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Reclaiming Work as a Virtue

My father taught me a simple lesson: when the alarm clock goes off, you get out of bed, have a shave, wash yourself, put your clothes on and go to work. You’ve got to be resilient and you’ve got to be focused on what you want to achieve.

Dad believed the measure of a person was whether or not they were a worker. He believed that working was a virtue. So do I.

Mundine’s mother and father, late 1920s

My father was Bundjalung and my mother Gumbaynggirr, two of the hundreds of first nations that existed across Australia before British colonisation. My Bundjalung ancestors had their first contact with white settlers in the early 1800s who came looking for grazing land. Like so many indigenous peoples across the world, this early contact included killings. But the initial hostilities gave way to a compromise with both sides showing a marked level of pragmatism. The settlers set up their sheep, later cattle, station and my ancestors lived and worked there, maintaining a good relationship with the station owners to this day.

My grandfather worked as a labourer all his life, hard, dirty work that didn’t pay much. Every day he got up, went to work and brought the money home for his family. Dad, my aunts and uncles grew up thinking that was normal. When Dad left school, he started working as an unskilled labourer too and in time became a skilled grader driver with better pay and opportunities. Until his seventies, he got up early every morning, went to work and brought the money home for his family. My siblings and I grew up thinking that was normal. And when we left school we also got jobs; some even went to university. Our kids thought that was normal and did the same. So from one man, my grandfather, having a simple labouring job over a century ago, hundreds of people grew up thinking work is normal.

Bundjalung family photo from the early 1900s. The baby on the left is Mundine’s father, the man holding him his grandfather.

Work has always been essential to human survival. In the societies my ancestors lived in, days were spent hunting, fishing and gathering food, building shelter and tools, and burning vegetation to make the land produce better food sources. If you didn’t work, you died.

The nature of work has changed. Modern economies rely on machines, computers, foreign trade and large-scale farming, manufacturing and production. People no longer hunt their own food or build their own shelters. They do other kinds of work to earn income they use to buy what they need from others.

All over the world, improved technology has radically changed the way humans live, leading to greater urbanisation. In Britain, there was a great exodus of people from rural areas to cities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries seeking work in the factories and metalworks created by the Industrial Revolution. British towns grew fast and infrastructure and services lagged behind with poor sanitation, filthy streets and over-crowded housing. Horror stories of the workhouses and industrial workplaces are etched in the western imagination through tales of writers like Charles Dickens.

In truth, the rural lives people left behind were at least as, if not more, impoverished. Human life in pre-industrial society was extremely bleak; most people lived their short lives in a subsistence lifestyle in abject poverty. They also worked long hours in harsh conditions, mostly in seasonal agriculture. Britain experienced multiple famines and plague epidemics wiped out large proportions of the population.

People flocked to new industrial workplaces for their survival and because they aspired for better lives. And human life did improve. Death rates dropped, life expectancy rose, wages rose over time, and food supplies and diets improved. Famine and plague came to an end. Average working hours shrunk and the cost of goods substantially decreased. Technological leaps since the early 1700s delivered extraordinary gains in human prosperity and quality of life.

Source: Our World in Data

Somewhere along the way during this amazing transformation, many of the intellectual classes stopped believing in work as essential to survival, beneficial, a source of pride, a virtue. They’ve come to characterise work as a negative.

I pinpoint the origins of this mindset to nineteenth-century political philosopher Karl Marx, who saw a working class exploited by business owners. To Marx, the source of exploitation wasn’t so much the conditions of nineteenth-century factories but the act of a business owner making a profit. Marx saw a world of finite resources which business owners and workers would increasingly battle over until the system eventually collapsed in on itself, leading to communist utopia. It didn’t. Technology increased resources, reduced need and made people better off. Actually, it was those states founded on Marxist ideology that experienced economic collapse. But, even as Marxist economies came and went, the idea of work as a form of exploitation has stuck and taken on a life of its own.

Increasingly we hear the idea there’s something wrong with wanting people to work. We hear welfare recipients shouldn’t be expected to work. We hear that requiring people to do work or activities in return for welfare is exploitation and wrong. That moving people from welfare to work is unfair because they’ll become part of the “working poor”. That some jobs, like seasonal fruit picking or even work someone is overqualified for, are just not good enough to expect people to go off welfare. That there aren’t enough jobs for unemployed people. That employers discriminate against older and disabled workers so there’s no point them trying.

When I first heard the expression “working poor” I had to ask for an explanation; even then I didn’t understand. People on welfare already live in poverty. So those who warn that welfare-to-work will create a working poor are really saying: being poor is undignified enough, it’s an added indignity to be poor and working. This is a terrible outlook. My family was part of the working poor my entire childhood. Working wasn’t an indignity. It was a source of pride. I’d choose to be part of the working poor over the welfare poor any day. Being in a job – any job – makes the next job opportunity – a permanent job, a higher paid job, a better job – much more likely.

Even outside of the welfare reform debate, we hear anti-work rhetoric. We hear it’s unfair if some people earn less than others, even if they’re less experienced or capable. The latest anti-work political idea is that governments should pay everyone a non-means tested Universal Basic Income with no obligation to work because it’s imagined most jobs will disappear.

The overarching message from the intellectual class is that work is exploitative, an indignity, a burden; that work enforces inequality, is scarce and even endangered. At least, that is, for the downtrodden, the poor, the unskilled, those on welfare, the young, the aged and the disabled; and, in the future, for most unskilled workers.

The mindset of work as something negative is allowing many families and communities to be destroyed.

* * *

The welfare safety net was one of the most significant public policy innovations of the twentieth-century western world.

In the tribal societies of my ancestors, people pooled their resources in large family groups. Those who could contribute had roles and responsibilities in caring for those who couldn’t, like the young and the aged. Aboriginal kinship systems acted as a natural welfare system. If someone you were responsible for in the kinship system needed or asked for your help, the law required you to help them. Most human societies began in a similar way, with small familial groups in close, subsistence living and mutual kinship obligations.

Modernisation and urbanisation saw these ancient structures change, often disappearing entirely. Congregated in large cities with people from many and disparate regions and origins, people couldn’t necessarily rely on kin to care for and protect them and were often reliant entirely on the churches and the charity of others to survive.

Most western countries today have expansive welfare systems. The unintended impact has been a permanent underclass of people; families dependent on welfare for generations suffering a myriad of socio-economic problems. Long-term welfare dependence is the new poverty in western economies.

In Australia, there are too many people who haven’t been working for far too long, stuck in a welfare trap that will swallow them up, and their children and grandchildren too, if the cycle isn’t broken. I speak about this a lot when it comes to Aboriginal people. But they’re just an infamous example of a problem that exists all across our country and many others.

The progressive left want increased welfare to address the poverty of welfare recipients. But even if you doubled welfare payments, recipients would still live in poverty. Poverty isn’t just about money. It’s about deprivation of basic needs like employment; lack of purpose and aspiration; lack of autonomy and independence. Welfare can never deliver these. The solution to welfare poverty isn’t higher welfare. The solution is a job.

