Some social conservatives might think it’s a good idea that Obamacare gives some mothers the chance to spend more time at home with their kids. Fiscal conservatives, however, are rightly appalled. Some women are in the workforce merely to get health insurance for themselves and their families. The ACA provides them opportunities to stay home with their children, making it easier for mothers to bypass the dignity of work.
They’re also giving up their freedom. Anything that disencentivizes work leads to lost freedom. Liberal Democrats are lining up to extol the false freedom that comes to people who can choose to do something better with their lives now that they don’t need to maintain their current employment simply to keep their health insurance. But Paul Ryan recognizes the problem with this attitude. This disincentive to work encourages Americans “not to get on the ladder of life, to begin working, getting the dignity of work, getting more opportunities, rising the income, joining the middle class.” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers echoes Ryan in her response to the State of the Union address when she said, “a job is so much more than a paycheck – it gives us purpose, dignity…”
Work as freedom is even more forcefully articulated by Charles C.W. Cooke in the National Review.
Work is a virtue that should be reflexively encouraged. It is the means by which standards of living are grown, human potential is reached, individual lives are focused, positive and negative instincts are channeled, resources are utilized most efficiently, and, above all, by which dignity remains intact. It is the best antidote to personal and national ossification and sclerosis, and the primary means by which our present material comfort was achieved. It is the driving force behind improvement, both real and imagined, in the nation’s mainstream culture. Whatever the ideal role of government in contriving work or wages for those who are without them, we should all presumably be able to agree that if we are going to have an intrusive state, it should be doing precisely the opposite of encouraging people to limit their involvement in work.
In another cogent editorial the National Review rebuts the administration’s claim that increased freedom for individuals is a positive development. “But the administration still does not seem to be able to get its collective head around the fact that American workers are not just hungry mouths that have to be filled with paychecks: They are people who provide economically valuable goods and services. Those 2.5 million out of the work force may be happier at their leisure, but the economy as a whole will be substantially worse off without their contributions.”
Republicans and conservatives have come a long way since 2008. Then, John McCain, working from the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation’s report, encouraged severing the link between employers and health insurance. This, in their words at the time, would break the “job lock” which keeps people in their jobs in order to retain their health insurance, and give “more power to families.” Fortunately conservatives were able to repudiate their old ideas before they became the mantra of liberals and the ACA.
Some have argued that severing this job lock will free more individuals to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. In the Urban Institute’s study, the number of self-employed persons should rise about 1.5 million higher under the ACA than otherwise. The CBO’s report also indicates that it expects wages for lower income workers to rise as the supply of laborers diminishes, but not the demand. Neither of these is a good thing, however. As Cooke’s encomium demonstrates, freedom and dignity come from contributing to society and the nation’s economy. Just as conservatives oppose an increase in the minimum wage as a job killer, so would this artificial raising of wages be a job killer. And if 1.5 million individuals removed themselves from the labor force and became entrepreneurs, it would further diminish the labor pool and drive up wages. America cannot compete with the world and further the prosperity of its current entrepreneurial class if it has to pay workers higher wages.
Seeking to find the critical distinction between the viewpoint of liberals and Obama, and that of conservatives as expressed in Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ Republican response to the State of the Union address, Richard Kirsch discovers that it boils down to a difference in how they view the way one succeeds. For Obama success comes from the community pulling together; for McMorris Rodgers, “you get there by yourself, with the help of your family.” In conjunction with views on the dignity of work as conservatives have been extolling and its contribution to the community and the nation’s economy, we should be dedicating ourselves to the success of the community and the nation’s economy. And since the community succeeds on the shoulders of its leaders, our nation’s policies should encourage individual employment, both, then, for the betterment of society and for the improvement of the individual. A common phrase from 19th century German philosophy was, “der mensch verwicklict sich in seiner arbeit,” loosely translated as “the individual achieves self-dignity through their work”.