In Refining the Work Ethic, Barry Brooks asks some very interesting questions about why we work--and explains why we should work less. He begins by pointing out that we don't open cans of food full-time just to make maximum use of can openers, then asserts that keeping everyone employed is just as wasteful:
Now that we have machines we don't need everyone's full labor, but the existence of surplus labor has been obscured because we have been able to waste enough to keep most workers busy, so far. Should we continue to waste scarce natural resources to keep all workers busy?Some other intriguing quotes:
The greatest obstacle to building an efficient and durable world has been our failure to separate the economic and the social functions of work.
The production of goods and services could be much more efficient if we didn't make the use of all human labor one of our goals.The core of his argument:
Without the use of demand stimulation, war, and other methods of increasing waste, there will be a shortage of paid work in any automated economy. But there will always be plenty of unpaid work, like motherhood, that could be done properly if people weren't too busy being wage slaves. If human dignity hinges on work why not give unpaid work its due respect? Must money be involved for work to be good?It's commonly assumed that it's bad to just give money to people. But think again: "unearned income" encompasses interest on investments as well as welfare checks. Why is unearned income good for rich people, but bad for poor people? The answers are to be found in psychology and sociology, not economics.
The article is very well-written and worth reading in its entirety. It makes me wonder: if we fear unemployment enough to keep people busy at unnecessary and wasteful jobs today, will nearly-free nanotech manufacturing make any difference?