‘Work Hard And You’ll Succeed’: The Biggest Lie?

Picture through Wikimedia Commons.

You’ll have heard the cry: ‘Work hard and you’ll succeed.’ Almost from infancy, we’re brought up to believe this mantra. It follows us through school, often reinforced by loving and caring parents, and is ingrained in our very personas through repetition and a form of example. The successful, in the terms of our current society, are held up as models of what hard work will bring us. We’ll be rewarded with wealth, status, respect, power and all the glitz and glamour that goes with it. The prize is, indeed, worth the effort.

But is it true?

Numerous charts and lots of statistical analysis would illustrate my answer. But it’s far simpler than that. If you open your eyes and look about you at the evidence, you’ll probably see.

Know any wealthy miners? I mean those who spend 12 hours a day at the coal face, or sweat for 16 hours in the impossible heat and danger of the South African diamond, platinum and gold mines? Friendly with the wealthy neighbourhood carer who works 12 hour shifts to minister to the needs of demented pensioners, disabled children, and insane wrecks, wiping shitty arses, mopping up piss, feeding unresponsive faces in exchange for insults and occasional violence? Is the guy who lives at the end of the street and spends his days running pavements to empty rubbish bins in record time really an eccentric millionaire? Then there’s the child who spends 18 hours a day clawing through mixed waste on a dangerous tip to find enough plastic or metal to recycle and pay for her day’s single meal; she must surely be wealthy beyond our wildest dreams?

All these people can be described as hard workers.

Why do we believe we’ll get rich in return for hard labour, if it clearly isn’t true?

There is a sort of conspiracy at work. Nothing formal or defined by a set of rules and conditions. It’s something far more subtle, and it’s been developing over centuries.

To whose real advantage is the mantra?

Who has most to gain from a work force indoctrinated into believing hard work will bring them rewards? Certainly not those who actually invest their time, energy and skills in those long hours of work. They’re generally rewarded with job insecurity, poor working conditions and the dubious incentive of ‘extra’ pay once they’ve done their prescribed hours.

So, if actual workers don’t gain, who does?

If a worker gains an extra 10 percent by working harder, his reward is that 10%, usually of very little. But those in charge of workers, the bosses, directors, owners, creators; however you want to describe the individuals or groups at the top of the hierarchical pyramid, gain a percentage from each of those individual efforts. Because of the way society’s structured the rewards for those at the top are unduly increased. If a ‘boss’ has a workforce of 100, for every 10 percent extra earned by each individual worker, the boss will gain an equivalent amount. That means the one in charge gains 10 times 100, which is 1,000 percent. (That’s an oversimplification, but it’s a general principle that illustrates the point). I’m not suggesting those at the top don’t necessarily work hard, but their efforts can never be so much greater than those they employ. So, the mantra results in a real increase of wealth for those who are already rich, but fails to do that for those who actually produce the increase. Clever, eh?

So, what are the real rewards for those workers who accept and apply the mantra?

You’ll know about a development that’s effectively reduced the value of overtime working. Shop workers and the like were once rewarded for working unsocial hours that included weekend working. Certain workers were given more pay for working evening and night shifts (bar staff, hotel, hospital and factory workers, etc.). Some whose work couldn’t be fitted into the normal working day (teachers, middle managers, etc.) were rewarded for continuing to work when they arrived home. But most of these apparent ‘advantages’ have been eroded over time so that what was once regarded as ‘unsocial’ has become ‘normal’ in our modern 24/7 society.

Those who make policy will assure you this is to the advantage of us all. We must remain competitive in order to sell more goods outside, and inside, our given communities. And, of course, it’s heresy to suggest this may not be the case. Whether we actually need the increase in such goods is highly questionable but that’s a whole new argument and beyond the scope of this short piece.

