America’s Invisible Crisis: Nicholas Eberstadt (Transcript)

Transcript of the podcast titled ‘America’s Invisible Crisis’ in which John Anderson is joined by Nicholas Eberstadt for a discussion on his recent book ‘Men Without Work’.

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JOHN ANDERSON: My guest today is Nicholas Eberstadt. He holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute, where he researches and writes extensively on demographics and economic development in a range of different geographies. His titles include The Poverty of the Poverty Rate in 2008, Russia’s Peacetime Demographic Crisis, 2010, and most recently in 2022, Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis, updated post-COVID.

Nicholas has a PhD in Political Economy and Government, and he holds a Master of Science from the London School of Economics. In 2012, he was awarded the prestigious Bradley Prize in America, and that award recognizes extraordinary talent and dedication to American exceptionalism. And I think our conversation will reveal just how capable Nicholas’s mind actually is.

Why is work good for us?

Nicholas, thanks so much for joining us, and it’s great to see you again for our listeners and viewers. We recently dined together in Sydney, and we’re here to talk about your more recent work.

And talking of work, can you kick us off by saying that we often complain about work. We see it as more of a curse than a blessing. In reality, surely work is good for us and for men in particular, given that we’re going to be talking about an astonishing number of people, men who are not working. Why is work good for us?

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: John, it’s wonderful to see you again. Thank you for inviting me to share this discussion with you.

Well, of course, I’m not going to tell you that money doesn’t matter, because it does, but there’s so much more to work than just the paycheck, important as that is. Work is a service to other people that helps complete yourself, that helps one’s own fulfillment, one’s own attainment, one’s own satisfaction. It sounds hackneyed to say that there’s a dignity to work, but the reason it’s a cliche is because cliches have so much truth in them.

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If you want to get kind of into the metaphysics of this, there was that funny Greek guy, Aristotle, long ago, who said that human beings are social creatures, and we suffer if we’re not connected to society. If we’re men connected through work, through family, through our own communities, through religion or faith, there’s a reason that being placed in solitary confinement in the penitentiary is considered by many to be a cruel and unusual punishment, because we can’t flourish if we’re not connected to our world. And being connected to the work world is critically important.

JOHN ANDERSON: Well, that’s a great segue into talking more about the work that you’ve done, and here’s a magnificently interesting little book, Men Without Work, post-pandemic edition that you put together.

Now, Nicholas, despite, and I find this quite bewildering in a way, even having had years of involvement at the heart of economic policymaking in this country, we’re now in a situation across the West where, despite the economic problems and so forth that countries face, unemployment is at record low levels in your country, and indeed in mine, yet bosses everywhere are screaming for more work. We’re farmers. We can’t get machinery attended to because they’ve got backlogs because they can’t get techs. You go to a restaurant in Sydney and we’re closed on Thursday night. We can’t get enough staff to run our normal timetable, and that’s common to America as well. I know that.

The No-Work crisis

But while they’re screaming for work, you’ve got a staggering number of American men of prime age, working age, who are not making themselves available. And you’ve written that in early 2022, more than 7 million prime age men, that’s about the male workforce of Australia, by the way, were neither working or looking for work. More than 11% of the prime age male manpool are involved in this. Seven million men who can work, simply not working. What on earth are they doing with their days?

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