By Brian C. Joondeph, M.D.
Studs Terkel published “Working” in 1974, a collection of interviews with working Americans, mandatory high school reading for many in the baby boomer generation. One notable quote from the book is, “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”
Forty years later, The New York Times has turned the virtues of work upside down, declaring that losing your job due to Obamacare is, “Mostly a good thing, a liberating result of the law.” In the space of two generations, we have gone from “working for meaning” to “loafing for meaning.”
The Times editorial is based on last weeks Congressional Budget Office report indicating that Obamacare would reduce full-time employment in the U.S. by 2.5 million jobs over the next 10 years. Gallup estimates only 42 percent of adult Americans are employed full-time. This does not bode well for young college graduates, 44 percent of whom are underemployed, working jobs for which a college degree is not needed. Yet adding 2.5 million more people to the ranks of the unemployed is somehow good news, according to the White House and other major media outlets such as the New York Times.
While this reasoning flies in the face of reality and common sense, it is a strategic home run for Democrats. By creating the impression that work is a bad thing, all of a sudden high unemployment rates and a record low labor participation rate are not bad things and may even be desirable. The scientific term for this is, “The Normalization of Deviance,” a gradual process through which unacceptable standards become acceptable. These new standards, in this case that unemployment is virtuous, become the new norm. And those challenging the new norm “are considered nuisances or even threats.” As political strategy this is brilliant.
The White House is creating new standards, describing the CBO projections as “empowering” and the Times declaring them “liberating.” How can anyone be against such noble aspirations? It’s like being against mother and apple pie. As these unemployment projections are a direct result of President Obama’s signature legislation, any criticism from Republicans becomes racist, not only because the criticism is directed toward Obama, but also by the connotation of Republicans putting Americans in shackles, taking away their leisure time, making them work and giving them no choice in the matter. Politically, the Republicans will be on defense, left to answer the proverbial, “When did you stop beating your wife?”
What is left unsaid is where the money comes from to support this new and virtuous leisure class. Those still working will share a increasing percentage of their income to support the new leisure class. Many of those working will eventually cry uncle and join the idle class. At some point, there are not enough rowers to paddle a boat laden of passengers.
In the 1970s, Studs Terkel’s “Working” was a teenager’s introduction to work, the good, the bad and the ugly, in the words of the workers. Most found meaning and satisfaction in their jobs, an optimistic image for those soon to enter the workforce. Perhaps the book for today’s teenagers to read is “How to be Idle: A Loafers Manifesto,” preparing a new generation for the liberation of living in their parents’ basement, sipping hot chocolate and pondering what to do for the rest of the day.
Brian C. Joondeph, M.D., M.P.S., a Denver-based retina surgeon, is an advocate of smaller, more efficient government. Twitter @retinaldoctor.