Thomas L. Wayburn
I find it convenient to divide American society very roughly into four economic classes. After defining the four classes, I shall discuss how each class is affected by the work ethic. This is only an approximate theory; exceptions abound. This brief essay ends with a short exposition on how each class is affected by competitionism (or artificial economic contingency, which is another way of saying the same thing). If society has suffered from a curse since the first hominid uttered the first word, competitionism is that curse!
The first economic class consists of those who pursue power or money in excess of what one needs to live. This class, which consists mostly of businessmen, managers, and politicians, but includes some academicians, religious leaders, lobbyists, and others, causes most of our problems. Even people who fail in the pursuit of money and power do more than enough harm until they give up the chase. Since negotiable fame, power (including negotiable influence), and money can be converted into one another, any combination of the three may be subsumed under the term status, used in the sense in which it can be applied to people (as opposed to concepts as in “unconceived children have no philosophical status”). Thus, the ruling class is a subset of those who achieve status. Undoubtedly, a few people achieve status without having pursued it (and without their ancestors having pursued it), but they must be about as common as holders of public office who were elected against their will.
Some people who become famous in the arts or sciences, for example, do not convert fame into power or money, in which case they remain in the second economic class, which I call the amateur/professional class because it consists of people who love their work and are dedicated to it. Most of these people belong to what we normally think of as the professions, but professionals who are in it for the money belong to the harmful class described above. Amateur/professionals love their work for the same reason that money seekers don’t (or wouldn’t if it weren’t for the money or power); namely, interesting and enjoyable work usually doesn’t pay well. Thus, the money and power seekers put the professional amateurs in the unenviable position of either giving up fulfilling and spiritually rewarding activities or giving up economic and political power over their own lives and the affairs of their nation.
The third economic class is the working class, which, for the most part, is motivated by self-preservation. It includes a large number of people who are accustomed to think of themselves as professionals, notably disappointed and disillusioned salaried engineers. Members of this class won’t work unless they are paid, but they use the money to stay alive, not as a way to acquire power, to keep score in a gigantic game, or to finance lavish lifestyles. Workers still produce most of the wealth, but, in many cases, receive a smaller proportion of it than do the first and second classes.
The fourth economic class consists of the chronically unemployed, people on welfare, criminals (but not white-collar criminals), prisoners, the homeless, destitute elders, hopelessly handicapped people, and many people who are dying. These are people who cannot cope with our rigid social system as it is presently constituted. In a society in which competition for wealth is permitted, even encouraged, by the moral code of the dominant religions, there are bound to be more losers than winners. (Not only do the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, but the gain of each rich person is the loss of many poor people.)
The work ethic, which can be taken to be the cornerstone of the Judeo-Christian tradition, encourages three harmful notions: (i) if people don’t work, they shouldn’t be allowed to live, (ii) provided they do work, they should be allowed to do anything to earn a living, and (iii) if activity isn’t onerous, it isn’t work.
The members of the disenfranchised class are victims of the notion that one must work in order to live. This is an extremely inhumane notion and it tends to ensure that children born into this class will escape it only with great difficulty and a lot of luck. Perhaps, the idea of no-work-no-pay might be justified if society were to provide opportunities for all types of people. But, instead, society demands, within the working class, strict conformity to the docile puritan type who gets up early in the morning, works late, saves his (or her) money, and lives for his work, which he regards as a duty rather than a joy.
With the rise of the union movement it looked like workers would be able to retain enough of the wealth created by themselves that they might enjoy a tolerably good life, but that dream is coming to an end. When automation began to be developed, the unions were forced into the false position of trying to hold back progress, mainly because the workers themselves believed in the work ethic. It never occurred to them that it might not be necessary or proper to sell their labor and the time of their lives for money. No one in power considered the option of making the distribution of wealth independent of who creates it, man or machine.
Also, the business class (a subset of those who seek money and power) found new ways to subvert the goals of working people by the judicious use of propaganda, by globalizing the economy, by influencing the nation’s immigration policy, and by making obscene amounts of money, which has been used to bid up the price of housing, for example. With the development of robotics, the working person has become more and more expendable. Many of us are destined to work less whether we want to or not. Many workers can and will be replaced by robots and other forms of automation. What is going to happen to these people? Are they going to join the growing welfare/prisoner/homeless class?