Welfare campaigners rarely talk about moving people from welfare to work. They seem resigned to, even comfortable with, the idea of welfare as a long-term state. People, like myself, who say we need to move people from welfare to work are accused of being cruel (that’s the “work is exploitative, an indignity, a burden” mantra) or unrealistic (that’s the “work is scarce, even endangered” mantra). Their excuses for why people can’t be expected to move from welfare to work are wrong. All the hurdles have solutions. And it’s a lie that there aren’t enough jobs. Finding jobs for people is the easy part. The greatest barrier to moving from welfare to work is the gulf people find themselves in when they haven’t worked for a long time … or ever.

* * *

Twiggy Forest with Warren Mundine

Andrew Forrest is one of Australia’s wealthiest men – a self-made billionaire who built an iron-ore mining company to rival the big, established players. He grew up on a cattle station in Western Australia’s remote Pilbara region. As a child he considered the Aboriginal people who lived and worked on the station as family and was disturbed to see how their, and so many other Aboriginal people’s, lives turned out when they were moved off the stations to live on welfare on the fringes of towns and cities from the early 1970s.

Forrest was determined to create employment opportunities for Aboriginal people. He created an employment model called Vocational Training and Employment Centres (VTECs) based on a simple principle that once a person had successfully completed training they would be guaranteed a job in his company.

He learned that for people who’d been dependent on welfare for a long time, skills training wasn’t enough. Many who came through the VTEC had multiple barriers to employment. Drug and alcohol addictions. No driver’s licence. Criminal records. No secure accommodation. Some couldn’t read or write. Some hadn’t worked before in their lives. The challenges didn’t end once the person started the job. Some workers went home after their first rostered period and didn’t return. Sometimes family members demanded their money. Whatever the hurdle the VTEC would help them overcome it.

What Forrest found was that if a person stayed in the job for twenty-six weeks, he had them for life. They’d never look back.

Forrest went on to encourage other organisations and governments to set up VTECs and the model has now been adopted by the Australian Government in its Indigenous employment strategy. In my book I have called on the government to set up VTECs for all unemployed people starting with a pilot program in the most welfare-dependent community in each state and territory of Australia.

*  *  *

Amanda is an Aboriginal woman from Western Australia. She was raised by a single mother and step-father and suffered severe domestic violence from a young age. She came to think the mark of someone’s love was them belting you. She had little schooling. At thirteen, she began sniffing paint, smoking cannabis and taking drugs. She spoke about how she lived her teenage years in a life of self-destruction, bad choices and despair, violent relationships and daily meth use.

Amanda heard about a VTEC opening up at Forrest’s Murrin Murrin nickel project. She decided to see if it could help her. It did. She was offered a job on the project. The VTEC trained her and helped her get job ready and overcome her considerable problems.

That was nearly twenty years ago. Today she’s still working. She married a man she met at Murrin Murrin. She hasn’t touched drugs since. She says her working life gave her responsibility, a sense of purpose and the ability to break away from the aspects of her childhood that had held her back.

Here was a teenager, her body addled with drugs and bearing the scars of a life of violence, with little education, no skills and no family support, walking up to a mining company and asking for a job. And the company gave her one. Giving someone a job is the greatest thing in the world you can do for another person.

Amanda now has three children. Because the company gave her a job, it changed the life trajectories of her children. Their lives weren’t marked by despair. They’ve grown up with parents who get up every day and go to work and provide for the family. They go to school every day. When they grow up, they’ll work too.

* * *

When I reflect on the modern attitudes to people who’ve fallen on hard times – the downtrodden, the poor, the unskilled, those on welfare, the young, the aged, the disabled – I feel that somewhere along the way, compassion has been replaced by pity.

Compassion is when you see someone in need and you care about them so much you want to see them back on their feet. Compassion is what you have for someone you respect, someone you regard as just as worthy as you, and just as capable of having a fulfilling and independent life. Compassion is giving someone a job or helping them start their own business. Compassion is insisting parents send their kids to school and take proper care of them. Compassion is what you show when you believe there’s always a way back.

Compassion is when your biggest priority is the person in need.

Pity is when you see someone in need and think their situation is so hopeless there’s no way back. Overcoming an addiction is hard. So is learning to read and write as an adult. So is working if you have a disability. You don’t want them to have to do anything hard or challenging, because you think that’s cruel. They’ve suffered so much, why should they have to try so hard to work, especially in a low paying, menial job?

Pity is what you have for someone you don’t really respect, someone you don’t regard as just as worthy or capable as you of having a fulfilling and independent life. Pity is giving people in need housing, medical care and schooling (but not making them use it) and a small amount of money so they don’t starve. Then, when that money starts to look a little thin, you demand the government gives them a bit more so they stay above the breadline and you don’t feel as guilty about their situation.

Pity is when you’ve written off the person in need and your biggest priority is yourself.

It’s not cruel to want people to work. And if you find someone a job and give them every assistance to start and retain it, it’s not cruel to insist that they do. That’s having respect for people by not writing them off, and believing they’re worthy and capable of having fulfilling and independent lives. That’s compassion.

The greatest thing in the world you can do for another human being is give them the opportunity to work. As hard as it is for someone to climb out of that gulf, it’s worth it. They never look back. Nor do the generations after them. Work is still essential to human survival – the survival of the human spirit. We need to reclaim work as a virtue.

This is an edited extract of Warren Mundine in Black + White: Race, Politics and Changing Australia, Pantera Press; (July 28, 2018) 498 pagesNyunggai Warren Mundine AO is an Australian Aboriginal leader, business advisor and is the host of Mundine Means Business on Sky News Australia. Follow him on Twitter @nyunggai

Feature image: Wagiman-Guwardagun Rangers, Northern territory Australia, by David Hancock.

 

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71 Comments

  1. derek says

    I’ve watched the social despair in some communities that seems to be passed on as an inheritance and wondered what could be done to turn it around. Money doesn’t help much.

    This is remarkable. 26 weeks, half a year. A job, some skills, a place, the feeling of being productive or at least on the way to being productive.

    Very encouraging.

    • For the 30 years between 1940-70 in the US the draft (conscription) swept up most of the unattached, poorly socialized young men between the ages 18-20 and gave them 104 weeks of the kind of training Mr Mundine described in the short opening paragraph. The uses we were put to were often indefensible and some of us we killed or disabled but the benefits we collectively derived from the experience were enormous after we were discharged.

      Here in the US, the last of us left the workforce about 2000. In our place are cartoonish mercenaries and a completely unsocialized and undisciplined workforce.

      • Barry D says

        That’s not something I’ve ever thought about and I think it’s an interesting idea.

        Did you come across it somewhere or is it your personal observation? I’m hoping you came across someone that wrote about it because I’d like to read more.

