The Forgotten Man
The Forgotten Man
Human history is replete with stories of those who have been left behind. It was not always the case, but today we strive to make life better for the “forgotten man” (male or female). These are the members of our society for whom, progress and prosperity have passed by. Implicit in this notion is the idea that collectively, they are worthy of assistance.
Much of our social safety net system is geared to this broadly defined group. Over the course of decades, the scope of these programs has expanded. The magnitude of the “assistance” has grown as more and more groups are put into a “protected class” (groups who are specifically identified for protection from being harmed by discrimination due to some shared characteristic). This status entitles them to special treatment (in addition to the broad guarantees in the Constitution) and Federal programs have been expanded to do so. In addition, the number of people that have fallen into one of these categories has increased due to changing social and economic conditions.
It is well and proper that we look to improve the lot of those who are disadvantaged through circumstances not of their own making. However, given the expansion of programs designed to “help” this demographic, one might question whether they are still “forgotten.”
If this is the case, then who now is the “forgotten man?” Perhaps it is the person who gets up every day and goes to work. It is the proverbial “working stiff,” someone who works very hard day in and day out, especially in the lower-paying or non-managerial positions. It is the person who chooses to work rather than succumb to circumstances and accept a government handout.
I fear that we have now created disincentives for these people. There has been a massive increase in Federal expenditures during the pandemic and now the economic downturn (recession). Government mandated requirements shut down or pushed people to stay home. In response to these self-imposed conditions, the government made businesses outright payments to both individuals and businesses. In addition, they increased the length and magnitude of unemployment payments.
There are clearly some unintended consequences to these programs. Over the past twenty years, the labor participation rate has fallen from 67 to 62 percent nationally and our local rate is now approximately 54%. Clearly people are dropping out of the labor market. The question is, “Why?” Perhaps the vast support mechanisms have reduced the motivation to take individual action to improve one’s position in life?
However, we should not lay all the blame for our current situation on government action. It is also the result of a breakdown of the connection between employer and employee. I rejoice in the ability of our economic system to allow success. I applaud entrepreneurs (like Elon Musk) who transform our world and reap the benefits of their efforts. However, I take pause with corporations (particularly large ones) where the disparity between executives and their workers is exaggerated. The trend has not been kind to the new “forgotten man.” In 1965, the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay was 20-1. Today, the average CEO makes $14 million which is 221 times more than the average worker.
One might question whether the private sector help create the “monster?” Perhaps if the relationship had remained stronger, there would not have been as much impetus for the government to expand its operations. Nor would there be such widespread acceptance of our government’s seemingly endless parade of payouts.
Within this Kafkaesque environment we created, we have lost track of the individual who comes to work. They are the true overlooked protagonists of our society. They build our homes. They deliver our packages. They serve us meals. They stay at the grindstone while others give up and drop out. Without them, the system shuts down.
We must find a way to unwind the government-driven model. It has bankrupted the moral compass upon which our society was built. Our story is not just about overcoming racial or ethnic prejudice; it involves the inability of our current political and economic systems to “raise all the boats.” The government cannot overcome this simply throwing money at the problem. It was tried with the New Deal in the 1930s, and it was an abject failure (the country was saved by the war, not government largess). We must repair the organizational and interpersonal relationships that ought to bind our society together (between the individual and business as well as with government).
We need to focus on today’s real “forgotten man” and find a way to give them the pathway towards greater prosperity and induce those who have dropped out to reenter the economic life of our country.