The Future of Work Revisited

A reader posted a reply to The Future of Work – III When Jobs End. It is copied below:

“Does it only count as a job if you get paid for it? Or does a job also imply some kind of accountability? If you don’t do your job you don’t get paid. How is the welfare mother held responsible for the outcome of her ‘work?’ It seems that she gets paid whether she ‘works’ or not. Maybe that is the frustration of the working class against the welfare loafers–that those with regular jobs are held accountable to a standard which feels very judgmental–the dreaded performance review. Hence, the workers are judgmental against those who aren’t held accountable and still get paid. How do we remove accountability from the equation?”

Living in a Max Weber world (wrote “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” in 1904) and also under the influence of the protestant ethic itself which emphasizes that hard work and frugality are the result of a person’s salvation in the Protestant faith, it is hard to envision a society that is based on other virtues than capitalism and sanctification by work.

There are places where capitalism survives but is subsumed into socialism as the primary ethic. One thinks of the Nordic countries but the top ten socialist nations in the world includes Canada. Reference:

This website has a short paragraph about each country and is a good place to start one’s investigation of socialist ideals and how GDP functions in a socialist culture.

What is important to us as we contemplate the future of work is individual happiness. If happiness or at least contentment is a dominant ethic, the workplace must accommodate that ethic – rather than first accommodating personal profit and success over others. Microsoft Corporation in Redmond, Washington has made the physical workplace one which induces contentment in the employees. A Microsoft employee has a liberal leave policy, flexible hours, babysitting services, picnic and exercise space, 24-hour food services and a host of smaller conveniences. Microsoft is rated the best among peer companies for its profit sharing/401K retirement program. One will never say that Microsoft does not support capitalist principles and does not have profit in mind. Still, the working individual is allowed to integrate the reality of living an individual human life with accountability to the corporation.

Despite the expense of an employee’s contentment, Bill Gates is the wealthiest man in the world. Gates is an exception in a country known for its capitalism; he is known for his liberal philosophy and is one of a handful of billionaires actively supporting human welfare around the world. However, if one is not so wealthy, putting individual happiness first is virtually impossible in the competitive environment of capitalism. Culturally, it will be immensely difficult for today’s political and business environment to adopt contentment as a requisite in the future of work. The economy of today’s culture also will require mind-bending adjustment. It is common knowledge that the US is an oligarchy; wealth is the first measure of a person’s value – even in the little town where the mariner lives. Putting profit first leaves behind a broken and insecure middle class and an underclass comparable to 19th century India.

It is virtually impossible to move a person embedded in the current work culture to the future work culture – particularly a person older than a millennium who has worked a lifetime in the labor class. Referring to the three cases in FOW II, this person still would call the part time worker lazy, still would call the welfare mother lazy, and would fault the children as much as the parents for not accepting responsibility; the person would give credit to the parents for their work ethic. Being embedded in today’s capitalist culture is why it is difficult to imagine the future of work.

To address the issue of accountability, the future of work is based on the principle that “it takes a village,” if the mariner may borrow a term. The reason the welfare mother is seen as a risk to the work ethic today is that she is isolated, has virtually no peer support, and does not have enough income to pursue a normal life; in other words, she is programmed to fail then she is blamed for the failure. If the culture around the mother included her as a resource and supported her as if she were an asset to the “village,” she likely will be judged in a better light by others and could be depended upon to do a better job. The social pressure on her would be as strong as being wealthier than one’s neighbor is today.

Ancient Mariner


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