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Economists Are Obsessed with ?Job Creation.? How About Less Work? - Evonomics

Peter Gray’s Freedom
Science and Engineering Ethics
Cambridge University Press
2013.Gray, P. (
American Journal of Play
Oxford University Press
Beacon Press
T. (1999)

Peter GrayIn 1930
John Maynard Keynes
Marshal Sahlins
Johan Huizinga
Homo Ludens
Friedrich Schiller
D. H.
R.B. Lee & R. Daly
D. Narvaez
K. Valentino
A. Fuentes
J. McKenna
& P. Gray
R. B. Lee
R. H. Daly
J. M.


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As examples, we have administrators and assistant administrators in ever larger numbers shuffling papers that don’t need to be shuffled, corporate lawyers and their staffs helping big companies pay less than their fair share of taxes, countless people in the financial industries doing who knows what mischief, lobbyists using every means possible to further corrupt our politicians, and advertising executives and sales personnel pushing stuff that nobody needs or really wants.A sad fact is that many people are now spending huge portions of their lives at work that, they know, is not benefitting society (see Graeber, 2013). Moreover, as a legacy of the industrial revolution, we have a cultural ethos that says people must work for what they get, and so we shun any serious plans for sharing wealth through means other than exchanges for work.So, I say, down with the work ethic, up with the play ethic! We’d all be better off if people doing useless or harmful jobs were playing, instead, and we all shared equally the necessary work and the benefits that accrue from it.What is work?The word work, of course, has a number of different, overlapping meanings. That’s not the meaning of work as I use it in this essay, but it’s a meaning worth keeping in mind because it reminds us that much of what we now call work, because we earn a living at it, might be called play in a world where our living was guaranteed in other ways.Is work an essential part of human nature? Researchers who have observed and lived with groups who survived as hunter-gathers into modern times, in various remote parts of the world, have regularly reported that they spent little time doing what we, in our culture, would categorize as work (Gowdy, 1999; Gray, 2009, Ingold, 1999).In fact, quantitative studies revealed that the average adult hunter-gatherer spent about 20 hours a week at hunting and gathering, and a few hours more at other subsistence-related tasks such as making tools and preparing meals (for references, see Gray, 2009). Because these activities were fun and were carried out with groups of friends, there were always plenty of people who wanted to hunt and gather, and because food was shared among the whole band, anyone who didn’t feel like hunting or gathering on any given day (or week or more) was not pressured to do so.Some anthropologists have reported that the people they studied didn’t even have a word for work; or, if they had one, it referred to what farmers, or miners, or other non-hunter-gatherers with whom they had contact did. They decline because our schools, which value work and devalue play, drill them out of people; and then tedious jobs and careers continue to drill them out. In a world that valued play rather than work, we would have no need for such schools. Instead, we would allow each person’s playfulness, creativity, and natural strivings to find meaning in life to blossom.Work, pretty much by definition, is something we don’t want to do. No.The 18th century poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller wrote, “Man is only fully human when he plays.”  I agree; and it seems as clear to me as it did to Schiller that part of our humanity, which rises in play, is concern for our fellow human beings.In our work-filled world we too often fall into a pit where the duty of the job overrides our concern for others. Most of us would do more for our fellow humans if it weren’t for the sink of time and energy and the tendencies toward greed and submission to power that work creates.Band hunter-gatherers, who, as I said, lived a life of play, are famous among anthropologists for their eagerness to share and help one another. In a world without work, or without so much of it, we would all be less concerned with moving up some ladder, ultimately to nowhere, and more concerned with the happiness of others, who are, after all, our playmates.So, instead of trying so hard to preserve work, why don’t we solve the distribution problem, cut way back on work, and allow ourselves to play?Good question.Originally published at Peter Gray’s Freedom to Learn blog on Psychology Today.2017 October 9ReferencesAutor, D.

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