Belaboring Labor

Given a choice unconstrained by financial imperatives, most human beings would probably not willingly toil for nearly a third of their waking hours on earth at a job that requires them to use their brain solely for repetitive motor functions. In a utopian scenario, most people would not choose to do the same thing over and over, and over and over — and over and over and over again..and again and again. And again.

Most people would prefer to use their imagination and problem solving skills. Most people would prefer to use their creativity and communication skills. Most people would prefer the fatigue that accompanies unrelenting concentration, not the kind that accompanies 450 minutes of heavy lifting.

Most people, however, are not as lucky and privileged as though of us who do not work for a living.

Our “free market” capitalist system is organized around the principles of avarice and exploitation. “Economic justice” is an oxymoron. Therefore, those who do the least desirable, most soul- (and back-) crushing jobs are paid the least, and those who do the most desirable, most fuliflling jobs are paid the most. When the International Council on Fairness in the Workplace makes me the Czar of Price Fixing, my first decree shall be to invert the salaries of CEOs and assembly-line workers, paying those whose bodies have been used more thoroughly than a Bangkok prostitute a sum of money commensurate with the mental sacrifices and spiritual indignities they must endure. Those of us who get to use our minds to earn our daily bread will be compensated with extra volumes of poetry and enough energy and concentration to sit through Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

We aren’t willing to give up our cheap goods. We don’t really want everyone to get a good education and a “good” job. There would be nobody left to sew our jeans and pluck our chickens, pick our strawberries and remove our trash. We want labor to stay in a state of benighted servitude, making our cushy lives even cushier. It just seem fairer on the whole to recognize the subtle crimes we commit in the name of “freedom” and compensate those we exploit in a way that recognizes the genuine and undervalued contribution they make to our exalted way of life.

Happy Labor Day, America!

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