Among various economists, there is a growing conviction that we are nearing the end of capitalism.
Personally, I think it’s too soon to proclaim the end of capitalism, but what we are seeing is a growing disconnect between work and pay. That raises important questions that we will have to answer in the near future.
“Our meaning in life will not be found in work, but in meaningful and enriching connections with others. Only when we grow through our interactions with others, and when we help others grow through their interactions with us, do we feel satisfied that we have contributed something meaningful and lasting.”
First, people have to eat whether or not they work. They have to live somewhere, too, buy clothes, and in a modern country, they have to get medical insurance and education. While it’s true that even today not everyone has these basic needs, it is also true that this state doesn’t reflect a healthy society, hence the growing prevalence of depression and the soaring numbers of premature deaths due to substance abuse, homicide, and suicide. So the first question is how to make sure that everyone gets the basic things that every person needs.
Second, if people don’t work, what will they do all day? If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that sitting idle at home is a bad idea. Over time, it makes people agitated, aggressive, depressed (if they weren’t already), and, worst of all, hopeless, since they don’t see an end in sight. In other words, people need a sense of purpose, a reason to get out of bed. If it isn’t work and the need to earn a living, what can it be?
First, people must be informed. They have to know that although they have money in the bank, if they do, it doesn’t mean that they are independent from others. The production and supply chains that provide us with the products we buy at supermarkets and gadget stores entail millions of people. If you break just one link, the whole chain might stop working. This chain affects not only what we can buy, but also our jobs, our possibility to provide for ourselves and our families, national and international politics, and in the end, it can even determine life or death for many people. This is the true meaning of globalization: We have come to depend on each other even for our very lives.
Once people comprehend our interdependence, it is easier to explain that if this is the case, it makes sense that better connections enable better lives. It also makes sense that the current system, which endorses individualism and self-absorption, is the opposite of what we need today, and is in fact the main reason that our society is in such a sorry state.
At the moment, we are indoctrinated to value ourselves by two things: what we do (our job, title at work, etc.) and how much money we make. In the absence of connection between work and income, these gauges for self-esteem will become irrelevant and we will have to find new ways to appreciate ourselves, or we will all feel worthless. In fact, this is already happening to millions of people who are unable to find meaningful engagements.
The new criteria that will determine our self-esteem will be social criteria, since, as we just said, the quality of the connections between us determines the quality of our lives. Therefore, gradually, we will come to appreciate such values as solidarity, mutual responsibility, and contribution to the community.
As we grow into the new paradigm, we will discover that contrary to what we have been taught, man was not created to toil so many hours each day until he or she cannot but want to escape from life. No, we were made to enjoy one another, socialize, challenge one another, and support one another. We were made to help each other be the best individuals we can be and realize our full personal potential, not to be individualistic, isolated, and suspicious of each other.
The physical part of our lives is only here to support the spiritual part of our existence. It’s the spiritual part that makes us human, but we are so exhausted tending to the physical that we have no energy left in us to nurture our spiritual selves. Is it any wonder that we feel frustrated?
Our meaning in life will not be found in work, but in meaningful and enriching connections with others. Only when we grow through our interactions with others, and when we help others grow through their interactions with us, do we feel satisfied that we have contributed something meaningful and lasting.
As the tie between work and pay crumbles, we must hurry and introduce these new values. It will spare us much unnecessary agony and lead us quickly and easily into the new era, where satisfactions are spiritual and lasting rather than material and fleeting.