David Brooks Big Idea: Learning About Self-Reliant Productive Culture in the DMV

Apparently, the gap between the productive and hard-working and those with less productive habits is growing larger.  David Brooks suggests that the productive be forced into a couple of years of government servitude.  The idea, as I understand it, is for the productive to teach the less fortunate how to be more diligent and productive in the context of a shared experience in an unproductive government make-work program.  Sort of like teaching your teenager good work habits by putting him in DMV internship.

Seriously, I suppose I understand how class-mixing at the point of a gun might expose the wealthy to classes and cultures they have never encountered.  But how is working together in some service brigade with a post office-trained manager on a government paycheck going to teach the welfare-and-food-stamp set anything new about productive work and self-reliance?

  • model_1066

    I think that people on welfare who are physically able to work should be made to work for private businesses (and not the government), for several reasons: 1)they can get some job experience, maybe a foot in the door towards full time work if they can be accommodated by businesses they are interested in; 2)they have an incentive to get off welfare, as they would have to spend at least 20 or more hours a week doing useful work just to get their regular stipend - the companies wouldn't pay them; 3)they get to see what normal people have to go through at work in order to have some of their earnings be taken and given away; and 4)doing make-work, meaningless tasks for a government agency will only teach them habits no private employer would tolerate. This goes for their children old enough to work a few hours a day after school and on weekends. And they all have to pass drug tests. Ain't I just a big meanie!

  • John Cheek

    I agree with above, but it should be a safety net not a lifestyle,i.e. limited term. You are not a meanie; you are teaching them to fish.I see lots of recipients in my work; there should be no well able bodied males on welfare.Don't pay women to have babies (you get what you reward) and MAKE THE FATHERS RESPONSIBLE. JaC

  • John Cheek

    I forgot; Brooks is an IDIOT!!

  • Anon

    ". . . . should be made to work for private businesses"

    You are going to foist unwilling workers into some poor guy's business?

    That's just evil.

  • DMac

    I agree with Anon. Saddling a company with a a malcontent, who is just marking time to get a government check, would poison many companies. The minimum wage is the initial barrier many compaies, and entry-level job seekers face. Eliminate that, and let the supply and demnd for low cost labor take care of the rest. Upward mobility based on experience and skills will allow people to raise their own standard of living, on an individual basis. Make the safety net just that, a back-stop, not a viable work-free life style. Reduce, rather than expand, government involvement in the private workplace.

  • Joe Stalin

    Nothing new here, just old ideas recirculated in a different form.

    We had something very similar in Russia and all of the Eastern Block countries. All intellectuals were required to work for two weeks in a factory or farm.

    China too. Anyone remember the Cultural Revolution?

  • http://space4commerce.blogspot.com/ Brian Dunbar

    I think that people on welfare who are physically able to work should be made to work for private businesses

    Never mind the reasons why - I'm trying to figure out how that work down at the plant.

    For a lot of reasons too tedious to dive into (I just deleted paragraphs of boring text) we have nothing for a welfare guy or gal to do.

    Short version: anything we could find for an unskilled person to do, we are already paying someone to do.

    So what we'd be doing is eliminating x employee-hours in favor of a herd of un-trained people. The FTE who was eliminated would show up next week on the bus to do for free what he used to be paid to do.

    Imagine the yuks in the break room.

  • Boglee

    The governments war on poverty has run for nearly 50 years now, making trillions of dollars disappear. All that it has accomplished is to make welfare confortable enough that welfare recipients have no incentive to get off of welfare. Meanwhile, retired guys like myself are returning to the workforce to support the welfare state (and eat).

  • Zach

    I thought they already do this in public schools. Isn't tracking illegal? Isn't the reason that it's illegal is so the smart kids can "lead" the dumb shits to a better educational career?

    I was classified as gifted in school. Even though I went to a pretty decent public school, my mother and I could still tell you some zingers about the dumb shits.

