Nick Smicek and Alex Williams at Bookforum:
The central ideological support for the work ethic is that remuneration be tied to suffering. Everywhere one looks, there is a drive to make people suffer before they can receive a reward. The epithets thrown at homeless beggars, the demonization of those on the dole, the labyrinthine system of bureaucracy set up to receive benefits, the unpaid “job experience” imposed upon the unemployed, the sadistic penalization of those who are seen as getting something for free—all reveal the truth that for our societies, remuneration requires work and suffering. Whether for a religious or secular goal, suffering is thought to constitute a necessary rite of passage. People must endure through work before they can receive wages, they must prove their worthiness before the eyes of capital. This thinking has an obvious theological basis—where suffering is thought to be not only meaningful, but in fact the very condition of meaning. A life without suffering is seen as frivolous and meaningless. This position must be rejected as a holdover from a now-transcended stage of human history. The drive to make suffering meaningful may have had some functional logic in times when poverty, illness, and starvation were necessary features of existence. But we should reject this logic today and recognize that we have moved beyond the need to ground meaning in suffering. Work, and the suffering that accompanies it, should not be glorified. . . .
The dominance of the work ethic also runs up against the changing material basis of the economy. Capitalism demands that people work in order to make a living, yet it is increasingly unable to generate enough jobs. The tensions between the value accorded to the work ethic and these material changes will only heighten the potential for transformation of the system.