What is the point of economic activity? Well, the most obvious reason people start and run companies or work for them is to make a living. But there are other, subtler reasons we trade effort and time for money. It gives us a sense of purpose, achievement, independence, and our jobs are often a big part of our identity.
Could we not derive those benefits from a challenging hobby – mountain climbing maybe? To an extent. But to quote Virginia Woolf, money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for. Of course, there is also purpose and dignity in staying at home to take care of children or elderly parents, or in volunteering – and I hope no one would call those activities frivolous.
The question of why we work is increasingly important as we enter a new age of automation, often called the “fourth industrial revolution”, and it should be front and centre both for the companies driving this transformation or benefitting from it, and for the governments designing policies to mitigate its negative effects on workers.