From the Brownstone Institute
During the Covid debacle, kids were locked out of school or otherwise condemned to an inferior Zoom education for up to two years. What were the alternatives? Unfortunately, since the New Deal, the federal government has severely restricted teenagers’ opportunities for gainful employment. But new evidence proves that keeping kids out of work doesn’t keep them out of mental health trouble.
Yet suggesting that kids take a job has become controversial in recent years. It is easy to find expert lists on the dangers of teenage employment. Evolve Treatment Center, a California therapy chain for teenagers, recently listed the possible “cons” of work:
- Jobs can add stress to a child’s life.
- Jobs can expose kids to people and situations they might not be ready for.
- A teen working a job might feel like childhood is ending too soon.
But stress is a natural part of life. Dealing with strange characters or ornery bosses can speedily teach kids far more than they learn from a droning public school teacher. And the sooner childhood ends, the sooner young adults can experience independence – one of the great propellants of personal growth.
When I came of age in the 1970s, nothing was more natural than seeking to earn a few bucks after school or during the summer. I was terminally bored in high school and jobs provided one of the few legal stimulants I found in those years.
Thanks to federal labor law, I was effectively banned from non-agricultural work before I turned 16. For two summers, I worked at a peach orchard five days a week, almost ten hours a day, pocketing $1.40 an hour and all the peach fuzz I took home on my neck and arms. Plus, there was no entertainment surcharge for the snakes I encountered in trees while a heavy metal bucket of peaches swung from my neck.
Actually, that gig was good preparation for my journalism career since I was always being cussed by the foreman. He was a retired 20-year Army drill sergeant who was always snarling, always smoking, and always coughing. The foreman never explained how to do a task since he preferred vehemently cussing you afterwards for doing it wrong. “What-da-hell’s-wrong-with-you-Red?” quickly became his standard refrain.
No one who worked in that orchard was ever voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” But one co-worker provided me with a lifetime of philosophical inspiration, more or less. Albert, a lean 35-year-old who always greased his black hair straight back, had survived plenty of whiskey-induced crashes on life’s roller coaster.
Back in those days, young folks were browbeaten to think positively about institutions that domineered their lives (such as military conscription). Albert was a novelty in my experience: a good-natured person who perpetually scoffed. Albert’s reaction to almost everything in life consisted of two phrases: “That really burns my ass!” or “No Shit!”
After I turned 16, I worked one summer with the Virginia Highway Department. As a flag man, I held up traffic while highway employees idled away the hours. On hot days in the back part of the county, drivers sometimes tossed me a cold beer as they passed by. Nowadays, such acts of mercy might spark an indictment. The best part of the job was wielding a chainsaw—another experience that came in handy for my future career.
I did “roadkill ride-alongs” with Bud, an amiable, jelly-bellied truck driver who was always chewing the cheapest, nastiest ceegar ever made—Swisher Sweets. The cigars I smoked cost a nickel more than Bud’s, but I tried not to put on airs around him.
We were supposed to dig a hole to bury any dead animal along the road. This could take half an hour or longer. Bud’s approach was more efficient. We would get our shovels firmly under the animal—wait until no cars were passing by—and then heave the carcass into the bushes. It was important not to let the job crowd the time available for smoking.
I was assigned to a crew that might have been the biggest slackers south of the Potomac and east of the Alleghenies. Working slowly to slipshod standards was their code of honor. Anyone who worked harder was viewed as a nuisance, if not a menace.
The most important thing I learned from that crew was how not to shovel. Any Yuk-a-Puk can grunt and heave material from Spot A to Spot B. It takes practice and savvy to turn a mule-like activity into an art.
To not shovel right, the shovel handle should rest above the belt buckle while one leans slightly forward. It’s important not to have both hands in your pockets while leaning, since that could prevent onlookers from recognizing “Work-in-Progress.” The key is to appear to be studiously calculating where your next burst of effort will provide maximum returns for the task.
