You probably remember that I love The Conservative Heart by Arthur C. Brooks. I learned so much reading that book, and learning feels great. I read a lot and I’m 52-years-old, and I’m amazed at how much I didn’t know. And it feels so good to learn, doesn’t it?
Idle Hands Are the Devil’s Workshop
One of my favorite stories in The Conservative Heart involves the city of Marienthal, Austria, in the 1930s. That story describes the importance of meaningful work. Not jobs, per se, but work—effort given to make things better. Without meaningful work, life is a curse. We are put on earth to work.
Marienthal was a factory town. Like Granite City, Illinois, with its dependence on Granite City Steel, the town had one major employer. And, even in the 1930s, Austria had very liberal social welfare policies. So when Marienthal’s most important employer went out of business in 1932, most of the town was thrown out of work and onto the dole.
Here’s what happened next, from The Conservative Heart by Arthur C. Brooks:
The slow-motion tragedy that unfolded next could easily have been lost to history. Fortunately, a group of young Austrian sociologists were seeking to study how critical levels of unemployment reshaped societies. They knew an ideal case study when they saw it. The researchers descended on Marienthal to watch, listen, and learn from the people who lived there.
. . .
First, something strange started happening to the way Marienthal’s residents spent their time. With the factory closed but some income still flowing in, people should have had all day to participate in the leisure and social activities they loved. But these activities virtually disappeared. One citizen summed up the paradox: “I used to have less time to myself but do more for myself.” Now it was the opposite.
Most of us have heard the old principle that if you want something to get done, you should ask a busy person. Well, when work disappeared, Marienthalers couldn’t seem to find the time and energy to do much of anything— even enjoy their new leisure.
. . .
“On examination, this leisure proves to be a tragic gift. Cut off from their work,” the workers “lost the material and moral incentives to make use of their time.” They began to “drift gradually out of an ordered existence into one that is undisciplined and empty. . . . [For] hours on end, the men stand around on the street, alone or in small groups, leaning against the wall of a house or the parapet of a bridge.”
“Nothing is urgent anymore,” the report observes. “They have forgotten how to hurry.”
“It used to be magnificent,” one woman told the researchers. “During the summer we used to go for walks, and all those dances! Now I don’t feel like going out anymore.” Another man summarized, “[ T] here was life in Marienthal then. Now the whole place is dead.”
People even stopped reading (which makes no sense to me):
Although residents now had unlimited time to read, the town’s reading habits collapsed in the two years after the factory shut down. Before, the town library lent an average of 3.23 books to each resident; after, just 1.6. “Since I have been out of work,” one man admitted, “I hardly read at all. One doesn’t feel like it anymore.”
With all their free time, the men of Marienthal probably turned their attention to improving common spaces for their kids, right? Wrong:
Public spaces began literally falling apart. “Opposite the factory lies a large park,” the researchers noted, of which “the people of Marienthal once were very proud.” It had boasted beautiful benches and manicured gardens. “Now the park is a wilderness; the paths are overgrown with weeds and the lawns are ruined. Although almost everyone in Marienthal had enough free time, no one looks after the park.”
And the people turned on each other:
Worst of all, the people quickly turned on each other in the face of adversity and idleness. Marienthalers took it upon themselves to enforce the government dictum that nobody could supplement the insurance payments with earned income. One poor soul lost his unemployment benefits after he was turned in to officials by his neighbors for taking a little money while playing his harmonica on the street. Another man lost his benefits after he helped fell trees in return for a share of the firewood. A woman lost her benefits after she delivered milk and was given some for her own children. Any sense of solidarity had been shattered.
Marienthal is what happens when you inventory people. Eric Greitens founded The Mission Continues to stop the practice of inventorying veterans. When you pay people to be idle, they decay like an abandoned building. And so do their families and communities. Rot, like a cancer, spreads.
In America, we listened to bad advice about 60 years ago. We inventoried blacks.
Had the Marienthal study covered 60 years instead of just a few, the people of Marienthal would have decayed into gangs and nightly shootings. Seventy percent of Marienthal’s live births would have been out of wedlock. Fatherless children would be the norm. Marienthalers would have created a “Marienthal Lives Matter” movement to justify their homicidal bent. Marienthal in the 1990s would look like the worst parts of St. Louis, Baltimore, Chicago, and Milwaukee today.
Yet the people of Marienthal, Austria, are as white as the cast of Leave It To Beaver.
So this isn’t about race. Black unemployment and black crime and black family breakdown didn’t happen because they’re black; it happened because they’re people. When you inventory people they decay—individually and collectively.
Sadly for black Americans, the establishment decided to single out their race for a very racist experiment. Beginning in the 1960s, American liberals actively inventoried blacks, believing they are somehow “different” from white Austrians. Liberals believe that whites need to work but blacks can be idle. Their experiment failed.
It turns out black Americans are just like white Austrians. Like all human beings, black Americans need the dignity of meaningful to make their lives complete. Like white people, blacks need some degree of safety so they feel free to experiment themselves instead of being experimented upon. And like all humans, blacks, like whites, need freedom to try and fail and try again. It’s the pursuit of happiness, not its attainment, that makes life fun.
Donald Trump recently asked this of black Americans:
I’m asking for the vote of every African-American citizen struggling in our country today who wants a different and much better future. It’s time for our society to address some honest and very very difficult choices.
He added the obvious:
The Democratic Party has failed and betrayed the African-American community.
Some might not like this, but it seems like the Democrat Party intentionally tried to inventory blacks, as if liberals believe blacks are somehow different from the white Austrians of Marienthal. All those liberal social workers and social planners learned the story of Marienthal in college. They can’t claim ignorance. Democrats must embrace their racism and prejudice. Democrats tried to inventory blacks.
Credo for Thriving
I believe every person deserves the dignity of meaningful work, the freedom to live their own life, and government-sponsored safety from threats and attack. I believe work, safety, and freedom are universal human needs. Without them, we parish. And I believe that inventorying human beings is akin to slavery.
I want to abolish slavery so that every American can thrive, not just survive.
I believe Donald Trump is the only presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan who believes blacks deserve the dignity of meaningful work, the freedom to live their own lives, and government-sponsored safety from threats and violence. Trump also has the courage to counter the Democrats’ racist reversals that scare so many people into accepting the liberal mantra that blacks can’t work.
Black Americans are just like white Austrians and Asian Americans and white Americans: we all need meaningful work. We all rot with idleness. We all deserve freedom. We all need to feel safe and useful. Arthur C. Brooks summed up the situation in his story of Marienthal:
What decimated life in Marienthal was not the loss of wages. For most, public assistance blunted the financial blow of the layoffs. What destroyed Marienthal was the loss of meaningful work. All the other ills were downstream from this. One man confided in the researchers, “If I could get back to the factory it would be the happiest day of my life. It’s not only for the money. Stuck here between one’s own four walls, one isn’t really alive.”
Join me on August 28 at 4:00 at Surdyke Harley-Davidson in Festus if you want to thrive. We’re going to make America great again—greater than it’s ever been. Because we can finally rise up from the racism of inventorying able-bodied people.
Also published on Medium.