The Power of Disability

It Pays To Be "Disabled"
It Pays To Be “Disabled”

I spent the last eight days or so sick with the flu bug from Hell. I had a slightly better Good Friday than my savior; didn’t do as well on Easter. On the bright side of life, I did manage to lose 8 pounds without a single visit to the dreaded squat rack. But the whole thing had me asking some very fundamental questions…


Why do anything? Why bother? People have stopped answering that question in growing numbers. That’s because the answer is depressing. Doing the right thing pays less than taking a dive. Taking a dive is therefore increasingly becoming the American Way. As the chart shows below, it increasingly pays to ditch work and dial 1-800-Bad-Back…

Yep, Honest Work Pays Less Than Skivving
Yep, Honest Work Pays Less Than Skivving

Not every American has an econ degree handy to grok that chart. Not everyone needs a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. As Jonah Goldberg points out, people are getting cynical, getting game, and gaming the system to a fare-the-well.

In 1960, when vastly more Americans were involved in physical labor of some kind, 0.65% of workforce participants between the ages of 18 and 64 were receiving Social Security disability insurance payments. Fifty years later, in a much healthier America that number has grown to 5.6%. In 1960, 134 Americans were working for every officially recognized disabled worker. Five decades later that ratio fell to roughly 16 to 1.

Now a part of me is still Old School and wants to go off on these skivving illegitimate by-blows the way the Drill Sergeant in Full Metal Jacket went off on the poor barracks full of Marine draftees. In Great Britain, the government did exactly that. They announced a tough new medical test to trim the rolls of the “disabled”, and 878,300 people chose to forego the humiliation of being outed as a cheater. Among them were sufferers from the following plagues of modern humanity.


The statistics also revealed that some claimants cited conditions such as “blisters”, “sprains and strains” and “acne” as preventing them from having a job.
More than 46,120 people claimed incapacity benefit because of “behavioural disorders due to the use of alcohol” while 29,130 claimants cited drug use.

Yet two things hold me back. One, they wouldn’t listen or change. I would feel like Canute ordering the tides. Two, I have a tough time really getting too mad at them. Disincentivized people do rotten things. They crash by design. It’s what the system wants and expects from them. Others aren’t either.

Goldberg tells the story of a doctor in my home state of Alabama who pencil-whips the application for anyone he speaks to who sounds functionally illiterate. He knows they don’t have much of chance. He doesn’t want to be the guy who hurls them out into the outer darkness. This is a case where perhaps mercy leads a man to be ethically compromised.

But every guy who signs his “disability” application with an “x” is yet another cross the productive people have to bear. It’s one more headache. It’s one more straw on the back of the camel. It gets easier every morning to cross over. I could take the blue pill and fill out the paperwork.


I could sign it with an “x” and tell Doctor Feelgood that “Muh teacher didn’t larn me no goode.” The pencil would whip. My legs would go up on the couch, the check would roll in. You could carry me. It would be just that easy. Until nobody bothers at all…

I’m not all the way back now. I read about people sitting at home having me buy their brewskis as I sit here at work and run a slight temperature. Am I kind of stupid for doing what I’m should to minimize my use of sick leave? I could of taken the dive….


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