One of this crew’s tasks that summer was to build a new road. The assistant crew foreman was indignant: “Why does the state government have us do this? Private businesses could build the road much more efficiently, and cheaper, too.” I was puzzled by his comment, but by the end of the summer I heartily agreed. The Highway Department could not competently organize anything more complex than painting stripes in the middle of a road. Even the placement of highway direction signs was routinely botched.
While I easily acclimated to government work lethargy, I was pure hustle on Friday nights unloading trucks full of boxes of old books at a local bindery. That gig paid a flat rate, in cash, that usually worked out to double or triple the Highway Department wage.
The goal with the Highway Department was to conserve energy, while the goal at the book bindery was to conserve time—to finish as quickly as possible and move on to weekend mischief. With government work, time routinely acquired a negative value—something to be killed.
The key thing kids must learn from their first jobs is to produce enough value that someone will voluntarily pay them a wage. I worked plenty of jobs in my teen years – baling hay, cutting lawns, and hustling on construction sites. I knew I’d need to pay my own way in life and those jobs got me in the habit of saving early and often.
But according to today’s conventional wisdom, teenagers should not be put at risk in any situation where they might harm themselves. The enemies of teenage employment rarely admit how the government’s “fixes” routinely do more harm than good. My experience with the highway department helped me quickly recognize the perils of government employment and training programs.
Those programs have been spectacularly failing for more than half a century. In 1969, the General Accounting Office (GAO) condemned federal summer jobs programs because youth “regressed in their conception of what should reasonably be required in return for wages paid.”
In 1979, GAO reported that the vast majority of urban teens in the program “were exposed to a worksite where good work habits were not learned or reinforced, or realistic ideas on expectations in the real world of work were not fostered.” In 1980, Vice President Mondale’s Task Force on Youth Unemployment reported, “Private employment experience is deemed far more attractive to prospective employers than public work” because of the bad habits and attitudes spurred by government programs.
“Make work” and “fake work” are a grave disservice to young people. But the same problems permeated programs in the Obama era. In Boston, federally-subsidized summer job workers donned puppets to greet visitors to an aquarium. In Laurel, Maryland, “Mayor’s Summer Jobs” participants put in time serving as a “building escort.” In Washington, D.C., kids were paid to diddle with “schoolyard butterfly habitats” and littered the streets with leaflets about the Green Summer Job Corps. In Florida, subsidized summer job participants “practiced firm handshakes to ensure that employers quickly understand their serious intent to work,” the Orlando Sentinel reported. And folks wonder why so many young people cannot comprehend the meaning of “work.”
Cosseting kids has been a jobs program for social workers but a disaster for the supposed beneficiaries. Teen labor force participation (for ages 16 to 19) declined from 58 percent in 1979 to 42 percent in 2004 and roughly 35 percent in 2018. It’s not like, instead of finding a job, kids stay home and read Shakespeare, master Algebra, or learn to code.
As teens became less engaged in society via work, mental health problems became far more prevalent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in “the 10 years leading up to the pandemic, feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness—as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors—increased by about 40 percent among young people.”
The troubled teen years are producing dark harvests on campus. Between 2008 and 2019, the number of undergraduate students diagnosed with anxiety increased by 134 percent, 106 percent for depression, 57 percent for bipolar disorder, 72 percent for ADHD, 67 percent for schizophrenia, and 100 percent for anorexia, according to the National College Health Assessment.
Those rates are much worse post-pandemic. As psychiatrist Thomas Szasz observed, “The greatest analgesic, soporific, stimulant, tranquilizer, narcotic, and to some extent even antibiotic – in short, the closest thing to a genuine panacea – known to medical science is work.”
Those who fret about the dangers that teens face on the job need to recognize the “opportunity cost” of young adults perpetuating their childhood and their dependence. Sure, there are perils in the workplace. But as Thoreau wisely observed, “A man sits as many risks as he runs.”
A Pandemic of Lockdown Denialism
From the Brownstone Institute
There is an old expression: “Success has a thousand fathers but failure is always an orphan.”
It’s a spin on Tacitus: “This is an unfair thing about war: victory is claimed by all, failure to one alone.”
