Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic about how workism, “the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose,” has taken over American culture, and how “making Americans miserable:”
The economists of the early 20th century did not foresee that work might evolve from a means of material production to a means of identity production. They failed to anticipate that, for the poor and middle class, work would remain a necessity; but for the college-educated elite, it would morph into a kind of religion, promising identity, transcendence, and community.
The fact that the well-off are working ever longer hours is pretty well-known; but Thompson makes the point that workism “isn’t just a cultist feature of America’s elite. It’s also the law:”
Most advanced countries give new parents paid leave; but the United States guarantees no such thing. Many advanced countries ease the burden of parenthood with national policies; but U.S. public spending on child care and early education is near the bottom of international rankings. In most advanced countries, citizens are guaranteed access to health care by their government; but the majority of insured Americans get health care through—where else?—their workplace. Automation and AI may soon threaten the labor force, but America’s welfare system has become more work-based in the past 20 years.
In Rest, I talk about scientific research that’s measured the costs of overwork, and in the new book I need to explain why we’ve come to see overwork as alternately inevitable, natural, and desirable. Seeing how the magic trick of inevitability is done is the first step to realizing that its apparent naturalness is actually an artifact, and that we don’t have to work to these rules in the future. Understanding the role regulation plays in normalizing workism can help us see that the trick is a trick, and maybe not even that magical.