Don Schmitz, Chairman

Don Schmitz, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Malibu Chamber of Commerce 

The legendary American work ethic is rooted in the Puritan beliefs that hard work demonstrates good character, reliability and honesty: entrepreneurial ingenuity, starting businesses and gaining promotion by demonstrating value. It was the cultural root stock that tamed a wilderness and built a continental nation connected with railroads and canals, rich farms, factories and cities. The farmer working from dawn to dusk, the truck driver pushing through for the long haul, the architect working over the weekend to deliver the perfect plans. This work ethic dominated our history, incontrovertibly creating an unparalleled economic superpower.

Increasingly, voices challenge the desirability of work ethic. Socialists believe it dupes the working class to slave away for the bourgeoisie. Sadly, mainstream voices now question the American work ethic. Legitimate questions are asked: If France requires five weeks’ paid vacation and a 35-hour work week, why not us? This has taken root here, especially with Millennials. Polling shows work ethic was considered “defining” by Baby Boomers and Gen X, but not mentioned at all by Millennials. Look, it’s a free country; work hard if you want, or don’t, right? Not so fast. Progressives will tell you that they are culturally locked in to work hard. Marketing and media shame the lazy and flog citizens to endlessly pursue material goods that don’t promote happiness. Far worse, people must work hard to survive, right? 

Wrong! What fantasy historical nirvana are they measuring by? In the early 1800s, half the global population lived in extreme poverty. Americans toiled long and hard just to put food on the table, but it was still so much better here that immigrants streamed from all over the world for the chance to work hard in a free capitalist society where they could advance themselves. Immigrants and native born alike called it “opportunity.” Later, in the 1950s, the average middle-class family of five lived in a 1,200-square-foot house, had one car and a TV. Today, it’s 2,500 square feet, several cars, central air, TVs and computers in every room, reclining leather couches, ice makers, cappuccino machines and indoor theaters. What used to be considered opulence is now middle class in America. In this free country, life is about choices, and you don’t have to be a workaholic to survive here; if you are OK with that 1950s lifestyle, there are small towns all across the country where a 40-hour workweek at a retail store will provide that modest house, plenty of food and low stress. 

But, you see, leftists promote a narrative that America is founded on systemic economic and racial oppression. If the American work ethic manifests in the American Dream, especially for “minority” immigrants, that narrative falls flat. Sixty-one percent of Black Nigerian Americans hold a graduate degree and have a higher median income than average. Pew Research Center asserts Asian Americans are the highest income and best educated among us. With a legendary work ethic, they are also the happiest overall. Still, leftist governments intend to save us all from their perceived horrors of the free market system. In 2020, AB5 became California law, eliminating many independent contractors. Folks must get overtime and W2 protections! The results were, sadly, predictable, with horrible effects on truck drivers, hairdressers, designers, script writers, etc. Many were “protected” from having a job anymore. The California Trucking Association has been litigating regulations on their small trucking businesses since 2018. Amazed by all those cargo ships parked off our coast? The “supply chain” crisis is one of government regulations, not lack of infrastructure. 

Now, LA has a pilot “guaranteed income program” of $1,000 a month. This would be on top of other welfare and subsidy programs, designed to eliminate poverty. Laudable sentiments, yet as utterly indefensible as handing out heroin to combat depression. It might help short term, but it is addictive and corrosive. Ever wonder why the USSR, with more natural resources than any other country, had bare grocery shelves? Governmental policies and intervention, all for the noble concept of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” The fact is that the American work ethic feeds not just our bodies, but our souls. The Bible states, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” Socialism cratered the work ethic of the dynamic Russian people, who retreated into vodka and despair. Voltaire stated, “Work keeps at bay three great evils: boredom, vice and need.” Observe the American cities and states that abandoned work ethic, and you will see those three evils exploding, personified in the tent cities and drug dens. Nothing is ever free; everything is earned. Sadly, rich societies oftentimes forget, become decadent, entitled and ultimately decline. We need to reaffirm the American work ethic—or founder.

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