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Work and Money Are Separate Issues

August 14th, 2020 by dk

I hope these months of societal under-stimulation have given you the opportunity to reflect on life around you more deeply. I hope some of those reflections find useful applications when we’re all able to adapt to, accept, or end this enforced slow-down.

I took a socially distanced walk this week with a friend. We covered lots of ground together, which is what always happens when we’re together. After our time ended, a pattern emerged. We were really talking about work, play and the space between them.

It’s clear to me that work cannot continue as it was before the pandemic. Economists I follow are predicting not a V-shaped recovery or an L-shaped downturn that is slow to rebound. What may lie ahead is a K-shaped recovery — where stocks and asset values rise, while wages and payrolls decline.

How will the nation sustain itself when fewer jobs are available? More importantly, how will families and individuals thrive amidst declining employment? Start by considering that your “work” encompasses much more than whatever you call your “job.” Flossing your teeth is work. We do it in return for a certain “payoff” — healthier teeth.

By the same token, your job is more than the work — at least it should be. Ideally, you do work provides other benefits — security, camaraderie, and a sense of purpose. Money is important, sure, but it’s not the only valuable outcome from our work. My deepest hope is that the remedies applied during this downturn will break a spell that has fused employment, work and money together in people’s minds.

Companies who received PPP loans kept their employees on payroll even if there was no work to be done. Pandemic unemployment benefits paid many a sustainable wage, even if the jobs they had before did not. Many Americans received $1200 with no effort expended. Work, jobs and money have been cleaved these past few months.

A book floated around years ago with a better title than text, as I recall. “Do What You Love — The Money Will Follow” impacted my early career.

Money is a poor substitute for job satisfaction. As long as work and workers are considered interchangeable, there will never be enough money to go around. That’s like saying there’s not enough butter in a movie theater to make popcorn taste great. The butter is there to make the salt stick to the kernels. It’s really basic science, people.

Money expresses value, but it doesn’t embody value. Money has value because we give it value. If you make money and work synonymous, satisfaction with either will be elusive. Sadly, this is by design. Today’s unhappy people are tomorrow’s compliant consumers. Every impulse buy poses as an elixir that will fill an emptiness, soothe a sore.

The day we stop falling for this trick will be when our needs and desires begin to sort themselves naturally. Choices are easier when consequences look less dire. Those who survive the current calamity may retain clarity long after the danger passes. They may even pass their wisdom onto their children, as happened a century ago.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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