100% employment

I have believed for some time that 100% employment is a dream of the past.

We have spent so long making the means of agriculture, manufacture and administration easier, and capitalism has spent so long reducing the workforce by perfecting processes, that we don’t need everybody to work any more. Once you stop and think about it, it makes perfect sense, and it’s almost impossible to understand why people still pursue full employment.

I’m certain that our politicians know that not everyone needs to work, but of course none are honest enough to admit it and instead get political capital by bashing the workless. The biggest challenge will be to accept this, as a society, and find useful ways for people to fill their time – without those who dislike work but do it, resenting those who don’t work.

Perhaps Mick Farren has it right; in Exit Funtopia he predicts a future where people are given an allowance and left to enjoy their hobbies, however strange.

“We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest,” said Buckminster Fuller in a New York Magazine interview in 1970, “The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors.”

Find the way to earn the minimum you need, and use your efforts to do something you think is worthwhile.

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4 thoughts on “100% employment

  1. The concept of working to live rather than living to work holds many attractions. On the surface, would any of us want to work more than we have to, when we can have an existence of leasure? Unfortunately, the concept that people have basic needs, and when these needs are fulfilled they are happy, is a theory that is ingrained in marketing. And is wrong.

    The basic concept of “Heirachy of needs”, as developed by Maslow, was adopted by the marketing industry, and has integrated itself into how we, as individuals, are supposed to manage our wants and needs. However, as pointed out by Veblen, and more recently by by Geoffrey Miller in “Spent”, people consume not just because of needs but to establish status.

    So, whilst people may recognise that they do not have to be in full time employment, there is a social pressure on them to continue to consume, not just to meet their needs but to establish themselves in a social context. This desire for status and recognition, which is a Darwinian drive, is exploited by both marketing and employers. The expectation is that we are required to achieve, and this drive is met via work and hence consumptions.

    The only way that we could achieve the adoption of less than 100% employment is if we adopted a social change by which people achieve status and recognition by some other means than their position or possessions.

  2. These are themes explored in Walter Greenwood’s novel ‘Love on the Dole’. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_on_the_Dole

    My own feeling is that the liberating effect of work is often overlooked due to an over-emphasis on “aspiration” (to earn more, or for increased social status). Work allows for greater social mobility.

    It lets a young woman in central China move from the countryside to a big city, to live independently of family and her “community.” It allows people to advance themselves based on what they know, not who they know…

    The systemic problem of our Age seems to be a failure of imagination based on a council of scarcity… the money that people would otherwise spend on plasma TVs and trainers has run out. This is because people with triple firsts from Cambridge imagined that a set of risks – that they could turn into futures, that could then be traded as financial goods – were less risky than they actually are, as it turns out.

    So we then accept that all the imaginary money is gone. We accept that we all have to work in Tesco carparks collecting stray trolleys, till bankers decide to spend some of their play money on loans to new businesses.

    The Masters of the Universe have commodified the wrong thing, which is notional financial wealth, at the expense of more important common assets: like social solidarity and civic virtue.

    I’m confident that what we can see all across Europe, and in my own town, is people grouping together – to find premises, to share skills, tools, a sense of community spirit in the workplace – to build stuff and provide services that people actually need, and will pay for.

    We’re social creatures who have a special adaptation, which is to make tools and develop special skills to contribute to the common good.

    The E M Forster ‘Machine Stops’ scenario which he foresaw a century ago – fleshapods living in cubicles, shunting ideas around an imaginary Void – may be the unspoken dream of many of the Olympic’s corporate sponsors.

    Not even sticking missiles on a tower block can scare Londoners into staying indoors. Feral, antisocial chavs will still find some excuse to go to the shops and hang out with people, cluttering up public space with their prams and shopping bags…

    The obsession with money over everything else is all rather bizarre. People seem to be getting over it, already, though.

  3. Funny, I was only thinking about the Maslow hierarchy of needs the other day. FWIW, I don’t think it works, people prioritise their ‘needs’ completely differently to that expected by the hierarchy.

    I think what is suggested here makes sense – on the level that in the depths of a depression, we don’t know what innovations will be needed to drag us into the future, so we need to maximise and encourage the creativity of individuals who can think differently to the existing broken models. And it makes more sense to pay people to do something, anything, rather than paying them to get increasingly frustrated trying to find jobs within the existing paradigm which no longer exist. At worst, it costs the same as the existing welfare system, at best it generates the creative space for exciting and interesting ideas we will need for the future to grow.

    But on another level, we all have hobbies that other people find weird or even highly offensive. How will the State decide how to make moral decisions about which lifestyles to fund? If we were all paid dole to play golf or surf, who would actually bother to do anything else?

  4. I am beginning to think that crowdfunding (peerfunding) shines a light on this issue. The administrative infrastructure for distributing funds (eg, taxes) and governance (eg referendums, voting) is becoming to lightweight and efficient, to the point of being almost zero cost. A little bit of curation is all that is required, and sometimes not even that.

    This could be applied to governance, welfare, education healthcare, tax distribution and more. The ideas of ‘user pays’ and ‘privatisation’ are perhaps unnecessary abstract steps between collecting tax, and spending tax. Or directing social value and priorities and so on. The old arguments about ‘people dont know what’s good for them’ are looking even shabbier, with current access to information, and trends towards open and accountable systems…

    Perhaps the job of the future will see us all become executive directors in the treasury, ministry of education or the department of defense… oh wait, who gets to decide the national anthem…

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