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At the onset of the twenty first century work and production have become ends in themselves. The resulting material affluence is accompanied by increasing levels of stress, insecurity, depression, crime, and drug taking. Escalating production and consumption are also destroying the environment on which life itself depends. Yet employment has become such a priority that much environmental degradation is justified merely on the grounds that it provides jobs. And people are so concerned to keep their jobs that they are willing to do what their employers require of them even if they believe it is wrong or environmentally destructive.

The social benefit of having the majority of able-bodied people in a society working hard all week goes unquestiond, particularly by those who work hardest. Few people today can imagine a society that does not revolve around work. How did paid work come to be so central to our lives? Why is it that so many people wouldn't know what to do with themselves or who they were if they did not have their jobs?

In this major new book, Sharon Beder unearths the origins and the practices of a triumphant culture of work in which the wealthy are respected and inequality is justified. Dr Beder shows that these values are neither natural nor inevitable. They have been actively promoted – through religious preaching, corporate propaganda, the education system, and socialisation – by those who benefit most from them.

Selling The Work Ethic provides an absorbing account and critique of this central aspect of modern capitalist society. Prompted by her conviction that humanity needs to unlearn and change these powerfully held but now pathological values if we are to reverse the declining quality of life in industrial society, Dr Beder illuminates the impasse we are now in.

  1. Introduction Download (pdf)
  2. The Virtue of Work and Wealth
    Changing Conceptions of Work
    Work as Virtue
    Unemployment as Vice
    Profit-Making as Virtue
    The Rise of Modern Capitalism
    Rle of the Church
  3. Work, Status and Success
    Social Mobility
    Industrial Revolution
    The Myth of the Self-Made Man
    Blaming the Poor
  4. Justifying Wealth
    Laissez-Faire Economics
    Social Darwinism
    An Elite Class
    Accepting the American Dream
  5. Legitimising Inequality
    The Disappearing Dream
    Continuing Propaganda
    Blaming the Poor (Again)
    The Role of Education
  6. Increasing Productivity
    Engineers and Scientific Management
    Scientific Management Widely Adopted
    Social Scientists
    Human Relations after the second world war
    Siding with Management
  7. Work and Identity
    Fostering Work Identity
    Fostering Corporate Identity
    Organisation Man
    Identification and Belonging
  8. Work Ethic in Crisis?
    Downsizing and Job Insecurity
    Breaking the Employment Contract
    Reinforcing the Work Ethic
    Motivating Workers in the 21st Century
  9. Keeping the Unemployed Down
    Fear of Social Disorder
    Modern Underclasses
    Searching for the Scrounger
    Stigmatising the Unemployed
    Frauds, Cheats and Deviants
  10. Welfare to Workfare
    Work as Responsibility
    Work for Benefit
    Deterring Welfare
    Effect on the Labour Market
  11. Teaching Work Values
    Instilling Work Values
    Business Involvement in Education
    Schools Paralleling the Workplace
    Incorporating Work Experience at School
    Corporate Universities
  12. Work, Consumption and Status
    Overproduction and the Shorter Working Week
    Consumerism as Opiate of the Masses
    Debt as an Incentive to Work
    Production, Consumption and Status
  13. Long Hours and Little Leisure
    Working Harder
    Historic Trends
    Lost Leisure
  14. Conclusion Download (pdf)