by Sharon Beder
Zed Books, London, UK, December 2000
Scribe Publications, Melbourne, Australia, November 2000
KLIM, Copenhagen, Danish translation, 2004
304 pages; 234 x 152 mm; references, bibliography, index
At the onset of the twenty first century work and production have become ends in themselves. The resulting material affluence is accompanied by increasing levels of stress, insecurity, depression, crime, and drug taking. Escalating production and consumption are also destroying the environment on which life itself depends. Yet employment has become such a priority that much environmental degradation is justified merely on the grounds that it provides jobs. And people are so concerned to keep their jobs that they are willing to do what their employers require of them even if they believe it is wrong or environmentally destructive.
The social benefit of having the majority of able-bodied people in a society working hard all week goes unquestioned, particularly by those who work hardest. Few people today can imagine a society that does not revolve around work. How did paid work come to be so central to our lives? Why is it that so many people wouldn't know what to do with themselves or who they were if they did not have their jobs?
In this major new book, Sharon Beder unearths the origins and the practices of a triumphant culture of work in which the wealthy are respected and inequality is justified. Dr Beder shows that these values are neither natural nor inevitable. They have been actively promoted – through religious preaching, corporate propaganda, the education system, and socialisation – by those who benefit most from them.
Selling The Work Ethic provides an absorbing account and critique of this central aspect of modern capitalist society. Prompted by her conviction that humanity needs to unlearn and change these powerfully held but now pathological values if we are to reverse the declining quality of life in industrial society, Dr Beder illuminates the impasse we are now in.