Ed began his talk by referring to an article in the Economist about why bother baking bread at home? The head of an industrial bakery wrote an OpEd letter about baking bread in pandemic times. He praised it as as a social use of time, and an education; home baking is sharing.
What is work all about? Ed referenced John Woolman’s “Plea to the Poor or a word of remembrance and caution for the rich.”
Ed argues that useful work is useful to others, especially those who are in more difficulty than we are. Useful work benefits those other than ourselves. It is the “service we owe to others.” Calvin wrote of useful work that is that which builds community and communion. Everyone contributes to this communion. In a true division of labor, everybody takes their talent to serve the common good so that everyone is pulling together.
There was a discussion around Quakers in the industrial revolution when the division of labor was exploitative and violent, the start of workers’s neighborhoods with examples in Mulhouse in the 1840s, Bourneville near Woodbrooke. This not only fostered improved living conditions and back to the land ideas, but also a feeling of being in it together. Despite this, we must remember that Cadbury like other chocolate factories “ built on the backs of slaves” thereby funding Bournville. Cadbury insisted on reducing the death rate of the slaves to below 20% a year (!) .
The protest ethic reiterated by Ed is “don’t quit, don’t resign. Do your best to meet the challenge.
William Penn quote, 1682
True godliness don’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavours to mend it… Christians should keep the helm and guide the vessel to its port; not meanly steal out at the stern of the world and leave those that are in it without a pilot to be driven by the fury of evil times upon the rock or sand of ruin.
In considering the ethics of work, the question to ask is “what were you created to do? If it is the work destined for you, even if it is difficult, you get it done. If you are not up to it, you find someone else who is up to it and encourage them to do it. What is ours to do?
In the way Quakers work, no one is indispensable. There will be someone who will do it after you. If others find the work valuable enough to do, they take it on and it is done. People must understand the “why”. If they understand people will come to their own conclusions. That is do not tell people WHAT to do. Rather, as George Fox says “walk cheerfully over the earth answering that of God in everyone….”
Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.
- Statement of 1656, from The Works of George Fox (1831)
Update to the article written for the Lutheran document called “theology Ethics of Work and Reward.”
The pay of fat cats may have come down a bit, but is still outrageous. Income inequality in Switzerland is a growing problem, and is a problem in any economy. We MUST take action to counter this. Universal Basic Income is one way, in that it redistributes money.
UBI is not at all a novel idea, it goes back to the church father St. Ambrose of Milan
It is not from your own possessions that you are bestowing alms on the poor, you are but restoring to them what is theirs by right. For what was given to everyone for the use of all, you have taken for your exclusive use. The earth belongs not to the rich, but to everyone. Thus, far from giving lavishly, you are but paying part of your debt.
There would be hostility to UBI from companies. Why?
- It frees workers from wage slavery
- Work would need to be interesting
- Workers would be free to determine what work is worthwhile.
We must recognize that there is a vicious cycle taking away from those who are most in need. We must go back to the idea that everyone contributes to the common good, and how useful is to do things all on your own?
There are many ways that have been suggested for organizing work in such a way that everything could still get done. We have outsourced the discernment of what is useful work, and what we should be doing.