  2. I agree with this article. And it’s an easy premise for people to test for themselves. Just contrast how you feel after you’ve been sitting around doing nothing for a few days with how you feel after a few days of vigorous work. I bet most people will find that their mental outlook and energy levels increase are improved after hard work.

  3. Hamr says

    Very well put forth.
    There are many among the Canadian aboriginal leaders with this same mindset. They are unfortunately too often shouted down, by other aboriginals.

  4. Linvega says

    I agree with the general gist of the article, but the author is missing the central reason how we got into this situation in the first place.

    The ‘work is exploitation’ ideology is the reaction to the ‘winner vs loser’ ideology. It’s still extremely common for the ‘sucessful’ to have a disdain for normal workers, and treat them accordingly. Just ask anyone who has ever worked in call-centers or generally the service industry. And the only way to deal with this is to reject the work itself.

    If you want to reclaim work as a virtue, the first step is to force people to respect even the lowest jobs and to treat their employees well. Only afterwards you might get the ‘commoners’ to come around and be proud of their work again.

    • What is a “work is exploitation ideology”? How does one “force people to respect even the lowest jobs”?

      If the writer missed the mark, you’re explanation is a woefully inadequate correction of his errors.

      • Linvega says

        It’s the entire thing the author is writing about. Honestly, you just need to read the article. Quote:

        “We hear that requiring people to do work or activities in return for welfare is exploitation and wrong.” etc.

        It seems kind of pointless to explain something the author already explained at length.

        To the second point, that indeed is a lot more difficult to do, but no less than ‘to reclaim work as a virtue’. Both are social enterprises, and need the society to work together. Though to be honest I think most western societies are already so scattered in terms of values that either one is probably unlikely to work out.

    • OleK says

      “If you want to reclaim work as a virtue, the first step is to force people to respect even the lowest jobs and to treat their employees well. Only afterwards you might get the ‘commoners’ to come around and be proud of their work again.”

      This amounts to forcing people to be nice. No, that isn’t possible. You can raise people to be respectful of everyone – like adage about treating your waiter respectfully. No, it isn’t to “reject” the work. That does nothing. Additionally, if besides respecting lower ranked workers, we’re talking about reasonable performance expectations, then the problem then is management and their consultants or other analysis that puts forth unrealistic expectations that ends up stressing out the factory/call center/warehouse workers.

      But this still, also goes back to a consumerism and “keeping up with the Jones'” mentality. Being envious of those with more does nothing for those that have more and only makes those with less be worse off.

    • “… as a virtue, the first step is to force people …”
      Please meditate on the morality of this way of thinking. You can’t make the world a less evil place by force.

      • Linvega says

        Force might be the wrong word choice, but I stand by my point that as long as mistreatment and no respect for low-skill workers run rampant (hell, even the middle class often has issues with terrible bosses), work will not be reclaimed as a virtue by them. If we want people to be proud of their work, we need to treat them decently.

        You can also argue about how rejecting your work doesn’t help you, but if you look at most people in those jobs, that’s exactly what they do. Yes, they still do the job if they really need to, but they hate it, aren’t proud of it, and will take the first chance to do as little work as possible.

        And yes, reasonable expectations are certainly a part of this, you’re absolutely right about that!

        • Sarai says

          Linvega,

          I have been a “low skilled” worker and I have had people look down on me. Their lack of courtesy did not need to equate to suffering upon me. I could still performed my job to the best of my ability because my work was about the person I was/am, not the people they were/are. Besides that, there are many other people in the mix to consider other than myself. I also wanted to do my best because it was important to me to know I earned my paycheck by actually doing my job as well as I could.
          There is something fundamentally wrong with those who will ‘punish’ co-workers, management, customers, etc. with poor job performance and low quality output when they don’t feel other people treat them how they want to be treated. (That is also hypocritical)
          No one can take or grant your happiness. We chose to be crippled by adversity or to rise above it and march on by. Rise above and march on should never mean replace your ‘enemies’ will with your superior self and stomp across heads you find offensive.
          Someone said you cannot “force”, I agree but you can not coerce, or manipulate compliance to your will either. (we call it re-educate lately)
          You can make your ‘winner vs loser’ ideology one where the winner is the one who decides to make themselves responsible for being the one to live compassion instead of demanding it. The world can only become truly compassionate one person living compassionately at a time.
          It really is not “reasonable” to expect that everyone like you or treat you like you feel you deserve. (even if your desires seems reasonably and fair to you) Everyone has differing views and personalities that are going to clash sometimes. There are at least 6000 year of human history that show we just do NOT agree on what is right for everyone, all the time, and we go in cycles and circles of history.
          Even if we could re-educate or get rid of all the “undesirables” today and usher in a classless fair and balanced utopia, a future generation would rise up to throw off what they would perceive as their oppressors and the old liberators would take the place enemy #1 to the new freedom fighter. And on, and on, and on saecula saeculorum.
          Peace gives rise to peace. Force always meets resistance.
          But I think this rambles a bit off topic to the article. Work is good and good for you.

      • dirk says

        Whether forced or voluntarily is a good way of categorising work/labour. Forced: e.g.,slave work, feudal work for the landowner (often unpaid), sex industry, child labour in cacao plantations, conscription. Voluntary: e.g.,most farm work (at least, these days in developed nations with mechanised equipment ), shopowner, trade, art,contract work for others or government, pick fruit or vegetables. Does it also mean noble, dignified (second category) vs boring/uneasy/awkward/suffering (first). Sometimes, not always. The Russian economist Chayanov had a theory on this all(not very Marxist, he was encarceled and shot by Stalin later): peasants (and shopowners), early 20th century Russia, stop working if the marginal gains equal the marginal suffering. He reasoned that a little bit of work was still rather pleasant and without too much suffering, but the longer days you make, the more boring and suffering it becomes. See also Mark lateron.

  5. D Bruce says

    In this context Henry George (following JS Mill) is more instructive than Karl Marx. The anti-work culture springs from rentier culture not from entrepreneur/capitalist culture. The rentier-as-rentier by definition does nothing but collect the wealth generated by others.
    We all saw the TV shows where people gave up their jobs to buy a house, do it up and flip for a big profit. The underlying message was – you are a chump if you are a worker, there’s bubble money to be made from location value.
    As George himself and other Georgists such as Fred Harrison have pointed out, our tax system causes this corruption of values. We need to untax labour and capital (work and invention) and tax land value (the “unearned increment”). This would restore dignity to labour.

    • Is this all though? I dont disagree with you, but I think their is an anti-labor (as opposed to anti-work) culture today. What I mean is, why are 18 year old men and women deciding to go into debt to get a degree that probably wont lead to a job in their field over say, spending dramatically less to become a welder, or electrician, or plumber? Especially considering that the person who takes the trade route is more likely to make more money than the college grad while spending less time and less money on their skills.

      I feel like it has to be that plumbing is considered less noble than becoming an Academic, or Journalist, or whatever. That didnt happen overnight, and I dont think it happened by accident. I also dont think lofty Marxist tropes about the alienation of workers has much to do with it.

