Matthew Crawford writes a great treatise on the value of manual labor and the trades in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.
I just finished my second reading of this book, having read it a few years ago. I am weird like this, in that I keep books I really like and then continue to re-read them in the future. I suppose I like to absorb books in this manner.
The basic premise of the book is that manual labor, crafts, the trades, have inherent value, not only in the work itself, but also because these lines of work are often connected to greater communities where one can see the value in their work, objectively, as they are used by other people.
As a retired firefighter, I found value and worth in the objective act of firefighting, of training to fight fires, simply because I liked the work as an end in itself. But beyond my enjoyment, the work was connected to value in the community, where as I saved a house from burning to the ground, it had an impact on another person’s life.
My drive for excellence in the craft of firefighting was manifest in both myself, and the customer whom I served in saving their possessions from burning.
Crawford argues that it is work like this that men desire. If one may disassociate for a moment the political connotations, it’s what Marx expressed as he spoke of men owning the products of their labor. Men do not want to be alienated from their labor.
I believe that men want to be artists in their work. Not artists in the painting of portraits sense, but men and women desire to use their intellect and bring their hands and hearts to objective material and create, especially creating something that has value for society. Many small business owners and entrepreneurs fall into this category. Teachers, firefighters, electricians, plumbers, and architects fall into this category.
Sadly, what often happens is that proverbial management and leadership seek to quantify a worker’s trade, make the work more efficient, gather data, become accredited. This especially happens in the public arena, or those private arenas that want to mimic public arenas.
Teamwork, efficiency, accreditation, metrics, what gets measured gets done, we must be accountable, competition for scarce resources, etc. I used to buy into all of these words but I now see them for what they are, together they are the collective forces that drive talent out and away and ultimately lead to well-run mediocrity. Yes, there will be efficiency gained, but the true talent will have have left because their creative life force is more important to them, they cannot sell out in this manner.
As I close, it’s important to realize that there is a massive, I mean MASSIVE, pool of money floating around which constantly seeks return on investment, i.e., making money with money without having to work for it- passive income. It finds places to land, and seeks after efficiency and making money. Problematically, these management efficiencies, pushed down to workers, saps the creativity from the worker and talented workers move on.