Many economists and social theorists hypothesize that most societies could soon face a ‘post-work’ future, one in which employment and productive labor have a dramatically reduced place in human affairs. Given the centrality of employment to individual identity and its pivotal role as the primary provider of economic and other goods, transitioning to a ‘post-work’ future could prove traumatic and disorienting to many. Policymakers are thus likely to face the difficult choice of the extent to which they ought to satisfy individual citizens’ desires to work in a socioeconomic environment in which work is in permanent decline. Here I argue that policymakers confronting a post-work economy should discount, or at least consider problematic, the desire to work because it is very likely that this desire is an adaptive preference. An adaptive preference is a preference for some state of affairs within a limited set of options formed under unjust conditions.
The widespread desire for work has been formed under unjust labor conditions to which individuals are compelled to submit in order to meet material and ethical needs. Furthermore, the prevalence of the ‘work dogma’ in contemporary societies precludes nearly all individuals from seeing alternatives to work as live options.