      For some reason, the University, for all it’s left leaning talk about worker exploitation and so on, it has a very elitist, anti-laborer mentality to it.

      • What the universities propound is Rich Person’s Leftism: virtue signaling, while setting up & maintaining systems which provide elites high-paying positions running welfare programs that incentivize recipients to become part of a permanent underclass.

        • Peter from Oz says

          Exactky right, Chareles N Steele. The left actually hurts the members of the groups they claim to support and instead merely advance the activists. The activists of course have an interest in prolonging the victimhood of their group, because that leads to prestige and lots of lovely lolly for doing what is really a very easy job that adds no value.

      • D Bruce says

        Roundedpeaks – I take your points, there’s more to this issue than I imply. But imagine a society with no taxes on anything except land values – the ordinary worker would be so much better off.

    • Excellent insight about the forgotten Henry George (and Mill, as well as Ricardo and Smith). I’m not sure the Georgist single tax on land in the solution, but the destructive nature if the tax and regulatory system, plus the destruction of self-respect via welfare, have done so much to create and institutionalize our permanent underclass.

      • D Bruce says

        Charles N – so many people say they are “not sure” about Georgist tax reform. But an awful lot of people were sure about it before WW1. And the people who oppose it – vested interests – are also sure enough about it to keep it out of public debate. Dive into the subject, dive into its history and you may change your mind.
        You may be amused by this – Answer to Futilitarians – Mason Gaffney:
        http://www.masongaffney.org/essays/Answer_to_Futilitarians_1998.pdf

        • Thanks for the Gaffney link. Interesting.

          In his “Economic Theory in Retrospect” Mark Blaug offers a multi-point critique of Georgism that is worth reading. But you are right that George is far more insightful than Marx on both labor and capital, and far more useful in identifying solutions to economic problems.

          • Peter from Oz says

            Let’s face it Coco the clown is far more insightful on labour and capital than Marx.

    • Craig Howard says

      Even buying a house, “doing it up”, and flipping it is work — pretty hard work. Flippers would say they’re just working smart. Nothing wrong with that and nothing which contradicts the article.

  6. Mark Beal says

    “And it’s a lie that there aren’t enough jobs. Finding jobs for people is the easy part.”

    Sorry, this just isn’t true. A job is by definition an activity that someone is willing to pay someone else a certain amount to do (enough for them to satisfy their basic needs). This isn’t confined to wage-earners, the self-employed are also dependent on someone being willing to pay them for what they do. You can do away with unemployment in a jiffy if you pay people 50 cents an hour for their efforts, but that’s just a different kind of humiliation. The fact that there are lots of things people could do, doesn’t mean that there are people willing to pay to have them done.

    Occasionally in history, jobs have been plentiful, often in the aftermath of some great calamity like the Black Death (which drove wages up and, if memory serves, kick-started the differentiation between the deserving and undeserving poor). Most often jobs have not been plentiful, and so you have the centuries old “poverty problem” – incidentally centuries before Karl Marx arrived on the scene.

    It’s also highly questionable if human beings regarded work as a positive even before Marx. (Incidentally the intellectual classes have often enjoyed their own work, but seen fit to disparage those who engage in the necessary manual labour they themselves would do anything to avoid. This is a millennia old pattern,) Work has certainly always been a necessity for human beings, but the etymology of work-related words in some languages suggests it has most closely been linked with pain and suffering, not with nobility and dignity.

    • Jobs are plentiful at the moment. Record unemployment in the US. Also in Australia where we have to give work visas to hundreds of thousands of people a year to fill jobs employers can’t find locals to do. There is no need for anyone in Australia to be unemployed unless they are in a vegetative state.

    • Lots of jobs right now, at least in the US. Not lots of qualified labor and certainly not much in the mold of the author’s VTEC programs. The challenges of getting someone off a life of welfare and into the work force are daunting at best and the author hits the target squarely on why. We have a culture that has been taught to denigrate work. That is not a sustainable cultural position.

  7. StrangerTides says

    Isn’t this the very definition of “making a virtue of necessity”? In the past it was necessary to work to survive, so over time, work has come to be seen as “the measure of a person” as the author states. But in the future, work may not be necessary (and may not be available for everyone, so we had better hope it’s not necessary). In this world, work should no longer be seen as a virtue.

    While it seems clear that something like what Mundine describes is relevant and needed in the short term, in the long term the opposite is true. The requirement to work in order to survive absolutely needs to become obsolete. If people want to work, then of course they should be welcome to, but many people, if freed from the requirement to work to survive, would find meaning and purpose in their lives by spending their time how they wish: making art, doing research, innovating in ways that don’t necessarily lead to income. Others, to be sure, would do nothing, and that should not be seen as a bad thing. Is it ethical to kill someone? To torture them? To harm them in some less severe way? Then why is it ethical to require people to work, often extremely hard and for little reward?

    If we are to improve society such that the well-being of all of its members continues to increase, it is time now to start thinking about longer term solutions, and we can do better than forced (albeit guaranteed) labor.

    • Kathy J Hix says

      We have a leisure class now–people who don’t need to work because of inherited wealth. I wonder what percentage of them are “making art, doing research, innovating in ways that don’t necessarily lead to income.”

      • No percentages, but I do have anecdotes. A friend of mine who is ski patrol in winter and landscaping grunt in summer has been asked multiple times by trust fund babies when working on their (parents’) Jackson Hole estates, “how do you find so much meaning in life?”

  8. The Ulcer says

    A quote from a recent piece in The Economist here: https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/08/02/the-ideas-of-liberalisms-greatest-thinkers

    “John Maynard Keynes, a lifelong champion of the liberal ethos, advocated government intervention during recessions to avoid the social ruin of economic collapse. The welfare state was not a socialist creation, as both right and left assume, but a liberal one—so that individuals are free to achieve their full potential.”

    If the perceived goal of the welfare state is to help individuals achieve their full potential, then the perception is naive and foolhardy. Welfare is the last checkpoint before abject poverty, not a springboard to future success. Getting off welfare by taking on any kind of work is the path to future success, presuming the measure of success is pride rather than riches.

    • A niggle; perhaps, but liberal once was a political position in favor of democratic rule. Keynes was an early Progressive, not dissimilar to a Socialist; a liberal in today’s vernacular.

  9. Mark Carey says

    The counter argument to this is presented in the anthropologist David Greaber’s book “Bullshit jobs” and I have to say I agree with David

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  11. dirk says

    The photograph fits wonderfully with the article. No sweating, all smiles, good mood, rough rural area. But what are they supposed doing?

    • dirk says

      This morning, was looking more closely at that picture and dived on Google into those Wagiman rangers. Probably busy with fencing off territory, to protect springs, riveer banks, trees or rock paintings against cattle and feral donkeys and pigs. Funny! The author is one of those aboriginals that speaks with idealism and responsibility on labour and work, but by that he means labour for the white immigrant catte owners or truckers. Labour now of these indigenous rangers is a government job on their ancestral land of once, where they were the kings and land owners and didn’t even now what work or labour was. They lived from the fruits, the yams and the wild (emus) of that communally owned land, as in the bible of Adam and Eve’s time, labour still did not exist, we Christans know, that came only after Eve’s sinn, in pain and suffering thou shalt work the land and earn your bread.

