrupts the soul.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments in the Bible WORK is a central theme. In Genesis 2:15, we see where “God put man in the garden and put him to work” In Ephesians 6:7-8, we are told that we will be held accountable to God and are stewards of his gifts and that our work flows out of our gratefulness to him.

We are also told in the Parables and the Beatitudes to be “our brother’s keeper” and to render love to those less fortunate than ourselves or to the crippled and the affirmed. We are absolutely forbidden from being our brother’s “master” or for creating a state of dependency that would limit our brother from exercising his own God given “free will”. We must do everything in our power to create a state of independence and personal sovereignty in those able to exercise their own individual liberty.

Work as a noun is a gift. As a verb it is a virtue. In either form it is to be respected and admired.

In conclusion, I would like to quote from the gospel of Mike Rowe: “Stop looking for the right career and start looking for a job.”

Build up your own human capital and your own value to society by being competent and indispensable. You will find meaning by being good at your job.

And to the solons of government and their bureaucratic symbionts, please stop paying people not to work, and stop giving out loans to people who when they graduate will not have accumulated any “human capital,” and they won’t be able to find a job or pay off their loan.

The best antipoverty program is a job.

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