- Feb 18, 2010
- United Kingdom
Kind of the universal rule of human existence is that if you live by yourself, you're doing it wrong.If you live by yourself long ago, how do you eat if you don't hunt/grow food?
Ironically though, early hunter gatherers barely worked at all. They had more leisure time than basically anyone else in human history, because their way of life was extremely labor efficient and they didn't need to support an organized society. Agriculture was the worst disaster in human history in terms of its impact on working hours, but it allowed for a larger population and a more organized society where people afford to specialize beyond meeting basic needs. Even then, because agricultural work is seasonal and industries were relatively small, most people still didn't work as much as people do today.
Why though?I never claimed that everyone has to work 40 hours a week for society to function or that the economy needs to grow, but everyone should work to contribute to society.
Again, a tiny fraction of the population of a modern industrial economy can accomplish tasks that used to require most of the population. The proportion of people globally employed in agriculture is tiny. Even manufacturing is shrinking out of existence as the majority of the human population moves into the service industry, much of which is itself being trivialized by technology. Bureaucratic tasks which used to require dozens people and elaborate filing systems can be handled by a single computer. You talk about technology making work redundant at some distant point in the future, but it's already happening and it's been happening for centuries.
Sure, work couldn't be eliminated at this point. Fortunately, noone is talking about that. But why is it necessary for everyone to work, other than satisfying some weird moral belief about the Protestant work ethic? Is there nothing people could do to contribute to society other than flipping burgers for minimum wage so that someone else doesn't have to spend 20 minutes making themselves a burger after spending 10 hours in a call centre?
Because it is. Before capitalism, you worked when there was work to be done. If someone was employing you, you were probably part of their household and your payment was being fed and given a place to sleep. Capitalism introduced the idea of salaried employment, and consequentially the idea of fixed working hours.We have peer capitalist societies that work less, why is capitalism itself the cause of people working too much?
The reason why some capitalist countries work fewer hours isn't because they're doing capitalism better, it's because they have or had countervailing forces (typically, labor organization or socialist politicians) which forced the reduction in working hours. That's the only reason anything that benefits poor people ever happens under capitalism. Jeff Bezos is never going to say "oh, I could lose a couple of zeros off my yearly income if it means those poor workers in Amazon human resource processing camp A get paid holidays". He'll lock them out as soon as they try to unionize and then bus in strikebreakers, because that's how a person (or corporation, more realistically) becomes rich enough to have that kind of power.