      Of course, I understand that times are changing, but find it rather curious that the author just simply sees labour/work as it is seen in the West, without even noting that such in Nothern territory (after 1000s of yrs)is only the last 2 or 3 generations so, for 100% of his population. The end of identity philosophy?? Good or bad development?

      • Just Me says

        The fall from grace and leaving of Paradise occurs when humans go from being independent, small band hunters and gatherers to agriculturalists living in states and working for a small group of overlords, and that happened in many parts of the world long before it happened in Australia. See Against the Grain by James C. Scott.

        With intensive agriculture came the necessity for, and therefore *eventually*, the cult of hard work. But at first it was difficult to get people to stay put and work when they could escape, because there was still plenty of land they could escape to. That is why conquerors took slaves, to do the hard work needed to keep the upper class rich and fed. The upper classes never revered hard work, that was slave work.

        Only the people who depended on their own work to survive and prosper ended up valuing hard work.

        • dirk says

          That certainly has played a great part all over the world, Just Me,and all along history, from Sumeria onwards. But, probably as many farmers were just independent small peasants(and I know many of them from my youth), working hard and long days, ploughing with horses, weeding with hoes, mowing and carrying heavy loads, filling dung carts. etc etc. These peasants had no job, because were their own boss, but they knew what hard and painful work was, that’s for sure. Such peasants still exist, by the 100s of millions, mostly around the equator. This work is nowhere valued, their kids want to escape to the cities, or better even, to Europe.

      • Dirk, I urge you to re-read Genesis. Work was assigned to the first couple at the time of creation. They were charged with tending the garden. God worked in creation and rested from His work on the seventh day. One of the consequences of sin was the work became drudgery and often futile, as we so clearly see today. The Pilgrims/Puritans understood this and saw work as honorable and valuable, not just for it’s utility but for it’s reflection of the image of God in them. I believe the author’s position was that his ancestors, and he, worked first for themselves and then for their employer, and considered it honorable to do so.

  12. Felicity says

    I agree with the main thrust of this argument, and have wondered about the rush to retire and live a life of idleness. However, this is a weak argument against Universal Basic Income. Pilot studies of UBI don’t bear out the notion that it’s demotivating and perpetuates drug addiction and unemployment. Among its benefits: measurably lower Post Partum Depression, more children graduate, people use the funds to obtain new skills or higher education leading to more satisfying work.

    As automation continues to wipe out the salt-of-the-earth jobs the author is so enraptured by, we’re going to need a need a more nuanced solution than telling people to get off their backsides.

    • I see this word “nuance” a lot. I think a lot of discussions benefit from it. I also think nuance can unnecessarily complicate fairly straighforward issues.

  13. Pingback: Mike Rowe Speaks (Updated) – PORAC Ponders

  14. Andrew Roddy says

    A provocative piece and very constructive commentary. Thanks

  15. Fran says

    I live in a small island community in a province where the minimum wage just went up to $12.65. However, anyone who is a competent worker on this island can demand $20-25/hour and be able to pick their jobs. There is also a substantial welfare community from which numerous individuals put up notices that they want work. everyone looking for labour, whether its mowing lawns or roofing, knows that there is no point hiring from the welfare class: your mower will be buggered and your roof will leaky, and unless you are watching, the worker will be under a tree smoking for most of the hours they say they worked.

    Yes, there are wonderful programs that get some ‘unemployables’ back to work. What is ignored in the article, is that certain personality characteristics are associated with success in getting and holding work, namely at least a moderate level of conscientiousness and agreeableness; those into the antisocial spectrum are ones you really want to avoid hiring at all costs. In hunter-gatherer societies, the latter are the ones most likely to be killed or expelled. There is also considerable evidence that personality is largely heritable – you cannot change it with a 26 week ‘back to work’ program. I think we have to face the fact that, despite the best programs to promote employment, there are going to be some unemployables. And, yes life on welfare is sad, and I am not on welfare because I got up and went to work even when I didn’t want to.

  16. Steve Phillips says

    My first job after leaving High-school was on a kill floor sweeping and picking up pus filled cysts and other trims then pouring them down a chute to byproducts.
    I nearly finished up in byproducts myself when I slipped while standing on the shute mouth, (shudder).
    Anyway, I didn’t feel exploited, I felt grateful for the work and the measly $70 a week it brought.
    My parents example and the very hard work I have had to perform during my working life, have given me a good work ethic that has seen me rise to the top of my chosen profession in Oil and Gas.

  17. Irrelevant says

    Would love to work.
    But now aged on the wrong side of 50, my work experience is discarded and deemed irrelevant.
    Deciding to retrain, I am now attending university again.
    Here, I am a middle aged white privileged male where my life experience is deemed irrelevant and out of step with current thinking.

    I have no idea why drawing breath is of importance any longer.

  18. Dino Rosati says

    This essay seems to confuse many aspects of the welfare problem.

    My father, a hard working immigrant from Italy, made my brothers and I work in some horrible factory jobs in the summers between school to teach us the meaning of work. His heart was in the right place and I honour him but it really just taught me about the waste of human potential. We were just being used as mindless machines. I didn’t feel pride or dignity. I wanted to be in a good library learning something I actually cared about.

    The goal of a welfare system should be to give jobless people the time and assistance in finding meaningful opportunities without risking the security and mobility of the family. It shouldn’t coerce people to play the zero sum game of take the meaningless job and risk loosing your security when that job disappears or stay trapped in welfare to avoid losing the security it provides.

    A universal basic income, UBI, very efficiently removes this welfare trap. It removes the bureaucracy and indignity of means testing and gives people the time and energy to explore opportunities without risk of losing security and mobility. They can even try things that pay little or nothing but are still meaningful to them.

    You don’t get dignity from work like some magic potion, you get it by solving problems and making progress in pursuits you actually care about. Welfare system should be an efficient and frictionless way to do that. UBI has the right properties for solving that problem. It’s no magic bullet but head and shoulders better than the means tested byzantine bureaucratic mess we have now.

    • dirk says

      Agreed Dino, but how high should that UBI be? Three dollar/day (the average of the poorest half of the world) or 30, what it is now in a European nation. What can you do with 30 in a Tadsjikistan village? Be the king, and behave as such, marry the prettiest girl of the lot. But what to do with it in Canada, or Pennsylvania? Not very much I fear! But I agree with a basic income, the rest is something to quarrel about maybe. In a UN committee!

