Thursday, June 4, 2009

Two Books on Work and Its Impact on Personal Satisfaction

Steel Maybe this is a sign that we should maintain a regular book feature:  the Wall Street Journal today has an article on two books looking at the type of work that people perform and its impact on their lives.  The first, "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, by Alain de Botton, sounds like an homage to Albert Camus.  The author explores "mundane" jobs and is surprised to find workers who take pride in what they do.  According to the WSJ:

For Mr. de Botton, there is something absurd about the energy and anxiety that we pour into our jobs, given that even our most glorious deeds are destined to oblivion. Work has no greater value, he suggests, than as a lifelong distraction from the fact of our inevitable demise. Having allowed us to put a roof over our heads, work is finally a way of keeping us "out of greater trouble."

Maybe this is one author who needs to find a different career path.  As a start, he could look to the second book, "Shopcraft as Soulcraft," by Matthew Crawford, a PhD political philosopher and former think tank head who shifted gears (pun intended) by opening a motorcycle repair shop.  Crawford extols the satisfaction of skilled manual work--which he says provides objective quality, clear utility, and reinforces community bonds--in comparison to the increasingly rote work of many white-collar jobs (although, his emphasis on the great treatment he gets in restaurants manned by cooks whose bikes he restored could also be shared by a good lawyer).  Moreover,

[Crawford] can't help noting that economic trends favor the humble tradesman. Globalization and information technology are fast undermining the job security of architects, accountants, radiologists, and anyone else whose work can be outsourced abroad or (using applications like TurboTax) performed by machines. But customers in rich countries can't do without the on-site services of skilled manual workers, who, thanks to the rarity of vocational training in public schools, are in the U.S. today enviably few. "If you need a deck built, or your car fixed, the Chinese are no help," Mr. Crawford observes. "Because they are in China."

Hat Tip:  Paul Secunda


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