Friday, May 04, 2007

Welfare FOR, Not TO, Work

Fellow blogger V the K pointed me to this interesting piece discussing, interestingly enough, the high correlation between economic freedom and happiness -- or, more interestingly, that less economic uncertainty tends to create more unhappiness.

At first blush, this would seem rather odd. We Americans are taught, especially by the French, that we are soulless workaholics, slaves to the machine, helpless drones who take no time to enjoy life, smell the roses, etc. As cited in the article, Segolene Royal, potential new President of France, was seemingly mystified by the fact that writer James Traub was not guaranteed continued employment. When I talk to European acquaintances, they seem to be mildly appalled to the fact that my offer letter specifically states that it is the company's prerogative to discontinue my employment wherever and whenever it chooses; they wonder how one can possibly function with this sword of Damocles hanging ever overhead.

However, an insight into the why can be found (of course) in the blogosphere -- in the writings of fellow blogger Chad over at Cake or Death? discussing his recent relocation and subsequent events:
The move itself went well, aside from the couple snow squalls we had to drive through. The subsequent month and a half of unemployment, however, was not quite as entertaining. It plays havoc with ones psyche. You start getting depressed. You drink the previous tenant's (who also happens to be the landlord) stash of liquor. Sleep a lot. It's hard. After learning the recent criteria for "life-scarring", I'm confident in saying that the entire ordeal of being without a job has indeed scarred me for life.

Unemployment or underemployment is devastating. As I can tell you from personal experience, there is nothing worse than walking outside in the morning to pick up the paper, seeing everyone freshly-scrubbed and shaved, headed for work -- and know that you aren't.

Really, I wasn't technically unemployed; I was stitching together temporary gigs here, contracts there, and DJ'ing at night. I was making enough to cover necessities and the occasional luxury here and there; it was tight, yes, but really, I had all I needed and a decent chunk of what I wanted as well, including extra time at home and to go out and do things (let your mind wander at this point).

But I was, on several levels, miserable. Just like Chad describes. You start to doubt yourself so much; after all, everyone else has a job. Every day you don't get an offer, every day the phone doesn't ring, every day the diplomas and certifications in their tidy frames stare back at you when you have nothing to show them, makes you question whether you're worth the oxygen you're consuming. After one month, you understand far more fully why so many people drop dead so quickly after retiring.

Liberal policymakers and politicians are under the impression that what makes unemployment hideous is financial strain; hence, they believe, by simply upping the unemployment benefit and the welfare payments, you can solve the problem. But what that ignores is a crucial fact that employers have known for years; employees quit most often, not because they're underpaid, but because they're under-appreciated and under-purposed. In Silicon Valley, everyone overpays; the lure for skilled engineers and staff is not cash on the barrelhead, but the chance to contribute, for their work to have a purpose, to have a reason to get up in the morning. My friends in San Francisco who work for nonprofits make pennies compared to what they could get in the "real world"; however, the sense of value they get from contributing, from seeing what they do affect other people, is what they care about the most.

France, Democrats, et al. think that by surrounding people with welfare bubble-wrap and removing all uncertainty from their lives, you can buy them into happiness, just as indulgent parents think that this toy, this Disneyland vacation, this designer bedroom furniture will ensure their cherubs' idyllic childhood. But what they seem to have forgotten is that, if money and never having to worry about it bought you happiness, Us and People would fold overnight. The need for purpose -- and the need to take risk to achieve it -- is as imimical to the completeness of the human psyche as is the love and the acceptance of others. A life without danger or a reason for existence is a life unsatisfying, no matter how much one has financially.

One of the ironies of the Democrat Party to me is that, even though they started it, they've completely forgotten the lesson of the New Deal; namely, that government CAN ask for something in exchange for its checks, and in the process, vastly and extraordinarily improve things for everyone. The beautiful frescoes at Coit Tower here in San Francisco, the Cotton Bowl and the State Fair buildings in Dallas, the country roads I used to drive on across the Midwest -- all of those were built with WPA labor and funding. The government put the unemployed to work, gave them a purpose, taught them new skills -- and in doing so, improved our infrastructure immensely and completely restarted the country's main economic engines.

In contrast, had they simply mailed out welfare checks, it is almost a certainty that the United States would have been unable to mobilize in sufficient time to prevent World War II attacks on its own shores -- and would likely not have had the capacity necessary to supply Great Britain with the planes and materiel she needed to fight off Hitler. The infrastructure and economic improvements garnered from the massive public works projects of the WPA period made all of those possible -- and in the process, quite likely saved the world from global fascism.

Something to keep in mind, n'est ce pas?

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