The Moral Repugnance of Wage Labor

There are a lot of discussions to be had about the value and purpose of moral standards, and I could go on and on about the problems inherent in most moral systems. However, even starting from a baseline Western, Judeo-Christian morality, there is something repugnant about wage labor.

It suggests that people are worthless unless they do some kind of work – and specifically, some kind of work that someone else deems valuable enough to pay for. In essence, it suggests that those who do not or cannot work – or, more likely, who can’t find someone to pay them for their work – do not even deserve to live, since money is needed to buy food, health care, shelter, etc. In other words, people who don’t work for a wage¬†deserve to die.

I could see a case for wage labor if all of the necessities of life were provided outright – if food, shelter, health care, maybe education, etc. were free. “You get the basics, but then anything else you have to work for anything extra.” That I could understand within a classical moral framework. But that’s not the case. In fact, it’s specifically those things that many conservatives reject when we discuss welfare or social programs to help the poor. I cannot understand how, within a classical moral framework, anyone could suggest that those who do not work deserve to die.

I don’t think anyone deserves to die… I think that’s a simple moral assumption that most people can accept, and I think it’s one we need to start using to interrogate our social systems.

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