Economics 101

TikTok Capitalism

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“Like many young adults, I used to want an enjoyable and meaningful life,” Rama says with a smile on her TikTok video with over 1.8 million views. “That is, until I discovered capitalism. Now, I live in a society where my productivity matters more than my well-being, and so I’m just depressed and anxious all the time. I’m smiling, but I’m deeply wounded. I work three jobs, and I still feel like I’m not doing enough.”

Anti-Capitalism

In this recent article, Hillary Hoffower writes about how “anti-capitalism is taking over TikTok as users like Rama denounce America’s glorification of the rat race. The pandemic prompted many American workers to rethink their life’s purpose, and the youngest among them are questioning a life that endlessly pursues the next accomplishment.” 

She quotes therapist Jeff Guenther, “When you live in a capitalist society, no matter what you do, it’s never enough. Under capitalism, you derive value by doing something, not by just being human.” Hoffower also quotes Erin Cech, a University of Michigan sociologist who says, “…the melding of work and self stemmed from the role productivity and hard work played in culture: They’re status symbols. Look no further than the worship of hustle culture, girl bosses, and unicorn entrepreneurs.”

Cech says, “The notion of productivity as a sense of self-worth is a social construct of our cultural space. In the United States economy, particularly with the white-collar workforce, there is a strong link between needing to not only be productive but to show one is productive and a sense of self-worth.”

The Great Resignation

Rethinking their self-worth, Millennials and Gen Z are at the front of the “Great Resignation” and anti-work wave. Many seek more time to devote to loved ones and meaningful hobbies, where they believe they will find true happiness. But Hoffower quotes Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at Columbia University, who writes, “The reality is that most people struggle following this advice, at times because they don’t believe it and at times because they are less interested in being happy than we think, and even than they say.”

Hoffower ends this somewhat dystopian view of work in today’s culture, arguing America’s dependence on productivity was altered because of the pandemic reframing “the reverence of hustle culture as peoples’ personal lives took precedence over their jobs.” The article implies that many people are in jobs where they find little purpose, happiness, or fulfillment, yet those who quit their jobs to “follow their passion” find that the pastures are no greener on the other side of the fence. 

A Biblical Perspective On Work

The answer to this dilemma is only found in the biblical understanding of work. As Dorothy Sayers wrote in an essay entitled Why Work:

Work is not primarily a thing one does to live but the thing one lives to do. It is or should be the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God. 

The problem with our culture is not work or even capitalism. It is the fact that we are trying to make work do something it was not designed to do. Lasting purpose, happiness, and fulfillment will never be found in our work. But that doesn’t mean we do not work.

Only in a restored relationship with God through his son Jesus Christ can we find the lasting purpose, happiness, and fulfillment that we so desperately crave. It is only then that work is seen in the correct perspective: not as an ultimate thing, a vehicle to prove ourselves, but as a way to glorify God, serve the common good, and further God’s kingdom in this place and time. The motive is no longer centered around us but instead focuses on our desire to serve our Savior, who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. 

Hoffower’s article clearly points out the desperation of many in our culture as they struggle with the idea of work. Yet as we have pointed out for years in this blog, the Bible has much to say about work (Col. 3:23, Gen. 2:15, 1 Thess. 4:11-12, 1 Cor. 15:58, Ps. 90:17, Pro. 12:1).

A Gospel Solution

We as the church have missed the incredible opportunity to share the gospel’s answer to this perceived problem. But to share the gospel in this situation, we must continue to apply God’s transformative grace to our work. As Pastor Paul Jeon writes in his book Christian Philanthropy: Daily Devotions in Titus 2-3:

The Christian life should be thought of neither in terms of being radical nor ordinary. The more fitting term seems to be purposeful. A person training to run a marathon knows that every part of her life—her diet, sleeping schedule, social life—must change if she wants to finish the race. An aspiring musician who wants to play at Carnegie Hall knows that he will have to renounce much leisure in order to pursue countless hours of deliberate practice. Similarly, a convert that learns of grace’s purpose to create a people…who are zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14) should realize that his life cannot remain the same. 

Are you living a purposeful life? One in which you are zealous for good works? Ask God to continue to teach you of grace’s purpose to transform you and your work so that you might share it with the world.

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