Class Warfare Blog

July 28, 2020

Motivations According to Conservatives

Unemployment insurance has been, irrationally, deeply controversial. It has always faced bitter opposition from conservatives who claim that it would discourage workers from seeking jobs.

This is a part of their “those people are lazy” mindset which is joined with the belief that if “those people” didn’t have to work, they wouldn’t.

Let’s see how this belief plays out if taken to heart.

In our “pay as you go culture,” you have to pay for everything: you pay for the food you eat, for the shelter over your head, and you pay for the utilities to keep that space livable, you pay for health care. You pay for all of this by getting a job that pays “enough.”

Let’s do an experiment—one that actually has already been done any number of times, but hey, this might be the first time you thought this through. Let’s offer someone who has one of those “keeping body and soul together” jobs, one that pays just enough to be able to pay the rent, keep the TV on, and feed himself (no family), the same amount of income, but he doesn’t need to go to work to receive it.

The conservatives will immediately see this guy in a hammock sipping a mint julep. He just got his ticket punched to Easy Street! Well, we all now know what “staying home” is like during this pandemic. Does it feel like Easy Street? “Are we not entertained?” So, after lolling about for a bit, this “lazy bum” we are paying to do nothing gets the idea that he could get a good job and really expand his income. After all, the government is covering his nut, but not for vacations, cars, or a family. Do, you think this guy would settle for another boring dead end job like he had before? I tend to think he would aim higher. If he applies for 10 jobs but doesn’t get one of those, what has he lost? He still has food and shelter, so he is not desperate. I think we can count on human ambition being at least moderately high. Having that minimum income to backstop him, he is less likely to settle, not more likely.

And what does this say about the shit jobs people were doing for poor wages? What would happen if people said “Why should I break my back for little more than the basic income I get automatically?” Quite a number of those jobs would go wanting. Consequently . . . if you believe in market forces . . . those jobs are not worth doing, or if they are, higher wages are going to have to be paid to entice people to do them.

And, what would a lot of people opting out of the job market do for those seeking jobs? Hmmm . . . fewer applicants for the same number of jobs means higher employment rates. Conservatives can’t argue this is false because they have been claiming for years that Mexicans, illegally in the U.S., are taking jobs away from Americans. We have argued that there aren’t a whole lot of Anglos seeking work in the roofing business in the Texas summer or in the fields picking vegetables, but the conservatives insist that Mexican “illegals” are taking those jobs away from Americans. If so, it has to work both ways. If poor people stop applying for the shit jobs they have been doing, there will be more jobs for Americans who want them.

Now, small business owners will complain (they have little power otherwise) that if they have to pay higher wages to keep people in the jobs they have on offer, they will go out of business. Again, let’s consider a small thought experiment. So, you Mr. Small Business Owner advertise for an employee to fill one of your shit jobs, and several desperate people apply. You pick one and you train them. They perform in a lackluster manner and quit or get fired after a short stint “on the job.” And so, you are back advertising for a replacement . . . again, which you will hire, train, and . . . well, I think you see the cycle. If, on the other hand, the job pays well, and this owner tells an employee they have to pick up the pace, they are much more likely to do so, because the impact of losing a higher paying job is greater. Many people won’t want to lose such a job and so will try harder. Fewer adverts get put, less time is spent training new employees, less over time is paid covering for employees who got fired/quit, etc. Which process is less expensive to the SB owner? I don’t think the answer is obvious.

Conservatives seem to think the very best motivation for poor people is desperation (you have all seen the drug company commercials showing poor people unable to afford the medicine their dependents need, the problem is not invisible). They, of course, reserve special scorn (“lazy and shiftless”) for the racial minorities who are poor, but all of the poor are painted with their wide brush. (They work out their schemes on the Black and Brown poor, and then they always bring it home on the White poor . . . always). On the other hand, in their lives and the lives of other white, privileged Americans, their salaries are more than adequate to meet a family person’s nut for the whole family, and while it may not be enough to pay for a McMansion, or private schools for the kids, and a Porsche, it is enough for cars, vacations, a paid healthcare plan, and a few splurges, etc., and the motivation preferred by this class is greed, pure and simple. They laud hedge fund managers and other financial fat cats as examples of what you can do if you apply greed to your work life.

So, basically, conservatives have very low opinions of the motivations that move people and I suspect that is because they have a low opinions of people in general, other than themselves and their close associates, of course. And I wonder where they learned to have a very low opinion of people . . . religion!

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