Jobs — are they any way to Spend the Miracle of Life?
|November 24, 2013||Posted by Staff under Editorials|
Why, despite our technological capacities, are we not all working three- to four-hour days?
This 2013 excerpt of the Sydney Morning Herald, Spt 3, is by David Graeber is a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. This article first appeared in Strike! Magazine, a radical British quarterly that covers politics, philosophy and art.
In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour working week. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen.
In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people in the Western world spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound.
Why did utopia never materialise? The standard line is the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. However, few jobs have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.
So what are these new jobs, precisely? Productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be). What’s been ballooning are jobs in the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries such as financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors such as corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza-delivery drivers) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.
These are what I propose to call ”bullshit jobs”.
What does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1 per cent of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call ”the market” reflects what those people think is useful or important, not anyone else.)
There is a whole class of salaried professionals who, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their jobs really are.
How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist?
The more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. What would happen were this entire class of people to disappear? Nurses, rubbish collectors, or mechanics: were they to vanish, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or stevedores would soon be in trouble, and even one without science-fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity chief executives, lobbyists, public relations researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.)
Ed. Notes: The solution is simple: an income apart from one’s labor or one’s capital but from the value of the land and resources in one’s region. Technology pushes up the value of locations and natural resources. Recover and share those values and we can work as much or as little as we choose, at tasks we choose, and play as much as or as little as we choose, too.