As in the example of the globetrotting businessman (who comes home tired after consuming obscene quantities of jet fuel negotiating a deal for his employer), most members of the ruling class and the rest of the money- and power-seeking class don’t create any genuine wealth. They work hard enough, so they satisfy the work ethic, but they are a liability to mankind because they consume a disproportionate share of the fruits of production, and, with their travel and their conspicuous consumption, they put more stress on the environment than do the other classes. They will do anything for money or power, even though they may deceive themselves into thinking otherwise, and they do it with the blessings of their church if they have one. Once people disregard the meaning, to themselves and others, of their work, why should we expect them to exhibit ethical behavior in other respects! We must discredit the work ethic in order to evaluate correctly the behavior of such people.
A few words are in order to make clear the extent of the waste due to business and to clear up the mistaken notion that business renders a service by creating jobs. Neither does the businessman create any genuine wealth, nor do those who serve him. At the first level of support, the efforts of and resources used by his secretaries, administrative assistants, computer programmers, accountants, etc. are wasted. At the second level, the efforts of and resources used by those who provide transportation, communication services, and the resources consumed at the first level are wasted. At the third level, those who provision the people at the second level serve no useful function, and so on. It is easy to imagine an entire city populated by businesspeople and by those who, either directly or indirectly, serve them. Within that city no food would be grown. All goods manufactured in Businessville would be consumed in the process of doing business. All buildings constructed by the residents would house business and its ancillary activities. Homes would be built by outsiders. Consumer goods and food would have to be imported. When all is said and done, the entire city would function as a gigantic parasitic colony, feeding off the efforts of people who live elsewhere while consuming resources and deteriorating the environment, with nothing of value to the human race to show for it.
The inhabitants of Businessville have jobs and earn wages, so they add a certain amount of money to the gross national product, and the economy seems to benefit. This is the wrong way to look at an economy; it confuses money with wealth. Society would be better off if the denizens of Businessville were idle and the surrounding countryside provided all of their needs without letting them go through the charade of pretending to earn a living. In this manner, the net loss to the environment would be reduced. Better still, the good people of Businessville might consider applying their considerable talents to the production of something useful to themselves and others. It might take their minds off money, which, in their hands, is simply an instrument of depredation.
The members of the amateur/professional class love their work. But, the work ethic seems to invalidate these people, because they are having too much fun, and, for them, work is not onerous. Consider the abuse heaped upon artists (unless they are stars). Scientists would be treated the same way if they didn’t cooperate with the establishment (the ruling class). But, if people don’t get joy and satisfaction from their work, quality will suffer, as we have seen. We might be better off if unhappy or bored workers replaced their jobs with hobbies. Moreover, the inner-truth proviso of the Truth Axiom requires that people refuse work that does not provide joy, satisfaction, and spiritual growth. This is in conflict with the work ethic.
To summarize, the work ethic harms the disenfranchised classes by justifying their impoverishment. It makes the worker reluctant to give up his job to a machine and it makes him suffer unnecessarily when he is finally forced to give it up. The work ethic enables business people and other economic parasites to justify themselves because, after all, they are working. And, finally, it makes artists, scientists, and scholars feel guilty because they are playing rather than working, or, what is more likely, it encourages other people to think that they ought to feel guilty.
We would like to prevent people from becoming disenfranchised because we abhor suffering and we know that people who have nothing to lose are a threat to our security! Apparently, the working class will be greatly reduced by robotics and other forms of automation. Also, we disapprove of drudgery, but the most boring jobs are those most amenable to automation. We should be able to find enough people who love to repair machines that no one will have to do it merely to survive or even to acquire excess wealth. The money/power-seeking class should disappear because the decisions made by this class are not in the best interests of mankind (and other living things) and because the rest of us do not wish to be dominated. It is beneath human dignity to permit oneself to be dominated by a human master outside of school.
This leaves the amateur/professional class, to which it is highly desirable to belong, as can readily be ascertained by observing its members. The amateur/professional class could form the basis of a classless society in which everyone is engaged in enjoyable, rewarding, but not necessarily economically useful, activities. It is not difficult to envision a world where the distinction between work and play has vanished. As mathematicians say, “Math in earnest should be fun and math for fun should be in earnest.” One might relax from demanding play, like doing math, by watching baseball. And yet the Christian church encourages us to bear any burden willingly and to tolerate injustice. It admonishes us to “know our place” and submit to the whims of our “superiors”, who are imagined to rule according to the will of God (where, in reality, they may simply be playing the game who-can-make-the-most-money). Thus, the Christian church discourages the social changes that can open the amateur/professional class to everyone.
