The Value of Work

What would it look like to put “work” at the center of democracy?

This question came up in class yesterday, and someone commented, “That’s capitalism. It’s all about your work and what you produce.”

I marinated on that for awhile.

Is that what capitalism is all about?

I thought about my master’s classes, where we didn’t talk about people, and definitely didn’t talk about citizens. We talked about consumers. And how to build consumers. And how to encourage consumers.

And I thought, “Is your value in a capitalist society really the work you produce, or is your value really in your the fact that working (and earning) allows you to consume?”

And when you think of it that way, work can become very disenfranchising.

Your value, the value of you as a person and individual, is nothing. Your work means nothing. Only what you consume.

You’re not powerless at work because its a non-democratic system where your decisions can be overruled. You’re powerless as work because the system as a whole deems that you have no power.

To me, that feels like what John Gaventa would call the “third dimension of power.” You’re so used to be disempowered, that you don’t even think that you’re disempowered. It’s just the way the system works.

The way things have been and the way they’ll always be.

But is that the way it should be?


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