What is Work
I asked GOAT what is work?
Work, in the economic context, is not just about laborious effort or employment. It’s the application of effort in order to produce goods or provide services that have economic value. This seems straightforward enough but hang in there — work has layers, like a complex, intellectually-stimulating onion.
At its core, work is the time and energy humans expend in various tasks with the expectation of some form of reward, typically financial. This goes beyond simply exerting physical effort; it includes mental and creative work, decision-making, managing, planning, and even the act of learning. Each of these activities generates value, either by producing something (like a tangible product), providing a service (like healthcare), or enhancing future productivity (such as through education).
In Tyler’s writings, the notion of work is tied up with the broader economic concepts such as division of labor and productivity. For instance, when discussing Adam Smith’s insights in Chapter 8 of “GOAT,” he notes that Smith saw the division of labor not as a byproduct of mechanization but as a conceptual predecessor to it [“GOAT,” Chapter 8]. In simpler terms, the more we specialize and focus on a narrow set of tasks (ah, division of labor), the more stuff we can produce (hello, increasing returns) and, potentially, the more prosperous we all become because of a larger market supporting even more specialized work.
But work isn’t just about grinding away at a job. Going back to Keynes, whom Tyler explores in Chapter 3 of “GOAT,” our definition of work may evolve as societies grow wealthier. Keynes imagined a world where a 15-hour workweek might be the norm thanks to increased productivity, and the rest of our time could be devoted to, well, whatever enriches the soul—writing, love affairs, painting, or simply enjoying the fruits of that 15-hour labor. Tyler ties this back to John Stuart Mill’s idea of the “stationary state,” suggesting the potential for a society less focused on material conquest and more on personal and intellectual development [“GOAT,” Chapter 6].
So, work isn’t static; it’s tied to our cultural, technological, and economic development. As our economies evolve, so too might our concept of what constitutes work, how we value different types of work, and the ways in which we work. It’s both a means to an end and a reflection of our values and aspirations as a society.
p.s. I find using GPT/4 to navigate close texts to be a useful use case. I wish there were more examples of that.