“The love of money is the root of all evil,” saith the sage. The love of money by a single person is sufficient to generate all the evil we can stand and then some, and what, I ask, is the probability that no one will love money! It seems that the mere existence of money implies the love of money, so the sage might just as well have said, “Money, in and of itself, is the root of all evil.” Certainly the existence of money precedes the love of money, therefore, if money inevitably leads to evil, it is closer to the root than is love of money.
People do horrible things to become rich and powerful. Business, i.e., dividing up the pie, consumes too much earth and human effort and wastes too much sunlight (when the sun shines on an airport runway, for example). Thus the three major economic resources (sun, earth, and human effort) are misapplied. People do horrible things after they become rich, e.g., subvert democracies. Look at American politics.
Business (competition for wealth or money) violates all three moral axioms and, as far as I can see, there is no way to prevent that from happening short of saddling society with a monstrous regulatory apparatus, which would certainly be abused. Business results in at least three categories of exploitation of some people by others: (i) employees by employers (unions can help, but employers have found ways to make unions ineffective), (ii) consumers by marketers (as soon as one consumer-protection law is in place, businesspeople find a new loophole), and (iii) exploitation of the inhabitants of the earth by pollution, a violation of the Environmental Axiom as well as the Freedom Axiom, as discussed above. (Competitors will do anything they have to do to avoid pollution regulations if it will improve their chances for survival or even their profits.) Business abuses truth in many ways: by advertising, by lying to its workers, to its clients, to regulators, and to the general public. Aggressive salesmen will promise anything to make a sale. As the old joke goes, to sell something you possess to someone who needs it, that’s not business; to sell something you don’t possess to someone who doesn’t need it; that’s business.
Reasonable priorities for business would be, first and foremost, to do no harm, second, to ensure the happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, personal growth, security, and safety of its own workers, third, to produce a quality product, and fourth and last, to make a profit, provided that all of the first three be satisfied. But, one sees that each of the first three priorities is in conflict with the fourth priority. Now, conflict of interest in business is widely recognized as a crime, but business is always in a position of conflict of interests, because every interest to which it might pretend is in conflict with profit. Therefore, all businesspeople, in this important sense, are, by definition, criminals. Conflict of interest in this sense may not be illegal, but most businesspeople are doing something that is illegal according to many observers. If they stopped at the unavoidable crime of conflict of interest, things would be bad enough, however, reliable evidence shows that the majority of businesspeople, perhaps all businesspeople, stop at nothing in their pursuit of personal gain. (I find it difficult to justify the sale of an object by someone other than it’s maker. Presumably, the seller will obtain more than the value of the object in order to realize a profit. If that profit is greater than the cost of delivery of the object plus a reasonable fee for the person who delivers it, the transaction seems to possess most of the attributes of what I call theft.)
Some people are fond of saying that in a society with equal wealth everything would be reduced to the lowest common denominator. The United States is not a society with equal wealth, but look at what commerce has done to television. Nearly everything on television represents the least common denominator – including the panels of “experts” on every imaginable subject.
I believe that capitalism is preventing people from having abundant material wealth unless their particular talents and inclinations are disposed toward acquiring it. How can artists, farmers who love the soil, scientists, and other people who love their work compete with real estate developers and investment bankers in an adversary society where money is everything! Either they give up ennobling and satisfying activities or give up power over their own lives and the affairs of their nation. Many sell out to the dictates of commerce and everybody suffers.
The plight of the worker is familiar. If people did not have to work to live, it would be impossible to exploit them and workplaces would have to be adapted to the requirements of human beings. The natural inclinations of people toward satisfying work would be encouraged. Let us replace coercion with volition.
As for the people who can’t cope with competitionism, life is pretty bleak. Some of the disenfranchised do horrible things, mostly to each other. The disappearance of this class, by absorption into the working class or, better yet, the amateur-professional class, should be one of the first priorities of society.
Compiled October 11, 1994
Note. This mini-essay was compiled from this author’s essays “Social Problems and Solutions” and “On the Work Ethic”, which, in turn, was taken from “The Separation of the State from the Christian Church”, the first part of which was serialized in the Truth Seeker. (The reason why only part of the later essay appeared in the Truth Seeker makes a good story. Essentially, it was because I wrote that the danger of the Christian Church derives from its role as standard bearer for competitionism, in particular Capitalism – with their attendant love of over-population to ensure a readily available supply of cheap wage slaves and cannon fodder. But many so-called truth seekers favor Capitalism, cf., the Ayn Rand faction. This strikes me as insane. Who cares what people believe provided they don’t support competitionism? It took the quasi-literate staff of the Truth Seeker about two months to figure out where my essay was headed.)