My name is Tom and I live a life of economic dependency.
I depend for my livelihood on all the strokes of luck – most obviously my parents’ dedication, a hefty amount of genetics and a good, free education – that gave me the qualities I have. More immediately, I depend on an economic system that values these qualities, so that there have (mostly) been job vacancies in the right place at the right time, with a level of pay that covers my needs and even my tastes.
On top of that, I’m willing to work to earn this pay; for this, I’ll take some personal credit (although plenty of people worse off than me have stronger work ethics). But apart from that, I’m responsible for none of the circumstances that allow me to convert my willingness into comfort.
My job, while mostly tedious and often frustrating, rarely places too much strain on me – and is occasionally rewarding. Now and then, if I do something particularly well, I might feel proud of what I’ve achieved. But a moment’s reflection tells me that the more pertinent feeling is gladness at a situation where I have the ability to achieve such things and the opportunity to use that ability (and to sell it for a decent price).
I’ll never be rich, but I’m still dazzlingly lucky. What separates me from all the people who’d like to work but can’t, or want decent work but can only find back-breaking, soul-destroying, minimum-wage drudgery, is sheer chance. They may be dependent on benefits to keep the wolf from the door; I’m dependent on the coincidence of supply and demand that happens to define my labour as valuable. The labour market may more or (often) less efficiently rate our merit as employees, but it isn’t a fair judge of our virtues as people.
Moral crusaders against ‘dependency’ need to remember this.
(This train of thought, if you can call it that, was set off by two good posts from Peter Ryley and Paul Sagar.)