What is my contribution to society?

Setting the context: I have not been actively engaged in an employment situation for the last 6 weeks. I spend a few hours a week working with my base-employer† and another few hours working on my startup. The rest, however, is spent learning, consuming and idling.

Contemporary society, or my worldview within it, has led me to question my contribution to society as an able and capable member.

Here are my thoughts.

What counts as productive? Your productivity as a member of human society is intractably linked to your economic output. I don’t have proof to back this claim up. This sentiment is so deeply rooted in our psyche that it reflects in our language and beliefs. Cases in point -

  • Unemployed, disabled, elderly = burden on society
  • Working women contribute to family income (and nothing else?)
  • Marginalised communities leech on the services funded by taxes paid by the service class
  • “That good-for-nothing fellow can’t seem to hold a job”

In fact, all the unpaid labour done (almost exclusively) by women at homes and in work spaces is counted as just that - unpaid labour. And when economists show their valiance, it is by putting a monetary value on this labour.

Where is labour for labour’s sake!

One could construe this to mean that at any given moment, an able and capable member of society should be engaged in active contribution to the (steady yourself, here it comes) GDP. And to be honest, in my largely baseless opinion, Mr. One would be right.

Does this apply universally? Not quite. Think of the writers, artists and researchers who spend years labouring with little economic output. They get fellowships to live like that. In all those years of preparation, they aren’t really going to a 9-to-5, making sales pitches, or analysing survey data. So does that make them a burden on society akin to the unemployed, disabled and elderly? I don’t think so.

What does this mean? Should I be looking for a job? Engaging in conventional labour? Enroll in university? All to redeem my rapidly vanishing economic value?


Production doesn’t drive the economy. Consumption does.

As a living, breathing, consuming member of this society, I purchase goods and services every single day. The fact that I do it from my swiftly dwindling savings is a matter of no concern. So long as I continue to consume, at whomever’s expense, I shall be making a meaningful contribution to society.

Perhaps I should start a fellowship from my savings and grant it to myself.

Gurjot Sidhu, Fellow, Gurjot Sidhu’s Fellowship

P.S. This whole analysis could be made rigorous by talking about the importance of idleness, man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone and, of course, Karl Marx (don’t ask how). But I don’t do rigorous analysis in this newsletter. Or ever.

† my base-employer is this organisation that I do projects with; I exist in the grey area between an employee and a consultant

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Last modified: Mar 07, 2021