Bob Black’s essay “The Abolition of Work” (available online) is a fun and provocative read, but one peppered with insupportable assertions. For example: “Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.)” This means that bashing somebody in the head and paying him a million dollars are somehow the flip side of the same coin. In what sense it could be so is unclear, although it seems clear enough that the notion is inspired by Marxist doctrine about how the capitalist employer is allegedly coercing the worker (Marx also claims that the capitalist “steals” the worker-produced “surplus”).
It often seems advisable to persons to collect a paycheck for work they dislike doing rather than skip the work and be unable to pay the bills. But whether one’s work is fun or a drag, acting to obtain the financial benefits of working for a living is not tantamount to submitting to force, however spirit-grating one’s situation may be. The distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions, or between freedom and slavery or free enterprise and communism ought not to be so negligently ignored. To take the actions one judges appropriate to achieving one’s goals and improving one’s life, one needs to live in the social-political condition of freedom. Coercion thwarts those judgements and actions. In a free society, a person can surely get caught in a rut, but no one is compelling him to remain in it. The situation is very different for those caught in a rut in a slave-labor camp.
Still, I like the essay and have reread it every once in a while since first stumbling across it. For all Black’s folderol, his piece is a savagely eloquent written reminder that we don’t have to stay stuck in the traps in which we sometimes put ourselves. (For a less savage reminder, see Harry Browne’s How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.)