  • tomw

    Well it seems to me that Ben Franklin had it right a couple hundred years ago about keeping people uncomfortable living on charity. Today, there would be complaints about "The Poor", how they have gotten poorer while the rich got richer in the recent past. How unfair that those who produce nothing except replications of them self are cheated out of their due by those that produce.
    The obvious thing to do is quit rewarding unproductive behavior. Problem is that doing that would result in more hungry Poor People who have no education {thank you, NEA and D pols) nor marketable skills along with a non-existent work ethic. Disdain for actual work slathered liberally (funny, that) over everything. "I won't do THAT job..."
    Forcing skilled, productive employees into the miasma that some government workplaces have become helps no one. The current workers will resent and complain about a worker who is actually productive. The, the productive, will be !informed! that they are breaking the workplace curve and if they want to remain, they'd better slow down to the pace of the rest of the workers. Where is the incentive to work better, harder, or more efficiently when the pay is the same no matter what is produced, if anything...? Someone {Brooks} had better have that workplace experience on his own before touting his new idea.
    tom

  • Val

    Perhaps the experience would be useful for the productive in terms of their perspectives later on down the road when they are involved in high level decision making that effects the economy. I.e., they may realize how pointless and counterproductive many of these operations are, and why.

  • NL_

    I support the opposite: term limits for most government jobs. Governments should set up term limits to prevent people from spending their entire lives in the state sector. Would also save on pensions if nobody could work for more than five to ten years in the state.

    People burn out on government service after seeing how horrible it is, but the money and job security are great so they usually stay. Term limits would require them to leave the nest.

    Of course, this would seriously threaten government employee unions, so it won't happen. Also, the entities that can make any claim to requiring specialized knowledge (finance, environment, tax, whatever) will claim that they need the 20- and 30-year employees to preserve the knowledge base and pass it on to new employees. So it would never happen. But it's not like front-line service roles in the DMV wouldn't benefit from new blood.

  • Anna

    My parents were forced to spend time working at collective farms when they were college students in the Soviet Union. They said all the students figured out fairly quickly that it was easier to conceal the potatoes by pushing them further into the ground with their feet, than to actually bend down to pick them up. I'm pretty sure this is the lesson anyone forced to work for the government will learn.

  • Roy

    Not like the correlation between productivity and reward something new. Proverbs (written about 3000 yrs ago) full of that connection (cf, eg, Proverbs 6:6-8 about learning from the diligent ant, 6:9-11 about sloth leading to poverty). Proverbs also declares as reality a connection that many of the comments above assume: if people have to work to survive, they will Pr 16:26 "The laborer's appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on." That means the converse statement of that truth is also true: take away the incentive, the work won't result.

  • me

    i think that nobody ought to be forced to do anything; we are a rich enough culture that we can afford to shelter, feed and keep out of the hands of an untimely death the entire populace. let's provide that for everyones taxes and then let everyone do whatever the heck they want with their time

  • http://rantburg.com Steve White

    ...is for the productive to teach the less fortunate how to be more diligent and productive in the context of a shared experience in an unproductive government make-work program.

    Isn't it more likely that the government make-work program would teach productive people to throw up their hands in despair?

    Our current system assumes that poor people are ignorant, slovenly, and lazy -- then it does all the things that would reinforce ignorance, sloth and laziness.

    I would suggest that most poor (not all, and we always should be careful not to speak too generally) are fairly smart -- if you're poor and stupid, particularly in many parts of the world, you're also dead -- and are willing to work when work pays. As one sad example, the young person who lives in a ghetto and refuses to get an entry level job, but is willing to deal drugs. Why? Because the latter pays. The young person doesn't have the understand that 'productive' people have about self-sacrifice, delayed gratification, education ethic, and so on, but he sure figures out quickly that drug-dealing pays better, so that's where his hustle goes.

    If solving poverty were easy we would have done it already (there's a lesson the progressives have yet to learn). But right now we send a lot of signals to the American poor that it pays to be lazy and slothful, and to ignore those parts of our society that implore him to 'better' himself. So that's what we get back in return.

    I don't advocate punishing people by making them starve, or live under viaducts. But Mr. Brooks clearly doesn't understand that the reason we have so many 'poor' (who own cars, air conditioners, iPhones and Xboxes) is that this is how we've set up the system.

