Do you love your work? Did you once love your work but not such much anymore? Activities we humans engage in and label work are activities that well serve the human experience. Until, at least, until we humans are trapped serving work rather than work serving us. We’re again honored to have Raymond Klassen share his insights on the value of work.
By juxtaposing “Partnership Economics” and “Plantation Economics” Better Capitalism has offered us a wedge deep into a horrifying truth that we have long glossed over: a market approach to work sees human activity primarily as input factors into a production process that ultimately serves the maximization of profits. We have gotten so use to this perspective that we’ve forgotten that for much of human history an exclusive desire to make money was considered a pathology, a kind of an addiction that was more likely to eat up the soul of an individual than make them happy.
Max Weber had tried to explain the origins of capitalism and its limitless striving after religious profits as a displaced religious striving. Whether or not the origins of capitalism have religious origins, the unlimited striving for profits strikes at the very fundamental characteristics of being human – and not in a good way. The unlimited profit motive ruthlessly applies at what writers like Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, and now, all organizational management theory, calls “technocratic rationality.”
Technocratic rationality applies cause-and-effect and means-end reasoning on the dual assumptions that such relationships are well-established and that technically rational action is possible. The problem, of course, in so many business affairs is that certainty about causal connections between means and ends is rare.
Much more of our economic activity is, in fact, conducted in uncertainty. In terms of business to customer relationships, we guarantee our products for 30 or 90 days or have a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. Our business communications courses spend much of their time teaching how to apologize well. Business does its best to offer security, but it can do little to quell the underlying reality of uncertainty.
In terms of employer and employee relationships, we are pushed more and more to contracts – the document that codifies means-end relationships and technocratic rationality. With the mass layoffs that overtook us in the beginning of 2023, these contracts can be seen as often another piece of worthless digital bytes.
Hannah Arendt outlines for us, in her 1958 opus The Human Condition, that the only two things that offer any security in oceans of uncertainty are the human capacities of forgiving and making promises. A guarantee and a warranty are admittedly very poor artificial replicas of these fundamental human capabilities. But these artificial replicas are mere stand-ins for more eternal processes of which human beings are a part of. As Arendt outlines, technocratic rationality is only feasible in the time frame of the entire nature of work, from the work of art to the building of a bridges; work always has a definite beginning and a definite end.
However, she also outlines human activity in two more eternal relationships, where we do spend the great majority of our lives, or at least ought to. Unlike work, we are thoroughly involved through our biological nature in the cyclical relationship of birth and death; the activity that connects us most closely to that eternal cycle is labor. We labor, consume, and rest … in an endless cycle that is only completed at death. Labor is most closely associated with birth.
The other eternal relationship we live in is action toward some political body. In this relationship, the individual acts into the world with freedom, the mechanics of which are that when we act, we never will know the results of what we are doing. And we are thus reminded of the words of Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Action has the characteristic of freedom precisely because of the plethora of possible outcomes in political bodies of diversity is not knowable in advance.
We start to realize that the technocratic concept of work has been trying to change the structure of our more eternal relationships. Technocratically, both the employee and the customer must conform to the business as an institution and to its product or service. That is the genius of Better Capitalism’s concept of plantation economics: it frames the issue in a way that once we see it, we will have a hard time seeing technocratic capitalism any other way. And once we see it, we realize that technocratic capitalism has drifted out of its lane. Instead of work trying to alter our eternal characteristics of freedom and biological reality, technocratic capitalism now needs to be shaped by our realities as biological and political beings, in other words, by nature and freedom, respectfully.
If one understands that framework, then contemporary examples like the push-back against returning to the office and the widespread appearance of burnout take on new meanings; they become symptoms of a deep society-wide spiritual need to become re-oriented to the human realities of nature and freedom. Technocratic capitalism can be allowed to continue to overrun humanity, or it can be forced back into its lane. Which direction will you work toward? The latter we trust, and before it’s too late for you and yours.
What about you? Share your story, question, comment, idea, disagreement -- yes, we welcome disagreement for the sake of mutual benefit! -- with us at blog@PartnershipEconomics.com. We will give a thoughtful response.
Our Amazon #1 New Release Book (2021) and Kindle #1 in Law Ethics & Professional Responsibility (2022): Unleash more with Better Capitalism: Jesus, Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, & MLK Jr. on Moving from Plantation to Partnership Economics.