If you're like me (and I can't imagine you are) then about now you're fretting over the future of work. Work is something I've largely taken for granted all these years, perhaps because when I was young my mother was always creating strange and onerous tasks I could do to obtain my allowance, and now at the bookstore it is just a given. I have no need for schedules: every day I get up, put my pants on, and go to work. Then, when I feel like I've done enough damage-usually after 8 or 10 hours-I turn around, go home, and collapse. For me, at least, it's simple. I have work, or the illusion of work, which keeps me happy and provides something useful to the public in return.
But for many others I know it isn't simple at all. They struggle to find enough work to fill their days, something that will pay the rent and put food on the table. Never mind about "meaningful" work; it doesn't matter that you have a master's degree in economics or mass communications. No, what counts is you're fast at bagging groceries or blowing leaves off golf courses. This isn't to demean those jobs; someone has to do them and I suppose one can glean a certain amount of pride in a job--any job--well done. I get that. In fact, some of the best moments I have at the bookstore involve taking out the trash or sweeping up the Reading Garden. But we seem to be edging closer and closer to a brave new time in which there simply isn't enough work to go around. Then what?
Jeremy Rifkin probed this phenomenon years ago in his book, The End of Work. Automation was not nearly at the flood stage that it is today, and Rifkin envisioned a world in which, although many fewer people had traditional jobs, lots of other folks could find satisfaction doing social good--planting forests, picking up litter, caring for the elderly, being foster parents, etc. These activities would have to be funded by governmental agencies, naturally, because the chief element of capitalism--profit--would likely be missing. Of course, the doers in society would have to acquiesce in this arrangement, because they would be taxed more heavily in order to afford this caring society, which, when you think about it, looks an awful lot like Sweden.
Maybe we're headed that way, but it would require a lot more Americans to get along with one another than there are at the moment. We'd all have to wake up one day and acknowledge what we have in common, which is tricky in a place where so many people are so estranged, where there are so many different drummers on cable TV and the internet, where ethnicity and gender and sexual orientation are all over the map.
Personally, I have no problem being Swedish. But then I'm one of the lucky ones. I have a job.