  • Ted Rado

    me:

    Surely you jest. Many years ago, there was a guy (a PhD no less) who headed an organization of welfare recipients. He stated that some people like to work, some like to play. Let those that like to work, work, and those that like to play, play. What a wonderful idea! Why didn't I think of that? I should have spent my 41 working years chasing my lady-love around the boudoir instead of doing engineering calculations. Note to "me": surely that PhD wasn't you?

    Many years ago, a small county in western Oklahoma started a program where welfare recipients had to show up at the county garage every morning and work. The number of people on welfare dropped by eighty percent.

    We all need the carrot and the stick. There is no better motivation for getting off your butt than an empty stomach. Today, anyone willing to have an income equivalent to $20,000 or so need not work a day of their life. The rest of us pay for this. It amounts to government assisted robbery.

    No one has figured out how to help the needy without jillions of deadbeats claiming that they are needy. Meanwhile, the buy-the-vote politicians have found a gold mine of votes, at the expense of the productive portion of the citizenry.

  • Ted Rado

    Steve White:

    I would like to modify your comment slightly. The productive people would not throw up their hands in despair, they would just throw up.

  • John Moore

    I found that a couple of years in the military (speaking of "point of a gun" ;-) was very good for me and a lot of my fellow soldiers. I wouldn't push a draft for that purpose, but there's nothing like the military for handing out big responsibilities, with big consequences, to young folks. Consider our aircraft crew with the oldest member at 24, carrying nukes, as an example.

    They also understand how to train for responsibility better than any other institution I know of, but then they've been working on it for thousands of years.

  • marco73

    That whole tribes argument gives the game away.
    Don't all the upper class tribes send their children to diverse college campuses? Isn't diversity the whole driving force behind getting more minority representation on campus, even if it means admitting less prepared and less qualified minority students over better qualified white and Asian students?
    Ask anyone who has been to college recently; there are seperate dorms and campus facilities solely for protected minorities. Administrations are constantly being harassed to expand (read: bribe) the mission of helping minorities, even at the expense of educating.
    So if the upper tribes are isolated in their enclaves, and their children, when they are on campus, see the other tribes only through the prism of seperate facilities, when are the tribes ever going to meet? Maybe when they shop at Walmart?
    Brooks answer: a government program to force the tribes to met each other.
    Yeah, that's the ticket.

  • GoneWithTheWind

    I agree "make the fathers responsible" but you missed half the equation. Make the parents responsible. For divorced and unwed parents the only legal option should be shared custody and shared responsibility. If the child support should be $500 a month then the father should pay $250 and the mother should pay $250, no excuses. If the welfare is $1000 or $2000 (in sum total dollar value) then half should go to one parent and half to the other.

    One of the forgotten victims of the welfare state is the "fathers". Often they can only earn minimum wage and between taxes and child support they lose over half of that. Impossible to live like that so they drop out and work in the black market or sell drugs or whatever to get by. The law makes them criminals and rewards the mothers. The welfare laws are the problem and not the solution.

  • morganovich

    this is that same terrible argument for not allowing vouchers, that somehow the good students owe it to the bad ones to stay and raise the level of the school.

    doesn't work there. won't work at the dmv.

    worse, this sound terribly fascist to me. just how are you going to "force" these productive people? is this slavery?

  • Ted Rado

    A major factor that is at the root of all our socio-economic problems is human nature. We all look for the easiest way to do something. That is instinctive. If I can get money without effort, why make the effort?

    Every scheme put forward by the government immediately results in a massive effort to figure out how to misude it to our personal advantage. This applies to everyone, from millionaires to poor single mothers. I have ofter wondered why the USG doesn't have a panel of behavioral scientists look at proposed legislation and make predictions about how it will be misused. Such a study would nip a lot of idiotic schemes in the bud.

