What about this simple(simplistic?) argument against egalitarianism?

I define gruntwork as the kind of work almost no one would prefer to do if they had a choice, but which a number of people greater than “almost no one” must perform if society’s stability is to be maintained.

I assume gruntwork exists. Examples include: Trash collection, dish washing, crop harvesting, and so on. Basically, the stuff we typically call “unskilled labor.”

I define “egalitarianism” in this post as the principle that each person should be able to do the kind of work they prefer, if they are able to perform it. The extent to which this concept of “egalitarianism” matches normal useage of the term is open for discussion of course.

I assume that almost no one is unable to do anything they would prefer other than gruntwork.

So here’s the argument:

Suppose (for a conditional proof) that egalitarianism is the rule. In other words, it is enacted and followed by society.

If gruntwork exists, then some number of people greater than “almost no one” must do it in order for society to continue to function.

If almost everyone would prefer to do non-gruntwork, and almost everyone is able to perform non-gruntwork which they would prefer, (and, remember, egalitarianism is the rule,) then almost everyone will perform non-gruntwork.

If almost everyone will perform non-gruntwork, then almost no one will perform gruntwork.

So: If gruntwork exists, then almost no one will perform it.

But more than “almost no one” must perform gruntwork if society is to maintain stability.

So: If gruntwork exists, then society will not maintain stability.

Gruntwork does exist.

Hence: Society cannot remain stable.

The conclusion of all of the above is this:

If egalitarianism is the rule, then society cannot remain stable.

On the assumption that “society cannot remain stable” is a bad thing, it seems to follow that egalitarianism is untenable.

The reasoning is valid unless I’m missing something. So the question is, which assumption(s) is/are wrong?

Am I right to assume gruntwork exists? The argument has no punch unless gruntwork in some sense necessarily exists. Does it?

One way it might not exist is if it is all automated. We’ve had discussions about that before of course. Even if it were all automated, though, we’re still left with the weaker conclusion “So long as gruntwork is not automated, egalitarianism is untenable.” Are we okay with that, or is that, too, a conclusion we’d like to reject if possible?

Are there other ways gruntwork could be made not to exist? Can a non-coercive incentive structure make erstwhile gruntwork preferable enough to enough people that it is no longer gruntwork (by the definition of gruntwork given above?)

Am I right that almost no one is unable to do anything they prefer other than gruntwork? Or are there more people than I would like to believe who, whatever they might prefer, are incapable of doing anything they prefer other than gruntwork?

Is the concept of “egalitarianism” used in this argument an important one? Or is the definition of it such that the conclusion of the argument isn’t as significant as it sounds?

(Is there a name for this problem? Like, the “Who will do the dishes?” problem?)

There are several approaches. You can redefine the word preferable to include compensation, and compensate the less desirable work at a higher rate, making it more desirable to people who prioritize high compensation. Or you can divide the so called gruntwork equally a responsibility of everyone, and make everyone do a bit of it as a sort of labor format of taxation. Both methods exist in various ways in societies who hold egalitarianism as one of their ideals. An example of the former might include shift differentials paying people who work late at night more money since few people prefer to do that, and an example of the latter would be a universal military draft.

You can also redefine your terms and take into consideration that in some sense there’s a limited amount of slots for each preferred occupation, and that only those best at it and/or willing to do it for the least compensation will get those slots, often known as “jobs” – and others have to do a next best preference or down the line.

I don’t recognize your definition of egalitarianism at all. Labouring as you like if you are capable of it has nothing to do with equal standing in law and equal worth in society.

And as Deegeea pointed out your problem disappears if you include remuneration as a driver in preference. As grunt work’s pay scale increases due to need, the number of those capable of doing the work and wishing to do it increases as well.

Call it “schmegalitarianism” if you like. It’s an ideal I see kicked around by at least some people anyway–that no one should have to do work they don’t like, if they’re capable of something “better” in the sense that they prefer it. In fact, I take this to be an implication of egalitarianism as the word is used more generally–if there are people who have to do something they don’t like, while others get to do what they do like, even though both are equally capable of doing the preferable work, then it would seem they are not being treated with equally by whatever group is constituting the rules governing them.

I asked in the OP about this very possibility. The question is whether that’s feasible or not. Can the pay scales be adjusted in that way without destabilizing things, or would the grunts have to be paid so much that the egalitarian (schmegalitarian) society would stop working?

Well your definition sounds much more specific than what I’m use to.

Don’t see why grunt work payouts are going to destabilize your society given the resulting glut of doctors, lawyers and teachers will result in lowered pay for those professions. Unless you’ve opted to fix current pay rates for jobs and then yes, you’ve got trouble.

