Law & Principles

Oklahoma’s government shouldn’t discourage work

Jonathan Small | October 3, 2023

To make Oklahoma a place where all people can thrive requires that we make Oklahoma a place where people can work.

Work matters. It provides people with a sense of purpose and self-control even when they face financial stress.

That’s why conservatives are so strongly opposed to government policies that incentivize people to stay on the workforce sidelines. Such policies have a severe negative impact on individuals and society as a whole.

Some on the political left promote government policies such as a guaranteed income, arguing that if people have confidence their most basic needs will be met, they will be happier.

But paying people simply for existing doesn’t make them happier. In fact, people who are heavily dependent upon government programs are often among the most depressed about their prospects. They feel they have no control over their own lives or their own prospects.

In contrast, a person with a job and an income, even a lower-wage income, is a person with hope. That’s something you can’t put a price on.

Work allows people to develop skills that lead to better-paying jobs. You don’t reach the top rung of the ladder without starting at the bottom. Oklahoma’s Harold Hamm didn’t start out as the billionaire owner of Continental Resources. He started out working plenty of low-wage, entry-level jobs beginning with farm work as a child.

Talk to any successful business owner, and you will hear many tales of early struggle before achieving success. Work develops tenacity.

Work allows people to build social connections. The benefit of a job is not simply the paycheck, but the opportunity to interact with other people. And those interactions can, in time, lead to other opportunities.

Karen L. Jacob, program director of McLean Hospital’s Gunderson Residence in Massachusetts, has described employment as part of a patient’s healing process.

“Working has been shown to help stabilize people struggling with mental health conditions,” Jacob said.

Having a sense of purpose, a feeling of self-control, and being part of a community also contribute to better mental and even physical health outcomes. Those sitting at home with a welfare check don’t get those benefits, and instead often find themselves emotionally isolated and spiraling into greater depression.

You don’t have to love a job to get these benefits. Plenty of people have worked at jobs they found tedious in order to simply pay their bills. But the traits that allow people to succeed even in that environment also make it possible to obtain other jobs that are more personally rewarding.

As I said, work matters. And as a state, we should do all we can to make certain that people have more opportunities to work, not fewer.

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

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