  • me

    @Ted - I am not jesting, and not questioning the principle of external motivation. What I am talking about is creating a market for work that is free of impediments. Providing for members of a society at a basic level (note that shelter doesn't mean a McMansion, free antibiotics and casts don't equal bleeding edge cancer treatments and food to offset starvation is not the equivalent of a meal in a 5 star restaurant) doesn't need to be prohibitively expensive. We're already doing so partially, but by trying to come up with hard to administer formulae for medical care and social security and tax provisions relating to exemptions for basic needs. What we're dragging along is a lot of inefficiency and a horde of useless bureaucrats. While it seems that such a proposal would add all sorts of "free" services at taxpayer expense, my bet is that overall, we'd see a reduction in costs if we drop medicare/social security and a dozen other boondoggle programs. I am also not worried about millionaires freeriding on public food trucks or a populace of slackers being content to do nothing forever. Why not? Well, for starters, I am 100% sure they'd want TV... but other than that, I much rather have people who freeride have access to the basics instead of having to contemplate a life of crime or -worse- freeriding as bureaucrats, not contributing but at the same time wielding power over folks who try to get work done. What this idea would do, is reduce transaction costs to obtain work. Nobody needs to worry about the extremes of security, and work is always beneficial.

  • morganovich

    me:

    and a phoenix in every pot and a unicorn in every garage!

    we can rename the country fantasy land!

    and just why should those of us who do actually produce things wish to be indentured to this ever expanding group doing "whatever the heck they want"?

    why do they get to do what they want but i do not? (assuming i want to create things and keep them)

    what you describe is even beyond communism, it's the deliberate creation of a parasite class.

    perhaps you noticed the failure of communism? once you uncouple rewards from work, why work?

    more to the point, why would you feel morally entitled to the fruits of my labor and why should i feel in any way inclined/obligated to share them with you who chose deliberately to live off me and exhibit no desire to ever do otherwise? it's one thing to help someone get back on their feet, it's another to subsidize them forever as they deliberately fail to support themselves so they can pick your pocket.

    just because i can afford to house and feed you does not entitle you to anything. i could give you a piggy back all day too, but the fact that i CAN does not mean i WANT to or that you have any right to demand it.

    your name seems well chosen. that is some of the most solipsistic, entitled nonsense i have ever heard.

  • I Got Bupkis, Critic Extraordinaire

    >>> But Mr. Brooks clearly doesn’t understand that the reason we have so many ‘poor’ (who own cars, air conditioners, iPhones and Xboxes) is that this is how we’ve set up the system.

    Indeed, instead of defining the "poverty line" as people who don't make enough to actually feed, clothe, and house themselves (if they lived in a typical area, NOT "anywhere they want to live" -- I'm "impoverished" if I lived in Los Angeles, but not where *I* live -- you can always MOVE!!), the current government definition is inherently envy-based -- it's set by how you compare to the top earners.

    This is an inherently stupid system for defining "poverty".

  • I Got Bupkis, Critic Extraordinaire

    morganovich, i can see giving people a hand up -- when things are down, we can all help a little bit. But it's the endless handout system that's not acceptable. We don't owe people a "decent living" if they cannot or will not produce when given the chance, and/or aren't willing to focus on viable skills.

    Because it's true that in our society, we do throw away a hell of a lot of the abilities of intelligent, talented, and skilled workers for no rational reason that I've been able to discern.

    Our society does seem focused on norming everyone. That means pulling up the useless ones and tearing down the capable and productive ones, somehow. We ought to be able to do the former without insisting on doing the latter.

  • me

    @morganovich: you're not getting my point. Right now, I am losing a significant portion of the fruits of my labor to terribly inefficient attempts at doing parts of what I propose for a number of different folks in slightly different ways, with a significant percentage of the total tax I have to bear going to pure administrative overhead (that's your parasite class right there, no need to create one). Note the second part of the proposal above (less arbitrary restrictions on my freedom).

    What I'd rather see is a fraction of that money spent on ensuring something that actually is of value; ensure that there aren't some folks who live disproportionally comfortable lives off my labour. I am happy with ensuring that nobody starves, lacks shelter or elementary medical care.