We can judge the results of the pandemic response, then, by the number of people who claim it as their own. So far the answer seems to be: none.
These days, if you listen to the rhetoric, you would think that absolutely no one forced anyone to do anything, not even take the jab. There were no mask mandates. No one was ever locked down. There were some mistakes, sure, but those came only from doing the best we could with the knowledge we had.
Other than make well-considered recommendations, they didn’t force anyone to do anything.
Even from 2021, the media routinely referred to the “pandemic” and not the pandemic policies as responsible for learning losses, depression, business failures, and poor economic conditions. This has been deliberate. It’s designed to normalize lockdowns as if they are just something one does to deal with infectious disease, even though lockdowns have no precedent on that scale in the West.
More recently, this denialism has taken a strange turn. Now the people who actually did pull the trigger on the loss of liberty are routinely refusing to admit that they forced anything.
We’ve heard Donald Trump make this claim for a good part of this year. Mr. “I left it to the states” has yet to be publicly confronted with his decisions from March 10, 2020 and throughout the rest of his presidency. Interviewers don’t press him on the subject for fear of having access cut off later. And yet the record is very clear.
Then Anthony Fauci joined in, claiming that he never recommended the lockdowns at all.
But the pandemic of lockdown dentialism has gotten worse, to the point that the head of Health and Human Services plus the head of Occupational Safety and Health Commision are doing the same, even though the Supreme Court actually ruled against their edicts.
Ah, what a difference time and events make.
It gets worse. One of the most imperial and invasive of the governors was Andrew Cuomo of New York. He issued a massive number of edicts that he enforced with police power, including even dictating that bars couldn’t sell drinks alone but also mandating the selling of food, even to the point of spelling out the quantity of food. This resulted in the infamous Cuomo Fries served around the state.
Medicine in the Wilderness
From the Brownstone Institute
I once was proud of my profession. I spent over 40 years as a clinician, educator, and researcher and for most of that time thought I was engaged in a noble calling. But all that has changed in the last 3 years. Medicine is lost in The Wilderness.
There were warning signals, to be sure. For many years I was heavily involved in medical associations on the local, state, and national levels. Gradually I became disillusioned when I saw that many of my colleagues who gravitated to this activity did not share my views. They enjoyed the politics of medicine. In fact, they enjoyed it too much. I lost interest. Perhaps in retrospect that was part of the problem. The policy of medicine gradually became the politics of medicine. And as is often the case, where there is politics there is also corruption.
Twenty years ago I was appointed as a technical advisor to a panel of the federal government. I was flown to Washington, housed in an upscale hotel and dined on fancy meals. I saw how intoxicating power can be. I began to somehow consider that I was special. The problem was I was expected to use my technical expertise to advise in a certain way. I realized, almost too late, what was going on. But I did realize it and was not reappointed to that position.
Looking back on it, this experience gave me a taste of how the events of the past three years came to be. I saw how money, power and flattery could cause physicians to shade their recommendations. It happened oh so gradually until one day, integrity was completely lost. The tragedy is that many times, those who lost it did not miss it.
I have come to realize that ethics and medicine have parted ways for many physicians, myself included. Things we once took for granted are gone…evaporated. We reached a point where, relating to COVID, attempts to treat disease were not just ignored but penalized. As a surgeon, I had operated under the obligation of giving Informed Consent to all my patients. I was expected to clearly explain the risks, benefits, and alternatives of my proposed course of action and allow the patient to make the decisions regarding their response to those recommendations. I could be sanctioned for failing in this obligation. However, in COVID, Informed Consent was criminalized…but only for that disease. Those who still felt an obligation to their patients were, and continue to be, vilified, slandered, fired from their position, and in some cases, prosecuted.
One would have thought that organized medicine, and academic medicine in particular, would have rallied to their defense, but that was not the case. They were the primary prosecutors. I shake my head when I think back to the days that I taught medical ethics to residents and medical students. One of the case studies involved discussing how accepting a lunch, or even a pen, from a drug company was unethical. Somehow, individuals who made life and death decisions were suspected of being bribed by a pen! And owning stock in a company and prescribing medications manufactured by that company were absolutely forbidden!
