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This elegant essay on the justice of work focuses on the fit between who we are and the kind of work we do. Russell Muirhead shows how the common hope for work that fulfills us involves more than personal interest; it also points to larger understandings of a just society. We are defined in part by the jobs we hold, and Muirhead has something important to say about the partial satisfactions of the working life, and the increasingly urgent need to balance the claims of work against those of family and community.
Against the tendency to think of work exclusively in contractual terms, Muirhead focuses on the importance of work to our sense of a life well lived. Our notions of freedom and fairness are incomplete, he argues, without due consideration of how we fit the work we do.
Muirhead weaves his argument out of sociological, economic, and philosophical analysis. He shows, among other things, how modern feminism's effort to reform domestic work and extend the promise of careers has contributed to more democratic understandings of what it means to have work that fits. His account of individual and social fit as twin standards of assessment is original and convincing--it points both to the unavoidable problem of distributing bad work in society and to the personal importance of finding fulfilling work. These themes are pursued through a wide-ranging discussion that engages thinkers from Plato to John Stuart Mill to Betty Friedan. Just Work shows what it would mean for work to make good on the high promise so often invested in it and suggests what we--both as a society and as individuals--might do when it falls short.
is especially so when it comes to work. As a descriptive matter and (if we reject a guaranteed minimum income as parasitic) as a normative matter, the working life is something that citizens necessarily share. The working life is our life. As we have seen, the necessity or obligatory character of work is in tension with the liberal ideal that citizens should be free (not only formally but effectively) to form and act from their own conception of the good. Yet work is one of the most common and
appear and what they have than what they are and have accomplished. Animated by the new ethic, people seek celebrity rather than recognition for lasting achievement, according to Lasch. Celebrity is preferred to admiration because it does not demonstrate any triumph over adversity and because it carries more power to gratify one’s desires. And gratification, in the current age, is what ultimately motivates work, in Lasch’s view. A hedonistic ethic motivates and legitimates work, depriving work of
and purpose for work in a more modest sense to be meaningful and purposive. For instance, rather than expecting work alone to be the “giver of self and the transcender of self,” it might be more appropriate to focus on the sort of meaning and satisfaction work might actually provide. We might attend more carefully to the internal goods work can offer, and the requirements of realizing those goods. The contemporary economy of labor contains powerful pressures to separate the conceptual part of
work is central to reciprocity, or “doing our fair share”: working, as Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson argue, “shows that you are carrying your share of the social burden.”14 Aside from the parasitic aspects of a guaranteed income, just liberal democracies require a measure of abundance, which in turn requires work. In the most general sense, economic growth and the corollary promise that all can be better off simultaneously make inequality palatable in fact and justifiable in theory. What
Michael P. Ward, “Job Mobility and the Careers of Young Men,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 107, no. 2 (May 1992): 439–479. 22. Mary-Ann Glendon, A Nation under Lawyers (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994), 25–29. 23. On the way oligopolistic corporations and high rates of unionization gave rise to such “steady times,” in contrast to the contemporary economy, see Robert Reich, The Future of Success (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), 30–35, 93–107. 24. Michael Lewis, The New New