      • dirk says

        And another thing Dino. The things I am most proud of of my lifetime (publications in scientific journals or newspapers) are the ones with which I didn’t earn a penny, at the contrary, I often had to pay for it. So, I can imagine that with an UBI the whole world veers up, like in old times (when also most scientific findings, art, and innovations were just the result of somebody, king, rich man, emperor or other rich fool, paying the fool that felt obliged to come forward with it).

      • Dino Rosati says

        UBI level would be decided by each country independently. Money would be issued to every citizen at just above the poverty level for that county, indexed by cost of living etc.

    • ga gamba says

      Though my father wasn’t an immigrant, it seems to me he and your father were cut from the same cloth. One had to be either participating in an extracurricular activity or have a job. And for a teen sometimes those jobs aren’t immediately meaningful. Or even cool. Yet, for me, I found that they taught me the value of money, how much effort was expended for what seemed so little, and the excitement of entrepreneurship and making your money work for you. My parents and brothers had a strong guiding hand helping me learn the latter. My parents also played what I suppose many would consider a cruel game each month by gathering all the bills and all the children around the table and declaring (falsely) there wasn’t enough money. We’d all have to figure out ways to economise so we wouldn’t be tossed into the street. I reckon most parents want to protect their children from such frights, yet thinking of these events as an adult they were valuable.

      I presume you are of above average intelligence and a conscientious self starter. How common are people like you? And what percent of the population doesn’t have the intellect to pursue such things? The meaningful dreams you dream of are likely not dreamt by many others; they’re content with what you may deem a waste of human potential. Or they watching Friends. They may even be dissatisfied with work and find satisfaction elsewhere. But if everyone is in the libraries or other places doing what they feel is worthwhile to themselves, who’s working and paying the tax the provide us the UBI? Moreover, who’s collecting the rubbish, sweeping the floor, putting the food on the shelves, cleaning the septic tanks and sewers, and performing all the other mundane, less fulfiling tasks that keep the electricity flowing and the water clean and running?

      Mind you I’m not volunteering ‘cuz in this wonderful world of meaningfulness and self actualisation you made for me I’ve got UBI. If only there was something I could spend it on. I guess I’ll go to the library (they’ve been built, yeah?) where hopefully someone has taken it upon themselves to perform the mundune task of shelving the books in some kind of decipherable order so that I may perform my research to write a book creating a new order that fills dusty market shelves with food and other miraculous goodies like sellotape and kettles.

      • Dino Rosati says

        I think you’re labouring under the misconception that most of the wealth and industry is generated by only exceptionally gifted people while the rest of us flip burgers.

        Read any good history of technology and you’ll find that most of the thousands of innovations required to incrementally improve any technology are done by quite ordinary people that you will never have heard of, doing it because they found the problems interesting. Most of those innovations are not high tech flashes of brilliance, just an interested person noticing how to make a small improvement. Those improvements accumulate. This applies to any domain of knowledge including the arts, service, caring and support etc.

        UBI is an efficient and frictionless way to get more people in that game. Not to mention more humane. With the incremental growth of knowledge comes the growth of wealth, productivity and automation. Mundane tasks will inevitably become automated freeing up ordinary people to solve the next round of inevitable interesting little problems. UBI is a knowledge dividend, wealth feed back to everyone so people who are still struggling to find their way can do so without risking the security and mobility of their families.

        BTW I’m just an ordinary engineer.

        • ga gamba says

          I think you’re labouring under the misconception that most of the wealth and industry is generated by only exceptionally gifted people while the rest of us flip burgers.

          I don’t know how you came to the conclusion. In fact, I find great value, a blessing even, in all the thankless tasks performed by the average person that keep the systems running along. Kind of hard to work and innovate without reliable electricity. I appreciate running water and rubbish disposal. No, I think wealth and industry is generated by people who actually work, those who innovate (most often at a workplace), and those who also invest. UBI takes many of them out of the workplace. Not all of them, but a lot. Why would a person “waste” his/her “human potential” being used as a “mindless machine” when s/he may opt for UBI instead? Assuming s/he decides to keep working, the typical dustman and the average burger flipper are qualified for which jobs?

          Rightly you mention innovations, and most often these have happened at the places were resources are pooled, such as employers’ R&D centres, uni laboratories, and even on machine shops’ workbenches. An investment was made into facilities. I doubt many of these knowledgable and creative people will exit these incubators to think and tinker away on their own whilst collecting UBI. Creating things is expensive. Heck, even the Coolest Cooler guy’s experience was a mess, and that was just a cooler with a blender and a speaker. But to assume that a regular person collecting an income a bit higher than the poverty level in UBI, and who is not employed in one of these facilities, has the money to self finance new innovations is quite a reach. Unicorns such as J. K. Rowling, who was on benefits, aside, I don’t see a persuasive history of unemployed welfare recipients innovating new products and services. Will adding to their number create the wealth-creating innovation greater than what the present employment system does? That’s quite a leap of faith. Genuine creativity is actually quite rare, so employers who bring together creative people and invest in the facilities to support them is the force multiplier.

          Money would be issued to every citizen at just above the poverty level for that county, indexed by cost of living etc.

          The US population is approx. 328m, but this includes non-citizens. Since the US census has not counted them, knowing the exact number of citizens presently is impossible. The KFF estimates it to be about 298m in 2016, so let’s call it 300m for today.

          The US poverty level line for one person was $15,060 in 2017. For each additional person in the household the US adjusts it up by about $5,200, but we’ll use your plan of each person given money just above the poverty level for that county. An American family of four would receive $60,240; presently that poverty line is only $30,750, so you almost doubled it. I presume it may be enough for most, though for high-cost regions like NYC, San Francisco, and Hawaii adjustments may need to be made. Or at least they’ll be demanded.

          300m x $15,060 = $4,518,000,000,000. You’re looking for about $4.5t per annum to provide that income, and of course it needs to be adjusted as the number of citizens increases each year. I presume non-citizens and their allies would object to their exclusion as “unfair”, so for the sake of fairness and even humaneness let’s also calculate that for everyone, another 28m people; to cost that demand increasing it by $421,680,000,000. We’re looking at about $4.75t now if we include everyone. What this does to illegal immigration by those hoping to collect money too is uncertain, but I’ll guess it acts as a pull.

          The US federal gov’t collected $1.943 in personal and business income tax in 2017. We may add the $905 billion collected for Social Security (SS) and $47 billion for unemployment insurance collected to the tally to redistribute, so now we’re at almost $3t. There is a debate about other “welfare programmes.” Is it $212b or $668b? Is a school lunch programme welfare or education? Is the earned-income tax credit welfare? I say split the difference and call it $500b. Our fund is now $3.5t.

          US states collect about another $1t in tax revenue; there’s a little wrinkle here because about one-third of this is sales tax (VAT), which is on consumption, one-third is income, and the remainder is on property (developed and undeveloped land), a wealth tax. Though sales taxes are deemed regressive, let’s keep them because we have an expensive programme to fund. We have now $4.5t to disperse – Argh! The non citizens busted by budget. I left Medicare out because that’s a payment from the Fed to medical providers, sometimes via states’ offices. If it’s given to the UBI recipient it may not make it to the health care provider.

