At Ease

At Ease

“At Ease” – Kevin Zhang, Intern, PRIDE Global

Last week, Leo referenced “Rethinking Work” (here). The article’s author, Barry Schwartz, pointed out that Adam Smith thought people were naturally lazy and motivated only by money.

“It is the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can.” –Wealth of Nations, 1776

Scwartz writes, because of this seemingly benign idea, U.S. now faces a largely dissatisfied and disengaged workforce. Smith’s division of labor has reduced jobs to monotonous, rudimentary tasks – see the pin factory example (part I.1.3 here).

I disagree. I think Smith meant something completely different. And I want to prove it. Or…try to, at least.

In Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, part III.3.37, he writes “The man who is himself at ease can best attend to the distress of others.”

And in part IV.1.8, he tells of a poor man’s son who finds his father’s cottage too small and is driven by ambition to be “lodged more at his ease in a palace.”

I’m no historian, nor an expert with 1700s diction, but there’s something illogical about Schwartz’s translation of “at his ease” to mean laziness. Smith must have been confused to have thought the lazy man was best suited to help others. Or that a poor man’s son can live more lazily in a palace than in a cottage.

Now, I believe Smith was referring to a state of contentment, a state of satisfaction, when he uses the phrase “at ease”. The helping friend is not the lazy man, but the one who has addressed his worries, resolved his fears (e.g., the Good Samaritan was certainly not lazy). And the poor man’s son wants to be in a palace, not so he can be lazy, but so his ambition might be satisfied.

Consider the professionals “Rethinking Work” mentions – the ones who leave big bucks for an altruistic, more satisfying job. Or the janitor who is content because he can entertain patients. As Smith observes, people naturally seek a greater purpose, a more fulfilling life.

And that pin industry example? Out of context. Smith sees division of labor and the ensuing specialization (getting really good at what you do) as a means for the group to become more productive and, as a nation, to amass wealth – hence, the title. And this, to the contemporary, was altogether satisfying.

So, what does this mean for us at Pride? Hopefully this is where you are “at ease”. Because when you are content, you’re best fit to attend to those in distress, some of whom are dissatisfied with their current jobs. Be proud of what you do. Be Pride.