Work--Who Needs It?
Work for the night is coming; Work through the sunny noon;
Fill brightest hours with labor; Rest comes sure and soon;
Give every flying minute; Something to keep in store;
Work for the night is coming; When man works no more.1
These lines from a popular Protestant hymn provide one example of the zeal with which many of us were taught to regard work.2 It is something we should do, something we must do, and even something we should want to do.3 It is also something we want others (particularly our children?) to do. But what is it, and why must we (they) do it?
The answers to these questions are critical to the argument in this book. The most common response I receive when I suggest a guaranteed adequate income is: "But then who would work?" For many, this question is the bete noir4 of the argument. They seem to suggest the discussion should end there. My smart-aleck response, however, is "So what's your point?" So what if some people choose not to work? Would we face Armageddon?
In this chapter, I consider in greater depth the issue of work. Is it essential to society that we maintain a system that compels people to work in order to survive? Is it essential to individuals themselves that they work? Do we do a disservice to our fellow citizens if we remove part of the incentive to work?5
It is important to recognize that there is a tremendous range of activities to which we apply the name "work."6 The nature of work has changed dramatically. Playing ball is now work, and gardening is now leisure. Our attitudes toward work must catch up with reality. Just what are the