Do We Need to Work?
O Sweet Utopia, Wherefore Art Thou?
The headline, “Do We Need To Work?” from The Nation1 came across my Twitter feed and it caught my attention enough for me to click through. So, kudos to the writer, Aaron Benanav, for the hook, line, and sinker. I thought the headline was so absurd, that I copied it and used it for my post. Why fix what isn’t broken, am I right?
As I read the headline, a part of me thought, “well do I need to work?” Have I been such a moron to be working all of these years? This reminds me of the scene in the movie, Office Space,2 when Peter tells Lawrence that if he had a million dollars, he’d do nothing. Then Lawrence says,
“Well, you don't need a million dollars to do nothing, man. Take a look at my cousin: "he's broke, don't do #%$@.”
I have never before read an article from The Nation, although it is obvious that the tone of the publication is not one that is sympathetic to free market capitalism. This is ironic considering immediately after I clicked the article, I get a pop-up that tells me I have read “1 of 3 free articles” before a paid subscription to The Nation is needed for unlimited access. [Side note: what’s funny is that I accidentally closed out the article a few times while I was reading through, but when you refresh the same article it counts against your free three. Whoops!]
Once I delved into the article, I found that it was just as absurd as the headline. It was written back in October of last year. It’s long and insufferable, much like my own writing.
Unending Economic Growth — The Horror!
The article opens up with the premise that Earth is facing a global warming emergency implying that unending economic growth will only lead to total world destruction. Human beings are “insatiable consuming machines … eating our way through the biosphere” as if every other living animal on Earth is any different. It starts off posing the question,
“Is unending economic growth really a defining feature of what it means to be human?”
Living Like Our Ancestors Did
Part of this article turns out to be a book review, revolving around the apparent claim of South African anthropologist James Suzman’s book, Work: A Deep History, From the Stone Age to the Age of Robots, in which he asks,
“whether we might learn to live like our ancestors did—that is, to value free time over money.”
The claim is absurd. Now I don’t know about you, but when I think of hunter gatherers trying to survive day-to-day, the last thing I think about is “free time.”
This article’s author finds inspiration from the days-of-old when hunter gatherers limited their material possessions to what they could carry. He implies that early families had limited wants and needs compared to humans of today. As if to say that the human desire for a constant increase in the standard of living was not wired in the brains of pre-modern man.
“For the vast majority of our history, humans have thought of their material needs as limited. Families divided up the work required to meet those needs, and when the work was done, they called it a day.”
Ya think that maybe they “called it a day” because they were exhausted from intense labor in the interest of survival?!
This outlook reminds me of that infamous article from one of the central planning social engineers of the World Economic Forum — you know, the one that tells us how our world could change for the better where “you will own nothing and you will be happy.3”
The article then goes on to explore why we haven’t yet reached the utopian world of post-scarcity, where goods and services are nearly free, abundant, and no longer subject to market forces. The aspirations of this article are nothing new. It is the same old argument for central planning, similar to many nowadays that call for seizure of wealth and democratically controlled investment, all in the pursuit of some subjective justice and sustainability.
The author thinks we can reach the magical post-scarcity world where we can live without work and still “throw parties, too.” But you cannot defy the law of scarcity, just like you cannot defy the law of physics.
The author is partly right, though. If we allow our world to be molded into a state where all scarce resources are democratically-controlled to serve the “needs” of the people, those that find themselves at the top of the state apparatus certainly will live a life of leisure … off the backs of the others, of course. Those at the top get to define the “needs.” And after all, to own nothing means you have to rent from someone else with their permission. Some will always be more equal than others, you see.4