Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Work needs to be questioned

As part of researching issues around poverty for an essay at university, I have conducted 3 online interviews and 2 offline ones, plus a focus group with 9 participants (all members of my extended family).

The questions I asked are these:
  • What do you think is the cause(s) of poverty in the world?
  • What do you think are the obstacles to eliminating poverty?
A number of interesting answers surfaced, which I will probably discuss at another time. What I wish to point out at this time is one thing which was not mentioned: working, or the institution of wage-labour. The assumption appeared to be that it is a constant of life, a given, or at least that any attempt at altering it is incomprehensibly futile.

Black (1985) makes a strong statement (at times too strong) about the negative impacts of work and imagines an alternative, ludic world in his The Abolition of Work. I will argue that an essential omission from his discussion is poverty.

Novak (1988) convincingly argues that poverty is endemic to capitalism. In feudalism, people would usually be in the possession of the means through which they produced the food and other necessities. They owned the tools and the animals with which they worked the land. Subservience to the feudal master meant that they payed taxes and levies from the surplus they produced (and sometimes way above that). Nevertheless, Novak emphasizes that these people were more in control of the means of survival than are most workers today.

--to be continued--

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