Is Work Beneath Us?

I didn't realize that the country famous for what some call its protestant work ethic, has come to revile work in such an open way.

But this fact was brought home to me in the past week through the confluence of a few stories.

First, the CBO's estimates that Obamacare will be responsible for the loss of 2.5 million jobs. No matter the nuances of the report, this is not the type of story that any politician wants to be talking about. It is the type of story that you ignore and with a willing press, it will soon go away. This is particularly true in an era of stubbornly high unemployment and underemployment. But strangely, that is not what happened.

Talking heads and politicians used the news as a chance to denigrate work as distracting from more important things. Representative Mark Pocan (D., Wis.) lauded the disappearing jobs as a good thing saying “What that means is instead they might be able to tuck their child in bed at night and read a bedtime story, or go to an activity, which means they’re better off.” They are better off without work seems to be the sentiment. In a labor market with startlingly low and ever decreasing labor force participation rate, this seems a bizarre thing to say.

 Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) echoed the sentiment suggesting the disappearing jobs was good because "People might actually be able to cook dinner rather than have to order out and get some takeout."

These are strange notions indeed. These comments are suggestive that our ruling class view work as a necessary evil made increasingly unnecessary by governmental largesse. Unmentioned, of course, is that such largesse is merely the redistributed fruit of other's labor.

The notion of work as a necessary evil runs contrary to Catholic teaching on the necessity and dignity of work.

In his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II said this of our obligation to work:

Work is, as has been said, an obligation, that is to say, a duty, on the part of man. . . Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work in order to be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the succession of history.


We see that man requires work beyond just our need to provide.  We have a duty to work.  Work is a good.

Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes "more a human being.”


I admire Mike Rowe, the former host of Dirty Jobs and advocate of work and workers.  Recently, he did voice over for a commercial wherein he personified empty factories in which his exit line is "Work is a beautiful thing."

The commercial is advertizing Walmart's commitment to spend $250 Billion (Billion with a B) over ten years to promote new manufacturing in America. Regardless of whether you like Walmart as a company and regardless whether you support all their employment practices, it can only be viewed as a good thing when the biggest employer in the world commits such resources to developing manufacturing jobs.

But many people do not see it that way.  They want to destroy the biggest employer in the world.  Mike Rowe, for lending his talents to the effort to restore American manufacturing and the development of jobs, is being vilified.

I cannot help but think that underlying this anti-corporatist mindset is a misunderstanding of the nature of work and the good that it brings to mankind.

Lastly, there is a commercial currently running for Cadillac that on its face seems to support the good of work.  I understand that it is intended in part to tweak some countries and cultures attitudes toward work and I will admit that some lines are quite amusing.  But it misconstrues the nature and end of work as a means to create your own luck with a side benefit of nice toys.

We work because we are supposed to.  We work to provide for ourselves and others.  Work is our duty and our privilege.  Work should not be reviled as a necessary evil or extolled as a means of gaining an abundance of possessions.  Work is bigger and more important than that.  For even in the Garden of Eden, where man wanted for nothing, he worked.

"The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. " Gen. 2:15