In the late capitalist hellscape of our age, it is common for people to lament that there isn’t enough work. People string together menial part-time jobs, run themselves ragged on gig-economy schemes that are tailor-made to not deliver an actual living, and linger in overqualified underemployment for years on end because there just isn’t work. Immigrants get demonized because they “take” work from born citizens, providing a pretext for legalized racism. Economists and politicians fret about how little work there is and how it forces them into no-win decisions, trying to guard and cultivate work for a restive populace.
It is all lies.
Every street that needs to be repaired, every train that breaks down, every bridge that is showing its age: these are all work.
Every family that needs food, every illness that needs treating, and every roof with a leak: these are all work.
Every loose bolt on playground equipment, every malfunctioning air conditioner in a school, every parent who can’t work because they can’t afford for their children to be looked after in their absence: these are all work.
Every library that struggles to house its collection, every museum whose exhibits aren’t up to date, every plaza whose surface cracks in winter: these are all work.
Every train line that hasn’t been built, every bus that never arrives on time, every streetcar that breaks down: these are all work.
Every language that hasn’t been illuminated for linguists the world over to study, every species that hasn’t been added to the catalogues of world biology, every compound that a chemist has not yet discovered: these are all work.
Every nuance of biochemistry that underlies how living works, every bit of starmatter we do not yet understand, every mathematical theorem not yet proven: these are all work.
Every cult of feckless disbelief that hasn’t been dismantled, every toxic social norm that hasn’t been corrected, every right that lies unguarded: these are all work.
Every building too difficult to complete with current technology, every vehicle that is not yet safely autonomous, every drop of electricity still wrung out of this world in a way that harms the environment: these are all work.
Every cure that hasn’t yet been found, every medicine that is not yet instantly available to anyone who would benefit from it, every sick person waiting for a hospital bed: these are all work.
Every child who needs educating, every elderly person who can’t heft their groceries into their car, every unhoused person who wants a home: these are all work.
Every novel that hasn’t been written, every painting that hasn’t been painted, every song that hasn’t been sung, every cartoon that hasn’t been drawn, every sculpture that hasn’t been sculpted: these are all work.
There is no shortage of work. There is virtually infinite work. The project of human flourishing has room for, nay, requires, all hands. We can look around us every day and see the work of multiple lifetimes all around us, but we talk about there not being enough.
The problem is not work. The problem is that anyone who would undertake most of that work risks starvation for their generosity, because no one will pay them for it. This world runs on a spiral churn of perverse incentives that keep most of that work impossible because it is deemed unprofitable. This is a world that would rather let bridges disintegrate and people die of exposure and lack of healthcare than fund the work that would save them. This is a world where scientists must devote ridiculous fractions of their time to begging for the money they need to fund their research. This is a world where pyramid schemes euphemized as “multi-level marketing” never run out of desperate people to con into worse-than-free labor but nursing homes and schools struggle to have enough staff, where there’s always money for the next life-ending gadget for the largest militaries but my home city’s transit network is decades behind where it should be, where it takes hours to penetrate an emergency room with anything that isn’t immediately life-threatening and where prescriptions aren’t universally covered in a country that builds part of its identity out of single-payer healthcare.
The problem is not work. The problem is that we have allowed all of that work to get locked away behind sociological monstrosities and declared it the literal and figurative cost of doing business.
It’s time for what needs to be done and what can be done to stop being different things.
It’s time to take back work.