Some children will not get the Christmas presents they wanted this year because trucking companies can’t find drivers to deliver them from the ports on the coasts. A lack of people willing to work has forced restaurants to cut hours or close. The labor force participation rate for men has fallen to 89% prior to the pandemic from more than 97% in 1955. What’s going on?
Democrats claim that wages are so low that people would rather stay home, but that doesn’t explain how the unemployed make enough money to live. Who is paying for their food, clothing, and rent? A new report from the Social Capital Project, Reconnecting Americans to the Benefits of Work explains:
“Why are fewer prime-age Americans in the workforce? Many popular explanations attribute Americans’ declining labor force participation to declining wages, technological change, and international trade. A new report from Joint Economic Committee Republicans’ Social Capital Project finds that these forces cannot fully explain increasing inactivity among able-bodied prime-age Americans.
“Instead, many would-be workers are voluntarily disconnected from work, and government programs and policies have likely made work less attractive for these Americans. Beyond a paycheck, employment is also an important source of social capital that provides material and immaterial benefits to personal well-being. By evaluating the incentives workers face, the report recommends a number of policy reforms to lift barriers, remove disincentives, and increase the attractiveness of work.”
Christians saw this coming centuries ago. The great French economist Frederick Bastiat wrote in the 1850s, “The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.”
Marvin Olasky gives the history of Christian charity in the U.S. from the early 1800s to the present in his classic The Tragedy of American Compassion. Olasky shows that for most of that history Christians worried about giving the poor too much, rather than too little, because they witnessed many men who happily lived in poverty from the generosity of others rather than work, even when they had wives and children to support. So churches provided food and cloth to the wives of such men for them to make clothes for the children. They offered the men work, usually chopping firewood.
Horace Greeley, who wrote “Go West, young man!” was the first to promote indiscriminate giving to the poor in his newspapers. Greeley had imbibed socialism from the French and wanted all Americans to swallow their bad wine. Socialists taught that society makes people poor through no fault of their own and so society owes them a living. But most Americans valued self-reliance and often refused to take handouts, which kept the poverty rate low. FDR created the Works Progress Administration to provide jobs instead of handouts because most Americans were too proud to take charity from the government.
But Christianity had been declining in the U.S. and by 1968 when Johnson launched his Great Society war on poverty, many Americans had adopted the socialist view of poverty. In 1959, the U.S. poverty rate was 22.4% according to the Census Bureau. It fell to 12.1% in 1969 then rose to 15% in the years 2010 – 2012 in spite of greater spending on the poor than any other time in human history. Johnson claimed his policies would eliminate poverty. Instead, poverty increased.
Socialists teach that people are born good and turn bad only because of oppression. No one would rather live from handouts than work. However, Christianity explains that people are born with a tendency to evil that only God can change, and many people will mooch off others rather than work if they can. The Apostle Paul addressed that problem in the early church:
“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.'"
Follow the science. It proves Paul was right.
Roger D. McKinney lives in Broken Arrow, OK with his wife, Jeanie. He has three children and six grandchildren. He earned an M.A. in economics from the University of Oklahoma and B.A.s from the University of Tulsa and Baptist Bible College. He has written two books, Financial Bull Riding and God is a Capitalist: Markets from Moses to Marx, and articles for the Affluent Christian Investor, the Foundation for Economic Education, The Mises Institute, the American Institute for Economic Research and Townhall Finance. Previous articles can be found at facebook.com/thechristiancapitalist. He is a conservative Baptist and promoter of the Austrian school of economics.