The True Nature of Work & Human Exertion
  • It’s not merely for money that healthy humans work.

    Before free-exchange which created specialization which created the division of labor, the vast majority of human exertion was directed toward one thing only, and that was the production of food.

    For most of human history, people labored their entire lives, from sun-up to sundown, six or seven days a week, and they did it just to survive, and life was nasty, brutish, and short.

    Free-exchange changed all of that.

    Free-exchange created specialization which created the division of labor, which unleashed human ingenuity and human productivity.

    Consider what your shoes and your clothes would look like now if you had to find the time to make and stitch and skin and tan and sew all the material yourself — in between the never-ending labor of producing your food.

    Think of what our transportation would look like if it was up to each to come up with our own means of transportation — whether horse, camel, boat, wheel, or airplane.

    Think of how much would be required for each to produce the fuel alone for an automobile or airplane.

    Or your medicine, including care for broken bones, strep throat, your appendix bursting.

    Yet we have all this and more at our very fingertips, and the reason for this is so foundational and so basic that most people don’t fully see it: free-exchange and the division of labor.

    Because of free-exchange, we can trade with others who have things that we ourselves want and cannot do or do not want to do — be it all manner of food production, shelter, clothing, medicine, transportation, light, entertainment, and much much more.

    This process is the essence and matter of economic growth.

    Because of specialization, more and more people are doing what they want to do, and not what they must do for bare subsistence.

    Because of specialization also, our work is an expression of what we love and become good at — an expression and an emphasis of it — and this is why work is a fundamental component to human happiness: it expresses our efficiency as we practice and become better, and it gives direction and expression to the movements of our bodies as dictated by our brains. It is our person and personality concretized in action and in motion. Work gives physical form to our psychological-epistemological existence.

    In fostering and developing a sense of self-efficacy and productiveness, work also, as a corollary, develops a sense of self-worth.

    This life-affirming truth about work is one of countless things which power-lusting politicians, in their hysterical responses to Covid-19 and their push to establish dependency among voters, have plainly missed.

    Having panicked over a virus that makes sick only a small portion of the population and kills even less, politicians expressed their panic by means of the only method at their disposal: force. The forced shutdown of economic activity.

    Terrified by something beyond their powers of comprehension, they substituted their myopic, minuscule knowledge for that of an incomprehensibly vast marketplace — putting millions and millions and millions instantaneously out of work thereby and exploding millions and millions and millions of businesses into which people had invested their lives.

    Having engineered an economic collapse that wiped out the livelihoods of tens of millions overnight, these same politicians then proceeded to double-down and then triple-down in their reckless panic — extracting trillions of dollars from the private economy, once again acting in blind-terror, and accordingly they began throwing money indiscriminately at this problem of their own devising. Let us also note and never forget: they were only able to do this, albeit temporarily, thanks to the economic growth that has nothing to do with politicians, and everything to do with people becoming passionate about their work.

    Human ability is rooted in the human brain, and what we ultimately become grows out of this root, and nothing more fundamental than work is required for the life we want for ourselves. No matter what moral code anyone tries to force upon you, whether secular or non-secular, the true measure of value is found in our work — in our effort and passion for learning and striving and becoming better.

    The truth is that only a small minority of the world’s population understands firsthand how jobs are created, how income is generated, how payrolls are met. The majority of the world’s population thinks wages and wealth appear more or less magically. If businesses are shutdown for our own good, therefore, surely those business-owners will simply wave their magic wand to conjure their magic wealth in order to start up those magical businesses all over again, when, at last, this panic has ended.

    The fact that business-owners and entrepreneurs are being sacrificed in such a shocking manner now, because of Covid-19, is of little importance to elected politicians, of course. Of course. Most people know, at least implicitly, that this is how politicians operate. The real crime is that now most people — i.e. voters — also don’t care about this colossal destruction.

    “It is only a government that can count on the support of the governed which can establish a lasting regime. Whoever wants to see the world governed according to his own ideas must therefore strive for domination over human minds. It is impossible, in the long run, to subject people against their will to a regime that they reject.”

    Wrote Ludwig von Mises.

    We are in this very way witnessing not a usurping regime now imposing unpopular measures on a resistant but helpless citizenry.

    What we’re witnessing is widespread mob-rule, the central characteristic of which is rule by the majority with no regard for the rights of dissenting minorities. The government may now be ruling by decree, but it is in most places doing so with the overwhelming approval of the vox populi. That, to me, is the most disheartening and horrifying part.

    Politicians have in essence said that a certain type of worker can’t be trusted — just as certain types of businesses can’t be trusted to remain open during a pandemic. Their message was that they’d lock us down for our own good, yet try to pay us off by means of the economy they’d simultaneously shut down, while we’re forced by governmental decree to remain idle.

    How these out-of-touch elitists miss the entire fucking point.

    Precisely because so many working-people love doing the work they do and have become good at it, these selfsame workers would have made all manner of changes to their daily routines so that they could continue to work. How can I be so sure? Because free workers already had made all manner of adjustments in their working habits to avoid spreading a virus, so that they could do what makes them shine — what makes them happy — and they began doing it before mandatory lockdowns.

    Chef Eric Ripert in his book 32 Yolks described the star-like “charisma that comes from those who are truly good at what they do.”

    It is my conviction that every politician and bureaucrat on the planet should read this book. It doesn’t even matter that the overwhelming majority of them wouldn’t understand the truths expressed therein about the nature of work and the passion people feel for their work — the importance of competency and skill, how the meaning of life can be found precisely there, in purposeful action, the motions of the human body in concert with the human brain — it doesn’t matter at all, I say, because for one out of a thousand, it might spark a light inside the mind. And for these one-in-a-thousand few, they might begin to grasp why work is so much more than merely a way to pay the bills and play: it is an extension of our selves — our very person.

