by Paige Terryberry
Senior Analyst for Fiscal Policy, John Locke Foundation
Work gives purpose, creates abundance, instills pride and responsibility, and promotes the economic growth that we see today. Whether directly through monetary earnings or indirectly by taking care of a family at home, work is, as author, businessman, and conservative thought leader David Bahnsen puts it, “the verb of economics.” It is the tool with which societies advance and better themselves. It is a mechanism with which we meet the needs of others.
Work is all of these things because the workers own the fruits of their labor. However, when government comes between work effort and wages, between job seekers and employers, or between willing workers and career opportunities, hard work is diluted or stymied altogether. Those already dependent on government either are prevented from entering the workforce due to barriers to entry or find dependency to be more lucrative. Either way, the result is fewer people empowered by the dignity of work and providing for themselves and their families.
When the government decrees who can work, how much one can work, and how much of a paycheck a worker can keep, all of works’ immense benefits are diminished. Freedom is violated.
Through income taxes, the government directly acts as a referee between you and your earnings. In 1895 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal income tax as unconstitutional. The first iteration of income taxes was justified to fund the Civil War. After the war, the tax was repealed. Today, we are much more willing to accept big government slinking into our wallets. Progressive demagogues demand more and more of your paycheck to pay for their agenda.
Less direct but arguably more detrimental are the government’s efforts to come between you and your paycheck before you even begin work. With these tactics, government stifles private life, snuffing out opportunities for potential labor by making entrepreneurship and business life arduous.
With minimum wage policies, a government’s heavy hand sets an artificial wage floor. Occupational licensing laws make the government the exclusive executor of work privileges for electricians, cosmetologists, building contractors, hair braiders, therapists, and many more. In North Carolina, a fully government-run system of liquor distribution and sales prevents private individuals from tapping into the lucrative liquor market. Burdensome energy regulations impose heavier than necessary costs on the private sector. Taxes on corporate income, investment, and capital stifle innovation. Government-driven inflation erodes workers’ wage gains and discourages folks outside the labor force from re-entering.
The Covid-19 pandemic response by government is a case study of the dangers of centralized obstruction of work: forced shutdowns, vaccine mandates, and testing requirements sabotage workers.
Government red tape is strewn across every sector. Again and again, the government stands between workers and jobs, including the wages they hope to earn.
How do the American people allow this? Political propaganda provides much of the cover. The aforementioned bad policies are peddled to voters under the guise of safety, public health, environmental friendliness, diversity, inclusion, equity, and many other falsehoods aimed to convince the public that such policies are in their best interest.
Further discouraging work and advancing their propaganda, the Left argues that the American dream is dead. People can no longer “get ahead” through hard work. The successful have achieved that status through the unfair economic opportunities afforded them or through their exploitation of the working class they manage.
Perhaps we are not ready as a nation to fully embrace the utmost antiwork concepts, such as Universal Basic Income (UBI). Yet UBI was a prominent campaign feature of 2020 U.S. presidential and 2021 New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, who maintains an active following. Today, megadonors are rolling out UBI pilots nationwide, including one in Durham, NC. Guaranteeing income to people regardless of their work status takes a machete to the link between effort and reward.
Work is evolving, allowing more leisure time than ever before. But when rewards become detached from work, disincentives abound. Sharing the wealth so that all can benefit will not result in the promised utopia. Instead, we end up with less wealth, disproportionately harming our poorest. Our government has a proven track record of wasting workers’ earnings under the pretense of “care” for others.
Does anyone believe the government to be a good steward of money? Eventually, political motivations will override the system. Just look at any socialist experiment. Each American, especially in the middle and lower classes, will be harmed by every incremental step closer to socialism.
We must remain vigilant of any policy that would take away or otherwise place needless burdens on our freedom to work. Free societies do not require their people to get permission from the government to practice their craft.
American children are taught that the American dream no longer works. Worse, they are made to think that part of being an American requires apologizing for the successes of hard work.
As a society, we must refocus on the dignity that accompanies a work ethic and the personal responsibility of earning for oneself and one’s family. But most of all, we must caution that those who want to take your freedoms first come after your work and the fruits of your labor.
Thomas Jefferson cautioned: “To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father’s has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association — the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”