    And - and that is the thing to wrap the big old mercantile mind around - I expect the outcome of ensuring low-level safety without complex administration for everyone to be an unprecedented economic boost. Why? Because now finally labor comes with real incentive and no unnecessary burdens. And I get to keep and spend more of my money with fewer constraints.

  • txjim

    First cup of coffee ramble...begin!

    John Cheek - re: make fathers responsible. This is already the law. And they cast a wide net. Don't want to pay because it isn't your kid? Tough. Pay up or go to jail.

    Hundreds of govt manufactured impediments are making it impossible for many people to lift themselves into the working class. When the laws tightened after 9-11, I saw hundreds of skilled refinery workers fired because they had a domestic disturbance conviction in their past. Some guys were fired because of unpaid bill disputes or they bounced a check 10 years ago.

    To see what you would face if you wanted to work in a typical US refinery or chemical plant, check out this site as an example: Google ntenergy + "contractor access" and read what contractors have to do to get work in the plants.(I tried to put a link in but it never posted)

    Note you have to buy your TWIC card (Transportation Worker Identification Credential) from our buddies at the TSA which costs $132 bucks. Google tsa + twic + disqualifications (I tried to put a link in but it never posted) to get an idea of what I'm talking about. When 1 in 3 people have an arrest by age 23, I'd say this limits career options for a large chunk of people. And good luck appealing if you are not in a union.

    Similar to the Laughtenburg law that makes it illegal to EVER own a gun (or ammo) if convicted of domestic violence, new workplace security laws made it impossible to work in any refinery (or any place regulated by Free Trade Zone laws) if you ever had a specific type of run-in with the law. It started out as only covering small areas where the Coast Guard had certain jurisdiction. But now it is pretty much the entire country because they used "navigable waterways", aka "water" as a way of expanding Coast Guard jurisdiction.

    The anti-gun folks use Laughtenburg as an end run around the 2nd amendment. Can't ban guns? Ok, we'll just make sure everyone is arrested for arguing with their drunk brother-in-law. Can't force everyone to join a union in right to work states? Fine. We'll make sure the laws make it hard for non-union guys to get or keep a job.

    I invite David Brooks to work for me as a trusty sidekick for a month. I promise him he will see the side of life he is unfamiliar with. If he can keep up with me for a month I will be happy to spend a month working with whomever he chooses. First though, he will have to qualify for his TWIC card.

  • Ted Rado

    Me:

    You seem to be oblivious to human nature's impact. If you provide a basic net for everyone, there will be millions who jump into it. To someone with a better standard of living, it seems unbelievable that many would be happy to loaf on $20,000 per year (or its equivalent in benefits) rather than study, work hard, and earn a lot more. All the government programs encourage this type of attitude.

    During my visits to Hungary in the 80's, the frequent topic of conversation was "we need an incentive system". There was no incentive to do more than the minimum to stay out of trouble. They could not accumulate wealth or better themselves. Hence, nobody worked harder than necessary. It is aways a human nature problem. We all need the carrot and the stick (unless you are Mother Theresa or Albert Schweitzer).

    There have been endless studies in the US re unwed mothers and their thinking. I can tell you numerous anecdotes of people I have known who loot the system. If you truly believe that these are just wonderful folks who need our kind help, you are living in fantasy land.

  • http://islandturtle.blogspot.com Corky Boyd

    Why is it liberals want tot tell you what you should do and exempt themselves. If David Brooks wants all of us to do public service to see how the other 1 or 99% live, he should just walk down to the New York Times' pressroom and ask to work there. He won't. He might get dirty. But he should try it first before lecturing us.

    In reality the public service gambit wouldn't work. When we had the draft, college graduates often went in as officers, JAGs or medical officers etc. and avoided the 99% problem. It would be the same under public service.

    And who would pay for it? The 18 year old age group numbers about 6 million, so two years of service would have 12 million additional people working for the government (currently 2 .5 million federal and postal emplyees). 12 million additional employees would add about a trillion dollars to the deficit.

  • me

    @Ted

    No, I'd actually 100% agree with you. What I want is an incentive based system. One in which if you pick up any type of work, your are free to contract for that work with your employer as you both agree and you are sure that you get to keep the agreed upon sum and not afraid of losing anything because you work.

