This is the letter from the editor in the current issue of The week magazine.
When a plague recedes like an exhausted tsunami, it reveals a world forever changed. The epidemics of infectious diseases – bubonic plague, smallpox, cholera, the Spanish flu, AIDS – have been pivotal points in human history. Plagues fueled the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. They eroded feudalism and gave birth to capitalism and the middle class. They devastated the indigenous peoples of the Americas and paved the way for European colonization. We’ve only just started to see the first glimpses of how COVID-19 will reshape our society, but it’s already clear that the job will never be quite the same again. We are in the midst of the “Great Resignation”, with over 12 million Americans leaving their jobs in the past three months alone. Given a break during the pandemic to reassess what matters to them, and vivid reminders that life is fragile and uncertain, blue and white collar workers of all kinds have decided to release that old Johnny Paycheck song: “Take This Job and push it. “
I have received a paycheck every week for 40 years and am a firm believer in the “dignity of work”. But for work to provide dignity, the people who do it must be treated with decency and respect, and not as cheap, replaceable cogs in a vast, soulless machine. Technology, globalization, and gigantic corporations have created an economy that depends on millions of worker bees doing tedious work with mediocre wages and benefits, long hours, and little or no autonomy or security. With so many exhausted Americans simply saying “no,” even after improved unemployment benefits end, there is palpable panic in businesses large and small. Get back to work, you moochers without lag! Uh, please? People need the money, of course, so those who stopped the dehumanizing concerts will have to come up with a plan B. If they are successful, and if employers are forced to treat workers like human beings, the COVID plague will leave people behind. minus a positive inheritance.