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Pundit’s Mailbag – Unemployed Because It Was Deserved Or Directed By God?

Our pieces, A STORY HALF TOLD: Putting A Spin On The Long-term Unemployed, and Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit’s Critique Of New York Times’ Reporter Annie Lowrey’s Piece … Draws Notice Of Produce Industry Pros, brought many responses including one from long-time Pundit contributor Bob Sanderson. Among the pieces he has contributed here include these:

Pundit’s Mailbag — Does A 1,200-item Audit Necessarily Result In More Safety Than A 40-item Audit?

Pundit Mailbag — Honor ‘Green’ Attempts

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Acceptance Of Risk

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sprout Lessons Echo Food Safety Dilemma

Pundit’s Mailbag — More On Manure

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Tyranny Of Economics And The Goals Of Fairtrade

Pundit’s Mailbag — Can Irradiation Follow The Path Of Pasteurization?

Pundit’s Mailbag — A Look At Organic Versus Conventional Yields

Pundit’s Mailbag — Irradiation, Pasteurization and Labeling

Pundit’s Mailbag — Pesticides And Cancer

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Prices And Free Markets

Pundit’s Mailbag — Organics And Manure

Testing Sprout Seeds

Bob always has a thoughtful take on interesting matters and here is what he had to say this time:

Well, I know I’ll either get clobbered or ignored, and rightly so!

Debating the rationale for long-term unemployment benefits, using the example of the 57-year-old guy with all these degrees and connections, tends to be a weak argument for the underlying question.

But what is the underlying question? As is mentioned in your article, it is impossible to know much about what another person is dealing with.  There is a universal tendency to think that if I am doing OK, it is to some extent because I’ve made good choices, and so others, who aren’t doing OK, must have made bad choices.  Master, who sinned that this man was born blind?

The answer is that no one sinned; the man was born blind so that God’s works could be made manifest.  So we have countless people born blind who live active, productive lives — are we to say this shows that the blind should not get help?

It is my positive attitude that explains my success!  And I decided to have a positive attitude. Here, I’ll just do it right now!

But… where did I get my positive attitude?  Actually, I was feeling pretty depressed earlier this morning.  Something must have changed in my brain chemistry. Did I turn the spigot? 

Beats me. Just my dumb luck, I guess.

— Bob Sanderson
Owner, President
Jonathan’s Sprouts
Rochester, Massachusetts

We thank Bob for his thoughtful letter as the idea that one’s bad circumstances is retribution of God for evil-doing is longstanding.

Master, who sinned that this man was born blind? is a biblical text. And Jesus responds by saying: Neither did this man sin, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

In other words, Jesus offered a third possibility. That whatever sins were committed did not cause the blindness but, rather, that it came to him as part of God’s plan for his life.

To a devout person, this is acceptable. This is, in fact, all there can be. Man cannot expect to understand God’s ways. So why an almighty God allows an individual to be blind or millions to be marched to ovens in the Holocaust can only be answered by saying that we are not capable of understanding. For many, this is a deep problem.

Others would simply say that this is a misunderstanding of God’s relationship to man — that as humans we have free will, that God does not or cannot interfere in day-to-day works. After all, if God micromanaged the universe, in what sense could a person ever be virtuous?

However, we never said or implied that Abe Gorelick had sinned or was not virtuous. We wouldn’t even say he made “bad choices”. We just said he made choices. Those choices have consequences. We assume Mr. Gorelick knew what he was doing and is satisfied with the outcome of those choices.

We were critical of the reporter, Annie Lowrey, not of Abe Gorelick, for writing a piece that seemed to imply that someone should get collective help by taxpayers without analyzing why this person may need help.

After all, if his wife’s income is, say, $300,000 a year — and we have no idea since she owns a business and the reporter didn’t ask for documents, say tax returns, to substantiate his plight — why should we tax families who earn $50,000 a year to support this one?

If this family decided to send their son to an expensive private college, why would we tax families that restricted their choice to a state university to facilitate their more expensive choice?

We happen to know a person, who a longtime friend — in fact, she is smart and nice. She also happens to have no interest in working. When she applies for a job — and she has had many — she is mostly focused on how much vacation she is going to get. This is not unethical, much less sinful, and since she enjoys her leisure, it is not necessarily a bad choice — it is how she has chosen to focus her life.

That is her right. I can still be friends with her. But… and it is a big but… when she loses her job, as she often does, I sit on my hands. I have placed hundreds of people over the years in jobs. I get calls every day asking who I would recommend. But I choose not to recommend her. That is my right too. And, I would feel perturbed, if I were taxed to support her.

Now Bob raises a bigger issue. In some existential sense, none of us deserve credit for our lives. We were born out of the chance meeting by a particular sperm and ovum, a joining over which we had no control. We didn’t pick our parents, our siblings, our home environment, so much more.

So everyone has to play the cards they are dealt and that is inherently unequal. But it doesn’t mean it is unfair.

The Pundit has his skills, but in Jr. Pundit Segundo’s opinion — aka Matthew — our talents rank way below those of LeBron James of the Miami Heat. Try as we might, we can’t all be 6’8” or have the grace and athleticism of LeBron. Of course, though he was born with that potential, he had to develop it on his own, so we begrudge him nothing. We give him all the credit in the world. Although we note that had he been born in a different time and place, he could have been a slave on a cotton plantation or been victim to starvation or a childhood disease in Africa.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote a short story called Harrison Bergeron, which was about a world where efforts were made to make everyone equal. So ballet dancers, being beautiful and graceful, would be given masks and weighted down lest people think they were less beautiful and less graceful — but, of course, that meant the ballet was not very good.

Organizing society so that people have a powerful incentive to make the most of their talents is what gives us a Baryshnikov or a LeBron.

Bob asked in his note if we did not believe in helping the blind.

That is an interesting question, but not the one posed in the article about Abe Gorelick.

First, the reporter — whose job is to ferret out information — gave us not the slightest reason to think Mr. Gorelick had ANY problems — other than not having a job. In fact, it is fair to say that the whole thrust of the reporter’s story was that. 

In fact, the story has something similar to a contemporary story of Anne Frank. She was Jewish, but her worldwide appeal was that her Jewishness was so slight that anyone could feel she was “just like me” and thus horrified by her situation and death. So Mr. Gorelick is supposed to be in good health, hard-working, etc., so that the New York Times could get people saying, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

Second, the issue of helping Mr. Gorelick was never raised until we raised it. We asked where was his family? His friends? His well connected classmates from Ivy League schools and top grad programs? To us, it was logical that a man in his situation, having hit hard times, would in fact get help. But from people who know him, like him, care about him, respect him.

To assume that because someone is in bad straits, not only should they get help but the help should come from the federal government is a large leap.

Many thanks to Bob for helping us think through this important matter.

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