"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor: closing the gap

I don't mean the gap between rich and poor. That should be less than it is, of course; but as socialism keeps on teaching us, most efforts to close that gap are counterproductive. And the ones that clearly aren't are equally clearly not worth debating. Nor do I mean the gap between men's and women's earnings. Even an uncracked bastion of liberalism has admitted that young women earn more than young men in big cities, and that never-married women outearn never-married men generally. That married men tend to outpace all women later in life is due more to lifestyle choices, such as women taking time out for children and men taking on more demanding careers so as to provide for families. No, the gap I want to talk about is between work and fulfillment.

There's a fortunate minority in this world who, if they could afford to, would do their jobs even if they didn't get paid for them. I've known a handful of professionals like that: professors, doctors, lawyers, musicians, a few small-business owners, and so on. We all know people like that. But most people in most places and times in this world do their jobs not because they love the work, but because it happens to be the most readily available alternative to poverty and/or debtor's prison they have for the time being. That's why I do my job. I'd love to think, talk, and write about God and the Church for a living, and once did just that. But now I'm like most of the human race: scrambling to meet hard-and-fast obligations by doing something I would be delighted not to have to do, and not getting paid nearly as much for it as The Man makes off it. This is not what God created work for; that such is what work is all the same for most people, whether they like it or nor, is due to original sin. "By the sweat of your brow..."

Of course I could sum up and propose anew the sort of solution that Pope John Paul II proposed in Laborem Exercens. But others have already done that more thoroughly than I have time for; to learn how, all you have to do is Google that title and follow up. The dicussion is quite an eye-opener. But we all know that progress on the labor front will be at best incremental and fitful. Human nature being what it is, the only thing that is likely to make work more fulfilling for more people more of the time is greater productivity, which leads to more general wealth, which in turn leads to more opportunity for education and interesting work. More people certainly have more such opportunities today than in most times past. To my mind, then, the only realistic answer to the fact that most people care little for their jobs beyond the paycheck is to create the conditions for doing what John Paul said: making work a form of intrinsic human development, not just a instrumental means of survival for the many and profit for the few.
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