Why Work Matters

Employment is not just a material issue. It's a psychological, emotional issue. An insightful essay that deals with data from Marienthal, a small Austrian village whose citizens, in the 1920s, overwhelmingly relied on a single textile factory for employment. Money quote:

Marienthal had previously been an active community with social clubs and political organizations. The paradox is that, after the factory closed and people had abundant leisure, these activities withered. Villagers could not seem to find the time and energy to do much of anything. In the two years after the factory closed, the average number of volumes loaned out by the town library dropped by half ...

Time seemed to warp. Men stopped wearing watches, and wives complained that their husbands were chronically late for mealseven though they were not coming from anything. Outsiders observed that it took villagers longer and longer just to walk down the street. People slept for hours more each night than they ever had. They could not recall how they spent their days, and they whittled away far more time sitting at home or standing around in the street than doing any other activity.

A group of sociologists who had come to interview the townspeople as part of a study on the importance of work determined that what destroyed life in Marienthal was not the loss of wages, but the loss of ability to earn them. When the researchers left the village, their prognosis was grim: “As conditions deteriorate, forces may emerge in the community ushering in totally new events, such as revolt or migration. It is, however, also possible that the feeling of solidarity that binds the people of Marienthal together in the face of adversity will one day dissolve, leaving each individual to scramble after his own salvation.”

The lesson of Marienthal is clear. Work is not just a means to an end. Work has enormous intrinsic value.