Contrarian Position: We Need Fewer Jobs (moved)

07Sep11

[I have moved this post to my leisure blog.]

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2 Responses to “Contrarian Position: We Need Fewer Jobs (moved)”

  1. I confess I started skimming about 2/3 of the way through trying to figure out exactly what your point was. For one thing, I’d be interested in your source regarding primitive hunter societies working 4-5 hours per day. From my experiences in primitive camping, there’s a great deal of physically strenuous, generally tedious work and little leisure time. There is a good reason intellect sprang from parts of the world where humans didn’t have to struggle daily to survive.

    If you want the trains to run on time, driving and scheduling could be automated, but what about maintenance and cleaning? It may be more fun to build a new workbench in your garage, but (at least sometimes) you have to clean the bathrooms, too. From a physics point of view, work (expending some kind of energy) is necessary to prevent entropy.

    Regarding the idea of, for example, fine wines and fine cigars…. I rather like those things, and am willing to pay for them. Many are, thus a market exists and will be filled. Is there some nonsense when it comes to high-end wines or audio equipment (or cars or fashion or hotels or etc.)? Sure. Experts have been utterly fooled by adding red dye to white wine. But so what. High-end products are still better than low-end ones, even is the difference is sometimes very slight.

    I’m not sure employers are as chess master-like as you paint them. They are to a great degree driven by the need to balance two forces: sales and employment. They are often as constrained by circumstance as anyone. (I say this as someone who was just informed yesterday that his job had been eliminated!) Certainly they seek to maximize profits–that is really the sole function of any business.

    I guess I would say the labor market is responding to economics and driven by greed. If I had a magic “change the world” wand, I think I’d use it to reduce greed and increase a sense of proportion.

    And now I’m the one getting long, and I’m not sure what my point is… perhaps just that, as I read this post, I found myself thinking, “Yeah, but….” fairly often. Not a topic I’ve given much thought to, so perhaps further rumination will provide something more cogent.

    • Chris — thanks for reading, and for sharing your thoughts on this and several other posts. And for doing so in honest spirit. A couple of responses here. About primitive societies working 4-5 hours a day, a classic piece is “The Original Affluent Society” by Marshall Sahlins (1966). As the title suggests, the concept was that it actually wasn’t too hard to stay alive with a minimal lifestyle. I agree, it’s nice to enjoy luxury products. But part of what makes them enjoyable is, usually, that we don’t get to have them often enough to get tired of them or take them for granted.

      I’m sorry to hear about your job. I don’t know what you do or how much you enjoy it, but for many people who lose their jobs, I am partly inclined to offer congratulations. There are a lot of really crappy jobs out there. And it’s not even necessarily true that somebody has to do them. Like the garbage collector: there’s a lot that could and should change, about that job, with more environmentally aware packaging and recycling laws. Even the ordinary job in the cubicle is, too often, a wasteful and sometimes even abusive arrangement where someone is being paid to try to talk people into buying things they don’t need, or is sorting papers that don’t need to exist (e.g., my former job in a federal agency).

      I’m with you on the classical view of employment. The employer is, say, a small business owner who is just trying to make a go of it, has to deal with recalcitrant staff, burdensome regulations, etc. But there’s usually more to the picture. We’ve made business into something that requires a pretty hard, sometimes savage outlook, with lots of corner-cutting and falsehood. And then, the small business owner who does buck the odds — who, that is, actually succeeds and grows — is often up against the likes of Walmart; and the Walmarts of the world have to deal with their Amazons, never mind the financiers who may be manipulating their stock, the politicians who may be forcing them to provide health insurance, the yuppies or churchgoers who may be picketing them for one reason or another, etc. The simple views of classical economics that we learned in school are, for better or worse, completely riven with sociopolitical, legal, criminal, and other forces that may operate according to principles that oppose or ignore economic logic.

      You’re right about the post being too long. At some point maybe I’ll take it apart, or add other posts that explore its pieces more discretely.


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