The United States has basically the right idea about unemployment benefits. Giving people unemployment assistance has a negative effect on work: the easier it is to stay out of the workforce, the more people will do it. Not only does this up the cost to the public fisc; it also destroys human capital, as skills stagnate. This is a lot of the reason that Europe has historically had high unemployment compared to the US (though there are other issues, and the insurance system is much worse in some countries than others.)
McArdle believes what she is told, the good little authoritarian that she is, and she believes that people act rationally because she was told people act rationally.
The basic idea of rational choice theory is that patterns of behavior in societies reflect the choices made by individuals as they try to maximize their benefits and minimize their costs. In other words, people make decisions about how they should act by comparing the costs and benefits of different courses of action. As a result, patterns of behavior will develop within the society that result from those choices.
The idea of rational choice, where people compare the costs and benefits of certain actions, is easy to see in economic theory. Since people want to get the most useful products at the lowest price, they will judge the benefits of a certain object (for example, how useful is it or how attractive is it) compared to similar objects. Then they will compare prices (or costs). In general, people will choose the object that provides the greatest reward at the lowest cost.
How does this translate after it filters through McArdle's porous head?
Giving people unemployment assistance has a negative effect on work: the easier it is to stay out of the workforce, the more people will do it.
Amazingly, McArdle does not cast her thoughts back to her own experiences, which have always been such a providential source of insight for her. McArdle was miserable when she was unemployed. She had to move in with her parents, watched all her money go to medical expenses, and felt alienated from her free-spending employed friends. When she couldn't find a job in the financial sector, she took a low-paying but dignified and perk-laden job as a writer. But McArdle's unemployment was the elite kind, where the situation is quite clearly temporary and not at all the fault of the unemployed person.
The other classes who make up this kind of employment are more shiftless, and will not work if they can get the generous monthly check from Uncle Sam instead. In Texas that would be between $58 and $392, depending on how much you were earning while employed. Under McArdle's theory, a low-wage earner would weigh having a job against raking in that big $100 a month and choose the money instead. Therefore unemployment benefits are bad.
Fortunately, however, we are in a recession, and we can put aside our scruples and help the poor, just like McArdle was able to put aside her scruples to accept health care from her employer.