Sure, folks can get pretty creative in cobbling together a living from various low-paying jobs, government transfer payments, and help from family and friends. But to pretend, as Ross Douthat [ht: jd] does, that the decline of decent, well-paying work for a growing part of the population represents a post-work utopia is a different thing entirely.
Douthat can put lipstick on a pig. . .but it’s still a pig.
For the most part, people have not won the freedom not to have a boss. If only that were true. Instead, they’re still in a situation where they’re forced to have the freedom to sell they’re ability to work. But they can’t. Because employers are not offering decent, well-paying jobs. And so, as an alternative, people are forced to survive on whatever they can find.
Two or three off-the-books jobs. Illegal activities. Disability payments. Gifts and loans from family members and friends.
Such people have plenty of social capital. They rely on it. What they’re missing are decent, secure livelihoods, which then allow them to receive an appropriate share of the wealth they and their fellow workers are creating.
It would be different, of course, if as a society we decided that, with the wealth we have produced, we can decrease the hours of work for everyone—on the shop floor as well as in the office, on the loading docks or out front at the cash registers. But that’s not what’s happening.
Because, as Marx explained, the possibility “to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner. . .without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic” is predicated on the abolition of private property, that is, the creation of a communist society.
To believe otherwise is merely an attempt to to dress up recent declines in labor force participation as something other than the failure of the current organization of the economy. And the need for a very different way of deciding how and when to work—and, of course, not work.