Proof That People Are Not Naturally Born To Be Lazy
Counterintuitive information for the modern conservative austerity advocate.
Conservatives in Congress tell us that the welfare state makes us a lazy nation. They tell us that we should pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and find a way to make a living. Yet, there is compelling evidence that people do not want to live on other people’s money. Most people would rather have a job, a sense of industry, a sense of contributing to society.
I’m a dad as some of you may know already. I’ve been observing my kids to see how they find their own sense of autonomy, of independence. Based on what I’ve seen so far, kids don’t grow up to be lazy. I offer three examples for you to consider.
The first of course is walking. Every kid grows up from a peanut to a crazy kid running around, walking, talking, jumping on the bed and grabbing things they shouldn’t grab. Locomotion is the first sense of autonomy that kids get as they grow up. It’s kind of a continuum. They need to be carried in the beginning. Then as they grow older, their desire to be carried declines to the point of zero, usually, when they’re too big to be carried.
When my kids were less than a year old, my wife and I made a point of not using any walkers, bouncers or other assistance. We let them spend some time every day on the carpet and let them learn how to move. We let them learn how to roll over, and how to crawl, and how to lift themselves by a couch or wall. Generally, during those few minutes to hours, we just let them figure it out. They got a workout every day just learning to move.
What my kids learned about locomotion, they did on their volition. We didn’t do very much coaching. We just let them work it out on their own. Sure, we took a video of the first shaky walks they made, but we weren’t there holding their hands. They made their way to a couch, lifted themselves up and started taking baby steps. No one had to remind them to learn how to walk. No one offered them money to learn how to walk. My kids learned to walk on their own initiative.
Second example: My oldest daughter has a child safety seat. It’s a nice big captain’s chair of a seat that I had to attach to the car seat. I used to carry her and set her into that seat. Then about a month ago, she decided that she wanted to climb into the car herself, and then climb into the car seat herself. She would refuse any help if I offered it to her. She saw a puzzle and wanted to figure it out for herself.
Third example: We bought these nice little rainbow chairs from Ikea. Months ago my oldest daughter figured out she could use the chair as a platform to gain some elevation to reach things she wanted to touch, to climb places she wanted to go. But when she first started working with the chair, she asked me for help to carry it. After a while, she insisted on carrying it herself. Again, if I offered help, she refused. Kids are like that, they only ask for help if they want it.
In every stage of their development, they start out needing and asking for help. Then they start to build a memory of the procedures and skills required to get what they want done. Then they master the skill and no longer need my help.
Whenever my kids asked for help, they got it, then they learned how to do the task themselves and refused any help offered. This is what a safety net looks like in adult life. Most adults, when faced with a situation where their family might be short on food, shelter or water, will ask for help. They will continue to ask for help until they return to self-sufficiency again.
In past generations, that’s how it worked. The government filled in the gap when the economy went south and then when things got good, the government could relax and didn’t have to lend support. This support was financed with very high taxes on the wealthy as well as payroll taxes on the working class.
Most working-class people understand that payroll taxes are social insurance so that if they get into a jam, they can get help because they bought insurance. But conservatives don’t see it that way. Even though our social insurance is paid for by a dedicated tax, they insist on cutting the benefits, regardless of what was paid into it. And when they cast their vote to cut benefits, they mumble something about “deficits”.
The purpose of insurance is to distribute risk. Everyone buys insurance, even the wealthy. In a sense, social insurance, like social security and medicare, are really “social unrest” insurance for the wealthy. If you don’t give people a way to help themselves, you’re going to have social unrest.
For the past 40 years, there has been an unrelenting effort to remove that social insurance. Its as if, somehow, the wealthiest among us have figured out that if they keep pushing their agenda, that if they remove all of the social insurance, that we’ll somehow be forced to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps. And with every success of the conservative agenda, we do pull ourselves up, but at much lower prevailing wages than before.
During those 40 years, they’ve been finding ways to deny or remove social insurance for the rest of us, while keeping it for themselves. They’ve built what is best known as The Conservative Nanny State. The way things are going now, if we get a Republican president (we might have one), with a Republican-controlled Congress (we have that now), the most likely outcome is far more social unrest. And we have it. The nation is far more divided and there is greater unrest now than at any point I can remember in my life.
That’s why I work to educate my kids and help them when they need help. The only way kids will know how to help themselves as adults is if we help them first as they grow up. They don’t need an austerity program. They really just need help, without a morality lesson.
Originally published on my blog, The Digital Firehose, May 27th, 2015. Updated for clarity, grammar and a turn of phrase here and there.