    Hungary (and other former east block nation as well as european socialist states) are bad examples - they were all based on the idea that folks would go and convince someone to give them resources, which inevitably resulted in people lying and scheming to get their hands on "their fair share".

    The idea here is to go with the "there's a place in every neighborhood that dispenses free meals" (they aren't good meals - you'd be amazed how well you can supply folks on $1.25 per person per meal though), there's free bandaids, casts, blood tests for common illnesses, antibiotics, eye exams being dispensed, there's beds with cleaning service and (more importantly) locked trunks and video surveillance to ensure that people who acquire personal property get to keep it. Heck, let's throw free "bank" accounts, maybe even "free" $100 a month to play with and a common room to round it off. That's all there is. Nobody gets any social security, medicaid, assistance etc.pp. However, if you work on top of that, you get to keep whatever you earn, minus say a round 20% tax that applies to income. No other fees, fines, taxes, surtaxes and special allocations. That'd be huge motivation - there is no poverty trap anymore (where, if you'd actually work you'd stand to lose the state benefits of being poor).

    The beauty of it is that it'll cost much less than the system we maintain now, where -just like in former and today's Hungary- all you need to do to get more is to lie convincingly and the state will field the bill. Or be friends with the right people. No more huge administrations that send themselves memos about who owns whom what. Don't worry about all those laid off clerks and tax specialists - there's plenty of room for minimum wage labor in those community centers.

    Right now, we spread the money I earn through redistribution mechanisms like cheap credit and insane entitlement schemes and at the same time create disincentives for work and diseconomies in distribution. This proposal would get rid of the freeriding, while ensuring that anyone has a strong incentive to work.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/helpandcounsel/home Jamessir Bensonmum

    Forced class mixing is wrong. It's self-righteous, politically correct stupidity. There is no benefit for the wealthy to spend time with the poor or to unnecessarily experience hardship. It is not right to say that the productive people should or must spend time with the unproductive.

    Make-work programs are welfare. These programs don't encourage hard work. They're just an advanced entitlement scheme.

  • me

    @Ted
    No, I’d actually 100% agree with you. What I want is an incentive based system. One in which if you pick up any type of work, your are free to contract for that work with your employer as you both agree and you are sure that you get to keep the agreed upon sum and not afraid of losing anything because you work.
    Hungary (and other former east block nation as well as european socialist states) are bad examples – they were all based on the idea that folks would go and convince someone to give them resources, which inevitably resulted in people lying and scheming to get their hands on “their fair share”.
    The idea here is to go with the “there’s a place in every neighborhood that dispenses free meals” (they aren’t good meals – you’d be amazed how well you can supply folks on $1.25 per person per meal though), there’s free bandaids, casts, blood tests for common illnesses, antibiotics, eye exams being dispensed, there’s beds with cleaning service and (more importantly) locked trunks and video surveillance to ensure that people who acquire personal property get to keep it. Heck, let’s throw free “bank” accounts, maybe even “free” $100 a month to play with and a common room to round it off. That’s all there is. Nobody gets any social security, medicaid, assistance etc.pp. However, if you work on top of that, you get to keep whatever you earn, minus say a round 20% tax that applies to income. No other fees, fines, taxes, surtaxes and special allocations. That’d be huge motivation – there is no poverty trap anymore (where, if you’d actually work you’d stand to lose the state benefits of being poor).
    The beauty of it is that it’ll cost much less than the system we maintain now, where -just like in former and today’s Hungary- all you need to do to get more is to lie convincingly and the state will field the bill. Or be friends with the right people. No more huge administrations that send themselves memos about who owns whom what. Don’t worry about all those laid off clerks and tax specialists – there’s plenty of room for minimum wage labor in those community centers.
    Right now, we spread the money I earn through redistribution mechanisms like cheap credit and insane entitlement schemes and at the same time create disincentives for work and diseconomies in distribution. This proposal would get rid of the freeriding, while ensuring that anyone has a strong incentive to work.