Work is a confidence trick that lies of the heart of the economic system of capitalism. If a man walked up to another man and hit him over the head with a stick and stole half the money in his wallet this would be considered a crime and the man would be considered a threat to society. But if a man offers another a job and pays him half the value his labour generates we laud him as a wealth-creator, as a worthy entrepreneur, the sort of person our children should be taught to emulate in school. The perceived difference between the two situations is the primary myth that the capitalist work system generates.
This is the central myth but there are many others; I came up with seven for a short book I wrote a few years ago, but this is not an exhaustive list. When I wrote Seven Myths about Work I was enraged about the pressure being brought to bear to force everybody into work. On re-reading it I am pleased to see that my rage is clearly manifest in every chapter. While quite a few minor issues now seem dated, that does not. A few years later I updated the book with a few additional articles and published it as Arbeit Macht Frei.Arbeit macht frei (pdf, 472 K)
I notice with some sadness, though, that the determination to avoid the destructive and oppressive work system has faded since the book was published in 1996. The draconian employment and social security legislation that was passed at that time has been effective, and many people, especially young people, who were living creative lives improving either themselves or their communities, or just enjoying life, have been forced into meaningless and poorly paid employment in call centres and fast-food outlets. Perhaps we could have expected nothing better from a government that proudly called itself 'labour' with no hint of irony.
The quality of work has continued to degenerate, with less space for imagination, creativity and morality. Greens write a lot about work, following in the footsteps of E. F. Schumacher, who used the Buddhist concept of 'right livelihood' as a touchstone for how people should think about their work. One of the chapters of my Green Economics book includes a summary of this green economic thinking about work.Chapter on work from Green Economics (pdf, 159 K)
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