The Work Trap

Think about how we talk about work.

A “work ethic”, “hard work”, “real work”, the “working class”.

When people say ‘work’, what they often really mean is “paid employment”. 

Our culture has fetishized paid employment.  We’ve held it up as the Only True Adult Task; encouraged people to give their lives and souls to their paid employment, glorified giving up sleep and food and socialization.  Companies are proud of someone sub-contracting out their vehicle while their body is trying to give birth. Companies are advertising living off of caffeine and sleep deprivation to earn a commission as life goals. Employees are proud of working on their PhD while on maternity leave, or answering dozens of emails and taking conference calls while on vacation, or putting 80 hours of “crunch time” in to get a product out the door.  That’s celebrated as a “strong work ethic”, rather than overwork or employer abuse.

We’ve made paid employment the be-all and end-all of adult existence, forcing people to see their identity and worth to society only in terms of their integration & participation in the labor pool. We believe, as a society, that the only way to have self respect and dignity is by having paid employment. We denigrate and demean anyone who isn’t a part of that labor pool. We tie social benefits to having paid employment. We even deny people access to their earned benefits if they leave the labor pool “too soon”.

This paid-employment-focused mindset is not only detrimental to people who are in the labor pool, by reducing them down to a resource to be used up; but it is amazingly discriminatory and it devalues all the other things we do in our lives that are work.

Work Is Anything That Takes Time, Energy & Focus To Do

Work is not just the things we do that we get paid for.  Work is when we put our body, heart & mind into completing a task. Work is when we focus on getting something done.  Raising children is work. Preparing meals is work. Pursuing a hobby is work. Volunteering is work. There are literally millions of things human beings can be doing that is work but not paid employment.



This graphic of the Ikiagi concept very clearly shows that there’s more to life than paid employment; and it shows that you can have ‘delight and fullness’ without paid employment- it does, however, still buy into the “getting paid is necessary for wholeness” paradigm; when what is really needed is financial stability.

Universal Basic Income Unchains Financial Stability From Paid Employment

There are people who are not part of the labor pool, for whatever reason. The elderly, the young, the disabled, the homeless, stay at home parents, caregivers of family members, the people who choose work that is not paid employment.

These people are doing things, and they are doing things that are work. Even if they “just” go to bingo club once a week, or they have a hobby, or they are doing the laundry. These things matter. These people have value and dignity and self-respect, even without paid employment. But our society treats them as if they are leeches, hangers-on, people without rights.  We actively exclude them from societal benefits, or we create huge obstacle courses they must navigate to prove they are worthy of societal benefits. And then when they have those benefits, we create barriers and pitfalls and limitations to them keeping those benefits.

This is where basic income comes in.  When we provide a realistic, stable financial foundation to everyone, regardless of paid employment status, we shift the social emphasis from “paid employment = worth” to “human=worth”.  We still provide ample resources for people who want to peruse paid employment, but we don’t set them up on a pedestal as real citizens or people who have earned rights and benefits. You earn your benefits by being alive.

Basic Income says to the people without paid employment “You have a place in our society, too. You have worth and dignity as a human being, and we believe you have the right to live in stability.”

Some detractors of Basic Income say that it will create dependency and slavery to the government. That is what is happening with our so-called safety nets now. You have to prove yourself to the government to get benefits. You have to continue to prove yourself to keep benefits. You are told when and how and why you can use those benefits. You will lose those benefits the moment you step out of the framework. Basic Income eliminates all that.

Basic Income is about trust and respect. We respect you as a member of our society, and we trust you to make your own choices. We don’t need to means test you, or scour through your finances, or judge what you buy when.  When everyone gets the same level of benefit, then no one needs to be judged, shamed or excluded.