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The Free Market Hates You
Of all the lies I was told growing up, I think the most conspicuous was the concept of meritocracy. Working hard was why people were successful, and if you worked hard, you too would be successful. As I previously discussed, those who “work hard” are often left unrewarded, and people who seem to work significantly less than them seem to be rewarded so regularly that it almost feels obscene to suggest that people do anything but the bare minimum. I understand why it’s necessary to tell kids this - what’re you gonna tell them, that the most successful people get places through a combination of luck and privilege, and without them you have a much lower chance of even being comfortable? They wouldn’t want to do anything!
Funnily enough, that’s the noxious point that career cretin Andy Kessler wrote for the Wall Street Journal in his latest piece about “A Nation of Quitters.” Kessler, a 64-year-old living in Atherton, a city with an average household income of nearly $500,000 a year, has crowned himself the Alain Quartermaine of Thinking, discovering an entirely new subculture out of thin air:
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The unemployment rate was 3.5% in July, the same as in February 2020, but the U.S. has three million fewer workers. Where did everyone go? This in an economy with 11.2 million job openings. It’s mostly men 25 to 54 who haven’t come back to work. Now a McKinsey study suggests that 40% of workers are thinking of quitting their jobs. Does anyone want to work anymore?
Everyone has an explanation for the Great Resignation: extended unemployment benefits, eviction moratoriums, baby boomers retiring, work-from-home complacency, anxiety, long Covid. Sure, all reasonable excuses. Here’s my theory: Too many got a taste of not working and liked it. A lot. Until recently, many people could make more money by not working and became glued to screens, Insta-Tok-ing and living the easy life by sponging off the rest of us. What’s not to like? Parisians called those with unconventional lifestyles “bohemians.” Now we have unemployed, perpetually plugged-in, dopamine-addled Cyber Bohemians—let’s call them Cy-Bos.
It is important at this point to review Mr. Kessler’s LinkedIn, and note that it does not appear that he has done any job other than “write opinions for the Wall Street Journal” since before iPhones and ubiquitous broadband access existed. He finished his Masters degree the year that the first consumer laptop was released and was done with his career at Morgan Stanley the year that Sonic The Hedgehog 2 came out. Mr. Kessler has spent only two years of this millennium inside the workforce, unless you consider writing a column for the Wall Street Journal as being “part of the workforce,” which I do not.
This incredibly long-winded introduction to evaluating Kessler’s work is important because it frames exactly how craven and empty so many of these big thinkers are, and how rotten their understanding of “labor” is based on modern society. Kessler was tangibly disconnected from any profit-seeking business during the single most important technological advances in business history, and now, sat atop his vaunted throne of “biggest, dumbest asshole,” he has decided it is time to judge.
But he is not unique in his analyses because he follows a consistent elder-generation self-mythology - that his labor was why he is a success, and those who do not follow his path - or similar paths, or paths that resemble that he remembers at the tender age of 64 - are lazy idiots, glued to tiny little computers that he cannot manipulate or understand. He has, despite claiming to seek the truth, entirely made up his mind about what the present (and the future) resemble and that the problems with society are not caused by a massive wealth gap or pro-business economies, but because people do “not want to work” based on citations that do not exist.
Let’s take a very obvious example:
Until recently, many people could make more money by not working and became glued to screens, Insta-Tok-ing and living the easy life by sponging off the rest of us.
When exactly was this the case? If you’re talking about when people decided to stop going into work during the worst of the pandemic, or after the pandemic, because coronavirus relief and unemployment paid them more than working? Hey, wait a second, didn’t you say something about putting one’s nose to the grindstone, Andy? Surely, as a result, corporations should rage wages to compete to acquire labor? Or are you suggesting that corporations should expect handouts? Why is not wanting to pay for workers not considered half-assing? Andy? Where are you?
Even if Andy were to answer - he never will, as he forgot his computer password - he would probably be annoyed also to learn that the discontinuation of unemployment benefits had a limited impact on job growth. Now, if he had access to his computer, he may indeed respond with “that proves people don’t want to work,” and let me answer with a very simple point:
Andy, you have never worked a real job in your life, you have no concept of reality, and if you had to handle a single table at the quietest restaurant with the lowest quality standards in the world, you would have a full-blown anxiety attack.
Why so many quitters? And who’s paying for DoorDashed dinners and the exorbitant rent for all these un- and underemployed? Government handouts are dwindling, so, you guessed it, now it’s mom and dad—enabling parents. They can afford it: As of March, baby boomers were sitting on a whopping $71 trillion to spoil their kids with. Did you know that half of U.S. households currently support an adult child? Maybe that’s why so many young folks use hyphenated names, paying tribute to both enabling parents.
