There are of course a lot of difficult, boring, dirty and sometimes dangerous jobs that have to be done, but a technologically advanced society like ours can use its inventive genius to create more and better machines and automation to do these jobs, so that human beings aren’t forced to do them.
But not all jobs are like the ones described above. For many people, their jobs – while often challenging or requiring hard work – are nevertheless safe, interesting, rewarding, and sometimes enjoyable. Some people are lucky enough to have jobs they absolutely love.
A really decent society run on social democratic principles would provide full employment and not leave people on welfare to become a deskilled, demoralised, dependent and depressed class of people, some of whom descend into irresponsible hedonism and drug abuse.
And there is certainly something to be said for the principle that people should not be allowed to simply live off welfare for years on end as long-term unemployed, but not as in the vicious and victim-blaming right-wing hysteria of libertarians or neoliberals – the latter having increasingly imposed a vicious, disgusting and punitive welfare system over the past 30 years.
The whole point of a society run on social democratic and Keynesian principles of full employment is precisely: we shouldn’t even need a big welfare bill for people of working age, because by means of (1) macroeconomic management of the private sector and (2) government employment programs at decent wages, there would only be a small body of unemployed anyway (essentially people in seasonal and frictional unemployment).
To achieve this today would require not just fiscal policy to create jobs in the private sector but government employment programs to find and create economically and socially useful work, e.g., in public infrastructure development, housing, social services, etc. That of course requires much more government planning than we currently have and perhaps ditching parts of the current welfare system (except for people who cannot work) for a system where people not employed in the private sector are provided with work at better and decent wage rates in public sector jobs. Private sector jobs probably do need to pay more, as in MMT-style job guarantee programs, but even in recruitment and distribution of people between the sectors more planning probably has its virtues too.
One could have a universal basic income under such a system, but everybody who is fit for work should be provided with a job appropriate for them and their skills to obtain income above the universal basic income. Such a system in, say, the United States would, I strongly suspect, start to do something substantive to fix the social problems of the African American community and white working classes too.
In that respect, a social democratic and, for that matter, old-fashioned socialist system is certainly not about shoving the human race onto welfare or the dole, but it is about bettering the human condition through a system that really does value work and employment and provides it for its citizens, as compared with a dysfunctional laissez faire capitalism that repeatedly fails to provide full employment.
In that respect, there is also something to be said for this Marxist take on this subject, even though I would shun the doctrinaire aspects of Marxism and reject a command economy. But, as the author says, it is true that there are some people who do not wish to work, and:
“Socialism is not about putting everyone on the dole, but putting everyone to work, doing work with dignity, respect, honor, satisfaction, and human fulfillment. Not everyone wants to work. Not everyone wants to be a civilized human being. Those who don't want to work, those who want to be predators, they will feel the hammer of the state, hard enough to satisfy any authoritarian.”I wouldn’t go that far, however. The “hammer of the state” is a bit too much for me, unless the people in question are criminals. But a sensible punitive demand that people – especially young men – should not be lazy and irresponsible work-shy hedonists is not objectionable by any means.
Now today, while there is plenty of manual labour and unskilled labour that could be done under such a system even in the first world nations, there is also a very great deal of economically and socially useful work that can be done by intellectuals trained at universities, e.g., in the natural sciences, engineering, medical science, neuroscience, computer science, and the more useful social sciences.
Above all, governments in the Western world could also begin to employ people in much larger programs to start really helping with Third World development, e.g., health care, public infrastructure, disease control, education, etc. Promoting Third World development by allowing a space for independent economic development, import substitution industrialisation, utterly reformed international institutions and direct assistance by Western labour would be far better than the current system of neoliberalism.
It is undoubtedly true that as technological development soars, automation, robots and artificial intelligence will make it more and more difficult to find work for people of value, but nevertheless economically and socially useful work will still be of great value, even if the working day and working week will probably shrink as compared with today.