MUST read this piece first to play along: Instead of “Job Creation,” How About Less Work? Increased automation has not reduced our workload. Why not? What if it did? Posted Nov 26, 2016 Peter Gray
This is such a utopian view of a “what if” future perfect that most sane and logical people immediately pooh-pooh it. That’s why I like it. Most of the “we can’t because” boo-birds bring up are excuses, not reasons. But it does take some incredibly visionary thinking to see the possibilities. And it will take some serious work toward big changes to seize the big opportunities.
Gray traces our devolution from hunter-gatherers to beasts of burden serving the 20th century economic model, through the ever-evolving current reality and re-birth where a hunter-gatherer society of child-like play may make sense again.
So, what’s wrong with work?
Start with the disappearing concept of “adding value”. Value to what? Value used to be defined as a product or service that someone would be willing to pay for. But “stuff of value” is more and more produced with high-efficiency automation and very little human labor. What good are we if we aren’t kept busy making or doing value-adding “stuff”?
People must still work for a paycheck to support their families, right? A new generation of work has come along—IT, bottom feeder leisure industry (computer-based games, home entertainment… most folks can’t afford high-end diversions), service jobs (root word: “serve” as in subservient). Financial and insurance sectors have huge numbers of people doing administrivial work—collecting and analyzing mountains of data, creating and issuing all kinds of reports for unknown “users” who immediately delete the work, pushing all kinds of non value-adding info that is intended to help manage something somewhere that actually has “value”. But what value does money and information by itself have? It’s the use of those things that adds value. Armies of other administrators’ existence is somewhat justified because it takes an army to make sense of inefficiencies, disorganization and an overkill of rules and regulations, and it takes a badgillion customer service reps working 24 / 7 trying to keep customers from becoming mass murderers because of those inefficiencies. (why am I thinking “Idiocracy”?)
Huge corporate law firms with huge staffs help huge corporations get away with working huge loopholes in the system to make huge profits so they can pay huge legal fees. The whole loop exists to enable generating non-product with no value. Another army—hired hitmen, lobbyists whose purpose is to grease gears and palms so all that artificial non-value is easier to generate and hoard. A famous longhaired progressive activist once chased money-changers out of the temple. We need another. Oh, just one more army: market researchers, the advertising industry and feet-on-the-street (and cyberspace) sales folks hell-bent on manipulating markets (people!) and packaging and selling non-value stuff.
One of the fads of the process improvement world was “customer focus”–identify customers and what was important to them—their expectations, needs and wants. Then do what’s needed to meet those criteria. The idea was that it would make workers more conscious of what they were doing if there was a real person at the end of their process chain. But what if there was no real person at the end of the chain? Or what if the customer really didn’t care about what you produced, but they had simply been conditioned to buy, buy, buy anyway?
Too many working adults are stuck in a job they can clearly see has no real value in furthering the greater social good, or impacting the grand scheme of things in any way. Work with no purpose. But humans need purpose, need meaning, need to feel they’re making a difference. When there is no purpose, it’s natural for people to get jaded, cynical, uncaring, worn down, worn out, quit, die. We’re dying. What if those stuck in no-value, no-purpose work were redirected toward providing something the world wants and needs? Their individual mojo would be rejuvenated, as would the world’s.
If the Goal is Less Work and More Play, Then What Needs To Change?
Not Much–Just a Few Silly Attitudes and Minor System Tweaks
A few thoughts for starters….
- Redefine “work” as something with real purpose that adds real value for others and / or improves the condition of the world and / or society. As technological advances and automation takes care of the menial stuff, working on further technological advances adds value because it frees up humanity’s time!
- No more “I am my job, I am nothing without my job” thinking. Work is a means to a greater end unless a person’s work is something they enjoy that happens to make the world, society, others better. (remember the old Venn diagram on “job happiness”?) My life’s work is to eliminate violence and bullying by championing social-emotional development.
- Rethink and expand the meaning of “value” from being only a thing / material $$$ transaction-driven concept. Social value and artistic / aesthetic value, environmental and ecological value!
- Redesign the monetary distribution model of “work 40 hours (or more) to earn your paycheck”. Why does 40+ hours of “work” constitute “full-time employment” anyway?
There’s not enough meaningful work to go around, because our priority and our passion is profit-generating work. But there’s tons of meaningful “work” opportunities– community, social, environmental, infrastructure things needing attention. Engage people in doing good things, and pay them accordingly. While we’re at it, reinvent “pay”. Money has no value on its own but we literally kill ourselves and others over it. Broader: “currency” is something that is used as a medium of exchange. Exchange of what, for what?
- Redefine “affluence” from having a lot of stuff for its own sake, to having what you need to be happy…how about “sufficience?” Move past the mindless pursuit of a high standard of living and focus on quality of life instead, starting with defining the individual’s values-based vision of “fulfilled” then right-sizing needs accordingly. Prerequisite: redefine what level of “success” is socially acceptable. So it comes down to an individual values and social perception shift;
- Rethink brick-in-the wall forced education and the standard curriculum that makes school labor –tedious, compulsory work. Learning should be fun, should come naturally. Same with work;
- Ditch crass capitalism and profit for its own sake. Demote the 1% and elevate the 99%.
Scrap our material and transaction-based economy and the norms that go with it, norms like “work hard, get paid, get lots of stuff, support family, be a prolific provider”. Break the trance-the marketing / advertising-driven thirst for conspicuous consumption, material affluence, accumulating stuff that has no real value (see Jagger Consulting’s “Satisfaction” piece);
- Re-invent corporate entities with the sole purpose of generating profit for investors, corporations with no value-adding meaning justifying their existence! OOPS, need to re-think investors and the investments industry, and making money playing “the market”. There’s those money-changers again! Thinking out loud: how about a reinvestment tax credit, investing in and diverting corporate profits to an approved fund to be used for the greater good?
- Reinvent government by the people, for the people with people and planet as top priorities;
Bring back the institutions of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy…
This sound like capitalism must go. I agree, partially—capitalism in its current form is destructive. Money is OK, money does no evil. What people do or don’t do with it is the issue. Let’s get our really smart business people and economists busy reinventing capitalism!)
Gray closes with a challenge: So, instead of trying so hard to preserve work, why don’t we solve the distribution problem (getting paid for a 40hr week as the only way to do things), cut way back on work, and allow ourselves to play?
WHAT’S YOUR ANSWER?
“Solving the distribution problem” isn’t a cakewalk and there’s lots of other stuff that needs to happen too. I’ve shared my quick take of what needs to change just for starters. What’s missing? And how in the world are we going to do all that? Think about these bullets as goal statements then brainstorm: “what’s it gonna take?” And remember, one of the ground rules of brainstorming is “never say it can’t be done.”
(BONUS) Sneak Peek at Klitgaard: a look at basically the same thinking, slightly different angle.
Many people, affluent and poor, lead hectic and harried lives, struggling at jobs devoid of meaning and often socially and environmentally counterproductive (such as weapons manufacture, hydraulic fracturing, or financial speculation) in order to command a paycheck. In a sustainable society, work should be meaningful as well as steady and productive. Meaningful work allows people to unite their heads, their hands, and their hearts. People should have a say in the design of what they make or do, a variety of challenging tasks, and the opportunity for self-direction.
Unfortunately, the logic of capital accumulation has created work that is much the opposite—routine, without mental exercise, let alone purpose or joy—all in the name of producing more goods and services at ever-lower cost.
The Struggle for Meaningful Work
UPDATE: Johan sent a graphic with his reply (below). Since pics cannot be included in replies here it is! I’d like to suggest that on the “Child” side “work” and “play” are more overlapping and very possibly concurrent!