This paragraph is deeply indicative of problems that run the gamut of everything I’ve written about from the very beginning of this newsletter. Kessler is naming real, salient problems - the massive hordes of boomer-held dollars (note: Kessler is a baby boomer), the growing amount of U.S. households with adult children living there - and naturally leaps to the least humane and logical reason. Now, if Kessler could take even one minute away from talking to the small bird that types out his columns (one that only takes a break to turn to the audience and say “it’s a living!”), he would perhaps notice that the cost of living is the highest it has been in 40 years, the endless ascension of rent costs, or even that the gaps in income between upper and middle classes are growing while the middle class’ share of wealth is falling. Even the biggest idiot in all the land could understand that perhaps the reason people are living with their parents is that it’s too expensive to rent a house (and borderline impossible to do so for most people).
The problem Kessler (and others) face is that they have mythologized “earned” labor and outputs - that their wealth and success was derived from “working hard” in a way that resembled what they believed hard work, but only aesthetically. “Hard work” means long meetings, going to offices and wearing suits, and long hours, and because Kessler and others have “put in the hours,” their outsized wealth and privilege is justified. They frame young people as “complainers” despite the endless whining of baby boomers about how young people can’t stop complaining, and they see progressive causes like climate change and racial equity as terrifying, because they begin and end with the fact that boomer wealth came off of the back of massive inequity that they likely lived through and chose to ignore.
Don’t believe me?
Back home, many younger folks who do actually work seem to require a “purpose” for their careers—something sustainable and equitable or whatever else. They need everything to be upcycled, organic, ethical, fair-trade, minimalist, inclusive and cruelty-free. That means they won’t work for companies such as “carbon spewing” Exxon or “nicotine peddling” Philip Morris. But even companies like Facebook are a no-go. Remember, they helped elect Donald Trump. Same with Twitter. Amazon? Environmental disaster. Google? Works with the Defense Department. Apple? Joe Rogan once used an iPhone. We all know an expensively educated corporate guy turned yoga instructor turned ESG advocate. Is this progress?
What I enjoy about this kind of paragraph - other than the fact that he has completely made up someone to be pissed off about at the end - is that the question tells you a great deal about the author. Choosing not to work for an oil giant or a nicotine company (or, indeed, Twitter) is an ethical decision that anyone is reasonable to make. But the problem is that this entire paragraph and point suggest that being remotely progressive is a bad thing, and that having ethical judgments of what we consume or whom we work for is some sort of personal weakness.
The biggest, ugliest answer to all of these problems - to every neoliberal freak that complains about “government handouts” without recognizing that not working should, ideally, be more fun than not working - is that they are exactly the thing they claim to hate. They are lazy, incurious, staid and entitled, claiming that because “the government didn’t help them, they shouldn’t need help,” except the government absolutely helped them until Ronald Reagan and other scumbags decided to break the back of social services by selling neoliberals a dream that the government never helped them in the first place. They live in Loser La La Land, where their imagined histories have overwritten the reality where people still had pensions, unions were stronger, healthcare was not something that bankrupted you and where owning a home was a realistic and common goal for many people.
What these people are actually concerned about is the control and manipulation of those they consider beneath them. They want the world to continue to resemble their mythologies of hard graft and earned opulence, where the world is “the same, but better,” except now people “want more” despite “more” in this case being “the same as elder generations got, or even less than that.” To admit that the world is deeply, brutally unfair is to admit that the only reason that they succeeded was a combination of luck, privilege and in many cases the color of one’s skin. Too much progressivism makes them think deeply about whether they earned (or deserve) anything, or whether they were given it in a nicer package than the same people they’re cursing at today.
These are the same people that want you back in the office, or to not “quiet quit” (yes, Kessler mentions quiet quitting), because they live entirely in a fictional universe of imagined “fairness” where they “worked hard” and were rewarded. They want people to do things not because they are smart, or good, or proven to work, but because they do not want to learn or change in any way, shape or form.
The greatest irony is that these people are the world’s most privileged, whiniest complainers. They contribute the least, yet they make the most noise. They are lazy, acting scorned the moment the world stops catering to their exact views and demands. They claim future generations are demanding, entitled and lacking in responsibility, all while refusing to take any for the things they voted for and the direct consequences of their own beliefs.
The current state of the world terrifies them. It’s one where the inequities are so obvious, the demands so unreasonable and where the pain is impossible to ignore. And they would rather keep spouting the same noxious, illogical talking points, because accepting reality is just a little too much like hard work.
They are selfish villains that would watch you bleed to death rather than face reality.
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