Dear Conservatives, American Workers Aren't As Lazy As You Think

Dear Conservatives, American Workers Aren't As Lazy As You Think
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Americans have a funny approach to vacation. It’s well known they’re not very good at it. Even when not working, they’re rarely not working.

While Europeans are known to take all of their five weeks+ of vacation per year, Americans tend to forego the fewer weeks allotted to them. They either can’t get enough of their jobs, worry being away from work will set career advancement back, want to work longer in order to advance quicker, or perhaps all three. Needless to say, there’s a reason more and more U.S. companies offer “unlimited vacation” to employees: they know few will avail themselves of the benefit.

All of which brings us to the federal government’s non sequitur response to a coronavirus crisis of its own making. Historians will sit back in awe about how intensely foolish our political class was, regardless of Party. To fight a health scare with forced economic desperation brings new meaning to obtuse, but then politicians aided by experts have been wrecking precious lives for millennia. This is what they do.

Having needlessly put tens of millions of Americans out of work, their braindead solution was to throw money at those harmed. Politicians never disappoint.

At the same time, neither do the policy scholars who write about them. Left leaning policy types yet again played the fool; presuming that wealth already created could be extracted from the private sector, handed back in much smaller amounts to a deeply neutered private sector, only for that devastated private sector to spend its way back to growth. Sorry guys, the growth already happened. That’s why governments have the money to waste in the first place on your “expert” ideas. Redistribution of wealth already created doesn’t result in a growth multiplier no matter what ridiculous measures like GDP say.

Sadly, all-too-many on the right haven’t done much better. Seemingly afraid to make muscular arguments supporting the genius of free, growing people crushing all manner of obstacles put in their way, they resorted to hoary theories about “dependency” on government. More specifically, they trotted out the same tired arguments they always make about how unemployment benefits will turn American workers into federal dependents. That the jobless benefits created by the incompetents in Congress pay more than many service and entry-level style jobs has some conservatives convinced that, inclined to take free stuff over working, Americans will attach themselves to the proverbial federal teat and not work until the checks run out. And their dependency will grow….

The basis for conservative obsession with dependency goes back to the Great Society, and programs that emerged from it. Supposedly welfare and other transfer-payment programs created the incentive for some men to skip fathering their kids. It was financially more valuable for these men to be out of the home since mothers of fatherless children could command more handouts.

At first glance it was all very horrifying for obvious reasons, but then most of us don’t need "incentives' to be a responsible parent. Which raises a question that still hasn’t been answered to this day: did transfer payments from government turn some men into bad, absentee fathers, or were they already bad, absentee fathers? This question rates an ask when it’s remembered that seemingly all Americans were eligible for government handouts that would increase if they weren’t living with the mothers of their children, but most didn’t take the bait. We generally don’t need to be forced to be present, caring parents. We also don’t need to be forced to work; as in welfare payments in no way trump the reward that comes with working in the world’s most prosperous country. Americans once again love work. They once skip vacation days allotted to them.

Back to the present, incompetent politicians yet again threw money at a problem of their own making, including rather generous unemployment benefits. Ever predictable, conservatives set about explaining how addiction to government would grow with opinion pieces like “Coronavirus and Subsidized Unemployment,” “America can’t go back to work yet because Congress made it pay more to stay home,” and all manner of other headlines promising mass dependency. Conservatives can’t help but insult American workers, plus they increasingly pull the victim card as expertly as do the always emotional lefties they spar with.

More realistically, work isn’t just a check for Americans. If it were, conservatives might have a point. The problem for them is that Americans gain dignity, purpose and immense happiness from jobs. They also work, and will work for less than the feds will pay them simply because they understand that low-wage work is the path to high-salaried work. Even if jobless benefits were doubled or tripled from the levels that conservatives claim cause dependency, Americans would still work simply because they want and need to, plus the long-term gains to be had from working well exceed the meager handouts of politicians.

To be clear, none of what’s been written should be construed as a defense of the needless CARES Act. No chance. But for conservatives to claim, as they always implicitly do, that Americans are so lazy as to be wholly susceptible to government handouts is for them to be as insulting as President Obama was when he drooled about how “you didn’t build that.” With conservatives, it’s "you're so lazy that you won’t work unless we’re designing incentives to make you work."

How obnoxious, how blind to what we are as Americans.  Conservatives were much more interesting when they promoted freedom over their growing comfort with victimhood.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Vice President at FreedomWorks, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading ( His new book is titled They're Both Wrong: A Policy Guide for America's Frustrated Independent Thinkers. Other books by Tamny include The End of Work, about the exciting growth of jobs more and more of us love, Who Needs the Fed? and Popular Economics. He can be reached at  

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