Men Not at Work
Social problems are unlikely to be solved with carrots alone.
4:19 PM, May 11, 2011 • By JIM PREVOR
One big problem conservatives face in trying to develop and implement effective public policy is that conservative thinkers have gotten used to operating in an intellectual milieu that assumes activist government is the answer to every question.
In his recent New York Times column, "The Missing Fifth" , David Brooks exemplifies the point. The column identifies a problem — fewer men are working:
How is it possible that so many men manage not to work? In part it’s because many receive federal disability benefits:
Brooks theorizes the cause of the problem as a mismatch between the kind of people we happen to have in America and the kind of jobs available:
After pointing out that this is a serious problem, both because people who do not work acquire bad habits and because society misses out on the contributions these people could make, Brooks decries the inability of our current political discourse to address the problem:
Yet, Brooks knows what needs to be done:
The column goes on to identify large and growing federal expenditures on health care for the elderly as a big problem — basically because such spending crowds out other spending for various programs such as Brooks proposes to get men back in the labor force:
There is certainly a reasonable debate to be held on how much federal spending should go to comfort the elderly versus how much to educate the young or run programs to benefit the working population. It is also true that to consider what expenditures will make America a more prosperous, powerful, and successful society in the years to come is a conservative thought, responding to lefty environmentalism and self-hate in foreign affairs that hopes for America to decline.
Yet, on the substance of the issue, Brooks takes what is clearly a matter of personal responsibility and turns it into an excuse for a whole range of federal programs.
The key question when confronted with this 20 percent statistic is one Brooks never asks: How do these people eat and live?
Most people work at jobs in order to support themselves and their families. Maybe they get some pride from a job well done and enjoy their coworkers. Regardless, the number of big lottery winners who stick with being a custodian or file clerk or traveling salesman is pretty few.