People shouldn't do anything they don't want to do.
Whenever people use the word "work", they mean a traditional job where someone "works" for someone else (usually a corporation) and they get paid some wages and with that they can provide food, shelter, other basic necessities, and then, if there's anything left over, other discretionary expenses like entertainment. What is really happening is that in order to gain basic necessities for themselves and their families, people work as cogs in someone else's machine and make the other person much richer than they themselves, proportionally speaking. And this is in a "good" scenario.
In the western world especially, and especially the US (where I will currently limit this thought experiment, and the period of thought is mid 2011), this is an antiquated model of humanity and is putting a larger burden on society than a simpler model where people don't have to work if they don't want to, and they would be provided with a bare minimum of the necessities. This would cover all children (and in fact, that distinction won't matter and could be removed). This would also apply to all people who cannot work due to a disability or other reason.
This isn't socialism but rather a true second bill of rights. So this primarily applies to people who are of legal age and before the age of retirement. I'm saying rather than be corporate "cogs" they could do something more productive for themselves and for society. The cost of doing this would be minimal and it shouldn't be an "easy" handout. In other words, people would have enough to survive but not enough to feel totally complacent. The actual dollar amounts would unfortunately have to be decided administratively and depend entirely on where a person is staying and the cost of living but it's a small price to pay for a more harmonious and ultimately more productive society. I'm talking about enough for a small apartment plus some meals and some allowance for basic expenses. I'm thinking something like $10,000 per person on average. We already guarantee such benefits for the elderly, for the disabled, and for children. We also are starting to guarantee medical care and are starting to acknowledge it as a basic human right (which is already more greatly acknowledged in other parts of the developed world and some developing countries have a better administrated health system than the US). And with higher unemployment rates, we also guarantee this for those are not working for a medium term period. So what I am proposing is a natural step which I believe will eventually happen (as envisioned by many, especially in science fiction, for example, Star Trek) as humanity grows "richer" and learns to live with the rest of the planet in peace. Or not, in which case we're likely to become extinct). There is also a chance humanity might become very slothful and lazy, as in Wall-E, and while this is less than an optimal outcome, I'd say it's better than our present warring resource overconsumption world.
People can raise a lot of criticisms to the ideas outlined above, and most of it would be knee jerk, especially from those who believe that they are "self made" people. As an immigrant who is successful in America, I can assert similar such claims, but it would be a lie. Starting from the person who gave me birth and cared for me subsequently, my life is what it is because of a huge number of other people who've supported me tremendously. I acknowledge everyone I run into as being the sources of my success, meaning that if my trash isn't taken out and if planes aren't flying and taxis transporting me to where I need to go (the vast majority on time and as prescribed), I'd not be where I am today! So I feel I owe a great debt to society and this "self made" person is an illusion that Americans in particular like. Lionising an individual for the efforts of many may make for good copy but it is incorrect and really a poor of way crediting people, and goes far from acknowledging the interconnectedness nature of not only our lives, but also our successes (and failures for that matter, but I find epistemologically that it's better to assume failures as your own but successes as being the work of everyone you interact with).
But perhaps the biggest criticism, besides a sense of unfairness, might be that since everyone's basic needs are provided for, people will not want to do the hard/creative/intelligent work OR the boring/grunt/dirty work necessary to make our entire society function. I think humanity has to fall on its good side for this to become a reality and I believe it's possible. Like I said above, we already do some of this in various ways and this is what separates the Democrats/Liberals from the Republicans/Conservatives in this country. The latter are the "self made" people (especially the Tea Partiers who depend so much on government subsidies and even direct payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars per individual, for example in farming), and the former acknowledge that all people have a right to the basics of life without being at the mercy of the corporate world (though both parties are beholden to monied lobbyists who play all sides of the game). So taking this step is just acknowledging a reality that is existing and continue to go in the same direction this country has been going in since it was founded. The conservative side is fighting this tooth and nail (which is always the case with the side on its death throes) but I just don't think they can win in the long term. This country's attitudes and make up is changing equivocally.
