Salon: The More You Create Value, the Less You Get Paid
|June 16, 2014||Posted by Staff under Editorials|
This 2014 excerpt of Salon, Jun 1, is an interview of David Graeber, author of “Debt: The First Five Thousand Years” and co- launcher of Occupy Wall Street, by Thomas, author of “What’s The Matter With Kansas” and “Pity the Billionaire” and “One Market Under God” and is the founding editor of The Baffler magazine.
By the ‘60s, most people thought that robot factories, and ultimately, the elimination of all manual labor, was probably just a generation or two away.
Today productivity continues to increase, but Americans work more hours per week than they used to, not fewer. More than workers in other countries.
Administrative and managerial positions jumped in manufacturing. The same thing happened in universities, the same endless accretion of layer on layer of administrative jobs. Has the process of teaching become three times more complicated than it was in the 1930s?
The total number of people involved in industrial production has declined. Service, administrative, and clerical jobs have gone from roughly a quarter of all jobs in the ‘30s to maybe as much as three quarters today.
Most work is stupid, degrading, unnecessary, and best avoided whenever possible. Some industries don’t need to exist, like most of the corporate lawyers, or telemarketers, or lobbyists. In a hospital, half the employees never seem to do anything for sick people, but are just filling out insurance forms and sending information to each other. Some of that needs to be done, but for the most part, 90 percent of what they do is bullshit.
Ancillary workers support people doing the bullshit jobs: an office where people translate German formatted paperwork into British formatted paperwork, and there has to be a whole infrastructure of receptionists, janitors, security guards, computer maintenance people. They’re actually doing something, but they’re doing it to support people who are doing nothing.
The financial crisis, the Wall Street bailouts, reveal that people who do almost nothing that’s productive reap so much of our society’s rewards. A lot of this stuff was not just scams, but pretty simple-minded scams, like taking bets you couldn’t possibly pay if you lost and getting the government to bail you out if you did. These guys weren’t creating value of any kind. They were making the world worse and getting paid insane amounts of money for it.
If there’s a rule, it’s that the more your work benefits others, the less you’re paid for it. CEOs and financial consultants that are making other people’s lives worse were paid millions, useless paper-pushers got handsomely compensated, people fulfilling useful functions like taking care of the sick or teaching children or repairing broken heating systems or picking vegetables were the least rewarded.
If you’re a fork-lift operator or even a florist, you know your kid is unlikely to ever become a CEO, but you also know there’s no way they’ll ever become drama critic for the New Yorker or an international human rights lawyer.
The only way they could get paid a decent salary to do something noble, something that’s not just for the money, is to join the army. So saying “support the troops” is a way of saying “fuck you” to the cultural elite who think you’re a bunch of knuckle-dragging cavemen.
In education, almost all the problems aren’t created by the teachers or teachers’ unions but by school administrators —- the ones who are paid much more, and mostly have classic bullshit jobs that seem to multiply endlessly even as the teachers themselves are squeezed and downsized. A lot of people resent the teachers. And the logic seems to be: shouldn’t teaching be enough? They want that, and middle-class salaries, job security, vacations, and benefits, too? You even see that with auto workers. “But you get to make cars! That’s a real job! And you also want $30 an hour?”
People were saying, “I realize my job is pointless, but how can I support a family doing something that’s actually worthwhile?” Young Wall Street types would say, “I know you’re right, we’re not doing the world any good doing. But I don’t know how to live on less than a six figure income.”
But I don’t think we can solve the problem by mass individual defection. Let’s ditch all traces of the ideology that says that work is a value in itself; redefine labor as caring for other people, classic “women’s work”, nurturing children, looking after things.
Ed. Notes: As usual, the critics are pretty strong on the problem and not so strong on the solution. And their focus is on what people believe and value, not on fundamental change of public policy. But logically, if people are to work less, but not sacrifice their modern standard of living (which constantly improves), then people must receive an income apart from their wages for labor or interests for saving and investing.
The only source for such an extra income is the one thing of value that’s not created by anyone’s labor or capital and that is land, including resources and the EM spectrum and ecosystem services, etc. Members of society spend the biggest part of their household budget on natural goods like the land beneath their home and indirectly for the oil in their fuel, the iron in their car, the tree in their paper and wood, etc. Our spending on the rental value of land — not on building or harvesting or extracting — is an immense flow, the biggest in the GDP.
Government could redirect our spending, by using taxes or fees or leases or dues, into the public treasury then back out again as a dividend to the citizenry. Getting a share of the worth of earth, people could choose to work less. And as techno-progress drives up location values — as it has in Silicon Valley and many other places — our Citizen’s Dividends will fatten, and drudge jobs will become a thing of the past.