Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Shaun Richman reviews David Graeber's Bullshit Jobs - including the inevitable inference that there needs to be some means for people to be supported without having to seek out useless work:
Much of the “bullshitization” of white-collar work is purely accidental, but Graeber argues that capitalists couldn’t have designed a more effective pecking order of oppression if they’d tried. At the bottom, you have millions of workers striving to work longer hours and fighting for a couple more dollars an hour that might lift them out of literal poverty. In between the desperate lumpen and the de facto rulers of the world is a massive segment of the workforce who secretly suspect that maintaining a decent standard of living doesn’t correlate with useful or productive work (or, indeed, any work at all!). But challenging the system could imperil their relative comfort.

They are more likely to resent people whose jobs are easily explainable to their family and neighbors—but who nevertheless demand better wages and working conditions—than to make common cause with them.

Graeber points to autoworkers and teachers as workers who achieve a tangible degree of satisfaction from their work and who are frequent targets of the public’s ire for expecting that and decent wages. I think more of all those amateur chefs on Chopped, hoping to win a $10,000 purse in order to buy a food truck. How many thousands of people are living an essentially monastic lifestyle because they want to make a living feeding people? In a world filled with well-paying but meaningless work, or poorly-paid drudgery that a robot could (and may soon) do, is it any wonder that so many people yearn for a meaningful life spent cooking for people and watching them enjoy the literal fruits of their labor?

What I particularly love about Graeber’s book is how it cutes to the revival of the kind of labor lit that flourished in the 1970s. The last 40 years of globalization, automation, and the gutting of our labor laws has narrowed the focus of too many labor writers to questions of how workers can get enough hours at a high-enough minimum wage and with decent enough benefits to reverse an inexorable slide into poverty.
Being an anarchist, Graeber is loath to suggest specific policy solutions. Still, he can’t help but talk about the policy that is most frequently advocated by the nerds who talk about the post-scarcity society: the universal basic income. Obviously, he sees value in decoupling the deservedness of food, shelter, and clothing from how one spends the majority of her waking hours. There simply isn’t enough useful work to go around for each of us to trade an hour for a loaf of bread.
The alternative progressive policy proposal—a federal commitment to full employment—is touted as more pragmatic and winnable. It’s a reasonable appeal to the god, mom, and apple-pie Calvinist work ethic. And, after all, there are a lot of roads and bridges that need to be rebuilt, a lot of child and elder care that should be compensated as the very real work it is, and well, who wouldn’t love to see a lot of WPA-style public artwork going up around the world? But, Bullshit Jobs should serve as a warning that a continued fidelity to the notion that one must work for one’s supper would likely condemn many of us to box-checking and duct-taping, as the machines take over and make most of us redundant.  
- Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin make the case for a combination of a basic income to ensure people's security, and a focus on environmental repair rather than consumerism to ensure a sustainable society. And Nathaniel Lewis points out that social welfare benefits do far more to reduce poverty than raw job numbers.

- Ed Broadbent argues that if Justin Trudeau wants to claim to be a progressive leader, he needs to start working on helping out the poor. And the BBC reports on a new survey showing growing public recognition that poor health is the result of an unjust society.

- Branko Marcetic comments on the massive amounts of wage theft by U.S. employers. And Dave Jamieson discusses the success of the Culinary Workers Union in achieving improved wages and working conditions in the face of state laws intended to undermine organized labour.

- Finally, Bob Hennelly suggests that student debt forgiveness would actually offer the economic boost which was supposed to represent the rationale for corporate tax cuts. And Albert Van Santvoort points out that contrary to the bloviations of business mouthpieces looking for any excuse to hand more money to corporations, the U.S.' tax slashing hasn't produced any discernible effect on corporate investment in Canada.

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