In a COVID panic, we told people to stop working. It became not only permissible not to work, it became a mandate. Sitting around the house watching daytime TV in pajamas became the responsible thing to do. With no one working, unsurprisingly, no work got done. It was like a two-year snow day. Or Ferris Bueller’s Two-Years Off. Democrats loved it, of course, because Democrats hate work.
COVID killed nearly a million Americans (though most had what the doctors euphemistically call “comorbidities”). And the lockdowns and mandates for masks, vaccines and social distancing (at least when one wasn’t rioting) were bad. And the lost year or two of learning for an entire generation was tragic (though we could make that up in four months if we improved the schools and tamed the teachers unions).
But the most destructive outcome of COVID was the destruction of the American work ethic. That’s the ethic — now considered a quaint notion — that work is good. It’s good for the pocketbook, good for the soul, and good for society.
Americans weren’t the first to dream up an ethic of work. It’s goes back to ancient times. It later produced and flourished in the Renaissance.
But in the late 20th century, the work ethic survived best in America. Part of American culture was the idea that work brought happiness and money to the worker and brought wealth to society. Moreover, it was only right — ethical — that the money paid to a worker should be approximately proportional to the value of his work.
Quibble about whether work is a good thing or a bad thing for an individual, but there’s no quibbling about the effect on society. Working hard produces a wealthy society. Americans did, and were.
But if no one is working during COVID, then what would keep the economy going? Some genius politicians announced that we would send people free money. With the free money, they would continue to buy stuff even if they aren’t getting a paycheck anymore, and so the economy would keep churning along.
The government printed up trillions of dollars of paper money and sent it to the people. It was like a trillion free lunches.
But it raised a question: If everybody gets a free lunch and nobody is working, then how do the lunches get made? In classical economics terms, this approach guaranteed a mismatch between — trigger warning! — supply and demand. We juiced demand by sending people free money to buy stuff, and simultaneously choked off supply by telling people not to work to make stuff.
When demand far exceeds supply, the result is usually inflation. When too much money chases too few goods, the few goods get essentially auctioned off to the highest bidder.
(The left sees this as the “greed problem” of free market economies. In their view, sellers of goods should not be allowed to raise prices on goods that are in demand. Instead, leftist bureaucrats should set the prices, not the sellers. This has been tried many times. The result is food lines. You can buy food for pennies but you have to wait in line for hours to get it because producers won’t produce much if they can’t make money selling it. Scarce goods in socialistic economies are allocated not by allowing their price to rise so that supplies increase while demand decreases, but by simply allocating them to the people who are willing to stand in line the longest, which does reduce demand but does nothing to increase supply. The leftists running the show aren’t put off by the lines, because they have insider ways of circumventing them.)
We were assured that this inflation would be “transitory.” But it’s proving persistent, at least to everyone but that inflation denier Joe Biden.
The reasons are several. On the demand side, it’s true that the trillions we sent people are largely spent by now, but the mindset we offered them endured. The mindset is that work is disconnected from money. On an emotional level at least, and for some on an analytical level as well, they don’t see a connection between work and money. So they keep spending — they keep demand for goods high.
On the supply side, unemployment rates are back to pre-pandemic levels, but that’s because so many un-working people have simply dropped out. Total employment today is millions fewer than pre-pandemic employment. Of those who have gone back to work, many work less hard, as in the “working from home” scheme. Less work is being performed — so the supply of goods is kept low.
Another sign of this disconnect between work and money is that credit card debt is very high. People have come to believe that they can spend “free money” in the form of credit card debt without working, just as they spent that “free money” the government sent them.
This is not sustainable, of course, which brings up the spiritual aspect.
Having walked away from God, country, work, art, literature, music, and family, the people have nothing but raw and shallow materialism. I would say that buying stuff is what they live for, except “live” is an exaggeration in this context. It’s not living, it’s just what they do with their time. And they don’t see any reason to wait till they earn what they buy. “Earn” is one of those inconvenient discredited racist patriarchal ideas like “merit.” COVID taught them that there’s no tomorrow. So live — or at least buy — today.
This catastrophe is perhaps perceived in some unlikely places. Not in churches insofar as I can tell, nor in philosophy classes, nor online debates, but in . . . the Federal Reserve.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell was slow to see the inflation writing on the wall, was justly criticized for his slowness by the likes of the Wall Street Journal, and is now reclaiming his inflation-fighting honor like an unhorsed knight.
The Fed traditionally fights inflation by reducing demand by raising interest rates. When it costs more to borrow money, the theory goes, people will borrow less of it and so they’ll buy fewer goods, and so the balance will return to demand and supply.
Powell is certainly raising rates, but he’s focusing on something else too. He’s also focusing on employment. The Fed now candidly wants to see unemployment go up, not down, even though part of their assigned mission is to ensure full employment (whatever that means). Increasing unemployment would suggest that those millions who dropped out of the labor market are coming back and finally seeking jobs. It would suggest a renewed awareness between what you make and what you spend. It would add to supply in order to help meet demand.
And it would also alleviate wage pressures which are contributing to inflation. Wage gains are very high right now because companies are having to bribe workers into working. That sounds like a good thing, but in an inflationary economy it isn’t. Because the wage hikes themselves contribute to inflation — companies pass their wage costs along to consumers in the form of higher prices, just as they pass their other costs — and because even escalating wages get outpaced by inflation. The real inflation-adjusted wages of American workers in this bout of inflation are lower than they were a year ago.
Enough already. My 401(k) is suffering and, whether they know it or not, the happiness of the voluntarily unemployed is suffering as well. Watching television in your pajamas is not the path to enlightenment. The Fed is saying and I am saying “Get the hell back to work!”
