Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Ross Douthat seldom fails to give me (unhealthy) food for my blogging, and his last column is no different.  Ross sounds like a Victorian preacher in most of it, at least the sort of a Victorian preacher I imagine:  A stern patriarchal figure regarding the poor as immoral children, in need of the preacher's ability to interpret the divine will when it comes to the poor, but without any direct experience of the lives of the poor.

It's fun.  Douthat begins by stating that despite all the science-fiction ideas about the future of unlimited leisure time, what we have now is an upside-down world where the rich work hard and the poor do not.  That's the first fib in his story:  Most poor people work, many work very hard, and there are rich people who don't lift a finger, except to have it manicured by someone else.

A slight exaggeration, but you should get my point:  Douthat exaggerates in the other direction.  He also assumes that only the work that is compensated with money is real work.

Anyway, the column continues like this, about the vast riches of the United States:

Those riches mean that we can probably find ways to subsidize — through public means and private — a continuing decline in blue-collar work. Many of the Americans dropping out of the work force are not destitute: they’re receiving disability payments and food stamps, living with relatives, cobbling together work here and there, and often doing as well as they might with a low-wage job. By historical standards their lives are more comfortable than the left often allows, and the fiscal cost of their situation is more sustainable than the right tends to admits. (Medicare may bankrupt us, but food stamps probably will not.)
So if the available jobs are no better than scrounging in the garbage tips or living off relatives, why bother?  In any case, people used to starve to death so what does the left complain about?  And we can afford the food stamps and the garbage dump sources of food.

Here's the thing which made me think of that mythical Victorian out-of-touch preacher:  The column tells us nothing about what happened to those blue-collar jobs, nothing about why real wages are not rising but rather declining, nothing about multinational corporations, outsourcing and so on.  All these things just are, and the only thing Ross bemoans is that they might be bad for the morals and morale of the poor.