All Commentary
Friday, January 1, 1960

Salesman of Sloth

From The Wall Street Journal, October 14, 1959

In dispute after labor dispute this year, companies have tried to get at the problem of union feather­bedding. and important though this problem of pay for no work is, it seems to us to reflect an even more serious matter.

That is the apparent acceptance by many Americans of the idea that they don’t need to work very hard; their apparent preference to get by with the least effort and indeed to demand progressively higher pay for progressively less work.

We realize that statement is subject to the perils of any gen­eralization. We also realize that part of this country’s high ma­terial standards is this ability of individuals to live comfortably on the basis of relatively few hours of work. We further realize that many men nonetheless do work ex­tremely hard and that some, or so it is said, thereby drive themselves to early graves.

But what we are talking about is shirking on a scale more wide­spread than ever before in this country, and more prevalent in unions than anywhere else. Throughout American industry there is a discernible employee apathy. Throughout the American economy there is featherbedding—railroad firemen paid to tend nonexistent fires, musicians paid for not playing, farmers paid for not farming, pilots paid for not flying, everywhere men paid for watching machines that do not need watching.

At this point it might appro­priately be asked: If all this is so, how come the productivity of la­bor is said to be constantly in­creasing? The plain answer is that the rising productivity of labor is largely a misnomer. Capital in­vestment in ever more productive machinery is the answer.

It is impossible not to wonder about the attitude of people who accept pay for no work, year in and year out, or who do the least possible—a form of inactivity that might be called unofficial feather­bedding. It is impossible not to wonder what has happened to their self-respect.

Here again there is an answer. Union leaders not only sanction and encourage all forms of featherbedding; they defend the prac­tices with a circuitous reasoning that would stun a Sophist. Natu­rally, if the great god at the head of the union approves, why should a mere union member bother about a pang of conscience? Immorality exalted, it appears, ceases to be immorality. And the union ex­ample is followed elsewhere.

Conspiring with and reinforc­ing this union attitude is the gov­ernmental philosophy fashionable in our time. This would remove from the individual many of the cares of dealing with life, and most particularly remove his sense of responsibility; in a word, spare him the bother of being a human being with inherent dignity and self-respect. It is not so surprising if many people are willing to do little when government presumes to do all.

So much for causes. The effects are also evident with increasingly painful clarity. Frequently shoddy workmanship. Crippling strikes for whimsical reasons. Disdain for a contract. The enormous econom­ic toll of featherbedding which is rapidly turning this into a high-cost economy, as reflected in the inability of U.S. products to com­pete as once they did in world markets. Perhaps most important of all, the erosion of values once held high.

We are not calling for some neb­ulous national moral resurgence, though the problem is a moral one. We are saying that if there is softness in America today it is not primarily inferior education or “inadequate” public spending but this union and statist sponsored philosophy of indolence. There are other countries, some friendly and some otherwise, where that phi­losophy does not obtain.

And we are saying that a little moral indignation ought to be di­rected at the salesmen of sloth that weaken our society.




Ideas on Liberty

As a Man Doeth

Richard L. Spahr, Lewistown, Pennsylvania

The world owes no one a living. Every man was born with the God-given right to partake of the world’s goods according to his talent. When one denies himself this right of purposeful opportunity, through laziness and lack of initiative, he sins against himself as well as his fellow man.