Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The New Center (Part 3 of 3)

(Part 1 - - - Part 2 - - - Part 3)

Warning: Long and ranty. Probably should have been two parts. Eh, such is blogging.

Now, let's take a look at those last two sections, Work Matters and Inclusive Growth. These are basically liberal traps, opening with sections hinting at policies with progressive appeal and then turning deeply, deeply shitty.

Let's start with Work Matters. This section does not deal with unemployment per se, instead relying on the "workforce participation" metric. In short, the issue is not individual suffering so much as it is the horror that the Great Economic Machine is not running at maximum efficiency. But of course you want to be fair and all, so you move past that arguably callous section and get to the policy prescriptions, which in this case are divided into "Pull" and "Push." You read the "Pull" section and it sounds pretty good! They're in favor of funding retraining programs and child care services and pulling back the reins on criminal background checks that lock ex-cons out of honest work.

And then you get to the "Push" section and, if you're anything like me, your jaw sticks open.

But before we get to that, let's jump back to that overview section:
There are currently 23 million Americans of prime working age who are not working and according to Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys, 90 percent of this group say they don’t want to work.
That's a pretty alarmist way of putting that block of stats, one suggesting that 90% of unemployed people are lazy or worse. Look elsewhere on the BLS site and you'll find stats demonstrating why those people are not looking for work. Operating on the assumption that "prime working age" is 25-54, here's why these people aren't out there making the country great:
  • Disabled - 51.7% of men, 23.5% of women
  • Home responsibilities (read: childrearing) - 10.8% of men, 59.2% of women
  • Attending college - 14.3% of men, 7.3% of women
  • Filthy slackers who couldn't come up with a reason - 13.7% of men, 4.5% of women
That last bit is actually listed as "other reasons" and includes "discouraged workers," those people who can't find anything. But even if we assume that all of them are people who are (to use the delicate verbiage of the New Center) unwilling to get off the couch, it still appears as though most of the people not looking for work have valid reasons to be out of the workforce.

Unless we assume that all of those disabled people are malingerers.

As you may have figured out, the folks at the New Center have a very low opinion of those mortals who are forced to tread on the tainted earth beneath their cloud palaces. Some of those shiftless mortals are con artists, while others are drug addicts:
Employers say as many as 25 percent of applicants can’t pass a drug test. This group needs a push to get them back to work.
Yeah, if you burn a blunt a month then obviously you can't be trusted to man a cash register.

But maybe, as David Brooks has so insightfully observed, the problem is that we just aren't lecturing the lazy fools enough. This leads to the most amazing part of this section:

The New Center should not be bashful about criticizing individuals who are not carrying their weight.
Yeah, I thought I was being hyperbolic, too. Since this is the policy section, I'm not sure what to make of this - is the President supposed to go on television once a week and wag his finger at all the lazy Poors and Youngs?

I'd like to put special focus on another line in this little infobox, a fact that the authors seemed to think was especially terrifying:
One study found that roughly three-fourths of their time is spent staring at a screen, including an average of nearly nine hours per week playing video games.
That link (as well as the one in the paragraph under it) leads to what is easily one of the dumbest articles I've ever seen in a major national newspaper. It is titled "Why amazing video games could be causing a big problem for America" and I swear it appeared in the Washington Post in September 2016. The thesis - which, sadly, is pretty true to the one advanced by the authors of the research paper they reference - is that video games are essentially a drug, a cheap and readily available one. But while you might think that unemployed Youngs play video games to mitigate the oppressive boredom and solitude of unemployment, these fine thinkers suggest that, in fact, modern video games send their users to such magnificent vistas of unbridled ecstasy that young men are avoiding work to spend more time mainlining their digital smack.

You want proof?


How frightening this is depends on how scary 8.6 hours a week sounds. It's far less than television consumption - according to the same study, those Youngs idly watch screens for around 25 hours a week - but for the typical Boomer, watching television is "normal" and not nearly as frightening.

Perhaps I can shed some light on this. Some of you may know that I have a pretty extensive history with interactive electronic entertainment, going back to my fourth birthday. And while there are times I wish it wasn't the case (up to and including now), I do play a shitload of video games. Now, I went a little crazy at the last Steam sale and ended up with enough titles to last out the year. According to my stats (which only include games through that service, mind), I've been averaging somewhere between 18 and 20 hours a week since the sale ended - more than twice the TERRIFYING DOOMSDAY FIGURE shown above.

Needless to say, I take a great deal of offense at the implication that this 20 hours a week constitutes an addiction. Unlike those Youngs allegedly refusing work, I have a job - a very physically taxing job that most native-born Americans refuse to do and which, unlike pundits and think tank hacks, bears actual economic utility. I work enough hours to pay all my own expenses and put away hundreds of dollars a month. Additionally, I somehow found the time to break away from THE ELECTRONIC NARCOTIC to write and submit short stories (averaging one every two weeks since February), read several books a month (all nonfiction and no, not just the dross I feature here), listen to an additional 6-8 audiobooks a month (again, all nonfiction), take in at least one local show or cultural event per week, become an amateur photographer (you have checked out the photo site, haven't you?) and send a series of letters and postcards to Sen. Jerry Moran trying to push him away from destroying health care.

