Federal government

When Government Programs Do More Harm Than Good

Shame on the U.S. government for making unemployment pay better than work.


Last Sunday, Mother's Day, made me think how my mom warned me, as a young teen: "Work hard! Or you'll freeze in the dark!"

Sometimes, the warning ended, "Or you'll starve in the cold."

She grew up during the depression. She and her peers were sensibly worried about freezing in the dark.

The message scared me, and I worked hard in school.

When I got my first job, I always put some pay in a savings account, even when (OK, it was long ago) I made only $132 a week. I feared a bad future, and I wanted to make sure I could support myself.

This wasn't all good. I've probably been too anxious all my life. I missed out on things. I didn't contribute to charities until I was in my 40s.

But fear of "freezing in the dark" made me persevere. I studied when I didn't want to. Then I took a job that frightened me.

I'm a stutterer. Stuttering is now among disabilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I wonder, had the ADA been law when I started in TV news, would I have struggled as hard to overcome my stutter? Would I have had the career I've had? Probably not.

The TV station wouldn't have hired me. Once the ADA passed, my stutter makes me a member of a "protected class." The station, reasonably, would have viewed me as potential poison.

That's because if they fired me because I didn't work out, I might sue. I could have accused them of failing to "accommodate the disabled," as the law requires. Even if I didn't win, the lawsuit would be expensive. It's safer for employers to avoid members of "protected classes."

Far-fetched? Look at the stats:

Before the ADA passed, 59 percent of disabled men had jobs. After it passed, the number fell to 48 percent. Today, fewer than 30 percent have jobs.

Once again, a law that was supposed to help people did the opposite of what politicians intended.

I think about that when I read about today's $600/week federal unemployment check subsidies for the coronavirus. Added to average $378 state payments, unemployment now often pays better than working.

Incentives matter.

"We have not seen an application in weeks," says Steve Anthony, CEO of the Anthony Timberlands sawmill in Arkansas. He's offering jobs that pay $800/week. But in Arkansas, federal and state unemployment benefits reach $1,051/week.

Anthony told my TV producer Maxim Lott, "If Congress elects to extend this $600 unemployment bonus, it will simply support a higher level of unemployment."

Lott also interviewed Otis Mitchell Jr., who quit his job transporting hospital patients once he learned about the increase in unemployment benefits.

"My little girl is loving it," said Mitchell, because he has more time to spend with her.

But it's bad for hospital patients who need transportation.

Shame on the U.S. government for making unemployment pay better than work.

People who lose jobs because government won't let them work do deserve help. I'm giving more to charities because of that. Charities are able to discriminate—to discern who really needs help while ignoring freeloaders.

But government is a blunt instrument. Its checks go to people whether or not they try to find work or overcome disabilities.

Over time, as people depend on handouts, they often feel that their lives are no longer within their control. They become passive. They don't push through obstacles. They wait for government help.

Social scientists call this "learned helplessness."

It's the struggle to overcome obstacles that that brings fulfillment.

When government programs "take care of us," they kill off some of the best of life and make us much less productive. They don't even make people happy.

If we keep giving the state more power over our lives, we will freeze in the dark.


NEXT: Will SCOTUS Revoke Its License for Police Abuse?

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  2. I made the Stossel voice that lives in my head read this to me. It was highly convincing.

    1. Was it a libertarian moment?

    2. I read every Stossel article in Stossel voice. Glad I’m not alone.

    3. I do that too. It rings with seriousness, conviction, and I can’t believe I have to explain this but I do! Seriously, I like to make fun but do love Stossel.

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  5. I was on unemployment for about 3 weeks back in 1996 in Ohio. I believe it was 300 a week which was half of what I had been making. Now that things are reopening, hopefully the feds won’t extend this forever, but I’m more worried about the State pension bailouts the donkeys are pushing.

    1. Why are you worried about the proposed state pension bailouts?

      They buy Union votes today and they won’t actually have to be paid for until most of the politicians supporting the bailout have long since retired. The Democrats are occasionally logical and can do math. Such bailouts are no-brainers.

      1. It is only government unions. When private companies fail the pensions are taken over by the PGBC and the benefits are reduced to the level of the assets. The only exception is when Obama bailed out GMC. But he did it only for the unions not white collar.

        It is a formula that should be done for state pensions. The Feds have a similar problem. They just ignore it.

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  8. The 600/week was just boneheaded stupid.

    1. Exactly. It should be 6000/week in anticipation of the impending hyperinflation.

  9. bread and circuses

  10. But how can the Nanny State harm people? I mean, the core motivation of nannies to to protect people, right? If my caring nanny sees any potential dangers, then she takes me home and tells me how scary the world can be. And that she will take care of me forever and ever, and I will never have to go outside again where bad things can happen.


  11. And you walked to school barefoot. Boring and wrong.

    1. But enough about yourself.

  12. I wonder, had the ADA been law when I started in TV news, would I have struggled as hard to overcome my stutter? Would I have had the career I’ve had? Probably not.

    Probably yes. Here’s why:

    my mom warned me, as a young teen: “Work hard! Or you’ll freeze in the dark!”

  13. Interviewed a guy for a $50/hr job in central Oregon yesterday. Comes with a company truck and gas card, generous union benefit package.

    “Nah, that $600 kicker from the feds has me good to go. I’m hoping it will last until October.”

    Nuff said.

    1. What are you complaining about? He just did you a favor!

    2. Some guy seriously turned down two grand a week for a grand a week? The unicorn is right — he wouldn’t have lasted long in any case.

    3. Yep. Even though Trump is often wrong and I disagree with him often, he was right about this and was railing about this 2 to 3 weeks ago. Why will people go back to work when they can stay at home and get paid to do so? This is not going to help the economy get back in motion. Dumb plan pushed hard by the Democrats that the republicans agreed to; I wonder what dumb thing they got back in trade. You can guarantee that neither side has the countries best interests at heart.

  14. “It’s the struggle to overcome obstacles that that brings fulfillment.”

    Was that a typo or an intentional stutter to illustrate your point?

  15. “When Government Programs Do More Harm Than Good”
    Don’t have enough time for that…

  16. How did Otis Mitchell (see article) qualify for unemployment benefits if he QUIT his job? Such benefits are supposed only to be paid to people who are LAID OFF from their jobs.

  17. @Ezra: “Afraid of the Corona virus” is now being treated as a valid reason to quit your job. Mitchell will get unemployment.

    More generally, many state unemployment commissions tilt heavily towards the claimant, and make it very difficult for employers to prove that an employee constructively quit, or that a firing was for cause.

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  20. Stimulus Checks are THEFT & SLAVERY. What resource – What service – What benefit has stimulus check receivers done to *EARN* the resource or labor they will purchase with it??? NOTHING – NOTHING AT ALL….

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  21. “My little girl is loving it,” said Mitchell

    If you really love your little girl, Mr. Mitchell, you’ll let her see you get your ass out of bed in the morning to go to work. You’ll let her feel the unpleasantness of missing an occasional ballet recital or softball game because you had to work late or were out of town because you had “planes to catch and bills to pay”. If she doesn’t get to see how a man handles one of the prime responsibilities of being one, then don’t be surprised by who she end up marrying.

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