Posts Tagged work

Work Restores the Broken Family of Humankind

I recently pondered what might come of the global economy if we were to to put God at the forefront of our motives and decision-making. The question came as a reaction to Tim Keller, whose recent book calls on Christians to challenge their views about work. By re-orienting our work to be a “servant” instead of a “lord,” Keller argues, we will actually find more fulfillment in the work that we do.

Over at the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog, I take things a bit further, noting that our work, in its very essence, puts us in the service of others. To make the point, I rely heavily on Lester DeKoster’s Work: The Meaning of Your Life, in which he argues that “work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others.”

As DeKoster explains:

Our working puts us in the service of others; the civilization that work creates puts others in the service of ourselves. Thus, work restores the broken family of humankind… Through work that serves others, we also serve God, and he in exchange weaves the work of others into a culture that makes our work easier and more rewarding…As seed multiplies into a harvest under the wings of the Holy Spirit, so work multiplies into a civilization under the intricate hand of the same Spirit.

If we change our thinking on this, orienting our work first toward God and then toward neighbor, we will experience not only a transformation of our basic spiritual commitments but of civilization at large—social, economic, and spiritual.

Today, we are seeing this truth play out in bold and mysterious ways. If globalization has demonstrated anything, it’s the transformational power of expansive human collaboration and cooperation—the transcendent, liberating experience of diverse and interdependent human service. The more freedom and opportunity people have been given to orient their work toward God and neighbor, the more we have seen them rise from poverty in all its forms.

Yet amid such a vivid display, there is still plenty of room for growth. As the winning rhetoric of the recent election demonstrates, our discussions on everything from farm subsidies to auto bailouts to union insulationism to company off-shoring are still plagued by a protectionist ethos that seeks to distort the very essence of work for the mere purposes of personal comfort and self-satisfaction. Instead of asking how we might elevate our work to more accurately and comprehensively meet real and existing human needs, we continue to glorify work as an idol to ourselves.

As Keller and DeKoster remind us, we must fight this temptation with diligence, praying for Read the rest of this entry »

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Honey, You Didn’t Build That: How to Destroy Individualism in Your Children (and Society)

Although a bit cheesy and overacted—intentionally, to be sure—this latest satire on Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line is actually quite effective (HT).

Watch the video here:



It’s effective, I think, because it shows how the underlying truth of Obama’s more basic claim — that we don’t create things all by ourselves and we all rely on various relationships and social institutions — isn’t enough to save Obama’s remarks from themselves.

Surely, everything these parents say to their daughter is true. Without the trees, the popsicle-stick manufacturer, and her local school, this girl wouldn’t have had the opportunity to build what she build. This is, after all, a basic market/cooperation argument if you take out all of the manipulative government activity sleeping in Obama’s assumptions. The problem is: What this girl accomplished was worth celebrating, and it was neither the time nor place to start slandering and belittling her success—that is, unless these parents truly believed that what she did wasn’t really all that profound.

In closing, the Dad says: “It’s important to destroy their sense of individualism while they’re still young.” And this gets at the deeper root of why Obama said what he did: he has a bigger faith in top-down, collective action than bottom-up individual empowerment (I’ve discussed this previously). The individualism of all human persons Read the rest of this entry »

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American Decline and the Virtue of Industriousness

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Charles MurrayI have previously commented on Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, as it relates to his larger argument of our “inequality of human dignity.” This week at Values & Capitalism, I offer some additional thoughts, this time on Murray’s analysis of America’s recent decline in industriousness.

Murray sees industriousness as one of America’s “founding virtues,” the others of which include honesty, marriage and religiosity. Yet while these others are important, Murray argues that industriousness was the most defining.

The founders talked about this virtue constantly, using the eighteenth-century construction, industry. To them, industry signified a cluster of qualities that had motivated the Revolution in the first place—a desire not just to be free to speak one’s mind, to practice religion as one saw fit, and to be taxed only with representation, but the bone-deep American assumption that life is to be spent getting ahead through hard work, making a better life for oneself and one’s children…If just one American virtue may be said to be defining, industriousness is probably it.

Murray provides plenty of data to indicate a decline in this virtue, including shifting attitudes about work, rises in physical disability benefits applications, decreases in labor force participation, and decreases in hours worked per week.

My conclusion?

The data affirm what many of us already know, and what I’ve made a habit of regurgitating in this space time and time again: Americans have shifted away from an energetic, purpose-driven, higher-order pursuit of value, and are instead moving toward security, insulationism, materialism and minimum-commitment thinking. Rather than building upon our history of sacrificial innovation and difficult labor, regardless of immediate or tangible personal benefits, many Americans are seizing our economic prosperity as an opportunity to slack off and opt for personal leisure, short-sighted consumerism and near-boastful protectionism.

If Murray’s data don’t persuade you, look no further than our country’s lackadaisical response to our debt crisis and our salivating over the pandering promises of our politicians. We yearn to be shielded from competition and globalization, nitpicking over which candidate offshored how many jobs to where. We want to be promised a retirement that no longer exists, and one that will never exist without a painful departure from the status quo. We want the government to do all of our risk-taking and weighty decision-making on our behalf, whether in entrepreneurship, health care, housing or charity. We want to be told that less will be expected of us, not more.

Rather than recognizing and embracing our basic human need to experience earned success, we are becoming more focused on simply putting in our 40 and demanding the stars in return. This shift in our attitudes about work—this decline in our culture of industriousness—is only one factor in this emerging cultural divide, but its corrosive cultural effects have no discernible limitations.

We must return to that attitude that Francis Grund once described, pursuing Read the rest of this entry »

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Sweeping Our Way to Prosperity: Booker T. Washington & the Dignity of Work

Booker T. WashingtonI have been enjoying Booker T. Washington’s biography, Up from Slavery, and this week at Values & Capitalism, I unpack some of his ideas about the dignity of work, contemplating their application among  today’s youth.

