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John Stossel / May 13, 2020

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!"

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.

COPYRIGHT 2020 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS INC.

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