I have worked since I was 14 years old, but I’ve never worked to live. I worked for money, but never for my next meal, my health, or a roof over my head. I’ve worked for better housing or food, but never so that I wouldn’t die.
Why should I? Why should anyone?
No one should work for a living. It’s inhumane, and bad economics to boot.
We’re not wild animals. What is the point of civilization? Basic public services should be universal. Health, housing, food, education, internet. This is both the right thing to do and the economic thing to do. Eliminating the pressure of bare survival alleviates much human suffering and unleashes a mass of human potential. What is the point of leaving the jungle to just live in a capitalist one?
Our current system of ‘work or your children will starve’ is a cruel psychological experiment played on billions of people (and notably not on the rich). And it has failed. It has its place in history as an improvement but we must keep moving forward.
In its late stages, what has this capitalism produced? We have cities full of grand apartments that no one lives in. Backwards nations like America have expensive healthcare systems that don’t deliver health to their population. In terms of food, there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner and, both obesity and millions of children missing meals.
This is economic nonsense. Economics is, fundamentally, about the allocation of resources. The best use of widely distributed human talent is not to have 90% of people scrabbling to live. People can start businesses, make art, make love, raise families — all if they simply have room to breathe. People are also less inclined to crime, to violence, and — of great interest to the state — to unrest if they’re simply not so stressed and hemmed in all the time. These basic public needs are most economically served as public goods.
This is also goes a ways towards correcting the economic travesty that raising children, helping elders and not destroying the environment have zero economic value (because they do not contribute to GDP). Instead of a rapacious system of forever growth (indistinguishable from cancer) we can have a fuller expression of humanity. We can have fuller lives — full of people, full of leisure, full of time. At the same time we will not be forced to contribute to the looting of the environment simply so that we may live another day.
The question then, is how do we pay for this? The more relevant question is how are we paying for it now. Take healthcare as a relevant example. Public healthcare is cheaper and more effective than privatized. Places like Cuba, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka have better healthcare systems than the horrendously expensive and inequitable one in the US. Look at public health — the most basic health measure — and how rich ‘developed’ countries have conclusively shat the bed. Meanwhile poor nations, by pooling their meagre resources, have proved themselves rich in health.
If we can do it for health we can do it for housing, for food, for internet. These things will all be cheaper than the wildly inefficient systems we have now.
But won’t people stop working? Please remember that people raised these same objections to enslavement. If your economy depends on people working certain jobs or they’ll starve, you’re doing it wrong. Maybe clothes should cost more and you should change them less. Maybe eat less meat, I dunno, but your convenience to have people work for you does not give you the right to hold their life in the balance.
Will some people stay home and not work? Yes, and that’s fine. Our moral repugnance towards laziness ends up as blanked punishment upon the poor. What do you think anyone that lives off interest income does? They don’t work. This is fine. If someone wants to live with the basics that’s not for you to judge. Frankly, most artists and prophets would appear this way. Your right to feel superior to someone else is not worth taking away the basic survival rights of everyone.
Most people won’t stop working. I worked shitty jobs (cleaning toilets in almost every single one) for years. Why did I work? For the extras. These are hugely motivating, whereas working for survival is frankly the opposite.
As a teenager I worked for money, for a bit of extra choice. I worked so that instead of my packed lunch I could eat at Taco Bell with my friends (WTF was I thinking, my Amma’s sandwiches were way better). I worked so I could buy Tommy Hilfiger instead of what my mom bought me in one stressful batch at JCPenney. I worked for choice. I was quite motivated by that.
Desire for the extras is entirely enough to power an economy. Behold Apple, Amazon, Netflix — these are all fundamentally extras. For the jobs that really suck, maybe they’ll have to pay people more. Right now we pay bankers and white collar workers obscene amounts for jobs that don’t even suck. Take it from them.
I will close on a simple point, which I hope will undercut all objections. Perhaps you could justify this capitalist jungle as being required to motivate adults. Yet that’s not where the burden falls. Children do not choose their parents, and where they fall in the law of club and fang. How is survival economics even remotely ethical to impose on children?
Why should a baby, fresh out the feds, be unable to get formula because their parents can’t afford it? Perhaps their parents need to taught a lesson (cruel), but what are we teaching the baby? All they’ll know is hunger.
Why should a child, trying to study, be rendered without healthcare because their parent loses a job? Why should teenagers be rendered homeless? Furthermore, why should battered women and children be forced to stay in violent homes because there is no safe place for them to go? These are public needs, served by public good, for the public good.
A system where people are not worried about survival will lead to thrival. We will unlock so much human potential. Human talents are not concentrated in the rich, they are simply suppressed in the poor. Give a poor child the same basic security as a rich one and they’ll blow our minds. They’ll enrich the world. Call it the economy if you want, but I call it something else. This is simply living better than a wild animal. This is civilization.
No one should work for a living. Then we can have life, in abundance.