- "A strong economy begins with a strong, well-educated workforce."
- –Bill Owens
- "It is equally important to have a happy and engaged workforce as it is to have a profitable bottom line."
- –Vern Dosch
Since ancient times there is a difference between working for yourself, and working for the common good. Especially when that common good isn't of such immediate benefit, such as collecting the crop of the village field, or smashing the wheat into flour. Building roads, for example, was never seen as very useful, especially when the road in question leads to a city tens of miles away from where you live. Nevertheless, this work also needs to be done, and the capability of centralized rulers to mobilize workers for their projects soon becomes a staple of a capable leadership.
Historical Context Edit
Work began with Homo sapiens; along with tool making, a complex brain structure, and a spoken language, the organization of labor was responsible for mankind’s conquest of nature and certainly differentiated human beings from other animals. In Oriental Despotism, the historian Karl Wittfogel makes a strong case that the large-scale irrigation projects in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt built by laborers conscripted by the state brought civilization: work specialization, the emergence of social classes, organized government, and cultural hierarchy.
Save for the militia army (of course) the ability to “draft” a state workforce for monumental public works projects was the ancient ruler’s primary display of power and “concern” for his subjects. In time, these public projects took on all sorts of forms; the Great Pyramid at Giza used some 100 thousand workers over 20 years, and the Great Wall in China employed even more conscripts over generations. In these and other projects, the workers were mostly peasants (rather than slaves, who were much too valuable to waste by the thousands building such wonders), serving the state as a form of service tax. The Romans pioneered advanced organizational techniques for their skilled state workforce to build the infrastructure that made Rome a millennial empire: roads, aqueducts, public baths, harbors, docks, lighthouses and entertainment venues such as the Colosseum and Circus Maximus.
Labor service to the state took various forms, but all entailed some sort of unpaid, unfree work. Popular in Western civilization was corvée, labor that was intermittent in nature and for limited periods; in ancient times for a single, massive project, evolving in the Far East to be a certain number of days each year at the lord’s behest. Serfdom was the standard under feudalism, with the peasants required to work for the “Lord of the Manor” in whatever capacity he (or she) might deem necessary … including helping with the monarch’s or Catholic Church’s latest construction folly. Then came the Industrial Revolution’s debt-bondage and wage-slavery … although collective bargaining, minimum wage, child labor laws, prisoners’ rights, and the 40-hour week have pretty much done away with a state workforce.