A Lesson from Sparta about "Non-Essential" Work

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Imagine that a pathogen was to run rampant through the city-states of ancient Greece. The leaders of these states live in an anachronistic timeline where they have a basic understanding of communicable diseases, and they wish to limit the spread of this pathogen by constraining all activities deemed “non-essential”.

Sparta is up first. Spartan society was austere, and purposefully impoverished itself. Famous for its strong military and its 0% unemployment rate, it didn’t tolerate non-essential persons on a good day. There are no changes it needs to make. What about its neighbor and chief rival, Athens? Athens was a decadent society. It had art and music, delicious food, and great sex going on in every which direction. Even its scientific institutions put a lot of resources into contemplative pleasures like astronomy, more so than, say, meteorology.

Athens produced a lot of people of the high-status, non-essential variety. Whereas every citizen of Sparta was built to live in the worst of all possible worlds, Athenians were brought up to live a normal Athenian life. The Athens model is perfectly fine if everything functions the way it was planned to. But you had better hope your society doesn’t get invaded by either the Spartans or a pretty bad flu.

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