On people who are paid to punch down

Atrios, on Jay Leno:

Leno’s an asshole because too much of his comedy involves punching down. Ratings demonstrate lots of people like that, but I didn’t. Glad he’s outta there.

Over at Balloon Juice, DougJ expands on “punching down”:

More and more, I’m inclined to group everyone I encounter, whether on teevee screen or on the internets or IRL, into people who punch down or people who punch up. There’s a surprising (or maybe it’s not so surprising) number of people who say they’re on the left and who vote do Democrat but who punch down with a vengeance. My impression is that almost everyone on the right is all about punching down.

(NOTE: because apparently it needs to be explicitly said, my own impression is that many on the right spend a lot of time punching down, but not “almost everyone.” I am not DougJ. Thank you for your indulgence.)

Of course, nobody punches down quite like the right-wing pundit and its running buddy, the business reporter. On Tuesday, the CBO released a new report estimating the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the job market. They estimate that the reform will reduce the total number of hours worked by current workers by about 2% between 2017 and 2024, which is the equivalent of around 2.5 million people leaving the workforce. The right-wing media couldn’t scream “OBAMACARE WILL COST US 2.5 MILLION JOBS” fast enough or loudly enough, and of course they were deliberately misinterpreting what the CBO was saying. The report was talking about workers choosing to work less, not companies cutting jobs. Some of this decline in hours worked will be caused by changing marginal incentives due to new or higher taxes, or the need to retain Medicaid eligibility, but much of the decline is going to come from seriously ill people who no longer have to keep working because they can’t get health insurance otherwise, from new parents who can now afford to take more time off after having a baby, and from people who may now be able to risk leaving a job they hate to, I don’t know, start a new business, because they won’t have to go without health insurance when they quit. In fact, the CBO estimates that the ACA’s Medicaid expansion will actually create jobs as those who newly qualify for Medicaid will have more money to spend on stuff other than (probably bad) health insurance. It’s probably also fair to say that some part of that 2.5 million job-equivalent might get filled by, you know, new hires, which would also seemingly be A Good Thing.

Enter Charles Cooke at National Review, taking a break from his regular job as a Dickensian villain.

Cooke gets that the ACA isn’t going to cost the country 2.5 million jobs, but still thinks the CBO report is bad news because it might encourage people (who are not him or anybody he knows) to work less or to quit jobs they hate, and that’s no good because it will crush the sacred Protestant Work Ethic and destroy all Virtue:

At the very same time as the White House and its friends were taking credit for having emancipated the American people from the indignities of having to keep down a career, others seemed to be insisting that the labor market and the government are wholly discrete entities. This isn’t about Obamacare “killing” jobs, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote, “it’s about workers — and the choices they make.” “Look at it this way,” he explained. “If someone says they decided to leave their job for personal reasons, most people would not say they ‘lost’ their jobs. They simply decided not to work.” To an extent, this distinction is a fair one, although there is a great deal of truth in The Economist’s observation that “a job is an economic transaction between a seller and a buyer of labour, and can be ‘destroyed’ if either seller or buyer walks away.”

Yes, there’s a lot of truth there. It’s just like buying or selling anything else; I mean, when I test drive a car and decide not to buy it, the car dealer has to then strip the car for parts and scrap metal. They’re not allowed to sell it to somebody else. That’s just Capitalism.

Either way, it fails to address the material question, which is, “Why, in this case, will those people ‘decide not to work’?” The answer, of course, is that the intrusive federal action that one party supports and the other opposes has changed the calculation for them. It really is this simple: Before Obamacare, there was a status quo. With Obamacare, the government changed that status quo. As a result of that change, people are making different decisions. One can claim that the change will help to diminish youth unemployment or allow the elderly to enjoy more leisure time or do wonders for the gardening industry. But one can’t pretend that the state doesn’t have full culpability for those different decisions being made. That is a step too far.

Brazen double standards and the corruption of the English language to one side, the important question now is whether the change will be a good one. Unsurprisingly, I am of the view that it will not. On the contrary: Work is a virtue that should be reflexively encouraged. It is the means by which standards of living are grown, human potential is reached, individual lives are focused, positive and negative instincts are channeled, resources are utilized most efficiently, and, above all, by which dignity remains intact. It is the best antidote to personal and national ossification and sclerosis, and the primary means by which our present material comfort was achieved. It is the driving force behind improvement, both real and imagined, in the nation’s mainstream culture. Whatever the ideal role of government in contriving work or wages for those who are without them, we should all presumably be able to agree that if we are going to have an intrusive state, it should be doing precisely the opposite of encouraging people to limit their involvement in work.. (Prudence dictates that I couch this asseveration with a disclaimer: No, I do not consider it the role of government to force people to work against their will, nor to support them if they choose not to. But that is a decidedly different question from whether it should do more to enable them not to work.)

See, people who are doing work you hate and literally working yourselves to death so that you can keep your health insurance, you are doing God’s Work because you are making Charles W. Cooke feel good about the American work ethic. How dare you selfishly desire to leave your job or work less when you will be denying the very virtue that Charles Cooke wants to reflexively encourage all over you? And where does the government get off trying to enable you to shirk your responsibilities to Charles Cooke’s feelings about virtue, anyway? The nerve of all you people! I note that, while Charles Cooke is entitled to his strong feelings on the virtue of work as he gets paid a lot of money to write words about his feelings for a magazine, there is nothing in the ACA that actually prevents anybody from working as much or as long as they want. It just tries to make life a little easier for workers and especially the working poor, but of course that in itself is unvirtuous.

Cooke got a “Heh, indeed” on Twitter from POLITICO business reporter Ben White:

Ben didn’t like it when I later characterized his position as “deciding how much hardship everybody else ought to endure,” but, sorry, that’s what he’s doing. What Ben and Charles actually mean is, “people who are not me and my family and friends should be ‘encouraged’ to work themselves to death via a combination of weak social welfare programs and a dysfunctional health care system, because Virtue.” I suppose it’s uncivil of me to wonder how, exactly, Charles Cooke’s wanking, or Ben White’s job transcribing corporate press releases and then yelling at the poors to work harder, actually contributes to American productivity and furthers the cause of virtuous work, but I do wonder. And who decides what these virtues are, anyway? Isn’t there virtue in helping someone with a serious illness gain a little breathing space and a little comfort in their life, or in allowing someone to chase their dream instead of being tied to a job that they hate because that job is all that stands between them, their family, and a predatory, broken health care system? Is it possible that Charles Cooke and Ben White shouldn’t get to decide what “virtue” means for the rest of us?

But, hey, I’m not high up enough to be able to punch down on workers and the poor like these guys, so clearly I’m in no position to talk.

Author: DWD

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10 thoughts

  1. The phrasing of this post puts it in the ‘punch down’ category. Are you sure you don’t mean to differentiate between ‘people who punch up’ and ‘people who disagree with me’?

      1. Then we do agree, although I’m confused as to why you obviously disdain “punching down’ and yet use the second quote in your piece to accuse the entire political right of making their living ‘heaping shit on the less fortunate.” Fast generalizations and hypocrisy seem like the traditional work of shit-heapers, and you seem to indulge in both. What is the differentiation between the two?

      2. There’s nothing about “the entire political right” in here.

        Perhaps you’re confusing “punching down” for “writing something I disagree with”? Given that “right-wing pundit” looks like “the entire political right” to you, I’m not sure reading is your strong suit.

      3. Nope. You clarified, but your DougJ quote doesn’t. The fact that you left that gem in, coupled with the overall tone of the piece, angles your punches. I don’t necessarily disagree with your message, but the packaging seems counter-intuitive.

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