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What Is The Purpose of Work?

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*If you missed last week’s post / essay in a new series entitled “Healthy Work”check it out first:
http://www.scottgodwin.net/blog/healthy-work

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”
-Albert Einsten

Men and women work for many different reasons because individuals have different desires and goals.  Some men, like Donald Trump or Barrack Obama, work to become powerful because they enjoy the intoxication or because they feel a duty to steer the group into a direction they see as best.  Some people work simply to put food on the table and to keep a roof over their head.   Others work to travel, so that they may make enough money to have adventurous lives.  We cannot say to any significant extent what exactly people should work for, because individual people value economic goods differently. 

Some value free time above all so they work only enough time to acquire the basic means of survival, so that they may use their life in leisure or hobbies.  Others may have a goal to acquire $10,000,000 in their lifetime.  It is not up to us as rational and moral citizens to judge whether why someone works or what they work for is “right / good” or “wrong / bad”.  Value judgements about how much, how hard, and how long someone works are truly subjective, because every man is different in how he values the fruits of his labor, in his views about his own life and its purpose, and in how he views the world around him. 

That being said, as we covered in the last essay, we can and in actuality we must say that to work is good, or right, and that to not work is wrong, when not working produces a drain on others.  Otherwise, work would have no real meaning, emotionally, morally, spiritually, or intellectually.  The purpose of all work, work which in and of itself is noble and leads to societal flourishing, work done for various reasons, is to create value for business owners, entrepreneurs, capitalists, and workers, and to fulfill the human needs and desires of each, no matter how different they might be

In some parts of the world, rural India or Mexico for example, workers work to create value so that they might have enough money to buy groceries or to pay a utility bill.  On the far other side of the spectrum, highly educated young professional Manhattanites might be working to create value in order that they can make enough money to retire at 40, and use their stored financial value to move to a small bucolic town or to travel the world.  In both cases, the worker works to create value in the marketplace in order to fulfill his or her desires.  Capitalists, savers, and entrepreneurs are driven to do the same thing.  In the case of the capitalist, he or she is driven to create financial value through lending and earned interest and in the case of the entrepreneur she is driven to invent something of value so that she might acquire value through money or other goods.   The saver has an excess of value and stores it, usually in the form of gold or money, and hopes to use it more efficiently at a later date. 

By this token, since the purpose of work is to create value, work which is not valuable has no rational purpose or meaning and should not be done, unless one wants to act irrationally (which people do).  To do meaningless work which creates no value is irrational and frankly a waste of time.  Even worse than wasting time, work which is destroying net value or is illegal is futile and destructive to all parties involved.  It would be better for a man to find a different path.  If a man partakes in an effort to steal or destroy, he is actually taking value away both from himself on a moral and spiritual level and from society on an economic basis.  Work should be always be done to create value, not take value away.  Work that does not create value is at its best futile and meaningless and at its worst, destructive. 

Additionally, not all work creates value in monetary form.  Many examples are evident: the soldier, the missionary, the volunteer, the artist, the parent, or the family member or friend.   In these instances work creates value in the form of friendships, love, security, moral or aesthetic beauty, or for simple self-fulfillment or a sense of duty or calling to a higher purpose.  Still, the work is done to create value, just not always monetary value. 

In 2008, the US economy went through a period of crisis.  Interest rates had been low for so long that an inevitable bubble arose in the housing and stock market.   Equal opportunity government lending schemes, lack of financial regulation, consumer irresponsibility, risky loan packages, and unethical repackaging of mortgage-backed security derivatives each played a part in the 2008 crash as well.  Many economists believe this crisis to have been the worse since the Great Depression of the 1930s.  1000s of Americans lost their homes, their jobs, and their investments savings.   Since 2008, the economy has recovered, albeit tenuously, as governments across the globe have stepped in to provide liquidity and stimulate the economy. 

Somewhere in the debate about what should have been done and what can be done now to prevent or manage another crisis, many seem to have lost sight of the fact that the only rational, reasonable, or noble goal of a business or even of work itself, is to create value.  Many of the actors involved in the 2008 financial debacle were destroying value by knowingly taking worthless financial products, repackaging them, and selling them to unwitting buyers.  These bad actors, criminals in many cases, were engaging in the destruction of value by unethically selling inflated derivatives at too high of market price.  In the car business they have a law to prevent this, which they call the “Lemon Law”.  Investors who bought mortgage backed securities bought “lemons”, and all of us suffered a loss of value as a result.  As far as I know, no one has been put in jail for any of this, but they should have been. 

At its best, business is simple.  Valuable goods or services are created and customers and/or clients pay for these goods and services and quality of life goes up for all parties.  Entrepreneurs create, workers build and serve, savers save, and financiers support the value creation process and we as consumers and citizens are the better for it.  Healthy work is work that creates value, both for the worker, the organization or business, and for the community at large.   
 
 Read Next: The 12 Commandments of Fitness

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