The United States is in the midst of a flinty, secular Calvinist revival, judging the poor, the disadvantaged and the unemployed.
You may have read House Speaker John Boehner’s recent remark, “This idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that, you know, ‘I really don’t have to work; I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.’ This is a very sick idea for our country.”
It might be, if it were true. In fact, the percentage of unemployed Americans receiving benefits is at a record low. And according to Politifact, there are about three times as many people looking for work — not counting the millions who have simply given up — as there are jobs available.
Are there lazy people gaming the system? Sure. Same goes for from barons of finance and titans of industry to McDonald’s fry cooks — some people cheat. But most don’t.
Boehner, of course, is just spouting the same twisted, Ayn Randian “maker” vs. “taker” brand of social Darwinism now inexplicably embraced by millions of conservatives. It’s just nasty, brutish Calvinism in an economic context: If you are poor or unemployed, it’s evidence that you deserve to be poor or unemployed — the economic gods hate you.
I have some older friends who have recently found themselves unceremoniously unemployed, fired not for cause, but “efficiency.” Now in their late 50s or even early 60s, they are doing their best to find work. It’s unlikely they’re going to find the kind of steady, valuable work they had been doing, in some cases for decades, for decent pay and benefits. For this some label them lazy losers.
It’s worse for the young. The unemployment rate for men 24 and under has been in double digits, three or four times as high as older men, for years. Meanwhile, according to the Pew Research Center, wages for men age 25-34 with jobs have fallen by about 20 percent, adjusted for inflation, since 1980 (that date is no mere coincidence).
Well, sneer the judgers — and jury members who would happily sentence them to a living hell — they could find jobs if they really wanted to. And if they can’t, well, tough — they are obviously not among the elect.
Bent on finding moral fault, such people are blind to realities. For example, bounding technology and globalization a) are permanently removing good-paying jobs from the economy and b) mean that large corporations can find consumers in Brazil, Indonesia or wherever, so they don’t really need an American middle-class any more. Meanwhile, they are sitting on unprecedented amounts of cash — they don’t want to invest or hire.
I predict that in the next couple of decades, the United States is going to see an enormous swell of people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, even 70s, who can’t find a job, whose pensions were canceled to please shareholders and replaced with bogus 401(k) non-retirement plans, and staring at the tatters of a once-solid safety net. Those who can’t move in with grown children may have to form communes and tent cities. (Comedian Albert Brooks has written a pretty good novel on a similar scenario, “2030.”)
Too bad we can’t get these finger-pointers, trickle-down dead-enders and blind moralists to notice the pulsing, bloody gunshot wounds on their feet.
For example, there is a lot of crossover between the scolds and those who fancy themselves advocates of family values. Don’t they know that lousy job prospects and low wages not only cause many divorces, but have literally helped drive marriage rates (except — if this doesn’t get ’em, nothing will — among GLBT Americans) to historic lows? (Again, according to Pew.)
And while corporations can find cheap labor and consumer markets overseas, there is surely a tipping point at which they are going to regret having made it so difficult for Americans to find and keep decent-paying jobs. I’m not talking about revolution in the streets (yet) but simply that there won’t be anyone left at home to buy their stuff.
Lest I come off as a mindless partisan, I’ll just add that the Democratic Party, while not actively hostile and demeaning to the non-elect, is not the advocate many liberals fancy. They’ve utterly forsaken the great equalizer of labor organizing; held individual mortgage owners’ feet to the fire after the 2008 economic meltdown but bailed out the big banks; they’re lousy on consumer protection and have no more interest than their buddies across the aisle in cleaning up a Kafkaesque, Byzantine tax code that rewards tricks for the wealthy and corporations but punishes the great unwashed without access to loopholes and fancy lawyers.
But why all this fire-breathing nastiness toward the disadvantaged? Why now? To paraphrase Michael J. Fox’s character in “Back to the Future,” what, have we just become assholes or something? Could be.
But studies have actually shown that the rich are more selfish — they even shoplift more! — than the “losers” lower on the totem pole. As for non-rich secular Calvinists, could they be projecting their own fears of being unceremoniously booted from the blessed ranks of the elect?