It’s Time to Reform Workism

In a February 2019 essay in the Atlantic, Derek Thompson described how “The Religion of Workism is Making Americans Miserable.”

This is especially true of men in general, he writes, and most especially true of Millennials — who have been conditioned since birth to “hustle” and hook their identities to their work.

This is soul-crushing. And as much burnout as we might have seen even if we hadn’t walked straight into the two worst economic crashes in living memory, it’s really time to blow the whistle on this culture now. Work is, ultimately, meaningful — but it’s a terrible place to look for ultimate meaning.


Crucially, Thompson also points out that workism is not merely another new atheism, but also the law. And so we come to today’s big reveal from Congressional Republicans, featuring payroll tax breaks rather than unemployment benefits — and a lot smaller than previous stimulus overall, even as COVID continues to rage across the country.

Face it: 10 percent of Americans aren’t staying home because they just don’t feel like working. And the idea that $600 a week is more comfortable than being employed isn’t an indictment of lazy people as much as it’s an indictment of a society and an economy that can’t manage to pay an awful lot of people even $31,200 per year in good times.

This is indeed a recipe for misery and meanness, and all of our quality-of-life statistics (to say nothing of wealth distribution statistics) bear that out.

So, yes, we need to think about creating more and better jobs during and after the pandemic. But we also need to think deeply about what we’re really looking for in a “good” job.