While both sides [Left and Right] clamor for jobs, they fail to call for work. The old distinction between “job” and “work” could well shed some light on where we need to go to solve our economic problems.
John Horvat precisely articulates the real problem with that oft-repeated refrain by some on the economic right – or who think they’re on the economic right, which usually means they are neoliberal, a school of thought which is only (very) questionably conservative, and not traditional at all – that people should just “get a job”:
The word “job” is recent, dating from the Industrial Revolution. Its original meaning was “a pile of things to be done,” and now insinuates something done indifferently for hire. On the other hand, the word “work” is a very old word dating back to medieval England. Its first appearance is in the eleventh century Aelfric Homilies which stated that “work was begun under God’s will.” Work refers to an activity done for its own sake, motivated by a pleasure or passion for that which is done, as in a work of love or a work of art.
And that is the problem with so many well-intentioned people calling for jobs – they don’t call for work. They create “piles of things to be done,” which once done leave us looking for further piles… What is missing is the human element that has been hollowed out of the economy. Our economy has taken on a mechanical character where people really don’t matter anymore since they are but numbers in bureaucratic databases or statistics in political campaigns.
Of course, there are times when people need “jobs” as temporary avenues to secure sufficient income to live. But the job should not be the norm. It cannot become a panacea for all our economic ills. Indeed, creating jobs for jobs’ sake tells people they are expendable.
Work is something different; it confers dignity and value. Because work involves a passion for something, it goes deep into the soul. Work is not all about money. It involves relationships, honor and loyalty that bind together employer and employee, producer and consumer, and even families and generations. Work looks for craftsmanship, profession and calling. It includes God since real work takes on a prayer-like character…
The problem is so many are unwilling to even consider moral issues in the context of economic problems. They refuse outright to make the link between human relationships and business transactions. They prefer to reduce everything back to jobs.
Our efforts to rescue the present economy will be to no avail unless we look beyond the “piles of things to be done” and help those who will work to follow the desires of their hearts.
So “get a job” (frequently delivered in a sneering tone of voice) means exactly what it sounds like it means: do something, anything, to get paid, and never mind whether it has anything to do with your vocation, or even the larger good of society – two concepts which, in a healthy society, ought not to be at odds. Horvat is right: there are times when that is a practical necessity – but it should not be the norm. “Get a job” is a mindset which may, in the short term, get people off the streets. But it is not the way to build, long-term, a healthy society, still less a culture of lasting value.
Much to think about!