Salt, meet wound. Wound being unemployment, and salt being the suggestion that the worst economy since the Great Depression was created by its powerless victims -- the jobless.
Republicans, do tell: If so many jobs are ripe for plucking, explain the five applicants for every job
. (Down from six a few months ago. Oh joy.)
Why would anyone believe unemployment is voluntary when there is so much evidence to the contrary? The answer is surprisingly simple: Because that belief makes them feel good.
Life is not fair, we learned in childhood. Apparently we never got over it. The psychology term "just-world phenomenon" has been around for only half a century, but the practice of assuming people get what they deserve is not new. You can find examples in the poetry of Robert Browning and the Bible.
And in politics. A shrewd politician can take advantage of the just-world fallacy, defined
The tendency for people to want to believe [in a just world] so strongly that when they witness an otherwise inexplicable injustice they will rationalize it by searching for things the victim might have done to deserve it. This deflects their anxiety, and lets them continue to believe the world is a just place, but often at the expense of blaming victims for things that were not, objectively, their fault.
Many a cancer survivor has encountered the just-world theory firsthand. I myself am a survivor, and from my own experience, I can recreate a typical conversation. It goes something like this: Does cancer run in your family? Were you under a lot of stress before your diagnosis? Do you think the years you lived in Houston had anything to do with it? Etc.
If you want to make your friend happy, you should answer yes, yes, and yes. That's because 1) she's not related to you, 2) she meditates every day, and 3) she never lived in Houston. Therefore she will not get cancer. She can then exile you to the land of "the other"
and all is right with the world again.
So maybe there's no science proving self-assurance wards off cancer any better than a voodoo incantation. Facts, schmacts! Feeling is what counts. She feels safer. If you feel worse, that's your tough luck. Which you already have, obviously. In abundance. Due to some failure on your part.
Politicians love a just world, especially conservatives. Take Sharron Angle, Republican candidate for senator of Nevada in the 2010 election.
Angle's message has all the subtlety of a car-lot sales pitch. Her handlers have scrubbed her Web site
, but thanks to technology, we have her words archived for all eternity. She can run (watch Angle trot away from reporter Nathan Baca
as he asks what she meant by "Second Amendment remedy" to incumbent Senator Harry Reid), but she can't hide.
During a speech, Angle was recorded saying, "We did those things growing up that Americans don't do. We cleaned bathrooms and made beds. Swept floors. Did laundry." But now, according to Angle, Americans won't do those jobs, and unemployment benefits, specifically Harry Reid's vote to extend them
, are to blame.
You can make more money on unemployment than you can going down and getting one of those jobs that is an honest job, but it doesn't pay as much. And so that's what's happened to us is that we have put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry and said you don't want the jobs that are available.
Angle caught some flack for that statement, so a week later she clarified:
I was criticized for saying that Americans won't do certain jobs and the reason that they won't do certain jobs is because they get more pay on unemployment than they can get to work those...those good jobs that are really out there. What has happened is Harry Reid has just extended unemployment and when he did that he not only made it so that people are less employable, but he makes it so that they want to be dependent on the government. This entitlement pays them more than getting a real job.
Sharron Sharron Sharron. Girl, I gotta ask: Who taught you how to backpedal? Cuz you suck at it. You're supposed to neutralize your first comment, not reinforce it. If you can't backpedal worth a damn, I predict your career in politics will be short and not at all sweet.
Ms. Angle continued:
Harry Reid is not thinking about real solutions. All he is doing is putting on these Band-aid fixes which is to extend unemployment. And when he does that, what happens is that he takes away the incentive to have a job because if you are making more on unemployment than you can if you go to work for Starbucks or some other place where they have a real job available, because you know that you can't make as much as you are making on unemployment, you'll stay on unemployment.
So the problem today is not too few jobs. The problem is unemployment benefits are too generous. How do you get people to work if they're not starving and desperate? (I'll bet slaveholders in the old South used to chaw tobacco over just such an issue.)
Here's a chart of real wages and benefits (adjusted for inflation) from the 1960s to 2004
. In 1971 average weekly wages were about $331. Some 30 years later the average wage had dropped to $277. And that was 2004, prior to the current recession, which has further decimated the average worker's earnings.
Where's the Republican outrage on the minimum wage losing buying power
? On the off-shoring of good jobs? On the huge increases in the cost of health care and college tuition? Instead of eliminating the few safety nets we possess, why not reverse course on policies that have, for decades, chipped away at the middle class
in favor of banks, big business and the wealthy?
Not likely. It's easier to assume losers never really wanted to win in the first place. Or didn't deserve to win.
Which brings us back to the just-world theory. Says the Markula Center for Applied Ethics
When we encounter evidence suggesting that the world is not just, we quickly act to restore justice by helping the victim or we persuade ourselves that no injustice has occurred. We either lend assistance or we decide that the rape victim must have asked for it, the homeless person is simply lazy, the fallen star must be an adulterer. These attitudes are continually reinforced in the ubiquitous fairy tales, fables, comic books, cop shows and other morality tales of our culture, in which good is always rewarded and evil punished....The belief in a just world may take the place of a genuine commitment to justice.
Hear ye, Republicans! The unemployed are not lazy. It's you who are intellectually lazy. Or -- even worse -- you understand. You know that most of the people losing jobs and homes in these terrible times did nothing wrong whatsoever. You simply don't care.