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Review Essay

The Trouble With the “Working Hypothesis”

What Conservatives Get Wrong About Labor Markets

In This Review

The Once and Future Worker
The Once and Future Worker
By Oren Cass
Encounter Books, 2018, 272 pp. Purchase

Oren Cass, domestic issues director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and a writer for National Review and other journals, has produced a conservative's treatise on the social and economic ills of America, and what might be done to repair them. The Once and Future Worker, published in November, holds that a social philosophy based on consumption, equality, the welfare state and quality of life achieved through regulation—the essential vision of a liberal century from the Roosevelts through Richard Nixon—should be scrapped for more solid values: work, family, country, one might say. Above all, Cass believes in a society and culture rooted in the pride and pleasures of productive labor. “[The] argument at its most basic," he writes, "is that work matters. More specifically, [the book] offers what I will call the Working Hypothesis: that a labor market in which workers can support strong families and communities is the central determinant of long term prosperity.”

Thus the labor market, in Cass’s view, is the proper medium for delivering a work-friendly world. And the trouble comes when politicians, especially Democrats, “trample” on the market. The Democrats’ “actual agenda,” according to Cass, 

centers on the interests advanced by its coalition of labor unions, environmentalists and identity groups. Its policies rely on an expectation that government mandates and programs will deliver what the market does not. This agenda inserts countless regulatory wedges that aim to improve the conditions of employment but in the process raise its cost, driving apart the players that the market is attempting to connect. Better market outcomes require better market conditions. Government cannot command that workers be more valuable or employment relationships be more attractive, but by trying, it can bring about the reverse. The economic landscape is pocked with the resulting craters.

ABANDONING THE WORKER

The vision of a labor market offered by Cass is Deist; it is the idea of the clockmaker, of intelligent design. Its Western roots lie in pre-revolutionary France, which borrowed the theme from classical

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