If the need is great enough, the pay will be high enough. If the value of the service isn’t high enough to justify the pay that would make it sufficiently rewarding, then it’s not “needed”.

Any definition of egalitarianism that doesn’t take personal choice (including rewards such as pay) into account isn’t terribly useful.

Finally, technology continually changes the equation. For example, technology advanced very slowly in the Dark Ages and there are many reasons, but one reason was that people were plentiful and needy, so there was no point in creating labor saving technology. However, a few pandemics changed that balance point: there were no longer enough people to do all the labor, so labor-saving technologies started developing.

The guy I paid to empty our septic tank is a good example. He can charge whatever he’d like for the job, It’s worth it for me to not do it myself.

I’ve had discussions before where people have tried to argue that the reason that cleaners, say, earn such a low wage is because in some sense the job is desirable and we would all do it if it paid well.
I dispute this. Most people if given the choice between their current job and something menial and dirty, that pays the same, would opt to keep their current job.
The reason that cleaners’ wages are low is because there is still a large pool of people with little choice that need to feed and clothe themselves etc.

I mention all this because the nature of the status quo is relevant to how the schmegalitarianism ideal would play out.

So these, say, 1 million cleaners can’t do anything else right now because they lack education or skills. So will we pay for an education for them, somehow. We just need to ask them what they want to do. What if half of them say they want to be actors and the other half don’t know what they want to do? What’s your next move?

NB I am not claiming that the way the labour market works right now is fair or optimal.

Me neither. I would have thought that egalitarianism meant that everybody does their own gruntwork.

Actually, I’m curious: how would the OP categorize a society where, say, you work as an aspiring actor because it’s your dream job, and I spend a lot of time painting nudes or working on the Great American Novel or whatever – but each of us, and everybody else, spends the same one week (or two, or twelve, or twenty) out of each year doing gruntwork? Would that be egalitarian?

By the definition, “each person should be able to do the kind of work they prefer, if they are able to perform it.” So (a) each of us is able to do that kind of work, and (b) the reason each of us is able to so perform is because we live in a society where each of us also does some of the gruntwork?

I’d take a cleaner job over the one I have now if it meant I didn’t have the crazy hours, constant emails, endless politicking, administrative nightmares, non-stop employee issues, and constant stress (and I get to keep the absurd salary).

Well I did say most people.
But it’s true that if you’re working long hours and you could earn the same money doing anything else for regular hours, many people would jump at that. Time has a high value.

But take my situation for example. I’m working 40 hours a week doing software development. If I could earn the same money working, say, 35 hours as a cleaner, would I do it? Hell no; my perception of cleaning is that it’s menial, dirty, boring and low status.

My position is that most people would say the same, and it is not great demand for the role that keeps cleaners’ wages down.

Yes, it would fit the definition from the OP–though it puts pressure on the assumption hidden in that definition (thanks for bringing it out) that a person can only “do” one kind of work.

This suggestion of having everyone participate in the gruntwork, what would it take to discover whether it’s workable? Do we need to figure out just how much gruntwork there is to do, find out how many hours each person would need to spend doing it, and then see how much time would thereby be leftover for everyone to pursue their dream work?

I wonder how those numbers turn out. The amount of gruntwork that needs doing, of course, may vary from context to context–for example, different tech levels will plausibly require different amounts of gruntwork.

That captures the argument of the OP in a nice neat nutshell, I think.

Also, what happens when you say, “Tell you what, Waldo: how’s about you take my shift of gruntwork in exchange for this here pile of cash?”

I think the fundamental problem with your argument is that there is no such thing as “gruntwork”.

There’s jobs you like and jobs you don’t like. Luckily, humans come in a huge variety of flavors, and someone else likes the job you don’t like, and hates the job you like.

I love nursing. I would, literally, rather kill myself than work as a construction worker. Luckily, there are plenty of people out there that like their construction jobs, but would throw up if asked to give someone a shot or change an adult diaper.

“Like” of course, being due to a whole host of variables, including time, money, messiness, smelliness, boredom, autonomy, etc.

Good question.

True and it is a variation of a point that I really believe. It is ALL gruntwork and I say this as a professional. I make no distinction between professions as a blanket rule when it applies to gruntwork. Doctors for example have to fill out an insane amount of routine paperwork as part of their job and that is epitome of gruntwork to me. Lawyers pay good money to go to school to learn how to fill out the papers better than other people :shudder: Yes, I am serious. All jobs and professions have their own variations on the gruntwork theme, even actors. Who hasn’t looked out their office window at the lawn guys on a nice spring day and wished that you could trade places with them?