The world of work is a fast and ever-changing world and unlike the Baby Boomer Generation, there are no guarantees, no free university places and no careers for life. Instead we have the world of uncertainty, zero hour contracts and no way of knowing how long your current job will last – If you are lucky to have one in the first place.
Given the above, it is little wonder people are deciding to strike out on their own. Take the risk and work for themselves. The UK’s Labour Party has taken up verbal arms because many of these new jobs being created are among the newly self-employed. Maybe they see this as a form of cheating on the part of the UK worker. The ancient philosophers would have taken a different view.
Philosophers of the past knew all about the needs of the poor (and unlike their modern counterparts,) were worried about their capacity to cause trouble via revolution. So in their world where everyone lived off the land and the wealthy by renting it out, Plato held the view that there should be a law that decreed everyone should have a basic amount of land to live off and no one should own property more than five times the size of the smallest allotment. Any excess should be given to City and the Gods, for redistribution as necessary.
Aristotle argued the way to perpetuate prosperity was via distribution of funds to give the poor the means of standing on their own feet. Given this, he presumably would have agreed but disapproved of free handouts because when the poor get them, they simply wanted them again, thus maintaining their poverty. Sound familiar? The one area the ancient philosophers could not forsee, would be the caring for those who could not work or be self-reliant, due to long-term illness and disabilities. As a modern Society we should be looking at ways to apply and implement the best ideas in the spirit of the ancient philosophers to ensure those who are unable to care for themselves and their families are helped and able to feel a sense of independence and a better quality of life. Nothing is too much or impossible here.
The point behind both Plato and Aristotle’s thinking was to make people independent and therefore self-reliant. This meant not working for someone else – in a job – but only for one’s self. No matter how humble a person’s means, however lowly their background, they could hold their head up with a degree of pride, knowing they could run their own lives and not be beholden to other people or their petty whims.
This is the crucial distinction between a slave and a free man. The slave has no capacity to determine what his life should be or how he should live it. He lives at the beck and call of others. The free man however poor, at least has the choice to take whatever path he likes, conversant with his needs. He was in some ways in control. This was the path to self-respect and the capacity as one smart guy put it, “To think big”.
While the virtues of the Welfare State and the job market are many, if presentations of both were shown to the ancients, they would have been contemptuous of a culture that deprived people of self-reliance and self-respect, by keeping them dependent. They would have equated such a situation as that of keeping people in slavery.
Sound reasons why Society needs a Plato/Aristotle mindset at the Job Centre, the world of work and other areas of our lives.