The Dignity That Comes from Work

Just saw the Obama ad Peter mentioned, and I was very, very impressed. The key line comes right at the end.

and never forget the dignity that comes from work.

I’ve mentioned Judith Shklar’s American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion before, but let me just say that I think this is one of the most persuasive, compelling books I’ve ever read on American identity and our political self-understanding. If the Obama campaign understands that worklessness is a moral as well as an economic problem, conservatives have a very worthy opponent.

At the same time, the ad promises to punish firms that outsource jobs. A very appealing proposition that reminded me of the best idea I’ve ever seen on spurring development in the world’s poorest regions.

One simple way to provide incentives for private development finance is to give tax credits to American companies that invest in developing countries. We will argue that shifting money from government-to-government aid to tax credits would allow more total dollars to be distributed without increasing the cost to the taxpayer (addressing the critique of the left); would reduce money lost to mismanagement and corruption (addressing the critique of the right); and would more effectively foster the building of institutions necessary for sustainable economic development.

So which will win out — Obama’s internationalism and humanism, or his protectionism and economic nationalism? This is tension Republicans face as well as Democrats, to be sure. But Republicans have traditionally been frank nationalists, which has posed a challenge for Obama and candidates like him.