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.