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Jones The Idler

Here’s an attempt, probably futile, to depersonalize the thread below on the moral judgment of the actions of an unemployed/underemployed man. In this thought experiment, I want you all to focus on the following facts about a fictional character we will call Jones, a factory worker who lost his job at age 48, and has been idle ever since. The facts of the case:

  • Jones has not worked steadily for five years, since his factory closed.
  • He is willing to work again, but only if he can get a job as satisfying and as remunerative as his factory job. The last post-layoff gig he had paid $45/hr, which he found acceptable, but that dried up too. He has not looked for work he considers beneath his level of worth and skill, because of “bitter memories” from his previous work life.
  • He is healthy and intelligent, spending his days reading, playing music, and writing.
  • Jones does not live extravagantly, but he and his wife are rapidly spending down their savings. Jones has borrowed money against his house to help fund his lifestyle, and, like his wife, is cleaning out his 401(K) so rapidly he has had to pay withdrawal penalties.
  • Jones brings in $12,000/yr from his pension. Mrs. Jones is disabled, and brings in $12,000/yr, plus what she can get by doing odd jobs. It is not enough to support them, even though they live modestly.
  • What’s going to happen when the money runs out? Jones says, “The future is always a concern, but I no longer allow myself to dwell on it.”

You work as a professional counselor. Jones is a stranger who comes to you for advice. Here are the questions facing you:

1. Given that he is physically and mentally capable of work, is Jones right to refuse to look for work that would pay him a salary lower than what he thinks he deserves? Why or why not?

2. Is Jones justified in not allowing himself to dwell on the question of how he will support himself and help support his wife in the future? Why or why not?

Please, no sidetracks into discussions of the problems with capitalism or economic policies, or the unfairness of life, all of which may well be true. Even so, what would you advise Jones to do? Why?

Let me shift the framework a bit. Jones is not a stranger; Jones is your son. You are not in a position to offer him money or a place to live. All you have to offer is your advice. What do you tell him to do? Explain your reasoning.

One more shift: Mrs. Jones is your daughter. You are not in a position to offer her money or a place to live. All you have to offer is your advice. What do you tell her to do? Explain your reasoning.

I’m not going to publish any responses that don’t directly answer at least one set of these questions. Don’t refer to the previous discussion; this is a thought experiment.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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