Unemployment and Useful Work

Much of our thinking about political economy harkens back to the odious "New Deal," a Frankenstein monster of federal interventionism which even its early acolytes by 1939 were saying was an utter failure.  Government statistics began to replace sensible thinking and theories supplanted reality. 

High on the list of treasured statistics was low unemployment.  Mountain of dollars, typically money magically invented by reckless fiscal and monetary policies, waged relentless war against high unemployment.  Getting people "back to work" was a mantra which the Left was able to get conservatives to buy into as well.

When our nation was founded, when the Civil War ended, even at the beginning of the twentieth century, this macabre fetish regarding "low unemployment" would have been inexplicable to most common folk.  In fact, the less work that we had to do, the better.

Most people worked on farms that they owned, and the work day began at sunrise and ended at sundown.  Farming people fully grasped the virtue of hard work, but they also treasured the times in which they could relax. 

Those who did not work on a farm probably worked in a small trade, which they often owned or worked with family.  While the flow of business was always welcome, work itself was not.  Efficiency mattered, but even more important than efficiency was the practical value of the work done.

All work was useful work.  People plowed fields, harvested crops, laid bricks, repaired machines, drove cattle, kept shops, ran drug stores, operated ferries, tended orchards, cut down timber, mined metals and coal, and worked at dozens of other real jobs that created actual wealth.

Today, thanks to the tentacles of Washington, most work has little or no value.  Regulations, tax laws, labor laws, affirmative action, hyper-litigation, and similar glop have created whole armies of bureaucrats – and the federal employees in these areas are the tip of the iceberg.

Every state and local government now has a mind-numbing number of regulations and laws and rules and compliance standards emanating ultimately from Washington.  Some of these are almost surreal, like the requirement that almost every state and local government execute in triplicate hard copies of compliance with the "Federal Paperwork Reduction Act."

Every corporation also must have an army of bureaucrats ensuring compliance with every federal mandate.  Every legal section of every governmental or corporate entity in America has a virtual regiment of lawyers and support staff to comply with these mandates. 

These folks, of course, have to be educated and trained and supervised and managed and audited and so on.  Some of these useless workers, like "community organizers," end up at the top of the heap, having never done anything truly productive in their lives.

This makes unemployment statistics even more meaningless than we are led to believe.  If tomorrow we could cut the unemployment rate in half, it would not result in an increase in true wealth unless those new workers were actually doing something of value.  This, in many ways, reflects a fundamental problem in welfare statist thinking: the fair exchange of goods and services people want to have, rather than what is forced down their throats as "good for them," has been lost.

Overlooked, among other things, is the value of parenting and grand-parenting, activities that do not show up in government statistics as anything of value but have enormous – almost incalculable – value in the lives of children.  Overlooked are the long hours family farmers spending raising the food and fibers we need or the long hours of a small businessman in a self-run business with lots of eager customers.  Overlooked is useful work that does not fit into a Department of Labor form.

The unwed mother who goes to a job in some dull bureaucracy and drops her child off at a daycare center does nothing good at all and much harm to society.  If she were happily married and staying at home with her kids (helping, of course, her husband run their small supply shop), this would show up as non-participation in the labor force (and could result in fewer people working at the daycare if enough follow her pattern).

The answer is to move government and its notorious "statistics" as far away from our analysis of a happy and healthy society as possible.  It is not the government's business.  Like almost everything else, the less government interest in this area, the better for all of us.