Kids, don’t let laziness happen to you!

So right-wing pundit Bill Kristol is pushing for a new, centrist path through American politics, which turns out to be a lot more conservative than most people would think of as centrist (The Left Is Bad! The Right Just Needs Some Tinkering. etc.). Literary Dissection Tray does a good job breaking it down at the link, but there’s one point I wanted to discuss, Kristol’s (and his colleague, center-right Dem Bill Galveston) concern that Americans are dropping out of the rat race. A growing number of young men are not working, and they’re happy not working. And that’s giving Kristol fits.

So the New Center’s solution is to stop American companies shipping jobs overseas, increase the minimum wage — oh, wait, no. It’s to “call laziness what it is … Even if these individuals are not “mooching” off anyone else, social science suggests that the failure to contribute correlates with a whole variety of pathologies including drug use, divorce and depression. The New Center should not be bashful about criticizing individuals who are not carrying their weight.”

First, I will pause to note that divorce is not a pathology, and the response to depression should not be calling someone out for having a mental illness, and to recommend LDT’s critique of the “they spend all their time playing videogames!” line of attack (which Kristol probably imagines is a killer put-down). That said — if these nonworkers aren’t taking government assistance, why on Earth is it Kristol’s damn business whether they have jobs or not? Isn’t that personal freedom, the thing conservatives are so keen on.

Haha, kidding. Kristol, for example, is adamantly opposed to gay marriage, and insists Republicans should oppose it even though the majority of Americans support it. It’s the same way David Brooks thinks we have too much individuality in America, instead of “disciplined, orderly lives” imposed by our wise leaders. Brooks was also among the pundits who thought 9/11 freed us from a world where Americans were too comfortable had too much leisure time, played too many videogames.

This is not a new line of thought. America has always had dropouts of one sort or another: tramps, hoboes, Beatniks, hippies. And there have been always those who feel this is absolutely unacceptable. As Risa Goluboff details in Vagrant Nation (which I thought I’d blogged about but it appears not), the response to people rejecting the  system — not trying to change it or destroy it, simply dropping out — is to make them drop back in. Vagrancy laws were routinely used to coerce drifters, vagabonds and the unemployed into taking jobs for shit wages because the laws made being unemployed and refusing to work a crime. Fifty years after the 1960s, some conservatives still get aroused by the though of cops assaulting hippies.  It’s a common trait among authoritarians to resent people who don’t play by the rules, even if they’re not hurting anyone; not playing by the rules is harm enough.

But in contrast to the people whose idea of rebellion is to be a jerk, dropping out isn’t automatically awful or destructive. Certainly they’re doing less damage than windbags such as Brooks, Kristol or Kristol’s father Irving, who openly yearns for building an American empire. Of course, neither he nor his son will be putting their lives on the line for that mission, any more than TV conservative Joe Scarborough.

But let’s be fair. If they weren’t finger-wagging and telling other people how to live their lives, they wouldn’t be conservatives.

Painting of Sloth is by Hieronymous Bosch.

 

 

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Filed under economics, Politics

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