The Problem with Work-Based Societies

By The Objectioneer
(First Guest Post)

    When a working individual encounters a non-working individual, especially if that other person is perceived to be reaping the benefits of welfare systems, the first thought that likely emerges is “Get a job!” Given the assumptions that come from living in a work-based society, that may or may not be a fair assessment; “work to live” is a cultural axiom that is not only rarely questioned, but in being questioned is met with the same reaction from one’s peers: “Get a job!”

    Human societies are more or less adaptive systems, with the caveat that their adaptations may be less organic and efficient than the evolutionary processes of natural systems. Changes in human societies are filtered through the agendas of those who manage those societies, enacted only after an analysis determines the maximum benefit to those in control of their assets. Natural systems have no agenda; while their adaptations may not always be kind or fair to their constituents, they at least have an inherent tendency towards equilibrium that does not depend on a high-level analysis.

    Capitalist societies, despite the beliefs of their proponents, are not purely Darwinian systems. While there is opportunity for any enterprise to become successful, that opportunity is not balanced by an equivalent decline of established enterprises. Large corporations inevitably gain influence with governing bodies, entrench themselves as necessary institutions, and ensure their longevity and financial solvency at the expense of competing enterprises. Thus, opportunity shrinks over time. What’s more, the inherited wealth among those that benefit from large enterprises creates a virtual aristocracy, such that subsequent generations can profit without any involvement, at the expense of those who produce and consume their forebears’ product.

    These societies are fueled by a constant flow of worker resources, and so the concept of “work to live” is fundamental to their structure. This is why even base necessities such as food, water, clothing and shelter are products that must be paid for, rather than guaranteed as fulfilling our human rights. In contrast, the services that are guaranteed as public utilities are those that facilitate working, such as roadway maintenance and public schools (excepting, of course, colleges and universities, which only facilitate higher-paying work).

    This is at odds with the principle of having a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Even ignoring liberty and happiness, a right to life means a right to the necessities for life, which—given the existence of the homeless population—is not guaranteed by our government. The only thing that is guaranteed is the opportunity to obtain those necessities, and thus the conditions for life, which means having an income and participating in the “work to live” paradigm.

    In times of economic prosperity this appears to be less of a problem; if everyone has a job, the issue “works itself out.” The rise of income inequality, however—exacerbated by enormous entrenched corporations and the resulting aristocracy—has led to less money flowing to the working class, and far less opportunity to earn a living wage. As of 2013, the unemployment rate for the United States was 9%, tied with the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. This was only exceeded by France and Italy, at around 10% and 13%, respectively. Welfare and unemployment programs exist for this segment of the population, but they often carry the condition that the recipient is actively pursuing full-time employment or is otherwise physically incapable of work.

    The very division of the “welfare class” from the working class generates a stigma, that the taxes of working people are paying for “freeloaders.” In this way the government is somewhat upholding the right-to-life, but in a way that inspires guilt and alienation to motivate people into the work force. When that opportunity does not provide enough income to live, or simply does not exist, and the individual no longer fulfills the necessary conditions to receive welfare, the result is homelessness, and thus a failure of the government to uphold that person’s rights.

    If a successful society is one that guarantees the basic right to life of its citizens, then the “work to live” paradigm of modern capitalist societies is significantly flawed. This flaw becomes more obvious as unemployment and income inequality rise. Adaptive though these systems may be, if they fail to address this core problem, the effects will continue to worsen until these societies collapse under revolution—as they have throughout history—or they become so untreatable that the human right to life is all but forgotten.

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