Labor Day and the End of Work

Heading into the Labor Day weekend, we thought we would take a contrarian view of the holiday by reviewing Forbes columnist John Tamny’s new book, The End of Work.  Last year, we interviewed him on our podcast on his previous book, Who Needs the Fed?

No Fed? No jobs?  Is Tamny losing it?

On the contrary, John Tamny has a gift for imagining the possible.  In this case – a future where people can make a living doing the things they love to do. And for many people, that’s already happening now.

John told Tim Anaya and me last year that in his new book, he argues that no one is stupid or lacks a work ethic, but “People who hate Sundays, people who feel like failures at work, in fact, hate a lack of capital and a lack of investment.”  In The End of Work, Tamny makes the case that economic growth is crucial for everyone’s well-being because it will free more and more people from work that feels like work.  Take football:

“Football is an immensely cerebral game — one of the most difficult things to understand.  The people on the NFL and college football fields understand something that would render some of the highest IQ people in the world idiots, yet they understand it intimately. Thankfully, we live in a world today in which people can make a life of football.  You don’t have to make the NFL anymore to make a living out of football. There are 17 coaches in the state of Georgia alone who earn over $100,000 a year coaching high school football; there are over nine in Alabama; and 14 in the Houston area. . .  The U.S. has grown richer — the demand for entertainment, the demand among parents for good activities for their kids, the demand among boosters to support entities as youthful as high school football — has surged.  Football is becoming a career for people and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Well, whether its coaching, sports broadcasting or reporting, cheerleading, or being a sports PR person (I hear they work till 2 am on game night), I still think one has to be pretty exceptional to make a career in football.  But Tamny keeps going with examples.  Here’s what he said about food and drink:

Thirty years ago, if you graduated from college, and said I’m going to be a chef, people would not only look at you sideways, they would look at you as a failure – ahhh — he’s going to become a cook. Today, people are choosing the life of a chef and cooking over being doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers, thanks once again to all the wealth that’s being created in the U.S. and the developed world.  More and more people get to choose a life of food because that’s their passion. Thirty years ago, if you were going to say you want to make a life of wine, people would have thought — wait a second — but now sommeliers are not only highly paid, they are highly regarded.  They’re important people in the community.

And what about think tank wonks?  Here’s what John had to say about our profession:

150 years ago, you had one choice – you were going to grow up and work on a farm. Think how that would have reduced the three of us (John, Tim, and me) to blithering idiots — probably objects of ridicule. On the other hand, we live in a country in which we get to do what we love.  We get to make our interest in policy a life choice that pays the bills.

John makes his final point: “When an economy is weak, it is suffocating myriad forms of intelligence that can only flower when an economy is growing.  What I’m arguing for is even more economic growth so that more and more people can be as lucky as we are and can go to work to do what remotely doesn’t feel like work.”

From all of us non-workers at PRI, Happy (Early) Labor Day!

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president at the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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