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17 2. Take Back Work Surviving Well What Is Work? Work is what we do for a living—it’s what we do to survive. Work gives us an identity. It’s a way of defining who we are. When we meet people for the first time, we usually want to know what they do for a living. We’re interested in how much they are paid and what status is attached to their position. Work has the potential to be a source of great pleasure and meaning —it can be where intellectual and practical challenges are posed and met, where we can create new things, use our ingenuity, interact with others, and accomplish things. Whether it is raising a child, running a farm, caring for the sick, making airplanes, managing personnel, defending criminals, or programming computers—all kinds of work can be fulfilling. But work can also be a drudge. It can be repetitive, physically demanding , unsafe, isolated, and so low paid that it barely covers living costs. It can take over people’s lives. In some low-wage sectors people are working longer and longer simply to get by. Those with well-paying jobs are also working longer and longer, perhaps because this is what the job demands or perhaps to buy the things that they think they need. And in countries where the majority of working people do unpaid subsistence and caring work, they are increasingly forced to find ways of paying for basic needs like schooling and medical care. They must find ways of making money to supplement whatever else they do to survive. take back work 18   All over the world, it seems, quality of life and health are being jeopardized by long workdays and workweeks. And there is no evidence that working longer or for more money increases our happiness. Indeed , national-level data show that despite increasing incomes since the 1950s, levels of happiness have not increased, and in some countries they have decreased.1 In many households across the globe, the balance is skewed; too much time is being spent working for money and, as a consequence, there’s not enough time for life. Now we have discovered that increased income is an addiction— the more money and possessions we have, the more we need to acquire to feel happy.2 And there is mounting evidence that there are social and psychological costs associated with material- and consumptionfocused lifestyles. When incomes increase and when the gap between the highest- and lowest-paid workers widens, a host of modern-day health problems follow—rising levels of social isolation, depression, and alcohol and drug abuse.3 The usual story of progress is that as majority world countries are integrated into the “global economy,” waged work will displace unpaid work and become the work that people do. Certainly this is happening in countries like China and India and in Southeast Asia as tens of millions of people are becoming wage earners. This could all be well and good but for the fact that, with the doubling of the global paid labor force in the 1980s and 1990s, more and more of us are spending our hard-earned money on more and more “stuff.”4 In the constant drive for satisfaction we are eating into our planet’s resources at an unsustainable rate and polluting our environment at unprecedented levels. Across the globe, work as we know it is not achieving the goal of surviving well. We are working more but surviving poorly. We are overconsuming the earth’s resources , undermining our health, and not improving our levels of happiness. Can we rebalance the scales? We think we can, but we might need to step back from the work treadmill and think about what we really need to survive well. This is not going to be easy. When we’ve become so heavily invested k There is never any point at which we will be able to claim that enough is enough. Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet take back work   19   in the things that money can buy, there’s a lot at stake. But if we are to take back the economy, we need to reconsider our working lives in the context of our own well-being and the well-being of other humans and the planet. Let’s look at how two different groups are dealing with this very real dilemma. Living to Work or Working to Live? Downshifters...


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