David Frum

02.24.13

Should We Rejoice a Post-Work Future?

Video screenshot

Douthat, in a provocative column, says no, but not for the reasons I expected. I'm spending the day writing a review of Congressman Lincoln, and will let this be for now, but you might enjoy thinking this over. (Per the video above: don't tell me you've never thought about doing this).

The answer is yes — but mostly because the decline of work carries social costs as well as an economic price tag. Even a grinding job tends to be an important source of social capital, providing everyday structure for people who live alone, a place to meet friends and kindle romances for people who lack other forms of community, a path away from crime and prison for young men, an example to children and a source of self-respect for parents.

Here the decline in work-force participation is of a piece with the broader turn away from community in America — from family breakdown and declining churchgoing to the retreat into the virtual forms of sport and sex and friendship. Like many of these trends, it poses a much greater threat to social mobility than to absolute prosperity. (A nonworking working class may not be immiserated; neither will its members ever find a way to rise above their station.) And its costs will be felt in people’s private lives and inner worlds even when they don’t show up in the nation’s G.D.P.