Dante’s 10th Circle: Made-up Jobs

35709-makeup-make-up“Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at.” David Graeber

Some time ago, I wrote a post highlighting the (to me) stupid trade-off between productivity and unemployment that seems to be beating down our economic system in the face of fast technological progress.

New technologies are stealing the jobs of a large percentage of the ‘average’ people (OMG! Surely you don’t mean me!) Faced with losing their jobs, most people are willing to accept a lower wage; and weakness in wages is the main reason demand in the economy is so weak. Very few corporate leaders, investors or even politicians seem to understand it, as Google’s Eric Schmidt pointed out during a “fireside chat” held at Davos (by the way, he did it to publicise Google’s non-evilness):

The stagnation in middle-class wages is not just a middle-class problem. It’s an economic problem. And it’s one of the main reasons that global economic growth is so lousy.

Why do stagnant middle-class wages hurt the economy? Because the middle-class folks whose wages are stagnant are the global economy’s biggest spenders.

Right now, companies are so focused on cutting wages — by paying their employees as little as possible and replacing them with technology whenever possible — that wages as a percent of the economy are now near an all-time low. (Eric Schmidt as quoted by Business Insider)

In “The Lights in the Tunnel”, Martin Ford uses a thought experiment, an imaginary “tunnel of lights”, to help us visualize the economic implications of jobs lost and/or lower generalized wages.

Keeping jobs at any cost has become an absolute priority for the simple reason that jobs are the only mechanism we have managed to invent to, not only produce, but split the proceeds of production and keep the party going on. Therefore we are doomed to keep making up jobs even if they are/were completely unnecessary to produce what we need. And what is the consequence? Bullshit jobs!

I don’t know how I had overlooked this provocative and insightful article by David Graeber, fully in line with my own view about the stupidity of jobs as the only wealth sharing mechanism, and its logical consequence. Graeber goes further down the road and he elaborates on the unintended consequences of this serendipitous discovery:

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen (…)

The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (…) and, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job (…)  Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days. (David Graeber, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”)

It is hell indeed! Abandon all hope…


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