Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Work and leisure

Commenting on today's good news about unemployment, JustLeft says:

Now the challenge should be: how do we get our labour force participation rate up to Scandinavian levels of around 80% of the working age population, compared with the current 66.7%?

But why on earth would we want to do that? We work to live, we do not live to work.

Labour force participation is in many ways a negative statistic, in that it directly represents the tradeoff between work and leisure. High labour force participation comes directly at the expense of doing something else. And to the extent that people would rather be doing something else (whether it is raising kids or writing a book), that is a Bad Thing.

I have no doubt that most people prefer to work (for a certain value of "work"); we all need something to do with our lives, ideally something enjoyable and meaningful (or at least not too crap). But simply pursuing a high participation rate without pausing to think what it means is putting the cart before the horse. Instead, we should be trying to ensure that everybody who wants a job can get one, and that those jobs pay well enough for people to follow their other preferences as well. The aim is to enable people to lead the lives they want, not to force them into shitty work so that politicians can crow about "good" economic statistics.


I was once told that one of the advantages of newer technology was that not everyone in the world had to work any more. We don't all have to work fields as technology enables some of us to work while others don't have to. That comment certainly meant a lot to me as I was growing up.

This will likely be an alien concept to some: the notion that it is good for society as a whole for some people to not be productive members of it. This is probably quite a testable assertion using the framework of say, Social Psychology.

I see two further divisions of this: those involved in non-productive self-development (eg, non-NZQA studying or meditation), and those simply sitting around smoking bongs or blogging.

This begs the question, is a person who sits around smoking bongs/blogging all day contributing to society? I would say, No, of course not, they're a stoner/blogger - but they are serving as monuments to social liberty.

And that is an important role for our social integrity and moral evolution.

Posted by Sam Vilain : 5/11/2006 04:42:00 PM