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There's a thing called the "disutility of labor." It's a fancy phrase that basically means people prefer leisure over labor.

We constantly see people make current sacrifices in order to get advantages later, and one of the principle advantages is leisure. Von Mises points out that "leisure is valued as a good and that labor is regarded as a burden." Frank Chodorov makes a similar point in The Rise & Fall of Society: "Our instinct is to get the most out of life with the least expenditure of labor." Nassim Taleb's entire lifestyle (he says he works only one day a week) seems to revolve around this premise.

Disutility of labor strikes me as a fair premise, but then I think back to the sanctification of work. Consider these words from Francis Fernandez: “God wants from us human work that is well done. This means our working hard, with order, skill, competence and a striving for perfection; it means a completed job with no rough edges, no flaws or blemishes. It means serious work and an end-product that not only looks good, but is good. . . . The Christian brings something new to his work. . . he does it for God."

How does one reconcile the goodness of work with the disutility of labor?

It's not as hard as it might appear.

They're not inconsistent.

Theologians like Fernandez start from the premise that we must work. It's part of our inheritance from Adam and Eve. Since we must work anyway, we must sanctify it. We are called upon to sanctify everything we do, even breathing if possible (reference hesychasts).


But that doesn't mean we must work, and it definitely doesn't mean we must work like "good Americans": 50 hours a week, grinding away to exhaustion every day. This is partly what Josef Pieper condemned as "the total world of work." By using the term "total," I have little doubt that Pieper, writing in Germany in the mid-1940s, meant to draw a parallel between modern notions of work and Fascism. Leisure, Pieper famously wrote, is the basis of culture. Leisure is a great good and must be used (enjoyed) properly.

But when we work, we must sanctify it (Fernandez).

And when we have leisure, we must sanctify it (Pieper).

So, if we have made enough money and can meet our worldly obligations without working, can we avoid it altogether?

I don't think so. Let's face it: we are meant to work. Whether it's a punishment or an instinct, we want to work. If we didn't, there wouldn't be hobbies. A hobby is something that people do because they enjoy it, but if they did it for money, it'd look like a job. Even though the hobbies are enjoyable, they are still work, at some level.

And that's a good thing. Work keeps a person engaged, and when he's engaged, he's less likely to incline toward mischief: "A man is seldom more innocently occupied than in getting money." Samuel Johnson. Even those bastions of contemplation, monasteries, emphasize the need for work. It's no coincidence that playboys end up in the world of illicit pursuits (sample). And it's no coincidence that a man like Nassim Taleb, who has made enough money to last 200 years, is producing books, giving interviews, and starting a new hedge fund. He doesn't have to work and he doesn't want to work, but that doesn't mean he doesn't want to employ his leisure profitably.

Each person must strike his own balance between work and leisure. As long as he sanctifies both pursuits, he won't go wrong. Moreover, in the process of sanctifying both, he will engage in both. A man of work who sanctifies it is a man who will be able to let go and enjoy his leisure later. A man of leisure who sanctifies it is a man who will employ it profitably and thereby re-enter the world of work.