GOP-led states have engaged in a stampede to corral and round up the unemployed to return to work by eliminating unemployment benefits. The GOP governors of 23 states have made such announcements, unaccompanied by hoots of “yippy-ki-ya” but with messaging that unemployment benefits are stifling and threatening the work ethic.
Ironically, the imprecation echoes Communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin during the early 1900s Russian Revolution, which proclaimed, “He who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.” An even earlier iteration was attributed to Paul the Apostle, which was later promoted by John Smith in the 1600s in Jamestown, Virginia.
The work-to-eat paradigm morphed into a Protestant work ethic, also characterized as Calvinist or Puritan, enshrined in theology. Later, in 1904, Max Weber attributed the concept to birthing capitalism in a book titled The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, cementing its transmission into sociology and economics.
More contemporary historical theory relates the WASPish work ethic to systemic racism in the United States (The White Protestant Roots of American Racism | The New Republic):
The Protestant work ethic that influenced the founding of this country included a belief that “the more material wealth you have, the closer you are to God,” said Robin DiAngelo, a professor whose research focuses on how white people are socialized to collude with institutional racism. “So during slavery, we said, ‘You must do all the work but we will never allow that to pay off.’ Now we don’t give Black people access to work. Then and now they have not been allowed to participate in wealth building or granted the morality we attach to wealth.” This historical entanglement of property and virtue continues to inform racial views. “Property among white Americans is seen as something to be treasured and revered. Black Americans do not view themselves as truly owning anything in America.
The move to cancel or reduce unemployment benefits gained momentum among GOP governors following a disappointing April jobs report and strong urging from Republican leadership, including Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in an early May letter to governors in which he parroted Republican theological bias over economic theory.
The move to cancel or reduce unemployment benefits gained momentum among GOP governors following a disappointing April jobs report and strong urging from Republican leadership, including Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in an early May letter to governors in which he parroted Republican theological bias over economic theory:
We have heard from countless Main Street employers who are struggling to hire the workers they need, due in large part to enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefits. The $1.9 trillion spending bill President Biden recently signed into law extended these $300-per-week payments until September 6th. Unfortunately, we are now seeing the negative consequences of these misaligned economic incentives. An estimated 40 percent of the unemployed now earn more staying at home than working, causing severe labor shortages across the country and impacting numerous industries, including hospitality, retail, construction, and manufacturing.
Our local job creators should not have to compete with the federal government for workers. Yet that’s exactly what you face in your state’s local labor markets. Not only does this hurt the ability of local employers to recover from the economic slowdown of the pandemic, it produces supply shortages at the exact moment massive amounts of consumer stimulus are pushing prices higher, risking out of control inflation. Sadly, Democrats in Congress have refused to work with Republicans on this issue.
Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Vermont are the only states with GOP governors that have not yet canceled the federal programs. A report issued this month by the Century Foundation (Unemployment Insurance Data Dashboard (tcf.org)) is at odds with the House minority leader, observing:
After more than a year of the pandemic, the U.S. labor market is steadily returning to normal, with programs like unemployment benefits having played a major role in preventing poverty among the jobless. But rather than allowing workers a chance to receive critical aid until jobs have more widely returned, policymakers have left the unemployed fully on their own, creating bigger gaps between the haves and have-nots.
Readers are certain not to conclude that the early termination of unemployment benefits is a purely political strategy, since “Main Street employers” communicate directly with GOP leadership. Worse, if employers cannot staff available jobs, wage offers are likely to rise upward due to the competition for labor. Such an outcome would derail GOP opposition to higher federal minimum wage requirements. Characterizing the unemployed labor force as satisfied with not working and receiving benefits will not endear Republicans to such work-ethic apostates seeking employment.
Engaging a battle of wages based upon a colonial theology may work for political leaders whose devotion to WASPish economics is strong but it invites recriminations from those receiving the federal benefits. While the April jobs report was below expectations, the March report showed 916,000 new jobs, strongly indicating that the GOP may have jumped the gun with its call for action.
Having employed political rhetoric and ancient economic epithets to achieve an elusive advantage, Republicans have only buried themselves deeper into a conservative abyss capable of swallowing its own future.
Having employed political rhetoric and ancient economic epithets to achieve an elusive advantage, Republicans have only buried themselves deeper into a conservative abyss capable of swallowing its own future. The Grifter-in-Chief, now a Florida resident, ignored the COVID pandemic and pursued economic policies that only exaggerated the nation’s economic woes in a tide surging from the racial cauldron of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. The party of Lincoln is very far from salvation and even farther from forgiveness by voters.
WASPs waging war on income is a losing proposition.