Talk to most wealthy people and they generally have this disdain for the poor as being lazy, irresponsible and unmotivated. As I grow older and I start to become more successful in business and in western culture, I have realized that those that are wealthy are not that much different. The art of business is unique, because the more money you make generally that means the less labour you actually do yourself. I realize that there is a jump before this happens, I’m not talking about myself really or small businesses. I’m talking about those westerners who have made it in life and own businesses all over the place. Wendell Berry says that “the great motive and the great “selling point” of industrialism has been “less work.” Our national goal, indeed, has been less work, and we have succeeded. Most people who work are now working less or with less effort (and skill) than they once did, and increasing numbers are not working at all.” Eventually the people who make the most money end up doing the least amount of actual physical work. Most of their work becomes managing and administrative labour while the real hard labour is done at the bottom of the ladder by people being paid the least.
If the goal of our culture is ‘less work’ then how does that make the wealthy any less lazy and worthless than the poor who aren’t working either? The wealthy can just afford vacations and more luxury, but in the end, they are still not contributing to society the way that they expect those under them. The reason we even know that wealthy people are wealthy is because they have time to flaunt their wealth. Those that are working hard are either generally not wealthy (because they wouldn’t be working so hard if they were). If our culture can only value work because it makes us money than I fear that we will all accuse the other side of being lazy and good for nothing. Work is reduced to monetary reimbursement. This just means that the wealthy are tricked into thinking they are actually doing work; which they are not.
But is work something that we have a right to escape? And can we escape it with impunity? We are probably the first entire people ever to think so. All the ancient wisdom that has come down to us counsels otherwise. It tells us that work is necessary to us, as much a part of our condition as mortality; that good work is our salvation and our joy; that shoddy or dishonest or self-serving work is our curse and our doom. We have tried to escape the sweat and sorrow promised in Genesis – only to find that, in order to do so, we must forswear love and excellence, health and joy.
- Wendell Berry