Tim Blair


New Criterion



Friday, November 12, 2004
If you're sometimes slow to move out of your chair after a heavy Sunday lunch you've probably been caught by one of Pastor Terry Lane's Sunday sermons. These are occasions for the old Groucho Marxist to find stroke-pals who might confirm him in his communard faith.

You know the main doctrines by heart, I'm sure, since you're listening to our ABC. Profit is evil, more government is better government and the welfare state is the highest expression of the human spirit. And if the talent thinks otherwise, they're not going to tell our old Pastor. He's as ineducable as Phillip Adams although, unlike Adams, able to trade blows. Our Gastropod can only disgorge the slime of obfuscation.

One of Lane's favourite stroke-pals is Barbara Ehrenreich. He had her back recently for some consoling prejudice-reinforcement after the evil Bush won the US presidential election.

Ehrenreich is of the school that claims that the US's prosperity is chimerical because it leaves an underclass of working poor, for whom wage rates are so low that they are condemned for ever to misery unless the rest of us grant them unconditional welfare.

The Australian left runs the same line here, but focussed not so much on minimum wage rates, which are higher here, but on the importance of various forms of protection and bureaucratic controls like centralised wage-fixing that aim to make sure that jobs are not created unless they are judged by some tribunal to be good enough.

No matter how often the evidence proves otherwise, these middle-class promoters of welfarism stick to their line. Paul Keating is wasting his time in pointing out that two thirds of the new productivity created since he began deregulating the Australian economy has gone to wages. The Pastorian left are men and women of faith, and dissonant truths must be neither heard nor spoken.

If our Pastor were a man of truth rather than faith, he would have drawn our attention by now to the systematic study of low-wage workers that shows just how misleading Ehrenreich's own work is.
In fact, few working in low-wage jobs stay in them long. And most workers don't just move on quickly—they also move on to better jobs. The Sphere Institute, a California public-policy think tank founded by Stanford University professors, charted the economic path of workers in the state from 1988 to 2000 and found extraordinary mobility across industries and up the economic ladder. Over 40 percent of the lowest income group worked in retail in 1988; by 2000, more than half of that group had switched to other industries. Their average inflation-adjusted income gain after moving on: 83 percent, to over $32,000 a year.

The workers who stayed in retail, moreover, were usually the higher earners, making about $10,000 more a year than the leavers.
A review of similar studies over a long period showed much the same thing.
The Urban Institute report points out that several mobility studies based on the University of Michigan's Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which has traced thousands of American families since 1968, show that about 20 percent of those in the lowest economic quintile rise at least one economic class within a year. If Ehrenreich had given herself 12 months in her low-wage stints, instead of a week or two, she might have worked her way into the lower middle class by the end of her experiment.

In other words, most of the people that Ehrenreich and her social work colleagues wanted to condemn to perpetual welfare-dependency have joined the ranks of the more prosperous.

The study was in fact mentioned in our public media some months ago, but has yet to penetrate the ABC commune's immune system.

You will find a detailed criticism of the baleful Ehrenreichian doctrines here, and I advise you to read it before Pastor Lane catches you not napping on some future Sunday.