Renewing Labor’s Moral Sense

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave a speech Tuesday expressing concern about Americans’ shifting attitudes toward work and government.

“We’re turning into a paternalistic entitlement society,” he said. “That will not just bankrupt us financially, it will bankrupt us morally….We’ll have a bunch of people sitting on a couch waiting for their next government check.”

The workforce participation rate for men 16-24 has dropped from 80% in the 1970’s to about 58% today. Young men, especially with less education, are increasingly opting out of the workforce, and not just due to a weak economy. An enabling factor is that with all the government entitlements available, work doesn’t seem to pay.

If young people, especially at the point of entry to work, lose the belief that earning a paycheck is better than drawing a benefit check, the human cost will be significant.

The value of human labor is deeper than its cash value. Work is an extension of the human personality. Through labor we exercise talent, creativity, and initiative. We don’t merely exchange one thing for another, we develop as persons. We participate in the act of creation.

None of that happens with a welfare check. For a healthy society, we must renew our moral sense of the value of labor. We must stop asking government to provide quick cash and remember that raw purchasing power isn’t the measure of man.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.