Happy to work--but not to toil

Article Highlights

  • "Work" is something satisfying to do in and for itself.

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  • "Toil" is something you do not want to do, but must do under the lash of necessity.

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  • The reduction in toil as a proportion of life is one of the greatest achievements of the enterprising market economy.

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Sir, Thank you for Sebastian Mallaby’s insightful essay, “Why I work on my summer holiday” (August 15). The key in this discussion is to distinguish between work and toil. “Work” in this sense is something satisfying to do in and for itself, in addition to the fact that it is making money or directly producing needed goods; “toil” is something you do not want to do, but must do under the lash of necessity. Here I follow the American philosopher, Mortimer Adler. Adler himself was still writing books in his 90s. This was clearly work for him, but not toil. Would he have been happier with “leisure”, for example, plodding around after a guide on some packaged tour? Presumably not.

Mr Mallaby points out that there is now much less work as a proportion of life than historically; more importantly, there is proportionally much less toil. This is true both in paid employment and in the home, both of which have been heavily capitalised over the past century. The reduction in toil as a proportion of life is one of the great achievements of the enterprising market economy.

Alex J. Pollock, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute, Washington DC, US

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About the Author


Alex J.
  • Alex J. Pollock is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he studies and writes about housing finance; government-sponsored enterprises, including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Banks; retirement finance; and banking and central banks. He also works on corporate governance and accounting standards issues.

    Pollock has had a 35-year career in banking and was president and CEO of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago for more than 12 years immediately before joining AEI. A prolific writer, he has written numerous articles on financial systems and is the author of the book “Boom and Bust: Financial Cycles and Human Prosperity” (AEI Press, 2011). He has also created a one-page mortgage form to help borrowers understand their mortgage obligations.

    The lead director of CME Group, Pollock is also a director of the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and the chairman of the board of the Great Books Foundation. He is a past president of the International Union for Housing Finance.

    He has an M.P.A. in international relations from Princeton University, an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. from Williams College.

  • Phone: 202.862.7190
    Email: apollock@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Emily Rapp
    Phone: (202) 419-5212
    Email: emily.rapp@aei.org

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