Now where are we? A good deal past the use of pens, for sure!
If a physician from even 10 years ago would look at the contents of most of our medical journals today, I am sure he or she would think they were reading fiction. These are the four articles that make up the Viewpoint section of the September 19, 2023 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
- Affirmative Action Ruled Unconstitutional: Options for Building a Diverse Health Care Workforce
Eli Y. Adashi, MD, MS; Philip A. Gruppuso, MD; I. Glenn Cohen, JD
- The Supreme Court’s Rulings on Race Neutrality Threaten Progress in Medicine and Health
Harald Schmidt, PhD; Lawrence O. Gostin, JD; Michelle A. Williams, ScD
- The Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action—Fewer Black Physicians and More Health Disparities for Minoritized Groups
Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD; Martha L. Elks, MD, PhD; Mark Howse, PhD
- Holistic Admissions at UC Davis—Journey Toward Equity
Mark C. Henderson, MD; Tonya L. Fancher, MD; Susan Murin, MD
In order to truly understand the departure from what was the norm a mere 10 years ago, this is a link to the contents of the Viewpoint section in the September 18, 2013 issue:
- The HIPAA Conundrum in the Era of Mobile Health and Communications
C. Jason Wang, MD, PhD; Delphine J. Huang, MS
- A Trial-Based Approach to Statin Guidelines
Paul M Ridker, MD, MPH; Peter W. F. Wilson, MD
- Medicare Payment for Chronic Care Delivered in a Patient-Centered Medical Home
Andrew B. Bindman, MD; Jonathan D. Blum, MPP; Richard Kronick, PhD
- PEPFAR’s Antiprostitution Pledge Spending Power and Free Speech in Tension
Lawrence O. Gostin, JD
The difference in the tenor of the articles is striking, at least to me. In the current articles, the author’s primary focus seems to be finding ways to circumvent the rule of law. In 2013, the two articles that deal with a legislative focus explore how to comply with the rule of law. While some may claim that is a distinction without a difference, I would disagree. Something has changed! Change is inevitable, but is it always positive? Looking back on history, many nations have changed in response to internal and external pressure. Unfortunately, the majority of those changes have been negative.
Back in 2019, before the Great COVID disaster, Baffy and associates warned us of a change that was occurring in medical and scientific publishing. They observed the concentration of medical and scientific publishing in the hands of a few very large corporations which answered to stakeholders with conflicting interests:
Because the use of complex digital tools and rapidly growing electronic databases require advanced computing skills, Internet-based mega-companies such as Google (Mountainview, Calif), Amazon (Seattle, Wash), Facebook (Menlo Park, Calif), and Apple (Cupertino, Calif) may become interested in spearheading further transformation and outcompete current stakeholders in scholarly communication and develop more user-friendly tools. Such developments could potentially lead to a few large entities controlling the gateways to scientific knowledge, a sobering thought…
Scientific publishing has been a highly profitable industry, and there is little doubt that financial interests will continue to drive its transformation. However, the academic community has a fundamental stake in this process and should understand the trajectories of change to protect enduring values, embrace promising developments, and make scholarly communication increasingly inclusive and efficient.
It would seem the authors were amazingly prescient, as their world has come to pass. Medicine seems, at least to me, to have become the Willing Servant of an Unholy Trinity of Big Pharma, Big Tech and Big Politics. Medical publication and medical education have become more interested in ideology and propaganda than healing, more interested in class than the individual. It is the very antithesis of the concepts contained in the Hippocratic Oath. Although the proponents of the transformation may claim it is being done for a “greater good,” that excuse has been used before in medicine of some nations of the last century. When sanity returned, that excuse was repudiated.
Society now finds itself a passenger on a ship which has been taken over by ideologues. The ship is heading for the rocks. Lookouts stationed high above can see the disaster unfolding and urgently inform the captain of the ship. The captain solves the problem by throwing the lookouts overboard.
This is the dystopian world in which we now live.
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