You’ll Freeze in the Dark!

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% of disabled men had jobs. After it passed, the number fell to 48%. Today, fewer than 30% 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.

13 thoughts on “You’ll Freeze in the Dark!

      1. Excellent attitude!
        Why? Because many people will come to understand that only by stretching and reaching out beyond their perceived boundaries will they learn just how much they might achieve; and how much more is possible.

    1. Give a man a fire and you’ll warm him for a day. Set a man on fire and you’ll warm him for the rest of his life.

  1. My experience in life is mirrored in the lives of millions of others like me. I come from a modest background. For me, the road to an economically and personally rewarding life was education. I was good at school. The years of college and graduate school were very difficult and stressful because I had no financial support from family. I felt like there was only one way to go: forward to graduation. I did’t sense any other options – certainly NOT welfare benefits. Quitting was out of the question. Looking back now, with more wisdom and experience than I had then, it is crystal clear that the value wasn’t just in the achievement of gaining an education. A significant benefit was the struggle – the consistent effort over years. Moving forward and continuing to progress toward that goal developed within a me a set of life skills that serve me well today. Hard work. Self reliance. Thankfulness. Personal empowerment.

  2. Great article. Seems like we are descending slowly into a morass, what that looks like I cant tell for sure, but its suffocating and eventually terminal to our current way of life. It’s a slow gradual slide, a death of a 1000 cuts. The overreaction to this pandemic which if you dig into the facts you quickly determine is widespread but minuscule in effect compared to the lockdown itself, you realise the world is fickle and unthinking, easily panicked, basically a giant snowflake that can be manipulated relatively easily. The voices of reason are being drowned out and the politicians follow the masses herded by the media. Its frightening times, not because of covid or climate change but because most of us have forgotten how the real world works and therefore how to live in it successfully in the long term. The light is fading.

  3. Learned helplessness is like boiling a frog slowly. It’s insidious and you don’t realize how far disconnected and passive you’ve become as it takes hold and you hang out in an echo chamber with other learned helpless folks. Most people don’t WANT to be lazy, or be freeloaders. That’s why EVERY SINGLE government program/ benefits ought to have a required sunset clause; both in statutory existence and at the individual benefit receipt level.

  4. I moved to Rhode Island 40 years ago. Couldn’t get over the laziness and lack of drive for education. The answer was get a government union job and coast. 40 years later we have very little private industry and the majority of population retired from or employed in government jobs wholly dependant on government. Entitled class on Workfare.

  5. My great grandfather worked for Standard Oil Company in the early 1900’s. While working in the oil field, he lost one of his arms. Back then there wasn’t any disability or even unemployment help. The town my Great-Grandfather and Grandmother lived in supported them. Both churches in the town pulled together to help them. After a year of recovering, my Great-Grandfather taught himself to do many things with one arm. He went back to Standard Oil and showed them all he could do with one arm. He tied his shoe, wrote some words on paper, and displayed his “ability” to work even though he wasn’t as efficient as a man with two arms. They hired him and gave him a good job in the office, and it supported them until he died. I agree Mr. Stossel, well intentioned politicians are going to ruin us all.

  6. Love the insight. People need to find the opportunity to turn their downfall upwards. Nada bueno es gratis. I can stay subjected or become empowered. My choice. Wake up America. De lo malo bueca lo bueno.

  7. My business was sued several times by ADA activists. We got whipsawed between our state ADA laws and the federal laws. Cost several hundred thousand dollars. I would not consider hiring a handicapped person and we discouraged all of our handicapped customers from coming to our store. The risk of lawsuits was just too great. Really sad.

  8. Agreed. Lots of businesses know their employees are making more on unemployement and genuinely want what is best for their employees, so they do not hire them back. The problem is, a year down the road unemployment is used up, there are fewer jobs and now you cannot work because someone else took your old position. The employee is doing, at the time, what is best, but in a year things are going to be bleak. This poor planning is no one’s fault other than the government, state and federal.

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