The Role of Jobs

Are jobs a cost or a benefit?

In other words, are jobs a means (cost) or an end (benefit)?

This question is key for much economic policy.  Economists treat jobs as the former; politicians, the latter.  We often hear some economic policy being touted for the number of jobs it creates/saves (or, conversely, some policy is lambasted because it destroys jobs).  Comments like these treat the job as the ends and not the means.

But, if jobs were an end rather than a mean, then we’d see people refusing vacations and leisure time (indeed, people would need to be paid to take vacations/days off).  As it is, people fight to get vacation time and days off.  If jobs were an end, then the labor movement in the US would be vilified for things like wanting weekends, vacation, family leave, sick days, etc since they reduce the work done by Americans.  But the labor movement is celebrated for such things.  Why?

The reason is simple: because jobs are a means toward an end.  What is that end?  Consumption and leisure.  We work so we can put food on the shelves, a roof over our head, clothes on our back, our children in schools, etc.  My father worked hard so I could study and not have to work as hard as him.  And his father did the same.  And his father and his father and, in turn, I will do the same for my child.  Every parent works so that they might give just a little more leisure into the life of their child.  If jobs were an end, then this action would be parental abuse.

People want jobs and those jobs do provide a benefit, but it doesn’t immediately follow that those jobs are in and of themselves beneficial.  Consider the following: going to the dentist incurs a lot of costs: there’s the poking and prodding while they clean, the doctor’s inevitable one-way conversation because his hands are in your mouth and you can’t respond, the lecture on flossing, and the reminder you have to do that again in six months.  But the end is healthy gums.  If there was a way to achieve that ends without all the costs, people would jump all over that.  It’d be insane to suggest that the poking and prodding is why people go to the dentist.  And yet, that is exactly the conclusion politicians make regarding jobs.

People work, they suffer, because it leads to some better end.  That suffering in and of itself is not the valuable part; the consumption that it leads to is.

7 thoughts on “The Role of Jobs

  1. I never found it pleasant to work with people who felt or acted as work was suffering. What a terrible way to live.


    • Producing doesn’t mean suffering, but work is a cost. We produce in order to consume. To see that clearly, ask yourself if you would have worked all those hours and years without pay. The benefit is greater than the cost, or we.wouldn’t do it. We would do something else for which the benefit was greater.

      People who believe working is suffering are choosing the option that causes them to suffer least.


      • Compensation is only part of the reason many people work (sure, they won’t work for free). That becomes painfully obvious when one tries to retire from a job after 40 years (at the same exact place — my desk was 100 feet from where I first put my welding helmet on 39 years ago). All I did was drop down to 40-50 hrs a week somewhere else.

        We self-identify with our work, and that’s why Trump’s promise to someone such as an unemployed drywaller or steel worker due to immigrants working so cheaply or imported steel respectively was so compelling (did you know you can’t find an English speaking construction drywaller in my area, and you can’t be hired as their supervisor without speaking Spanish?).


          • One of the papers I wrote for my master’s class was how work was viewed by people in different countries.

            U.S. workers tend to really “get into their work” much more than other countries (e.g., obits from other countries often don’t mention where the deceased worked, which is rare in the U.S.). That predilection is easily open to exploitation by opportunists as, in my personal opinion, I think we have seen lately much more so than in the past.


        • Walt

          Compensation is only part of the reason many people work.

          Compensation is 100% of the reason people work, however that compensation may take forms other than money.


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