Goddamn, now I just wish I could gauge the pundit reaction to my own Steam profile:

Ironic that Civilization is bringing down civilization. Is it really a sin to like strategy games? Hey, the virtual wars I've prosecuted were a lot less destructive than the actual wars that some of these Very Serious types were cheering on.

Which brings me - at long last - to the other section, Inclusive Growth. Some of you saw that word "growth" and got concerned because you know what it means when conservatives "centrists" say it - time to sacrifice some Poors in the name of the great god Ekahn'ame. But, like the last section, this one starts off really good. They want to raise the federal minimum wage! They want to increase the EITC (which is still a conservative-friendly policy but by no means a bad one)! And then there's shit like this:
Americans living in hard luck areas would likely be better equipped to enjoy the fruits of economic growth if they simply moved to regions with booming economies...The government could establish Lifetime Retraining Accounts that pay for moving and living expenses with loans contingent on an individual’s income.
Sound familiar? This is pretty much the "Let's ship 'em all to North Dakota" strategy - employed by many, last seen in McArdle's awful book. Hey, how did that go for the workers that followed that advice?

Hey, it's not like a significant number of them died from wholly preventable problems.

Somewhat inexplicably, that paragraph contains a link to a mostly irrelevant AEI piece (The New Center is not a conservative org, quit saying that) suggesting that the federal government randomly relocate departments out of D.C., an idea that Ross Douthat later stole and somehow made even worse.

All of that's just a personal hobbyhorse, though. My favorite part of this section is something they have to say about the Universal Basic Income. "Centrists" are skeptics of UBI. Frankly, so am I - it's a tad utopian, especially when you look at the sums that these elite economists consider "basic income." Even so, I've occasionally used the notion of a UBI to demonstrate the unhealthy attitudes Americans have toward work - we treat our jobs as the most central and critical aspects of our identities, even as many of us don't see what we do as important. The New Center has a different take:
...the UBI completely ignores the importance of work—not just to our economy—but to an individual’s sense of purpose and meaning and to the cohesiveness of our communities.
This is a sentiment that more upfront conservatives encapsulate in the phrase "dignity of work."

Let me tell you about the "sense of purpose and meaning" I get out of my job. One day, I was told that the owner of the vineyard would be coming by and that he wouldn't appreciate seeing the remnants of the paper containers used to move the plants from a recent planting. Somebody had to pick up all the stray refuse so that it would good for his arrival. I won that privilege. As I crawled around in the dirt, picking up scraps of filthy paper with my bare fingers so that some rich prick wouldn't have to endure the pain of seeing litter on a property he rarely visited, I pledged to keep this image in my head any time some affluent media dipshit opened his sound-hole and uttered anything even remotely similar to "dignity of work."

This notion of "dignity of work" usually carries with it implications of laziness (often among people with certain demographic traits, nudge) overcome through Good, Honest Work. Coming from those hierarchy-loving paleocons who claim the title of centrist, it may have an additional meaning. A lot of these guys buy into a quasi-spiritual ideology that bears a resemblance to the old medieval notion of the Great Chain of Being. One might term this particular aspect the Happy Peasant (or maybe Transcendent Peasant, a term that's been popping up in a lot of above-the-fray centrist writings lately). It doesn't matter if you're a Brooksian Great Man enjoying the privileges at the top of society or one of the fleshy cogs in the great machine that those Great Men direct - you should be happy. Money and status simply don't matter. Funny that this argument always comes from people who have high-paying, high-status jobs.

We went through this shit with Brooks already - most people don't work for "purpose and meaning," and they don't have the kind of jobs that give them a lot of mental stimulation or personal satisfaction. And while I can't speak for anyone else, I can say that this is one Happy Peasant who doesn't want to be defined by his deeply shitty job, and also doesn't want to worry about what might happen if I manage to lose it. Sorry, Mr. Kristol, but most of us are actually capable of getting fired. I got a lecture a few months back for having "bad body language," basically my boss telling me I walk like an asshole as a way of reminding me that he can destroy my life whenever the hell he wants. Frankly, I would much rather have something tangible to fall back on as opposed to "purpose and meaning."

All right, we're done with these idiots. People are more than factors in some economic formulation - if these guys can't get that, then fuck 'em.

(Part 1 - - - Part 2 - - - Part 3)


  1. Off topic, but I'm the guy who mentioned a bit back I bought your book as a virtual tip jar, and I'd leave a review later once I read it.

    Unfortunately, your book is post-apocalyptic. Ever since the election I can't read those kinds of stories anymore. Maybe this will change, but not anytime soon. So it could be a sterling work of art, but it wouldn't matter even slightly as to my ability to plow on through. I'm sorry. I will say I appreciate you continuing to highlight assholes like the ones associated with this last brief series.

    1. Perfectly understandable, I've heard that Trump has been dragging down all but a few categories of fiction. I do appreciate hearing from people who enjoy my careful dissections, and perhaps in the future I can move on to some more cheerful types of escapism.

  2. Civilization ended at Civ 4. With every new iteration, it becomes less and less appealing to me.