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Good article Glenn. Hope you are doing well.
Someone passed this article on to me today. I thought it was good.
Great article Glenn. I hope we’re not descending into hell by not making sacrifices. You reminded me of Jodan Peterson’s lectures on the sacrifices in the Cain and Able story and also the Abraham and Issac story. He also talks about money and sacrifice in the video below.
Happy holidays to you and yours.
Looking at Peterson reminds me that the work ethic was moribund as soon as the professional workplace stopped expecting men to wear neckties. Poor Jordan looks like he’s lost between the world of Brooks Brothers and the world of Sam Bankman-Fried.
Politicians and the media prefer to reference U-1 when discussing the status of employment in America. Unfortunately, U-1 represents only those who are seeking to be employed but currently are not. Technically under U-1, everyone could all just decide to quit and stay unemployed, and employment reported under U-1 would still report zero percent unemployment.
The real tell for the real state of employment us U-6, or the “participation rate”. This represents the percentage of possible workers that actually are and are not working. And the current state of U-6 is abysmal. As you said Glenn, after the brief surge following Trump’s election in 2016, millions of people simply decided to drop out in the wake of the COVID shutdowns and Biden’s pay to stay home agenda.
We’re of a generation that would have been embarrassed by the notion of living our lives in someone’s basement watching TV or playing games all day. But now it seems like a totally acceptable way to live to many people. How long we will remain a wealthy society able to support a growing class of people who cannot, have no interest in, or will not work remains to be seen. But as those on the idle side of the U-6 curve continues to grow, we may find out sooner than later.
Another problem I’ve been arguing for years now is the number of people who technically are “working”, but are in no meaningful way contributing to the production of the goods and services people wish to buy, much less need just to survive. I’m thinking of those “make work” jobs that governments are creating by the millions and regulations and litigation that is forcing companies to hire those who graduated college with expensive degrees in absolutely nothing practical. This is every bit as inflationary as people not working. Costs increase while the production of actual goods and services continue to decline.
And finally, much of this problem has to do with the “dual mandate” of the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve should be limited to maintaining the stability of the currency, which for the last 20 years they have failed miserably at. (Wall Street and the wealthy didn’t mind so much when near-zero interest rates goosed the amount of money sloshing around that inflated the price of equities. Until recently, the fracking revolution and cheap stuff from China masked the inflation from consumers) But the reality is that the controls available to the Federal Reserve have very limited little control over employment compared to the destructive power of bad policy from the legislative and executive branches. All they can do is abet the printing of dollars and raise interest rates. (which should have happened over a decade ago)
Regarding your point about people who are “working” in a way that commands scare quotes, you’re in good company. Elon Musk has decided he can do without them.
Clearly, many if not most of those people were only providing value to the Democratic Party. Certainly not to Twitter’s shareholders or the American economy in general.
Another red flag in the masses sitting in their pajamas watching tv…the sad future of the social security coffee..pretty much depleted already..I’ve already concluded by the time I can file. (A few short years), the Medicare premium will suck my check completely. If there is even a check available by then.
“By the sweat of thy face thou shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19).
Work is a curse, one of several handed out for bucking Natural Law. Consequently, one of the things I worked for was to “earn” a status, at age 65 or so, whereby I could thence forward sit around in my pajamas sipping coffee until 10 AM reading the Wall Street Journal, and then take a nap whenever the hell I wanted. The curse never stopped me from reaching for the forbidden fruit and the desire to “be as gods”: it simply forced me to play by certain rules and accept the principle of deferred gratification.
This is not to say that I don’t recognize that work was good for me (and that sitting around like Pajama Boy is not) and the corresponding theological argument that a good God’s curses are in fact blessings. Thus goes the thinking behind the doctrine of “The Fortunate Fall”: without Adam, I would never have sought The New Adam, and the elevated state of being, predicated on sacrifice, that He has to power to confer.
The point is clear: There is no free lunch, and no one who calls himself a man or woman should be looking for one. Along with Fed and Glenn Beaton, God Himself is saying, “Get back to work!”
‘Idle Hands Are the Devil’s Workshop’
2 Thessalonians 3:10 – For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
Ho, hum, just another great, instructional article by Glenn. The references to the moral aspect of our situation are excellent and well-worth reading, analyzing, and digesting. Thank you, Glenn.
The biggest problem I see is now everyone thinks they can “work” from home. Get back to the office/jobsite and do some real work.
I fear for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren as we are heading into a one-party system of government – and we know where that leads: socialism, communism, totalitarianism. . .
Yeah yeah……. What was important about the movie was the Ferrari 250GT. Currently you can get one for about 30-40 milllion $$$$, depending.
Union bosses used covid to extort more benefits and money from the taxpayers for their union members (not just government teachers; growing administrative bloat .. remember the Zampolits ? – political officers trained to inject Marxism )..
Teachers Union leader claims it was unsafe for Union teachers to return to the classroom while tanning pool side in a Caribbean resort.. No mask, no social distancing .. and talking about going out to a seafood restaurant .. ~Sarah Chambers .
I like your writing, Glenn, but you are wrong.
My perspective is different. Frankly, I don’t believe very much about what the media tells me.
I drive truck. I worked through COVID. I was lucky, I got Alpha straight from China.
After recovery, my immunity was against fear and more fear.
So, I spent COVID in communities of working people.
The first thing to recognize is that COVID destroyed the child care system in the US that had been built up piece by rickety piece from the 1970’s. It is not coming back in the same way.
Combine this with the horror of the public school system.
Childcare is becoming synonymous with Home Schooling.
These good, good people are working hard. They just aren’t getting paid.