There has never been a time when capitalism existed without the exploitation of most people, most of the time. My classmates weren’t necessarily aware of this historical detail, but they were aware that working for a living was unlikely to bring them what they want and need. They didn’t aspire to greater job security because their aspirations didn’t focus on work. They were tentative about admitting this at first. That’s understandable, in a country where politicians of all hues claim that being a member of a “hardworking family” is a criterion of citizenship. Yet as my classmates slowly began to admit, most people don’t see hard work as a virtue. Their aspirations focus on getting more leisure: time to spend with family and friends, doing things they consider worthwhile. That might be childcare, but it might equally be creative or craft work.
This is from a must-read essay by social historian Selina Todd, in which she reflects upon her former classmates–now in their thirties–and their current attitudes to work and leisure.
They dreamed of winning the lottery – and concurred that they’d use the money to leave work, spend more time with family, and ensure their children didn’t have to work for a living.
This is a sensible attitude. Hard work causes stress, poor health and early death – above all, it has never solved poverty. We work longer hours now than we’ve done for fifty years, yet the gap between the rich and poor has never been wider. Working hard cannot solve an economic crisis. The fact we are all expected to work so hard is in fact a result of economic crisis: a crisis that did not appear in 2008, but has been with us far longer. This is the crisis at the heart of capitalism: a tension between the 1 percent who control the economy, and want to continually increase their wealth, and the rest of us, who are expected to work ever harder, in order to generate profit and to keep us from occupying our time in meaningful ways like questioning or challenging the status quo.