Friday, September 09, 2011

are jobs obsolete?

CNN | Jobs, as such, are a relatively new concept. People may have always worked, but until the advent of the corporation in the early Renaissance, most people just worked for themselves. They made shoes, plucked chickens, or created value in some way for other people, who then traded or paid for those goods and services. By the late Middle Ages, most of Europe was thriving under this arrangement.

The only ones losing wealth were the aristocracy, who depended on their titles to extract money from those who worked. And so they invented the chartered monopoly. By law, small businesses in most major industries were shut down and people had to work for officially sanctioned corporations instead. From then on, for most of us, working came to mean getting a "job."

The Industrial Age was largely about making those jobs as menial and unskilled as possible. Technologies such as the assembly line were less important for making production faster than for making it cheaper, and laborers more replaceable. Now that we're in the digital age, we're using technology the same way: to increase efficiency, lay off more people, and increase corporate profits.

While this is certainly bad for workers and unions, I have to wonder just how truly bad is it for people. Isn't this what all this technology was for in the first place? The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with "career" be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?

Instead, we are attempting to use the logic of a scarce marketplace to negotiate things that are actually in abundance. What we lack is not employment, but a way of fairly distributing the bounty we have generated through our technologies, and a way of creating meaning in a world that has already produced far too much stuff.

The communist answer to this question was just to distribute everything evenly. But that sapped motivation and never quite worked as advertised. The opposite, libertarian answer (and the way we seem to be going right now) would be to let those who can't capitalize on the bounty simply suffer. Cut social services along with their jobs, and hope they fade into the distance.

But there might still be another possibility -- something we couldn't really imagine for ourselves until the digital era. As a pioneer of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, recently pointed out, we no longer need to make stuff in order to make money. We can instead exchange information-based products.

We start by accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights. The work we do -- the value we create -- is for the rest of what we want: the stuff that makes life fun, meaningful, and purposeful.

This sort of work isn't so much employment as it is creative activity. Unlike Industrial Age employment, digital production can be done from the home, independently, and even in a peer-to-peer fashion without going through big corporations. We can make games for each other, write books, solve problems, educate and inspire one another -- all through bits instead of stuff. And we can pay one another using the same money we use to buy real stuff.

For the time being, as we contend with what appears to be a global economic slowdown by destroying food and demolishing homes, we might want to stop thinking about jobs as the main aspect of our lives that we want to save. They may be a means, but they are not the ends.


CNu said...

like I wrote Rembom, Edo Period Japan....,

nanakwame said...

One point is that jobs and work are not synonymous.  I had  job for many years now over 47 (10 and now 20 years) and labor is a heart of mine. Work has a spiritual quality imho. I have many close friends quite resourceful who want to do communal. There is a truth in a lie. And if we do Edo Period Japan It can't repeat the same. As P.K.Dick even in his madness, pointed to psychic that has this members going back to the 1920's. It say much, for what we see today. It will be slow no bangs,; it began over 10 years ago. Why some in the South, they are happy. We are addressing issues that should have been resolved in 1973, why many didn't get Lost.  I am a wander and have a big family, who have all kinds of pings to me. The spirit and will is ready, we will see. Human time reveals all truth. - Birthday weekend. 40th years ago I was 21 and the Attica Prison Riot occurred.  It seems we took the wrong road. Sometimes Libertarians forget 50 years is not a long time. My species will transform.

Ed Dunn said...

I always thought a job is something you submit to a computer system to process.  You mean to tell me in the 21st century there are people who still believe a job means being somewhere for 8 hours a day and getting paid?!

nanakwame said...

Yes technocrats are just other professions, and the core of your statement is no different than Newt Gingrich and the one who talked about working in homes with his wife who was an ex-UAW member, in the 1990's. Until I see a conscious effort to make the shorter work week with sustainable salary, then your wit is arrogance, which has been in your generation since the Bulletin Broads of the internet in the ending of the 1980's

CNu said...

You would do well to closely follow what Ed teaches at Dream and Hustle Nana.  Surplus labor value is not going to be accomodated, rather, it will be ruthlessly exploited until no profit can be squeezed from it, then it will be summarily liquidated.

CNu said...

Nakajima Kikka's dictums bear repeating here; The idle poor help shopkeepers keep their cheetos from getting stale. They provide an opportunity for retailers to skim a little “surplus value” from the transfer payments. Clever, but not quite. The non-working poor serve in the Reserve Army of Labor (another old Marxist saw that actually turns out to be true). Their function is to help people like me (the bourgeios) hold down the cost of wages and salaries. Visually, picture an employee coming to his supervisor and asking for a raise, and the supervisor opening a filing cabinet full of resumes, and saying "Look at all these unemployed people who would love to have your job at your current salary" (this scene actually happens frequently in American business). The cost of transfer payments to keep this "reserve army" alive is miniscule compared to the wage/salary savings they provide the business community when they are deployed against employees. In today's economy, the strategic deployment of the "reserve army" to not only "hold the line" on salaries, but actully cut employee wages, salaries and benefits is proving quite effective. The cost of the transfer payments is money well spent, from the bourgeios perspective. And because American employees have no effective counter-vailing force to oppose this... The quick problem with surplus value is deciding who owns it. Why must the surplus be allocated equally? How can we even know what equal is? Trading for labor involves hedonic factors that are tough to price. Basically, the person doing the productive labor owns it--unless they knowingly trade it away, or knowingly donate it, to whomever they work for (important word: knowingly). One problem here is that "risk"--or better, the "risk fee" involved in hiring someone as an employee (a legitimate source of profit) gets confused with surplus value (a confusion that works to the advantage of people like me). Of course, even wrt "risk", it's not only the employer who "takes a risk" in hiring someone, but the employee also "takes a risk" in choosing to work for one employer over another. The latter type of "risk" rarely is acknowledged, but it's actually very important, as neglecting it depresses wages and salaries. Surplus value, of course, does not have to be shared equally, or even shared at all. Allocation of surplus value depends on how comfortable a society is with the exploitation of labor. The effects of surplus value are most poignant in the case of scientific, engineering, and technical employees. As knowledge workers, the amount of extractable surplus value is dependent on the quality of their ideas. With rare exceptions, that quality is based on age--typically, their best and most valuable ideas happen when they're young. If the surplus value in those "young" ideas is all harvested by their employer, they're not likely to be able to make up for it later, because, for them, "the best years are gone", so to speak. The same issue applies to all other employees, even unskilled manual laborers. How a society decides to allocate surplus value is critically important. As someone who harvests surplus value for a living, I know. All morality requires is that all parties enter into contract freely. I don’t begrudge my clients for making far more than they pay me. I gain, they gain. No problem. Not just freely. Freely and with full understanding. A critical difference.

uglyblackjohn said...

What kind of mess is this post?
Dude.. If I had to PAY for the content from your spot,
my ass would be broke...