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Noah Smith

Democrats Need to Decide If Work Matters

The party is getting pulled between those who want benefits tied to employment and those who don’t.

Work mattered to him.

Work mattered to him.

Photographer: Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The U.S. has an important choice to make. Should work continue to be the fundamental marker of a person’s worth? Or is that idea outdated?

A hundred years ago, when the world was struggling with the social and economic upheaval wrought by the Industrial Revolution, there was little question that human labor was of the utmost importance. The Marxist labor theory of value held that the value of a commodity was based on the amount of work that went into making it. The Soviet Union’s 1936 constitution, quoting the New Testament, declared that "He who does not work, neither shall he eat." Meanwhile, in his speech announcing the New Deal, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared: