“I always wanted you to admire my fasting,” said the hunger artist. “We do admire it,” said the overseer, affably. “But you shouldn’t admire it,” said the hunger artist. “Well then we don’t admire it,” said the overseer, “but why shouldn’t we admire it?” “Because I have to fast, I can’t help it,” said the hunger artist. “What a fellow you are,” said the overseer, “and why can’t you help it?” “Because,” said the hunger artist, lifting his head a little and speaking, with his lips pursed, as if for a kiss, right into the overseer’s ear, so that no syllable might be lost, “because I couldn’t find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.” These were his last words, but in his dimming eyes remained the firm though no longer proud persuasion that he was continuing to fast.
Kafka, “A Hunger Artist”
One of the most basic ideological divisions found in political life can be measured by the extent to which someone agrees with this statement: “Rich people are rich because they work hard, and poor people are poor because they don’t.”
Now of course only a complete idiot would agree with this statement without any reservations or caveats. So no more than 30% of the public in the US, approximately. (I kid. Somewhat).
But it would be interesting to measure the extent to which people agree with it, with 1 representing a perfect correlation between “hard work” and wealth, 0 representing no correlation between the two, and -1.0 representing a perfectly inverse correlation. Since we’re on the internet here and not in the pages of Science or the University of Chicago Press it’s OK to just make up our data, so in that spirit I would bet that your average GOP primary voter thinks the correlation is .87, while your average progressive blogger is going to put that number way lower, and indeed quite possibly in negative territory.
There’s an important definitional ambiguity here though, which is, what exactly is “hard work?” I’m assuming that what people call “work” can be sorted into two categories:
(A) Something people do because, and only because, they’re paid to do it. (“Paid” here means receiving a benefit, not necessarily pecuniary in nature, to do it. I don’t like mowing the yard, and I’m not paid money to do it, but I get the psychic benefit of a
neatly trimmed less than feral yard by doing it, even though I wouldn’t mow the yard absent this “payment.”)
(B) Something people do because they enjoy doing it, and would do it even if they weren’t being paid.
For the purposes of the above analysis, only (A) should count as “work,” and in particular “hard work.”
The reason this distinction is critical is that sometimes people get some sort of moral credit for “working hard” at things that they positively enjoy doing for their own sake, which is ridiculous. Academia is a particularly good place to observe various “hard workers” who are actually lazy as hell when it comes to doing any work. For example, Professor X is a very “hard worker” when it comes to his writing, which he loves, and his teaching, which he likes, but he does a lousy job on committees, he blows off office hours, he writes half-assed peer reviews etc. because he doesn’t actually like to do any of that stuff, so he puts minimal effort into it. Prof. X is the opposite of a “hard worker,” because he manages to get away with doing almost nothing he doesn’t want to do anyway, without regard to whether he’s getting paid. But he may well “work” 60 hours a week, if (B) counts as “hard work.”
Anyway, my own view is that the whole idea that there’s a strong positive correlation between hard work, properly defined, and wealth is pretty absurd. (A difficult intermediate case, conceptually, is the person who loves to make money for the sake of making money, not primarily because money allows him to buy things. That is, the person derives pleasure from the mere fact that “working hard” correlates for him with making money, because he loves the idea that he’s making money, even though he doesn’t particularly enjoy the things money can buy. So even though he wouldn’t bill 2300 hours per year proofreading financial documents if he wasn’t being paid big money to do it, he “enjoys,” in some perverse sense, proofreading financial documents at 11 PM on a Friday night because he’s “making lots of money,” not because he actually enjoys either proofreading or the consumption/leisure money can buy).