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American politicians across the political spectrum agree at least on one thing: the need to restore “full employment.” Economic historian James Livingston posits that this is both unrealistic and uncalled-for. Writing for the online magazine Aeon, he argues that the obsession with work prevents Americans from facing the realities of the 21st-century labor market and from finding a new purpose in life that doesn’t revolve around their jobs. getAbstract recommends this stirring critique of American work culture as an upper for the unemployed and food for thought for workaholics. And by the way, Livingston’s writing style is more refined than his essay’s title might suggest.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why no federal policies will restore “full employment” in the United States,
  • Why Americans’ obsession with their work ethic don’t match the realities of the 21st-century labor market,
  • How the federal government can generate the necessary revenue to provide a basic income for every American.
 

About the Author

James Livingston is history professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. His latest book is No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea.

 

Summary

Most Americans define themselves through work. It provides a daily structure, an income and a sense of self-worth. And it supposedly builds character. But Americans’ belief in this work ethic doesn’t match the realities of the 21st-century labor market. First, there isn’t enough work for everyone. No net jobs have been created in the United States since the year 2000. Additionally, per one estimate, up to half of all existing jobs may disappear due to automation by 2035. The notion that federal policies can restore full employment in the United States is unrealistic. Second, many jobs in the United States don’t pay enough to provide workers with a living wage. Half of all Americans with jobs qualify for food stamps, and “transfer payments” from the government make up 20% of all household income.


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