          Of course, we don’t know how many people will quit their jobs, which will reduce the fed’s and states’ income tax take and also the SS contribution received. Presumably those who quit their jobs will also lose their benefits such as health insurance, so they be looking for someone to provide that to them. Hmmm… I wonder who? That will increase the gov’t budget for healthcare. I foresee many employers, especially those in the wasted human potential business sectors, losing many workers, so they will take a hit to revenue and the knock-on to tax payments. The gov’t can let go all those workers providing welfare services, but many belong to unions so how easy that will be is tough to tell. These are some of our unknowables.

          So, we’re at about $4.5t of income to provide nearly $4.75t in UBI. We’re almost there. What??? That’s right. We still have a lot of government expenses to pay for such as roads, schools, police, military, sewers, etc. The US federal budget is $4.2t, of which about one-third is income payments such as Social Security. We’ve already accounted for that on the ledger, plus the $500b in other benefits, so the Fed budget is $2.3t + the $4.75t UBI liability = $7.05t. We also need to cost in state and local budgets. That’s about $3.6t. Some of that spending is on welfare, but states are recipients of federal money to cover about 2/3rd’s of that, and it’s now being diverted to the UBI recipients. Each state’s welfare spending differs, but having checked several its about 20% of the budget. We’ve covered most of that outlay, so states’ and local gov’t budget, less most welfare liabilities, totals $3t. Add this to the $7.05t and we’re at $10.05t.

          We have $4.5t, so you need to find another $5.5t to cover the remaining UBI and all government budgets. Again, we can make many government workers redundant to cut expenses, but we’ll likely have to buy them out of their jobs. There some things we can’t do, though. We can’t default on the existing debt, so interest payments may not be ceased. And the public sector has massive pension liabilities. Because this is part of an employee’s compensation package, and may have included their own contributions too, it can’t be waved away with a “they’re getting UBI instead”. This was income they deferred. Technically SS is this too, but I don’t see how you can fund UBI without taking SS contributions too, and we’re assuming they remain stable.

          A few things to consider. Inflation of both wage and consumer goods. If many people in the “mindless machine” jobs exit employers may choose, if they can afford it, to increase pay and non-pay benefits to entice others to be “mindless machines”. Employers could also choose to accept the downsizing by producing less or close entirely. Many employers have debt (almost 90% of US employers have fewer than 20 workers, so they’re not cash rich $1t companies like Apple), so what happens if many start defaulting? If fewer consumer goods are produced (because fewer workers and business closures), and that family of 4 with $60k in UBI has to meet its needs, will UBI be adjusted to the rate of the CPI? Is there an inflation rate that’s too high to sustain increases to UBI? I think what will happen has a precedent; to keep inflation low imports were increased, which is a transfer of wealth to the developing world. But if the developing world introduces UBI too, what does this do to their production? Next, since every person is collecting UBI, this means those with investments are less likely to realise those gains, which are taxed, to provide for their expenses. Capital gains tax are about 9% of the federal government’s income tax revenue, so we’ll see lower takings by the government.

          I may be wrong, but I see things going in opposite directions. You’ve increased gov’t liabilities to fund UBI by creating a system that reduces work, production, and tax receipts and may increase inflation of both wage and goods; any savings to be had are the reduction in the administration of these programmes, but are you going to eliminate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the National School Lunch Program? How about the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program? You don’t want unsafe and unstable families running around, do you? These are some of the 126 benefits programmes considered welfare. Those you don’t eliminate will see government workers flock to, and attempt to expand, so that may keep their salaries plus the UBI you’re handing out.

          Anyway, I’m looking forward to see where $5.5 trillion will be found.

          BTW, I’m just a locally-renown belly dancer, Miss Magic Money Shaker.

          • Dino Rosati says

            Wow, you must be one hell of a belly dancer to have so much free time to devote to such a cogent and detailed analysis for funding a UBI. Congratulations.

            Of course there have been many less talented attempts at analyzing the funding of schemes like UBI and negative income tax by economists like Milton Friedman (Nobel prize winner apparently) and others who seem to have arrived at different conclusions than you. Not sure where the disconnect is since I’m neither an economist nor an arithmetically precocious belly dancer. I do appreciate your keen interest in solving the problem though.

            Cheers,

          • ga gamba says

            The major difficulty is my shaking hands on the keyboard.

            Actually, Mr Friedman proposed a negative income tax (NIT), which is very different from what is UBI. It differs fundamentally; everyone doesn’t get the same amount, which is what you’re advocating. In fact, many whose incomes exceed a defined amount get nothing. Ergo, NIT is not universal. It’s to top up the incomes of the poor. It is an income because it’s a cash transfer rather than a welfare programmes that put cheese on tables and milk in bellies. The NIT is similar to the UBI insofar that a recipient needn’t appear before a gov’t official to document all their assets and liabilities. They wouldn’t face the restriction on what food they may and may not buy, as what happens under Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. For example, one can’t use SNAP to buy beer. Their spending wouldn’t be monitored, so they are treated just like everyone else. Friedman allows the recipient to spend the income as they see fit and, this is the key, to accept the consequences that may befall them, such as when a person spends all their food money on beer instead. We can already hear the paternalistic laments by Bismarkian busybodies and by those affecting aristocratic noblesse oblige, “What about the children?!” when negligent parents fail to buy food. Unlike UBI, NIT has a defined income threshold of $x that determines whether or not a person receives a subsidy. Presumably this is determined by a person’s declared income, which can be verified by their employer. A potential for abuse exists by the self employed, who under report their incomes, and those who work off the books, who don’t report any income. This potential exists presently.

            An example:
            Income tax rate is 50%
            The tax exemption is $30,000. The difference between this and a sum less than it is negative income. A percent of the negative income is provided as a subsidy.
            The subsidy rate is 50%.

            A person earning $0 would receive $15k. (30,000 – 0) x 0.5 = 15000
            A person earning $20,000 would receive $5k. (30,000 – 20,000) x 0.5 = 5000
            A person earning $100,000 would receive nothing and pay $35k in tax. (30,000 – 100,000) x 0.5 equals = -35,000

            As we can see here, it doesn’t require a person to work to receive an income, but it rewards those who choose to work and earn (up to the threshold), so it doesn’t act to deincentivise it. There’s no change to those whose incomes exceed the threshold; they’re still paying tax and don’t receive a subsidy.

            Rather than take other people’s word for it, be it mine or how it’s been misreported in the press, you can hear the man himself explain it. After viewing that, you can check out his speech: What’s wrong with welfare?.

            NIT doesn’t put money in middle income earners pockets. UBI does. We find time and time again benefits programmes intended for the poor are usurped by others, be they the sharp elbowed middle-class, NGOs, or businesses, for their benefit, which they conceal behind the facade of respectable moralising. It’s a self-serving charade.

            If you need me to explain other things you misunderstand or mischaracterise you let me know, K?

