Imagine the following scenario. A man is hopelessly in love with Alison King. Every lonely night he watches repeats of Corrie, pining for his dream woman. A friend then says to him: "why are you wasting you life wanting the impossible? Why not settle for a lesser woman? You'll be happier than you are now."
Most of us would think the friend is giving good advice.
What's true for dating is also true for jobs: Dale Mortensen and Chris Pissarides got a Nobel prize for pointing out that the two markets are very similar. In both cases, we have two sides looking for a good match. If it's rational for someone to settle for less than their (perceived) perfect match in the dating market, it should therefore be reasonable for someone to settle for less than their dream job. And, in fact, millions of us do so. People who can't get hired by Goldman Sachs settle for J.P. Morgan; people who can't get a job at the FT settle for the Telegraph (or I suppose vice versa).
So far, so utterly trivial. But here's the thing. There is, across the western world, an excess supply of labour. Some would-be workers cannot get a match at all. So, if it's rational for everyone else to settle for less than they'd like, shouldn't it also be rational for the least attractive potential workers to settle for not getting a job at all? Just as our friend says: "don't chase Alison King; you're only making yourself miserable wanting what you can't have", shouldn't we also tell the least productive workers: "don't make yourself miserable wanting a job that isn't there"?
However, not only is this advice rarely given, it's rarely taken. Andrew Clark has shown that people typically do not adapt to being unemployed. ONS data corroborate this. They've asked people to rate their life satisfaction on a scale from zero to 10. Amongst those in work, only 20% gave a score of six or less. But 45% of the unemployed did.
In this sense, we do have a problem with workshyness - there's not enough of it.
Why not? One reason, I suspect, is that the unemployed have internalized moral norms about the desirability of work. But this norm, which has long been questioned, is out of date in a world of mass unemployment. It is the kind of morality which brings you down and can never lift you up.
Herein lies a reason why many Marxists have traditionally been hostile to bourgeois morality. First, because it contains big element of hypocrisy: the good advice not to hanker after what you can't have suddenly stops applying to the very low-skilled unemployed. Second, because moralistic attacks on the unemployed for not wanting to work serve an ideological function: they deflect blame for unemployment away from where it should lie - in the inherent failings of capitalism - and shift it onto the victims.
But let's be clear. Anyone who seriously wanted to improve the well-being of the nation would stop prating about "changing the culture" to encourage people to seek work, and do the precise opposite.