Economics, U.S. Economy

Does Obama understand that to work is to pray? Gingrich sure does

This, I believe, is Newt Gingrich at his very best. From Saturday’s Republican debate in South Carolina:

 It tells you everything you need to know about the difference between Barack Obama and the five of us, that we actually think work is good. We actually — we actually think saying to somebody, “I’ll help you if you’re willing to help yourself,” is good. … You know, my daughter, Jackie, who’s sitting back there, Jackie Cushman, reminded me that her first job was at First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Georgia, doing janitorial work at 13. And she liked earning the money. She liked learning that if you worked, you got paid. She liked being in charge of her own money, and she thought it was a good start.

I had a young man in New Hampshire who walked up to me. I’ve written two newsletters now about this topic. I’ve had over 50 people write me about the jobs they got at 11, 12, 13 years of age. Ran into a young man who started a doughnut company at 11. He’s now 16. He has several restaurants that take his doughnuts. His father is thrilled that he’s 16 because he can now deliver his own doughnuts.

What I tried to say — and I think it’s fascinating, because Joe Klein reminded me that this started with an article he wrote 20 years ago. New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union. You could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would actually have money in their pocket. They’d learn to show up for work. They could do light janitorial duty. They could work in the cafeteria. They could work in the front office. They could work in the library. They’d be getting money, which is a good thing if you’re poor. Only the elites despise earning money.

As it once was, it apparently is again, at least when it comes to the Left. As economist Deirdre McCloskey writes in “Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World,” the rising reputation of commerce—of making money through private trade rather than government favor—was a key driver of the Industrial Revolution. Historically, elites have looked down on the merchant class, particularly what today we call small business and entrepreneurs. She notes that in ancient Rome, Cicero declared that “commerce, if on a small scale, is to be regarded as vulgar; but if large and rich … it is not so very discreditable … if the merchant … contented with his profits … betakes himself from the port itself to an estate in the country.” Even the commercial Dutch in the 1500s thought hustling for a buck was disreputable, an attitude summed up by the proverb, “A lie is a merchant’s prosperity.”

But the Enlightenment changed all that. Again, McCloskey:

After about 1700 in Britain … the vulgarities of the economy and of money and of dealing with their unsettling creativity came gradually to be talked about as noncorrupting. They began to be seen in theory as worthy of a certain respect, as not being hopelessly vulgar or sinful or underhanded or lower caste. In a word they became dignified, in part because they were recognized as good for the nation, not a useless scam.

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