Work, Consumerism and the New Poor

By Zygmunt Bauman | Go to book overview

4
The work ethic and the new poor

The early nineteenth-century preachers of the work ethic knew full well what they were talking about. At that time labour was the sole source of wealth; to produce more, and to involve more labour in the process of production, meant much the same thing. There were growing ranks of entrepreneurs eager to produce more, and there were growing ranks of paupers reluctant to work and produce on the entrepreneurs' terms. The work ethic could, conceivably, induce the two to meet. The idea of work as the road leading simultaneously towards a wealthy nation and out of individual poverty rang true.

In the late twentieth century, the work ethic comes once more to the forefront of public debate; it looms large in both the diagnoses of current ills and the prescriptions for their cure. It is most prominent in the welfare- to-work programmes, initiated in the USA but, since their inception (though regardless of their dubious results), enviously eyed by a growing number of politicians in other affluent countries (including Britain). As Handler and Hasenfeld point out about WIN (the cryptonim for the American welfare-to-work programme):

… from its inception and throughout its convoluted history, the
rhetorics justifying WIN bore little relationship to its actual impact.
All the available evidence indicates that the programme has had dismal
results … Work policies and programmes have persisted in various
forms, despite the overwhelming historical evidence that they have
generally failed to reduce the welfare rolls in any appreciable way or
to improve the economic self-sufficiency of the poor. The reasons for
their survival cannot, therefore, reside in their salutary effects on the
poor and welfare, but rather in their apparent utility to the nonpoor.1

The reluctance, genuine or putative, of the present-day welfare poor to

-63-

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Work, Consumerism and the New Poor
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Issues in Society Series Editor: Tim May iii
  • Work, Consumerism and the New Poor iv
  • Contents vi
  • Series Editor's Foreword vii
  • Introduction to the First Edition 1
  • Part I 4
  • 1: The Meaning of Work 5
  • 2: From the Work Ethic to the Aesthetic of Consumption 23
  • Part II 44
  • 3: The Rise and Fall of the Welfare State 45
  • 4: The Work Ethic and the New Poor 63
  • 5: Work and Redundancy in the Globalized World 87
  • Part III 104
  • 6: Prospects for the New Poor 105
  • Notes 121
  • Index 129
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