Why America Doesn't Work: How the Decline of the Work Ethic is Hurting Your Family and Future—and What You Can Do

January 1 st 1992

Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991,227 pp., $16.95)

This is a different book from those we usually expect from Chuck Colson. He teams with Jack Eckerd (former CEO of the Eckerd drugstore chain in the United States) to challenge Americans to reinvigorate the Christian notion of work, its moral character, and its high purpose in God's creation. The authors are clearly worried about the future of America which looks bleak with soaring crime rates, moral decay, declining productivity, skyrocketing costs of social programs, a gigantic debt, and a loss of competitive position in the world.

The authors pick work as the villain in all this because it is the locus of so many of life's disciplines that can enrich a nation. Although the attitude one brings to work isn't sufficient by itself, it is a necessary condition for the development of a country's wealth. There are other factors of course, for example, political and economic structures. But without the right attitude, no matter how resource wealthy a country is, it will remain poor.

Colson and Eckerd are concerned to show that "the very thing that made America great is in trouble today. Our economic engine is running down. We are losing the work ethic." From their examination they conclude that "Americans aren't working much, and they aren't working well." The root of the matter, they say, is work and what has happened to it. The once prevalent Christian understanding of work has been a significant contributor to America's success. But as the strength and pervasiveness of Christian belief wanes, so does the commitment to work.

A weakening work ethic is obvious. Its diminishment is recounted in a number of anecdotes. Much of the blame the authors lay at the feet of the 1960s, "the greatest cultural and social revolution in American history." This was the period that largely destroyed the mainstream's acceptance of "transcendent truths." An attack on work was part of its universalistic rejection. And so, "with no transcendent values, and no goal other than the pleasure of work for work's sake, traditional restraints on behavior collapsed. Thus was born a new breed of predators who exploited everything for their own advantage, making exceptions for themselves instead of playing by the rules."

The public education establishment comes in for its share of blame. There is the usual shocking story: a majority of American high school students in one survey thought the holocaust was a Jewish holiday. Many of them could not even locate the United States on a world map. A history of waste and squandered opportunity is what Colson and Eckerd document. Says one public school critic: "The penchant to praise and to build self-esteem has produced an academic culture that values the little smile sticker on a test paper more than knowledge itself. It's not what you know that counts, it's how you feel about it."

A "restoring of the work ethic" through a national transformation of attitudes is what the authors call for. They encourage the revivification of individual responsibility and accountability. Too many disadvantaged groups wait for government to rescue them. They have lost the will to help themselves and even the knowledge of how to take ownership of their problems and to regain responsibility for themselves. There is a moral vacuum here and, lamentably, the churches are doing nothing to fill it. "The church is always worrying about being relevant. It would be difficult to imagine a more timely and relevant message to give the world today" than to emphasize the importance of hard work, honesty, and responsibility.

Why America Doesn't Work isn't all gloom. There are prescriptions for getting back to work and encouraging examples of those who have. Cummins Engine and Alcoa, once successful and respected, lost touch with their roots of concern and respect for their workers and suffered great economic declines and bitter strikes. Now they are reemerging as stronger companies. They have recommitted themselves to a "restored marketplace" in which integrity, safety and health, quality of work, treatment of people, accountability, and profitability are high on their list of emphases.

Though Colson and Eckerd devote their energies to the state of America's health, their analyses and prescriptions apply equally to Canada. A reinvigorated work ethic is a requirement here as well.

 

W. J. Douglas Ball is the secretary of the national board of the Christian Labour Association of Canada.

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