Hard work only pays when nobody else can or has done it, and this is why there's a vast disparity between laborers who go home caked in dried sweat every day with little income to show for it, and air conditioned white-collar workers who receive three, four, or ten times the pay by doing no much more than press keys and talk to people. "Hard work" is relative: this author's job could literally shift 10 feet to the right and become twenty times more physically taxing, yet a hundred times "easier". If I only had to move boxes all day as directed by a computer then I would know no stress... or at least, my stress would no longer come from my job (it might instead come from earning so much less and having the same bills to pay).
My job is to make sure that other people program the computers that tells other people where and when to move those boxes. I am two levels removed from physical labor and my job is "harder". I can go to the gym every day and physically lift the same amount of weight, put on the same amount of muscle, but because of knowledge, confidence, and initiative I'm earning five times more money for the same calorie expenditure.
It's possible for anyone to get to this level, but in any society there are groups who will find it easier than others. Groups usually drawn by ethnicity and class.
Socialism and communism were attempts to address that problem, but both had problems with their implementation: the people who came from rich backgrounds--and therefore a rich perspective--felt they were worth more because of how they chose to act. These people didn't wait to be recognized, they just changed their methods to exploit different kinds of opportunities. So in the end most of the motivated people of the soviet and socialist empires became political, and the execution of the country's dreams was left to those who failed to understand their own power and situation.
If you don't take initiatives and exploit opportunities then the ratio of pay to calories will remain low. "Hard work" won't pay. But this isn't unfair, it's just something that isn't usually taught in school. Maybe it's because it's politically incorrect, or because it's subjective, or because it isn't something that can be taught--only inspired.
The real world itself is populated by the organisms that took advantage of opportunities; if there was fruit growing on a tree then the animal that enjoyed a better lifestyle was the one which climbed up and picked it, rather than mull on the ground and wait for it to fall. The ones who waited either died or adapted to live in a subjectively shittier state. Human society has the same arrangement, where we make a place for unskilled labor but the fruits are materially unrewarding. Without that unskilled labor we'd build machines, but if the human labor is cheaper then we won't bother building the machines, and thereby there shall exist a level of humanity that earns less than the price of a machine. This will never change.
Now here is where it gets frightening: the above says that the unskilled are worth less than disposable machines. Something must be wrong, because this is the premise by which genocides are minted. Every sensibility is telling this author that he wrote something wrong, because the conclusion is that human life is at the whim of an engineer's genius to cut costs, and every engineer wants to cut costs! He has no idea where it leads, but one of the consequences of the cotton gin and the steam engine and the march of technology has been the transfer of muscle labor to machine, from the independent will to the deterministic program. Does this mean technology is death?
"Yes, and no." There's no difference between technology and initiative, but tech is easier to identify and it's never good nor evil. A gun in a police officer's hand is presumably good, and in a jealous man (including a jealous police officer) it's presumably bad. The initiative is what matters. There's no better illustration of this difference than Fritz Haber; the most tragic figure in human history.
Fritz Haber was a German chemist with a Jewish heritage, born in 1868. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry because he discovered a way to synthesize ammonia by an industrial process, and by doing so he made farms explode with food--a quadruple of what they once could. Ammonia is a fertilizer because it's a form of fixed nitrogen that plants crave, and the consequence of cheap fertilizer was a quadrupling of crop yields per acre. It is ridiculous how huge the increase of food production was after the invention of the Haber-Bosch process; our Earth's population of 7 billion people was enabled by Fritz Haber's invention. You are alive because of Fritz Haber1.
But Fritz Haber also developed the chlorine gas that was used to murder most of his own family and 7 million of his race in Nazi concentration camps during WWII (Zyclon B, specifically). Ironically he didn't get to see this because he died of a heart attack in Switzerland in 1934, chased out of his homeland for his Jewish lineage in spite of all he'd done for the country's agriculture (and war machine). Years before then his wife, Clara, had committed suicide after learning of Fritz's involvement with chlorine gas attacks in WWI, and she used Fritz's own service revolver to perform the act, dying in her son's arms.
Haber's genius gave life and it took life, but it gave more life than it took. In fact, it gave billions of more lives than it took. Why?
The difference has always been--and always will be--in when and how one acts. It's simply that more good people--farmers as it happens--stood up to use Haber's technology than bad people. And their initiative has meant that more people who are unwilling to act can live on basic sustenance until such a time when inspiration motivates them to stand up and begin taking risks themselves. You won't go far if you live your entire life as a vegetable, but thanks to Haber and others you probably won't die of starvation either. Haber's lesson to humanity was that one lives and dies by how others chose to behave, and your epiphany--should you have one--should be to realize that you are one of the "others", too.
Most people don't act. Most people chose to be warm bodies who only work enough to live. They can burn as many calories as the supervisor, computer programmer, designer or detective burns in the same day but earn so much less. They sometimes rise and throw bricks into the machines that replace them, but only because an opportunistic scallywag organizes them to; he took initiative to exploit those who won't.
Technology isn't death and neither is weakness, but indecision is. What we call technology is really the same thing as initiative but in a physical form, and initiative is only an impulse to act on an idea that anybody could have had.
Hard work pays when nobody was expecting you to do it.
1 - You're also alive because of Edward Jenner, Alexander Flemming, and Norman Borlaug. A few tens of millions can also say they're alive because of Alan Turing.