Capitalism implies a work ethic and a positive vision thereof. Anticapitalists ideologies used to denigrate the values associated with work. Booklets such as The right to be lazy of Karl Marx’s son-in-law, Paul Lafargue (in which he unintentionally commends the Galicians as one of the cursed races with a passion for work), or Bertrand Russell’s infamous In praise of idleness promise idyllic futures in which work will be almost abolished, while idolizing leisure and laziness. In contrast, from the field of modern theorists of capitalism, there is not enough emphasis on the significance of work and the importance of fostering such value (this was not the case with old academics like Samuel Smiles). We need only look at how new generations are being raised in the hunting of idle and lazy creatures like all the varieties of Pokemon or at the influence of slothful Smurfs while older generations were raised with tales of hard-working dwarves, as we can see in that marvelous anthem to work that is Walt Disney’s Snow White. Work has always been one of the black beasts of socialist ideas and its denigration has been a constant, both in practice and in culture, while current capitalist intellectuals spend very little time praising it and prefer focusing on the importance of entrepreneurs or financial techniques. However, many of the achievements of capitalism are due to the virtues of a magnificent working class imbued with the values of hard work, seriousness, discipline and perfectionism and, without these values, neither entrepreneurs nor financiers would have been able to achieve anything.
We often forget that the working classes have evolved together with the capitalist system and have internalized many of its values. And, at the same time, the loss of those values is seen much more clearly and in first place in the deterioration of the working classes. We owe the identification of the process of adoption of capitalist values by workers in the nineteenth century to the Marxist E. P. Thompson, although this scholar lamented the process. In essays such as “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism” Thompson describes how the working class gradually adopted values like punctuality, seriousness in the fulfillment of delivery times, industrial discipline and, above all, the need for a steady and continuous work. As he recounts (Max Weber also emphasizes the same point) precapitalist societies enjoyed many holidays and even the institution of Saint Monday in which was common not going to work. In addition, workers had the habit of immediately spending the earned money and of not returning to work until the money had been exhausted. The acquisition of capitalist forms of work was carried out with great difficulties and was parallel to the development of its institutions (banks, stock exchange, clearing houses, etc.) but was achieved in a high degree. The current workforce with all its defects (many of them shared with the entrepreneurs) is one of the major achievements of western civilization. It is a workforce well formed, serious and proud of the product made or the service rendered. It works tirelessly, without interrupting production even in the toughest conditions. The level of perfection and quality achieved by workers in countries such as Switzerland or Germany, or without going further away, our own, can be seen in the results of its work and is easily verifiable when compared with those of countries that have not yet achieved advanced levels of capitalism. Achieving these results required a lot of time, effort, and awareness but we can be proud of the workforce of capitalism.
Unfortunately, the ideological forces fighting against capitalism do not exclude work of their attacks. The theories of exploitation, alienation, even modern proposals to reduce working days by law, have always tried to present work as a curse that will be abolished in the future, devaluing its importance for human welfare. Work educates individuals (we learn at work a good part of what we know), relates us to other people and integrates us socially. At the same time, it makes us feel useful and proud of ourselves, because what we possess or consume we owe it to our own effort. This dignifies us and makes us sensitive, at the same time, to the demagogy of those who want to seize by force part of what has been achieved with our legitimate effort.
Capitalism needs hard and serious work, but this forms part of a culture and a way of seeing the world that is not easily established. It is not surprising that the fastest growing countries are those with a very strict work ethic (like another of Lafargue’s cursed races, the Chinese). Peoples like the Japanese or the Swiss, who do not call for more vacations but for more work, are a good example of the success of the work ethic. Our own historical success is also the result of this spirit. My child memories are of tough, hard-working Galicians digging, making cement, building houses, factories, and roads and spending sleepless nights of monitoring in factories and workshops. They brought prosperity to today’s Galicia (never in its history was so rich, even with all its problems, as in our time). Let us not allow the ideas of leisure and laziness to ruin this legacy and let us combat them with ideas that value effort and hard work. Unfortunately, nowadays we do not pay much attention to these principles and instead, we prefer to focus on other aspects of capitalism (finance, innovation, entrepreneurship) ignoring its real foundations. However, without a good workforce banks would have little to finance and entrepreneurs would have no solid basis to innova