For ages, work equaled having a job so you could put a roof over your head, keep your belly full, clothe your back and pay your bills, taxes, mortgage, insurance, car note and other life essentials. And if you had some of your hard-earned paycheck left over you might treat yourself to a day at the spa, a night out on the town or attend a concert or sporting event.
But work doesn’t just mean money. Work also conveys discipline, education, skills, talent, passion, and making contribution to society and culture as a whole. Work is the solution to society’s ills, after all, idle hands are the devil’s workshop, right?
According to James Livingston maybe we need to take a look at our age-old idea of work and turn this idea on its head. And he goes into this further in his thought provoking book No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea.
According to Livingston, professor of history at Rutgers University, gainful employment is seen by Americans, of all political leanings, as a proper goal for all of us instead of a problem that needs to some serious overview and overhaul, both morally and economically. We need to examine why we go to work and how it is affecting us as human beings and as a nation.
There are several problems with gainful employment for your average American worker. One includes technology and automation are replacing humans for various business transaction. We do are banking on-line, use the self-checkout at the grocery store, and check out various travel websites rather than talk about our vacation plans with a travel agent.
Another factor Livingston examines in No More Work is how we have reached peak productivity levels that do nothing more than provide a cushion of leisure for most of us. Yet it is mostly the one percent among us who truly benefit primarily due to the how both wealth and work are dispersed. We have far too many workers make less than a truly life sustaining wage, often using public assistance just to make it. And it’s not just people working at Wal-Mart. Even people who are college educated and working white collar professions rely on food stamps and other “entitlements.” Meanwhile, some CEOs make huge sums of money in both income and assets even as they make decisions that can sink a company.
And there is this idea of the “romance of work,” the age old Protestant work ethic most Americans swear by even though it doesn’t always benefit us financially, mentally, emotionally and so on.
So what is the solution according to Mr. Livingston? One solution is taxing corporate profits, which often aren’t used to fully invest in ways that benefit most of us. By now I think most of us realize “trickle-down economics” is a complete myth.
What else does Livingston suggest? Livingston also suggests implementing a guaranteed minimum basic income. This may sound familiar to many of my readers when I debunked Miriam Weaver and Amy Jo Clark’s badly researched take on this concept in my review of their book Right for a Reason.
A basic guaranteed income for all citizens is being examined again and is supported by both those on the left and the right. Personally, I think the idea is very intriguing, and even with this type of income, most of us will seek some type extra of employment to make more money and to get benefits, especially health insurance.
No doubt No More Work is brings up several controversial issues, but I do hope it’s used as a springboard when it comes to the concepts of full employment, corporate America, guaranteed basic income, raising the minimum wage, income inequality, our current tax system, entitlements, and our concepts of work, leisure, life, and money that are deeply etched into our country’s psyche.