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When the Congressional Budget Office released its report on the long-term impact of the Affordable Care Act, it was expected that the Obama administration would push back hard. The revelation that the law could cost as many as 2.3 million American jobs over the next ten years was the last thing an already embattled White House was hoping to see.
What wasn’t expected, however, was content of the administration’s response, an argument that displays such a staggering level of delusion and elitism that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, in an attempt to spin the burden of economic hardship that Democratic policies have created, said these job losses “empowered” workers, offering them “the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”
Wow. The White House has finally backed themselves so far into a corner that their only choice is to say what they really think: unemployment is actually good, and that more free time is simply more “me” time.
I suppose it was inevitable that the president would eventually come to praise high unemployment and low labor force participation, considering his administration has been so effective at perpetuating them.
It’s actually daunting to argue against this position, because it rests on such radically different premises from those on which Americans pride ourselves. In order for debate to take place, there must be at least some common ground. There must be some axioms, some shared truths before a meaningful conversation can occur. In this case, there are seemingly none.
I am reminded of this passage from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:
“It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, ‘Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?’ he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, ‘Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen.’ The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.”
The argument that fewer jobs and more Americans out of work is preferable to a thriving economy is equivalent to arguing for savagery over civilization, a position so desperately out of touch that to compose an adequate response becomes difficult indeed. But difficult though it may be, I will nevertheless attempt a reply.
There is admittedly something attractive about the idea of workers freed from financial constraints to pursue whatever hobbies or activities they may choose. But this romantic image of the idle dabbler falls apart when we remember who is paying the bills. When one’s idleness is supported by the hard work and drudgery of others, it is difficult to see the situation as anything other than cruel and tyrannical.
Taxpayers should not have to subsidize the “dreams” of those who choose not to work. The very idea undermines the quintessentially American principles of personal responsibility and the self-made man.
Apart from the fundamental injustice of supporting idleness with the appropriated money of other hardworking Americans is the insidious message that unemployment is somehow noble or to be encouraged. This is a profoundly dangerous suggestion that could have disastrous consequences, not only for our economy, but for our culture as well. If the White House starts actively celebrating non-achievement, how long will it be before no work gets done at all?
All production, all of the things that have raised our standard of living to its current level, that have freed us from starvation, disease and barbarism, have been the result of workers voluntarily exchanging their labor for a reward they valued more. When government removes those incentives under the guise of “freeing” people from work, the gears of civilization grind to a halt.
If this seems hyperbolic, we need only look towards the failed experiment of the Soviet Union. Idleness and alcoholism replaced a healthy work ethic, resulting in economic and political collapse.
We as a country need to stop thinking of work as a burden, but rather as an opportunity to produce. Doing a job well is a noble thing, and essential to a sense of self-worth and pride in one’s abilities.
If the Obama Administration’s new attitude of celebrated unemployment becomes a reoccurring plank in the Democratic Party platform, we can expect an ideological divide more explicit than ever before. Do we want to be a nation of producers, of self-sufficient, responsible adults? Or do want to descend into the kind of indolent excess that has ruined so many empires before?
The answer to this question will define America’s entire future.