Shitty jobs for everyone won’t solve any social problems we now face.
Every now and again, a really good essay comes up to support our way of thinking in a generally mainstream and acceptable way. It’s usually written by an academic or someone else broadly respectable, not shouting from the fringe as we do from New Escapologist. I’m thinking of David Graeber’s On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs, Tim Kreider’s The Busy Trap and (if this doesn’t stretch the definition of ‘essay’ too far) Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s Inventing the Future. They capture if not the popular imagination then at least that of the trend-makers, which is why journalists have started asking me about automation and the crisis in work — because, at last, they’ve heard about it. We’re knocking on the door of mainstream discourse now and that is very, very encouraging. We must question the work ethic at every opportunity, and thanks to these big shouts, it’s now easier and more acceptible to do so.
Anyway, a likely new addition has made it into this canon of essays in the form of the irreverently-titled Fuck Work by James Livingston.
what comes after work? What would you do without your job as the external discipline that organises your waking life – as the social imperative that gets you up and on your way to the factory, the office, the store, the warehouse, the restaurant, wherever you work and, no matter how much you hate it, keeps you coming back? What would you do if you didn’t have to work to receive an income?
Arranging something like UBI is quite easy, he says, and a lot of the naysaying is precisely what it sounds like — naysaying. The real problem, he says, is a moral one: the problems of smashing the work ethic and replacing it with something else.
We’ve placed so many bets on the social, cultural and ethical import of work that when the labour market fails, as it so spectacularly has, we’re at a loss to explain what happened, or to orient ourselves to a different set of meanings for work and for markets.
the impending end of work raises the most fundamental questions about what it means to be human. To begin with, what purposes could we choose if the job – economic necessity – didn’t consume most of our waking hours and creative energies? What evident yet unknown possibilities would then appear? How would human nature itself change as the ancient, aristocratic privilege of leisure becomes the birthright of human beings as such?
It’s a good essay. Lots of economic and moral thought has gone into it. Read the whole thing here.