  19. ga gamba says

    Thanks for this essay, Mr Mundine. I found your points about pity very poignant. It’s remarkable that it’s such a short period of 26 weeks of daily assistance and incremental improvement that reforms these lives and offers futures. Well done to Mr Forrest and all those who stuck with it.

  20. dirk says

    It is not the first time that the UBI pops up in Quillette, and that sums on the money needed are made, of course by the adversaries. Whether for or against, in the discussion the personal history (meaningful job, or horrible one, such as in a slaughter house) must certainly play a role, so am curious how it will end here. Majority of scribents here most likely ( not all, read the sad story of”Irrelevant”) fall in the first category, even if they have had some experience (in youth) with the second.
    One clear conclusion (for me at least) of the comments on the article here: a job is not a job, and that’s what came out not so clear in that piece.

  21. Ocean Creature says

    Brilliant article and so well articulated, Mr. Mundine. Thank you for all you have done to recognize the dignity and virtue that is work.

    My experience in this arena comes from the other end of the spectrum – with three-year olds in a Montessori-based religious education environment. We always refer to the child’s activity as their “work.” Montessori observed that small children took their work very seriously and expressed an innate sense of reverence for their work and dignity in performing it. Children don’t like to be interrupted in their work. They like to focus on it, perform it many times, and perfect it on their own.

    Montessori also saw that the child builds the adult. She derided the idea that capable adults just materialized when enough years had passed. She saw that the marble to sculpt the adult was there from birth. Man is a worker, one who takes raw materials, and fashions them to create objects that serve life. Montessori also said that she invented nothing, no theory to be imposed, no opinion to be held above others (as she is so often accused by detractors.) She observed. She observed and saw what we see in all other creatures on earth – that we have the capacity to grow into what we should be. Drug-addicted, denatured miserable sloths are not the endpoint of humanity. We are meant to be intelligent molders of our environment for our own good. And given the chance, even a three-year old manifests the capacity for fulfilling, intelligent work.

    There are so many worldwide and beautiful examples of Mr. Mundine’s and Mr. Forest’s understandings bearing fruit. Here is another one: in Calcutta, India, the Missionaries of Charity run a home for the mentall ill called Prem Dan. A friend of mine was volunteering there, using Montessori materials as aids to the residents. The residents came in each day to work with the materials, slowly, quietly, without interference, day after day. After a few months, a man who had been mute, walked up to my friend and said, “I can go now. I have remembered my name and I am better. The work made me better.”

  22. Peter Johnson says

    I congratulate ALL Indigenous and non Indigenous people who have grasped the opportunity to help themselves rise above the mentality of ‘it’s all TOO hard!” . . . In this regard, it appears still that the great majority of Indigenous ‘notables’ including Senator Patrick Dodson, Noel Pearson, ex NT Chief Minister Alan Giles, Bess Price, Stan Grant and many others including Twiggy Forest who apparently also find it just Too Hard or are not interested in speaking out as a United Indigenous lobbying group to force the Federal Govt to overturn a travesty of justice perpetrated by N.T. Judge Greg Smith ordering that a removed Indigenous infant had to be handed over to the care of a non-Indigenous woman even though the child was being cared for by a NT Dept. of Children and Families approved Indigenous aunt. Judge Smith completely ignored NT Legislation that stipulates that all removed Indigenous children MUST be raised by the family members where possible – He broke the law!.As the appointed child protection case worker I was threatened with dismissal when I whistle blew the whole sordid imbroglio. All the above identified have been supplied full details of the travesty but, so far, have shown NO interest in overturning this travesty against all Indigenous families and children in Australia. I would be delighted to email full details to Warren Mundine and any others who can find the ethical substance deep within themselves to actually do something to force Malcolm Turnbull to intervene legislatively to right this wrong and stop it happening ever again whenever Judge Smith and his ilk decide that they are above the law and Indigenous families are not going to do anything about it. IF You would like to receive details of this sad travesty of justice – another Stolen Generation – please email me at citizensinitiatedaction@fastmail.fm with Subject Heading: Request for Disclosure

  23. Joe says

    I don’t have a problem with the general principle that work should be valued. But there are many variables to the equation. The biggest one, by far, is the availability of opportunity. There must not only be good jobs available, but they must pay well. The next most important opportunity is the availability of education and training.

    What we have experienced intensely for the last 10 years in the US, in a trend that started earlier, is a depressed economy, where good jobs are scarce and pay nothing, and employers (after having been bailed out) have bought policy to allow them to export jobs or import employees in a conscious effort to drive down wages and marginalize domestic employees and their bargaining power.

    Those policies, known as “globalization” equate to a crime against humanity. But since that crime has been committed against the middle class of developed countries, while foreign workers and their super-rich bosses profit, it’s been swept under the rug.

    Another variable, mentioned in the article, is the conscious and intentional destruction of the family, religion, and community by those same elites – the exact social safety net that would reduce the need for welfare programs.

    In short, welfare programs are not the primary problem, or the cause of the problems. The end of globalization (trade and immigration) and the end of identity politics and cultural leftism should be the real focus if someone actually cares about helping people get up on their feet. The poorest people in developed countries are hurt most by these policies.

    When the economy is strong, and there are plentiful opportunities for jobs that pay well enough to support a family, and a path through education and training to get there, then you can start adding more negative pressures on those people to take advantage of them. Ending globalization and promoting social conservatism are far greater priorities than ending welfare programs and forcing people to slave away at terrible jobs that pay nothing.

  24. Sure work is great, but the idea that people must do work or be unable to eat is not great, not when automated systems can do most of the productive work.

    I’m all for people doing work that is meaningful to them, but the idea that a market based system does that can no longer be sustained.

    For most people, the existing system is a closer approximation to slavery than it is to freedom.
    That need not be the case.

    Other than that – agree with most of what is written.

  25. ccscientist says

    One of the things that has hurt this idea of work is the demise of the family. Something I have always taken pride in is taking care of my family. But if you don’t marry, you are only taking care of yourself, which is not the same thing. Maybe you can get by on very little, work only sometimes. It takes the honor out of it.

  26. Phil says

    Interesting article and a great sentiment but one question… Who is saying this:

    We hear welfare recipients shouldn’t be expected to work. We hear that requiring people to do work or activities in return for welfare is exploitation and wrong. That moving people from welfare to work is unfair because they’ll become part of the “working poor”.

    I’ve literally never heard anyone take this line of reasoning ever… I’m an American – is that something that one might hear in Australia? I’ve probably met 30 or so people from Australia or New Zealand in my life and I can’t imagine any of them expressing this idea above. That is admittedly a small sample size though. Where is it that this idea is “heard?”

  27. David Jacobs says

    I have worked as a doctor part time in Northern Ontario for about 15 years. The hopelessness that I see in some of the more marginalized 1st Nations youth is eloquently explained in this essay. I have long advocated for more employment, better employment, and steady employment in the North to help heal what ails our fellow Canadians.

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