    It is worth noting, finally, that there is no real scientific evidence for any of the “official” social-distancing guidelines, and in fact studies on means of transmission vary drastically. Six feet is not and has never been an evidence-based recommendation. The only real evidence is that nearly all transmission is among families and people living together, and then by hospitals and public transportation. Which is why it’s such unbelievable bureaucratic lunacy to ruin thousand and thousand of lives by destroying thousands and thousands of small businesses in New York City — while keeping the subways open.

    “The six-foot-rule is based on a few studies from the 1930-40s, which have since been shown to be wrong… It’s like the flat-Earth theory: anyone who tries to discuss the actual evidence is shouted down by a chorus of believers,” wrote Professor Raina MacIntyre recently, at the Kirby Institute.

    The preponderance of people, meanwhile, turning this issue into pathetic partisan inanity in record time, stridently cheer this complete stupidity, and, its having hardened in one month’s time into frozen dogma, they will now fight you to the death over the subject: the indefensible position that authoritarian force is here perfectly justified over what humans would have voluntary done anyway — over what humans were already doing.

    An economy is an intricate, complex system of interlocking parts — a stupendous, organic, living, breathing plexus of contracts, plans, sub-plans, markets, sub-markets, agriculture, mining, shipping, aviation; of calibrations, expectations, retail chains, supply chains, prices, profits — a worldwide nexus of real lives and real livelihoods. For any politician or bureau to declare one person’s work non-essential while declaring another’s essential is not only insulting: it’s misbegotten, asinine, and discloses profound economic illiteracy. And still the fact remains: the only alternative to acting by right is acting by permission. Ask yourself: whose permission? And why?


    April 22nd, 2020 | journalpulp | 5 Comments |

About The Author

I was born and raised in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. I've worked as a short-order cook, construction laborer, crab fisherman, janitor, bartender, pedi-cab driver, copyeditor, and more. I've written and ghostwritten several published books and articles, but no matter where I've gone or what I've done to earn my living, there's always been literature and learning as the constant in my life.

5 Responses and Counting...

  • Allie 04.22.2020

    I can’t say I really disagree with this but you are bound to ruffle some feathers.

  • Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. You’re not wrong about that.

    Thank you for dropping by.

  • Doc

    More Marxist than Marxian. Homo Faber and surplus value?

  • Surplus Value is bunk. You know why? Because the Labor Theory of Value is what it’s derived from, and the Labor Theory of Value is bunk. Total bunk. It’s been bunked a billion times, in fact. Adam Smith and David Riccardo were wrong. Karl Marx was wrong. Böhm-Bawerk and Carl Menger won the argument.

    That’s not merely my opinion: history has proven them correct, I believe.

  • Which, of course, by extension means that Marxian economics is built upon a foundation composed largely of smoke-and-mirrors: Surplus Value Theory which, briefly, can be explained a little like this:

    It is evident that natural resources do not prepare themselves for the use of man. Human energy and tools must be applied to the resources before they can be converted into usable form and transported to places where a demand for them exists.

    One does not pay money to natural resources. Nor does one pay money to tools. It may be an essential to pay the person who owns the resources or the tools. But essentially, all money passes from one human hand into another human hand. And the passage relates to the amount of labor performed by the human energy supplied in each case.

    Thus, one does not buy logs or lumber for building; one purchases the labor that has gone into the felling of the trees, the milling of the lumber. What are the logs worth while they are still trees? Fundamentally, they are worth whatever it costs to convert them. And here is Marx: If more than that basic cost of labor is included in the purchase price, the element of profit or “surplus value” appears. If you must pay a lumberman five dollars to fell a tree, trim it, saw it into usable lengths and thicknesses, and then deliver it, the tree is worth five dollars, no more, no less.

    Superficially, this is reasonable enough — reasonable, that is, if this were a world in which hand tools were all that could ever be employed, land could never be privately owned, and our wants were such simple things as log houses. We are far from such a world. Such a world is contrary to the nature of man’s basic rights; there is no desire for such a world. The “labor theory of value” is fallacious and the notion of “surplus value” based upon it is equally in error.

    What Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx have all done, and what the followers of the latter two continue to do, is to confuse the meanings of two important words: cost and value. While it may be true in the above instance that it might cost five dollars to produce the lumber from a given tree, the value of the lumber from that tree has no immediate relationship to cost.

    Value, as Eugen Ritter von Böhm-Bawerk, Carl Menger, and others demonstrate is inevitably the result of a subjective judgment. Lumber may cost $5, but the intensity with which you, as a purchaser, desire the lumber determine whether it is worth $1 or $20 to you. If it is worth only $1 to you, you will not purchase it if it is priced above that sum, regardless of the cost expended in producing it. Similarly, if you would be glad to pay as much as $20 for it, you will consider it a bargain if it is priced at $10, even though the cost of producing the lumber was $5 and the other $5 represents a profit to the producer.

    The most persistent tragedy of all this is that the Marxists and Neo-Marxists still can’t accept that the cornerstone of their economically theory is predicated upon one big error. Marxist theory cannot survive without some form of the Labor Theory of Value — that’s how integral I believe the theory is to all of Marxist doctrine. Surely this is why Marxist and Neo-Marxists of every stripe still continue to fight tooth-and-nail for the Labor Theory of Value, no matter how much evidence contradicts the theory, no matter how obviously wrong it is.

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