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To Work or Not to Work, That is the Question
November 9, 2009 You Can't Have it Both Ways

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the underlying reasons why folks seem to think of jobs as good things. Do folks simply draw the consequentialist line so starkly that they know they want to consume things, and that having a job is the way to make this happen, and therefore jobs are good?

Jobs are costs, plain and simple. If I could consume everything I consume today, but get to work less (or none at all) I am immeasurably better off. The economic challenge for all of us is to get the most output from a given amount of effort. And when I hear folks argue against free trade on the grounds that Americans will lose jobs, I really think they have in mind that Americans will lose purchasing power, and since goods and services do not rain from the sky like manna from heaven, these folks are worse off.

But if this is the way folks think about trade, then how can many of these same folks hold other (unrelated) views? For example, people in Finland now have a “right” to free broadband. People in Canada have a “right” to free health care … and those claims are being made here in the US today. But how can folks ignore the fact that these rights are meaningless (ignore the moral ludicracy of it) without suppliers being interested and able to produce these things in the first place? In other words, goods and services do not fall from the sky like manna from heaven – we need people to work in jobs to produce the “free” health care for us, to produce the “free” internet for us, to teach the “free” college courses for us, and so forth.

But if you believe in the importance of jobs, and view jobs as benefits and not costs (and hence are anti-trade), how can you overlook the fact that we need jobs to produce the health care you think is free to you?

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