Column on Employment Blues Revisited

Employment Blues Revisited
Tibor R. Machan
Even though making lots of money is often derided by politicians, they do
routinely champion employment security. Exactly why it is fine to want the
latter but not the former is quite unclear to me. There are some theories
about this, though.
Some believe that making lots of money suggests that it is important to be
able to live well, while a job merely allows you to survive rather than
making very much of this life, trying to enjoy it fully, to be happy and
prosperous until it is over. Being rich, then, is thought to be crass,
lowly, while barely surviving, near poverty, is deemed more noble because
it’s more modest. Others figure that rich bashing stems from having a
misguided zero-sum view of economics: if I get rich, someone must get
poor. So, profit-making always involves making some poor bloke worse off
than before. As the French poet Charles Baudelair said, "Commerce is vile
because it is the worse kind of egoism," which to him meant getting ahead
at other people’s expense.
The first of these ideas can only be dealt with by way of ethics: it is
there that we consider whether flourishing in life is to be regarded as an
honorable objective and, once accomplished, something to be proud of. The
second is both a philosophical and an economic issue: does wealth creation
involve making others worse off than they otherwise would be? One
philosophical issue is whether creating wealth is even possible, or are we
stuck with just taking from here and putting it there, the famous zero sum
game. The economic question is how has it happened that as the population
of the world increased, the greater portion of people have been living
better, at least economically. The stuff we need and want has not been
reduced by way of entrepreneurship and mass production–that is, by the
increase of the free flow of commerce, of enrichment. Instead commerce has
managed to improve everyone’s economic well being, even if not at the same
Unfortunately, since government is so heavily involved in economic
matters, there can be little calm in the discussion of these topics.
Politicians have too much of a stake in scaring us to death about our
future so that we will vote them into office where they will then pretend
to turn things the way they ought to be. A Pat Buchanan or Ralph Nader
cannot produce a sensible, reasonable discussion of the matter. Neither
can a Hillary Clinton, a John McCain, or even a Barack Obama. And the news
organizations also benefit most from disseminating "news" that create
panic in our hearts. Even in scholarly circles these days there is too
much partisanship, ever since Marx has convinced many in that community
that everything is political, it’s all related to power.
To make a living requires work but if one believes that to have a job
means for someone else to lose one, this can only lead to bad blood
between people. Oddly enough, it is in business that such a view is not
usually shared, whereas those who focus on governmental affairs tend to
view matters more akin to combat. This is why from politicians the refrain
doesn’t focus on productivity but on fairness, sharing prosperity, as Mrs.
Clinton says, not on making it.
In business the idea is that commerce enhances everyone’s well being, with
losses coming only to those who misjudge the marketplace. Since forcing
people to share is going to discourage them from working hard, it is
better not to stress sharing and fairness but wealth and profit. Not only
does everyone have a basic right to seek riches but this actually tends to
produce more wealth for everyone who will but make the effort to work for
Unfortunately, we are now at a point where too many folks really think
that they are owed a job, especially job security, never mind that this
logically entails forcing customers to keep purchasing what one produces
whether or not they want it. It would be encouraging to see some prominent
commentators on C-SPAN or CNN making the point and for a few articulate
politicians to affirm the plain truth: what would give us the greatest
shot at job security isn’t taking from the rich and spreading it around
but making more wealth, training ourselves to anticipate future market
changes, not expecting people to be forced to patronize our goods and
services whether they want what they are being provided.
Job security comes from sustained, unimpeded productivity, not from trying
to guarantee employment on the backs of some mythical job-manufacturers
forced into service by the government.

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