Let’s examine the facts: the vast majority of economic activity is actually controlled by corporations and companies operating on a global scale with investors from all over the world (or, at least, the parts of the world where wealth is most common). If an organisation is global, it has the power to fix both global and local economic conditions. Multinational corporations set standards of wealth or poverty within the nations in which they’re active. Governments have long been little more than regulatory authorities allowed an illusive power in order to keep both politicians and workers under control. So, the excuse that a British worker must work harder, at a ‘higher’ level of pay, in order to make British goods more competitive than the equivalent Taiwanese products, at a ‘lower’ level of pay, is actually a manipulative device to maintain control of the market place.

This short piece is meant to provoke thought and question, so I’m not developing my arguments fully here. I invite readers to consider and question what they’ve been told over the years. I’d like to start a discussion of the real merits of the philosophy behind this mantra.

‘Work hard and you’ll succeed’ is a lie, which should be expressed as, ‘Work hard and you’ll make those in positions of wealth and power wealthier and more powerful’. I believe the evidence to support that viewpoint is there for everyone to see, if only they can be persuaded to question accepted dogma.

Of course, there are those who demonstrate, superficially, that hard work can result in wealth. But the assumption they can it unsupported by all the many others in society is patently false; we’re all undeniably interdependent. That, though, is a different argument and one I’d like to develop at a later date. For the moment, I ask you to look at the majority result of hard work and accept that, for the vast bulk of people, simply working hard isn’t, and never has been, a route to wealth and power.

There’s space below for your comments, questions and opinions. Please, let’s make this a useful and positive discussion. My mind’s open; is yours?

(This post is an updated version of one I placed on my old blog on Blogger, 30th August 2012, where it generated quite a lot of interest!)

14 thoughts on “‘Work Hard And You’ll Succeed’: The Biggest Lie?

  1. I’m 33 so I’m stuck in the middle but I do have a slim sense of hope. I look at my younger brothers and their “dreams” … would have had some realism to them years ago… But today it’s just ridiculous.

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    1. At 69, I consider myself one of the most fortunate generation. True, it was a bit hard growing up with rationing still in place from the war (we had no paper to write on when I started school and had to learn to write using a slate board and lead marker!). But we were free as kids to play where we liked without fear. And, as a teenager, I lived in a world of expanding freedoms. Able to buy my first house at 21 and move around the country with work, gradually climbing the property ladder. These days, kids in UK have a tremendously hard time getting a deposit together for a house, and if they rent they’re charged ludicrous prices by greedy landlords. So much has changed for the worse, and now we live in a world where the Tories are in league with racists and bigots in UK to sever links with our nearest, and most natural neighbour, Europe. And Trump, the lunatic, is in power in USA with his finger on the button.
      I recall the Cuba crisis, which was a huge event in my early years. If the same thing happened today, I fear Trump would be firing missiles before any diplomacy could happen.
      And the jobs on offer now are mostly not real work, but poor, part-time, superficial service jobs that most consumers actually find irritating.
      I could go on, but I’ve a book and two blog posts to write!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, so much in modern life in the West is screwing up the future for our kids. I was lucky enough to be born in the 40s, so grew up in a world full of celebration. Now it’s all targets, tick boxes and overpriced everything. I really feel for the kids.

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    1. Oh, luck is a huge part of it, of course, Noelle. And education helps, though not as much as might be expected: a few wealthy tycoons lack a level of education many would consider fairly basic. The essential elements for success in business, it seems to me, are a type of ruthlessness, a hunger for money, and the ability to rely on the contributions of others without ever bothering to recognise or compensate them. (I’m not suggesting this is true for all, of course)
      It’s the lack of acknowledgement of the part interconnectedness plays that really marks out those in the business community who have ‘made it’. Many of them sincerely believe they got where they are without help from anyone, which is why they often don’t pay their taxes. Yet, without the gangs of road builders to make sure they can travel, the farmers to supply them with food they don’t have to spend time growing themselves, the office staff who do all their drudgery, the police who protect them from criminals…need I go on? Without this vast army of workers who permit them to concentrate on what they do, they’d be nowhere.
      I’d love to see them humble and honest enough to admit that simple fact and pay the taxes due.


        1. I don’t have the time, and, in any case, atheists and agnostics know, and those who are religious generally have a mindset so deeply concrete it’s not subject to modification.
          But, I must admit, I’m tempted!

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