So , along with money goes work. Doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t work the best way of getting money? We live in a fair society, after all, where people get the rewards of their labour.
When I lived in Leigh, Lancashire the locals had a saying: ‘there’s money in owt but work.’ And it set me thinking. As a middle-class person I’d generally expected, when trained and qualified and educated, to make a reasonable living from my work. I even did make a good living, for a while: I got into teaching just after the Clegg inquiry which raised teachers’ rates of pay considerably; and having very few outgoings I was actually quite well-off. For about six months – and then it all went pear-shaped and I found myself unemployed, mentally ill and living in an unemployment black-spot. And at that time most of my friends were either working in low-paid jobs (factories, mostly) or unemployed: Leigh was built on mills and pits and the mills and pits were now closed. So you weren’t much better in work than out of work: your best way to make money was basically to win it, because even if you got a job your prospects were pretty grim.
Yes, I know the right-wing counter-argument to this is that you make your own luck: that instead of signing on these guys could have started their own business, and that if and when they got a job they could try for promotion. But it doesn’t add up: businesses don’t thrive when there’s no money around (and besides, not everyone has the skills to run a business) and as for promotion there is generally one foreman’s-type job for every hundred menial jobs. These guys had been raised as factory-fodder, discarded when the factories were no longer economic, and then blamed for their own plight.
Of course, I think everyone should work. We are not designed to sit endlessly around pools sipping martinis – or lounging on sofas watching daytime TV: we are built to work and we each have something to contribute to the world. But work has become tied up with money to such an extent that much of it is meaningless. Earnings do not relate to work: it is not possible, in any coherent sense, for someone to ‘earn’ a million pound bonus. What has happened is that their money has earned that money. It’s like a betting accumulator – you strike lucky, you back your judgment and the whole thing spirals so that the more money you make, the more money you make. To suggest that a person can ‘work hard enough’ to ‘earn’ such a sum is incoherent and bears no relation to ordinary working life.
At the same time many types of work, though highly useful and necessary, earn little or no money. Carers and cleaners, people without whom society would soon grind to a halt, are among the lowest-paid; and don’t even get me started on artists.
So what do we do?
Answers in tomorrow’s post…