What gives work dignity, after all? Listening in on the right-wing conversation, you might get the idea that dignified jobs are primarily those that afford stability and decent wages, mostly likely without demanding that you uproot yourself from your community and way of life. In other words, dignified jobs are those that dovetail comfortably with the family and community goals that the right considers to be healthy. Thus, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) stressed in a recent essay that Americans need “stable jobs that pay enough to buy a home and raise a family.” Tucker Carlson, in his recent broadside on America’s financial system, suggested that elite obsession with GDP growth has robbed ordinary Americans (especially men) of the stable jobs they need to maintain strong families and communities. A more careful and responsible version of that argument can be found in Oren Cass’ recent book, which advises policymakers to embrace a “productive pluralism” that tries to tailor our labor market to the community needs and lifestyle preferences of ordinary Americans.
This discourse draws out some important points, but it dodges the issue of usefulness by presenting us with a false dichotomy. If we really have to choose between “money-oriented” policy and “people-oriented” policy, or between a “consumption mentality” and a “production mentality,” then the choice seems obvious, and the bleak alternative justifies any necessary sacrifices. In reality, there is no such choice to be made, because production and consumption are intimately connected.