But back to the criticisms, the grunt work can be paid more to motivate people who still will have an intrinsic "greed" to go beyond just the basic survival mode they're in. And for the hard work, I believe all of that happens today in humanity with little or no monetary motivation and will continue to do so. In this sense, the basic ground rules of a capitalist society would apply. the only thing different from what the Conservatives advocate is that a basic standard of living is guaranteed to each person (initially each citizen in a country) gratis. People's interests, greed, and curiousness will naturally take precedence and in any case, I argue it can't be worse than what it is right now: grunt work is done by low paid immigrants (I've yet to a see SINGLE white person themselves picking apples in the Apple farms here in Washington, but they do run the farm and profit from the backs of the labourers, which I don't think is unfair and would change little in my system unless the workers became citizens). Hard work is also done by highly paid immigrants (witness the complaints among those who are hiring in the current job market about not having enough qualified people even applying). And again, I have great faith in humanity's desire to challenge itself; note for example the fact that thousands of people, from the US, indicated they'd be interested in a one way trip to mars just to be the first explorers. Even the people who initially proposed it were surprised by the reaction. So I think it's possible. Another way of thinking about it, since the US is an immigration based country and economy, is that the immigrants end up paying a price for admission (which is the case currently anyway) and the entire US society can be thought of as a venture capital endeavour that is funding itself. Again, this is currently going on to some degree already and I think is one of the reasons the US is so great.
There are a huge number of tangible and intangible benefits to adopting this mindset and way of living. There would be more jobs left for everyone when people who don't want to work take the "basic" option and get out of the traditional workforce. Crime will be reduced since people don't have to steal to meet basic needs (i.e., all criminals who committed crimes with this motivation would no longer have one or have it be extremely minimised). People will do what they truly want and unleash great creativity upon society, and again, this has to get better. I see this happening particularly among those who are interested in the arts. Complementarily, people are who are entrepreneurial may also prosper now to focus on their entrepreneurial endeavours now that they're no longer worrying about the basic needs. This would have the most significant impact on endeavours that require long term efforts and planning (today's venture capital cycles for example are only a few years whereas some ideas may take decades to mature and we rarely give such efforts any sort of a foundation to build upon). Thus obtaining short term gains by sacrificing longer term ones, which most of humanity seems predisposed to, can be reduced or even eliminated and each effort by any human can be given the proper nurturing it needs. A lot of the money spent on these people will come back in the form of taxes, expenditures in the economy, and, indirectly, the free (as in freedom) efforts of the people.
We may even go away from having an economy based on monetary status but rather intellectual merit. Thus a free artist who lives on $10,000 year may make more valuable contributions to society (which already happens now), and this time be actually recognised as such since money is no longer the primary motivating factor in society.
I've always said and teach that people shouldn't do what they don't want to do in life. By this I mean something principled, not that people should behave irresponsibility. As I (and Spiderman) often say, with great freedom comes great responsibility, and this is a philosophy that I and mentees operate in. I and people in my group have worked for years with minimal income but yet doing great things to advance the world. We continue to do that and I can honestly say that until excess money enters the picture, people are extremely pure in their motivations and do their science as honestly as possible (nothing less is expected). I've seen so many scientists do their science based on money (i.e., grants) and following whichever efforts that is likely to sustain their own salaries and their little "empires" but what's the point? In the end, such science ends up being mediocre and done for the wrong reason. I believe it is far better to science, or just about anything else, in a pure manner. All other rewards will follow.
I offer myself and my group as a testament of a group of people who basic needs are met and who do our work completely, or near completely (partly due to other external influences like a spouse, children, or parent which would not exist in the great society idea envisioned above), unmotivated by money.
This missive is titled "Work" but it could also be called "Money" since it's about the money needed by a person to survive, something I believe all members of society can provide for a better benefit, long term, than the current growth-based work-oriented economies we're building right now. Money isn't important. Work, in a traditional sense, isn't important. Doing good stuff and paying back to the world more than what you take from it is important. Why not? Make the world a happier place and it will be a happier place to live in.