I start off by pointing to a moment that Washington viewed as crucial in his mobility from former slave to college president. After finally saving up enough money to travel to the Hampton Institute, Washington was given an unusual entry exam.

As Washington himself explained it:

After some hours had passed, the head teacher said to me: “The adjoining recitation-room needs sweeping. Take the broom and sweep it.”

It occurred to me at once that here was my chance. Never did I receive an order with more delight. I knew that I could sweep, for Mrs. Ruffner had thoroughly taught me how to do that when I lived with her.

I swept the recitation-room three times. Then I got a dusting-cloth and I dusted it four times…When I was through, I reported to the head teacher. She was a “Yankee” woman who knew just where to look for dirt. She went into the room and inspected the floor and closets; then she took her handkerchief and rubbed it on the woodwork about the walls, and over the table and benches. When she was unable to find one bit of dirt on the floor, or a particle of dust on any of the furniture, she quietly remarked, “I guess you will do to enter this institution.”

I was one of the happiest souls on earth. The sweeping of that room was my college examination, and never did any youth pass an examination for entrance into Harvard or Yale that gave him more genuine satisfaction. I have passed several examinations since then, but I have always felt that this was the best one I ever passed. 

From there, I move to discuss Washington’s later experience in founding his own school, during which he required his students to build their campus with their own hands. His intent: “the students themselves would be taught to see not only utility in labour, but beauty and dignity; would be taught, in fact, how to lift labour up from mere drudgery and toil, and would learn to love work for its own sake.”

 Here’s the modern-day takeaway, from my piece:

There is some kind of lesson here, some valuable takeaway for an entitled, lackadaisical society that has grown obsessed with a quick and artificial process of growth, one which is completely unsustainable, not to mention wholly debilitating at a deeper spiritual and cultural level.

There is also a lesson here for our leaders, one of whom recently promised to spur such artificiality faster and further, promoting things like “free” education while ignoring the “drudgery” and “toil” that Washington recognized as necessary for any kind of authentic success and genuine Read the rest of this entry »

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Fair Trade Clothing: Keeping Silly in Style

I have critiqued fair trade schemes in the past (here, here, and here), and this week at Values & Capitalism, I do it again, specifically as it relates to clothing.

Relevant Magazine recently published an article on the subject by author Julie Clawson, who attempts to “debunk some common objections to shopping ethically.” Although not aiming to provide a comprehensive justification for such schemes, the article serves as a nice examination point to observe some of the fundamental errors underlying the orientation.

The article tries to “debunk” four common excuses for not “shopping ethically” (whatever that means), which include the following:

  1. Ethically made clothing isn’t stylish.
  2. Ethically made clothing is more expensive.
  3. I can’t find clothing that is ethically made (in all areas).
  4. If I don’t buy ethically made clothing, at least the workers in sweatshops will still have jobs

The most fundamental question, of course, is what constitutes “ethically made clothing,” but the last of these “excuses” (#4) gets closest to the core of the issue.

A sample from the author’s piece:

I am disturbed by the assumption that a worker’s only options are a horribly abusive job or no job at all. Such a view assumes reform is impossible and that conditions can never improve. The call to eliminate sweatshops is not a call to shut down factories (which is too often the path taken by clothing companies caught in unethical behavior); it is a call to improve conditions in those factories. The point is not to destroy jobs and lives but to bring healing to those already broken.

An excerpt of my response:

No. Such an “assumption” is no assumption at all. “Such a view” does not assume that “reform is impossible and that conditions can never improve”; it merely recognizes that such factories are currently the best options in these countries, or are, at least, the best options in the minds of their employees. If these companies picked up and left and their employees were left to beg on the street, would “reform” be suddenly made more possible?

What it does assume is that trying to manipulate companies against their will and instituting arbitrary price targets and controls is counterproductive. It assumes that no company with real-life competitors and sensible shareholders will or should agree to blindly pulling prices out of Clawson’s magic bag. It assumes that buying jeans with materials produced at low costs in Venezuelan sweat shops is more in the interests of the Venezuelan people than supporting an ineffective, inflationary “social justice” cartel or starting a bloody war with Hugo Chavez. It assumes that real economic “reform” and progress is a messy thing, and that America didn’t get to its air-conditioned skyscrapers without its own share of nasty working conditions and low wages (more here).

Above all, it assumes that, in Clawson’s words, “the economics at play here are complicated,” and that changing the corresponding economic systems is even more complicated—much more so than, say, telling self-absorbed Westerners that by listening to their Inner Price Genies they can place a bet for “social justice” and save the world in style.

Read the full critique here.

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RC on the RJ Moeller Show: Job Loss, Job Gain & Value Creation

I recently spent some time chatting with my good friend RJ Moeller on his increasingly popular podcast, The RJ Moeller Show (now hosted by AEI’s Values & Capitalism and broadcasted in the Chicago area).

RJ first interviews Claire Berlinski, editor at City Journal and Ricochet.com and author of the book There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters.

After that, I talk with RJ about my recent (and past) experiences with job loss and job gain, as well as some of the lessons my generation can draw from it.

My main point: our jobs are an opportunity for us to produce value more than they are an excuse to get things. If we start thinking this way, we will take more ownership of our work and will avoid a servility mentality. The result: Not only will we be happier at work, but we will be more secure and more mobile.

Oh yeah, and more conservative. (Whoops!)

You can listen to the interview here, or by clicking the play button below (my interview starts around the 40-minute mark):

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RJ manages his own blog, and is a co-blogger with me at Values & Capitalism. He also has an unhealthy obsession with Chipotle. You can review all of his V&C posts and podcasts here.

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