Why the Protestant Work Ethic Is a Menace to Society
|November 8, 2012||Posted by Staff under Work / Play|
Why Some Like Conservatives & Oppose Liberals
by Robert S. Becker
For the first time only 48% of Americans deemed themselves Protestant. The dominant majority since Puritan days has shrunk to minority status. Let us project a similar demise for the “Protestant Ethic.” That triumphant code consecrates hard work, prosperity, and control over nature.
No doubt, America’s affluence mirrors perseverance, especially by underpaid laborers, but consider more critical advantages: freedom from central authority, relative tolerance, thus ethnic diversity, matchless resources (farmland, forests, water, minerals), and truly fortuitous geography, poised between Europe and Asia. Military might, material goods, isolation, and good fortune, not simply workloads, clarify how 5% of the world’s population commandeers 20% of most goodies.
What happened to promises of greater leisure time?
What needs challenge isn’t work per se but the Protestant work linkages: 1) that worldly success signals heavenly election; 2) that will power alone (and the right Christian values) will overcome all uneven playing fields; and 3) that status (read: money) awards “winners” the moral right to rule the entire roost. In fact, hard work by itself leads to exhaustion, without often gaining a livable wage. And America’s celebrated draw of exceptional socio-economic mobility has migrated to Canada and much of Europe and Asia.
Our New Deal’s 40-hour week base cut America’s average workload by 25% (from 1900 and 1950), yet that didn’t stop us from becoming the world’s richest economic power ever (not getting devastated by two wars helped).
In fact, leisure advances productivity. Conversely, overwork cuts efficiency while amplifying stress and health problems, impedes exercise, and ups our reliance on coping mechanisms, namely alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs.
Why not start a new crusade to Upend the Protestant Ethic? How hard must we work to find alternatives to the folly of glorying counter-productive, life-taking hard work — that destroys rather than serves life?
JJS: An opposite code, which could be dubbed the Polynesian Play Ethic, is growing more popular. You see people urge the acceptance of (not work for, of course) a shorter workweek, more vacation time, simpler living, the slow food movement, etc. But all those things take money. If people already had more money, without more work, they probably would work less and play more.
From where could we all get an extra income? Alaska pays residents a dividend from oil revenue, and other jurisdictions (Aspen CO, Singapore, elsewhere?) do something similar. Could every place pay its citizens a dividend?
Why not? The revenue that comes from people paying for aspects of nature is ideal. Morally, nobody made land or resources and everybody makes nature valuable (by needing sites, minerals, etc). Practically, while not every place has an oil field, everywhere does have a “gold mine” — downtown locations.
If the urban land is public — as is Hong Kong’s and most US port districts’ — then lease it. If it’s private, then tax it. Or institute user fees. Or land dues. However the socially-generated rental value of nature is recovered, it could then be used for an extra income to all. More than likely, it could also fund a svelte government (that does not waste public revenue on corporate welfare and a war machine). Indeed, if land dues are instituted, then the entire tax apparatus could be tossed onto the junk heap of history.
While radical reform of public revenue may seem farfetched, in small ways it is already in place. For example, Fiji recovers ground rent as a matter of routine. To read more . And wherever tried, geonomic policy has worked. May the rest of the world catch up!