Saturday, July 23, 2011

Work and idleness 2/4: Conservative take

Someone needs to keep the wheels of modern society running. In conservative ideology, work is a burden and everyone has a duty to carry their fair share. This is achieved by (1) stigmatizing free riders and social bums, (2) exalting work and and by (3) making work tolerable and pleasant with institutions (for example work regulations enforcable in court) and social norms (for example 40-hour work week).

Warning Against Idleness in Saint Paul's 2nd letter to Thessalonians illustrates (1) and (2) perfectly:

... keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. ... we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. ... Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers.

The problem with the conservative position is that it no longer matches reality. The Finnish employment rate - the percentage of people aged 16 - 64 who work - was 69% in 2010. Let's assume that nobody under 16 or over 64 works, and that all age brackets contain just as many people, and that the average lifespan is 80 years.

We get that [ 16 * 0% + (64 - 16) * 69% + (80 - 64) * 0% ] / 80 = 41% of Finns work.

It is bullshit to claim that 59% of Finns can't work. My sister was getting paid for watching children as a young teen. I got my first IT summer which included some programming at age 18. But if you ask the credentialists, both work tasks absolutely require a college degree. Also in the countries where pensions are low, old people sure find stamina to work for some supplementary income.

People have made a collective decision to work less as most people get a nice standard of living anyway.

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