I just got back after three days on the road in Ohio and a little bit of West Virginia. I regularly make rounds of food production plants of all sorts to inspect the processes they have asked to be certified as kosher.
The plants range from small family operations to major multi-nationals. The foods and the ingredients they produce vary widely, ranging from household names to obscure catalysts that only others involved in industry would know about. But in plants ranging from the smallest to the biggest, there was something that kept coming up in the conversations that naturally arise while walking through the plants together and discussing the whole operation.
They can’t find enough staff.
America is ready to recover. Demand is increasing as more money has come into people’s pockets. The producers are eager to respond to the demand and to prosper after a year of great difficulty.
But they can’t hire the workers they need to meet the increased demand. And, further complicating things, the people I walk the floor with tell me, is that because of the inability to staff and therefore to produce at other plants, it has become very difficult for them to get ingredients they need to make their product. This makes it doubly hard to expand and get back to the roaring economy of the immediate pre-virus days.
Why is it so hard to hire and retain staff? My contacts tell me, unprompted: Why should anyone work if they are being paid to do nothing?
One young man, who has risen to become the production manager in his medium-sized plant, expressed frustration: “If I had that extra money in my pocket, I wouldn’t quit my job like so many of these people have done. I’d use it to add to my earnings, to help fund something that I couldn’t until then. But one after the other, people get their checks and drop the job they had just been trained to do for a few months. I have to not only find new workers but to invest time in training them, all over again.”
I spend much of my time teaching. I respect the power of culture to shape and mold us effectively. No outside power can rule over a person as well as a person can rule over him or herself from within. Families, religious communities, books, media — all are agents that help us reshape ourselves from within. We don’t need the police to do the things we accept through our own internal processes, shaped and molded by the best the past has passed down to us. In a rich culture, we can find much nourishment, no matter the nature of our particular giftedness.
But what if the culture is destructive, and we internalize harmful lessons from it? What if the lesson we are teaching — using our media in every stripe, with its constant messaging backed by the power of government — is that you need not work anymore, for someone else is taking the responsibility for your life? Simply buy into the bad culture and give it your mind and your vote, and you’ll get money regardless. You’ll get medical care regardless. You’ll get citizenship without even undertaking the most basic act of fidelity to a country — obeying its laws.
Money can be printed or mined out of nothing in the cyberworld. Why be a fool and exert yourself? Why be concerned about the freedom to express ideas or to work from a sense of individual choice and purpose? Why work at all? Maybe real freedom is not to have to work at all.
But our economic future is not separable from our cultural future. The disassembling of our national life and the cannibalizing of its culture have been the dream of theoreticians desperately in love with their own abstractions. They are grabbing the power they need to avoid living in the wreckage that will be the lot of all but their nomenklatura.
But maybe we can extend ourselves in this direction for a while longer and say with Louis XV, “Après moi le deluge” (after me comes the deluge). Let the future fend for itself. As the lyric goes, “I may be going to hell in a bucket/ But I sure am enjoying the ride.”
I trust, if you read this American Spectator column, you would not be satisfied with that as your epitaph. You might find better at least the attitude of devotion and sacrifice of the motto that ran like fire through Britain when it seemed as if any day the Nazi army would invade: “Take one with you.”
There is no invasion threatening our homeland at this moment. But that motto might be understood just a bit differently. Take someone with you — make it your task to influence at least one other person to recommit to that which has made us great before.
Surely, it is up to us to keep alive what we know makes for real human greatness and ultimate happiness. Working in freedom is our great ideal, each and all bringing their unique contribution, and knowing that without their work, life will not be as good as it should be.
The satisfaction that comes from such work cannot be matched. Find a way to teach it by example. Take one with you in this way, as person by person, beneath the radar of the intolerant inquisitors of wokeness, we fight this battle — and win. Everything that matters now hinges on us.
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