TAPESTRY

'Jobs are disappearing, and to me that's a good thing': Why we should abandon work

He's worked in construction, been part of an airport ground crew, sold knives door-to-door and worked as a janitor. Now he's a university professor. But after a lifetime of work, James Livingston has come to a conclusion: to hell with working for a living.
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By his rough estimate, James Livingston has had between 50 and 60 jobs in his lifetime. He's been a construction worker, worked on an airport ground crew, sold men's clothing at Sears and been a door-to-door salesman.

These days, Livingston is a professor at Rutgers University. It's a fulfilling job at a prestigious institution. And he got there through hard work, dedication, and keeping his eye on the goal. Right?

Not if you ask him.

"I don't think I worked my way up," he said in an interview with Tapestry's Mary Hynes. "I think what happened was that I got very, very lucky."

Livingston points out that we are living in a time when millions of people in North America find themselves struggling to make ends meet, despite having full-time work.

"We are below six per cent unemployment in the United States of America, and yet — and yet — 25 per cent of employed adults in the United States are at or below the poverty line," said Livingston, who explored the issue in his book "No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea."

"Having a job gets you out of bed. It gets you engaged with other people. And therefore it's an incredibly socializing, and perhaps character-building, activity. The problem is that it has now more or less disappeared, so now we've got to look elsewhere for the sources of those things."

And that leaves us at a "spiritual impasse," Livingston said, because our imaginations are stuck in the past and we've grown accustomed to attaching our identity and sense of worth to our work.

"The relationship between effort and reward — between work and income, between work and, shall we say, satisfaction — has never been actually clear," he said. "But we have believed it for so long — that there should be this legible and justifiable relation — that we can't seem to get over it."

Politicians crow about "full employment" and bringing back "good-paying jobs," but Livingston told Hynes there's a better solution — a world without work.

How to achieve that? Livingston argues governments must begin moving towards a model of a universal basic income, where everyone is assigned a minimum annual income they would receive from the government, no matter how much they worked.

The idea has been tested successfully in the past, both in the United States and Canada, he said.

"We have empirical evidence that a subsidy to your income does not necessarily, or even meaningfully, affect your work ethic — what you want to do with your life," he said.

To hear James Livingston's full pitch for a life without work, click Listen above.