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The false promise of hard work

Hard work does not make the White working class successful anymore
Hard work does not make the White working class successful anymore
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

If you listen long enough to talk radio and read enough “reports” from conservative think tanks, the meme of “hard work made rich people rich” will be imbedded in your mind like a drug.

It matters not to them that for well over 100 years, tens of millions of people have gone to work in the factories for at least eight hours a day – at one point at least 12 hours a day – and never got rich. They’ll still spew the “hard work” meme as if it’s the primary reason why the rich became rich. “Hard work” is the first thing that comes out of their mouths when they attempt to justify the wealth of their corporate masters.

Here’s the catch though: While the Limbaugh’s and Hannity’s of the world will spew that meme to the average layman, sometimes they’ll add this caveat: Hard work alone isn’t sufficient. In order to get rich, you need to work smart.

Mark Levin made this argument back in 2012 when he responded to a Barack Obama speech in which he argued that if you work hard, you should have a living wage and be able to live a middle class life. Levin said something about how you could work hard at a fast food joint or a retail store, but that doesn’t mean you deserve a living wage. You need to do a job that’s in demand or have a skill that’s in demand to make the big bucks.

Christopher Chantrill of the American Thinker made the same argument in his response to my previous article about the White working class. He claimed that “(M)ere ‘work’ doesn't quite cut it, because you need to seek out work that employers and consumers are actually willing to pay for, and that keeps changing.”

If that be the case, than the conservative leadership is lying through its teeth when they claim that “hard work” is why rich people became rich, or even just the primary reason why. Not only that, but when conservatives claim that previous generations of immigrants became economically successful because they “worked hard,” they’re being disingenuous conmen.

If hard work made previous generations successful, then why doesn’t it today? What changed? This is where they’re caught in a trap of their own making: Hard work doesn’t produce what it used to because the corporations that bankroll the entire conservative movement decided that they were going to sell out White America for the sake of ever more profits.

Conservatives want to be like liberals and enjoy the benefits of proclaiming to the citizenry that “America’s promise is that hard work will make you successful!” But when that promise fails, the conservative rhetoric is exposed for the crock that it is. Fact is, hard work should be enough to make you successful, and indeed it was so in the past. Whether you worked hard on the farm or in the factory, you could feed a family and live a happy existence for doing so.

That’s not the case anymore, and conservatives refuse to admit it. They’d rather trash the people who believed their own rhetoric about “hard work” but didn’t become successful for a variety of reasons – which in the case of the White working class includes everything from massive immigration to free trade to affirmative action and a litany of other anti-white policies. This brings us to Chantrill’s next point:

Worse, as Charles Murray brutally relates in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, the white working class is not doing so well on the family and character front either, on account of all those addictive benefits that liberal sugar daddy would bring when he used to visit the white working class at election time.

To the extent that the White working class suffers from family breakdowns and character issues – such as single parent homes and drug addictions – it doesn’t change what the American Enterprise Institute report makes clear: The White working class is socially and culturally conservative. If conservatives would rather throw those Whites to the wolves while defending the “right” of rich people to exploit everyone else (including all the non-whites that they think are “natural conservatives”), than their cause of “liberty” and “individualism” will burn. And it will deserve to.

Lastly, it should be noted that conservatives love them some social darwinism. Chantrill again:

The answer is the same as it has always been. The white working class must become a "people of the responsible self." It must embrace individualism. It must realize that "work" is not something where you can just show up and demand your rights. It is something you prepare for, something you develop, something you retrain for when the world moves on.

This is absurd. Humans aren’t robots. Most of us don’t just “learn” a new sophisticated skill that the corporate world suddenly finds in demand. We are born with limits, and those limits prevent us from just “evolving” from farmers and factory workers to the STEM geniuses that greedy corporations are always yapping for. It never once occurs to conservatives like Chantrill that “adaptation,” in this context, is mostly impossible.

There are thus two choices here: Humane compassion or the brutal “adapt or die” mentality. If the economic structure fails to reward people for hard work, then it’s the structure that needs to change, not the people. The White working class doesn’t suffer from a lack of hard work, nor does it need to “adapt” to please the Mark Zuckerburg’s of the world. It suffers because hard work doesn’t net the rewards it used to, and that means the American “promise” of hard work is a lie on its face.

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