Nicholas Eberstadt’s recent piece in Commentary, “Our Miserable 21st Century,” is well worth a read, despite its length, because it draws together a large number of the themes that we’ve been highlighting with the Family Prosperity Index (FPI). He paints a picture of a shift in the U.S. culture and economy around the turn of the millennium (exacerbated by the Great Recession and Obama administration policies) in which all people of working age, although especially men, have been living off disability and other welfare benefits and leaving the workforce, instead doing nothing valuable:
We already knew from other sources (such as BLS “time use” surveys) that the overwhelming majority of the prime-age men in this un-working army generally don’t “do civil society” (charitable work, religious activities, volunteering), or for that matter much in the way of child care or help for others in the home either, despite the abundance of time on their hands. Their routine, instead, typically centers on watching—watching TV, DVDs, Internet, hand-held devices, etc.—and indeed watching for an average of 2,000 hours a year, as if it were a full-time job. But Krueger’s study adds a poignant and immensely sad detail to this portrait of daily life in 21st-century America: In our mind’s eye we can now picture many millions of un-working men in the prime of life, out of work and not looking for jobs, sitting in front of screens—stoned.
Eberstadt notes that taxpayers are funding this waste of human potential, quoting from Sam Quinones’s book, Dreamland:
[The Medicaid card] pays for medicine—whatever pills a doctor deems that the insured patient needs. Among those who receive Medicaid cards are people on state welfare or on a federal disability program known as SSI. . . . If you could get a prescription [to Oxycontin] from a willing doctor—and Portsmouth had plenty of them—Medicaid health-insurance cards paid for that prescription every month. For a three-dollar Medicaid co-pay, therefore, addicts got pills priced at thousands of dollars, with the difference paid for by U.S. and state taxpayers. A user could turn around and sell those pills, obtained for that three-dollar co-pay, for as much as ten thousand dollars on the street.
As a society, we really have some major shifting to do, and we’re going to have to overhaul government pretty completely to do it.