Conservative Moral Order & the Lazy Unemployed

I was just having a discussion about the conservative worldview. Many conservatives believe in meritocracy and that our society is a meritocracy. They assume that rich people deserve their wealth because they’ve somehow earned it or are somehow morally superior. The poor are therefore lazy and morally inferior. This is what George Lakoff calls the Moral Order principle of conservative Strict Father morality. It’s because of this Moral Order that conservatives complain about the rich getting taxed which they see as the government stealing from hardworking Americans. This, of course, ignores all the Americans who do work hard and all they get is the shaft from the wealthy elite.

It’s easy for some to think that this is just a liberal exaggeration, but sadly many conservatives do have such a warped view of reality. For example, Ben Stein made an interesting comment recently:

http://thinkprogress.org/2010/07/20/ben-stein-ui/

Writing at the American Spectator yesterday, former Nixon speechwriter and TV personality Ben Stein downplayed the suffering unemployed Americans are experiencing by writing that the people who are unemployed right now are “generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities.” He claims the unemployed are Americans with “unpleasant personalities…who do not know how to do a day’s work“:

The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I say “generally” because there are exceptions. But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job. Again, there are powerful exceptions and I know some, but when employers are looking to lay off, they lay off the least productive or the most negative. To assure that a worker is not one of them, he should learn how to work and how to get along — not always easy.

Of course, saying that the 15 million Americans who are unemployed right now are “generally” people with “poor work habits” is as offensive as it is wrong. The current recession is a global phenomenon caused by the collective bad behavior of the world’s largest financial institutions. Before the recession, the unemployment rate hovered around six percent; it is ludicrious to say that millions of Americans suddenly got lazier and less able to work within the span of a few months.

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5 Responses

  1. So, those old families that made their wealth from slavery, crime, nepotism, did they work hard? Not that these people will care about slavery and whether it was hard work but some of the rich certainly made money from that.

    How can old money be said to be justifiably hard-earned in relation to these times? The rich now comprise people who have been schooled by old money and have better opportunities as a result of higher repute, better education, giving them the edge when it comes to making money.

    What does the poor man have? His schooling might have been cut short, he might have some low self esteem, his name may not be marketable, his health may be bad, etc. They are uncountable. How do they argue that? How do they argue for old money, old repute, easy lives? Ah! Man. One of my political parties is similar, the NPP. Maybe someday, someone will bring out the differences between our two main parties impartially and then, it’s game on. For now, we can only speculate.

    • To be fair, not all wealthy people are from old wealth per se, although it’s a fact that a disproportionate number of them were born into wealth (the data shows most wealth is inherited wealth). I do think it’s fair, however, to point out that most people living in the upper classes inherited privileges and opportunities which do make it easier to gain wealth.

      I don’t know Ben Stein’s family background, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t grow up in a poor minority family living in a crime-ridden inner city neighborhood. Also, I’m willing to bet he didn’t grow up in a poor rural area with parents who were unemployed because the local factory closed down when the jobs were sent overseas.

      I have no doubt that every country has it’s wealthy elite with immense political influence. I was going to ask you about wealth disparity in Ghana and Africa in general, but decided just to look it up. The Spirit Level doesn’t show the data for Africa because the authors were trying to compare more similar countries in order to ascertain clear correlations. So, I did a websearch.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality

      I looked at the US and Ghana. The numbers for income inequality are almost the same. Some other countries with similar Gini coefficient: Burundi, Cambodia, Georgia, Hong Kong, Iran, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Senegal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.

      In the US, income inequality is at an all-time high (higher than even during the Great Depression):

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/14/income-inequality-is-at-a_n_259516.html

  2. [...] Conservative Moral Order & the Lazy Unemployed [...]

  3. […] lot harder to be homeless in the North than in the South. The dark side of Protestant work ethic is severe punishment of the unemployed and poor; this is what is called capitalist realism — with individualism comes the attitude of blaming […]

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