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Three day weekends? It makes a lot of sense

Discussion in 'The Pub' started by smileedude, Sep 3, 2013.

  1. #1 smileedude, Sep 3, 2013
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2013
    I thought this was one of the most interesting newspaper articles I've read in a long time. Although the author forgot to mention telephone sanitisers.
    The modern phenomenon of nonsense jobs

    September 3, 2013
    Why, despite our technological capacities, are we not all working three to four-hour days? asks David Graeber.


    In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century's end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour working week. There's every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn't happen. Instead, technology has been marshalled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people in the Western world spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.
    Why did Keynes's promised utopia - still being eagerly awaited in the 1960s - never materialise? The standard line is he didn't predict the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we've collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment's reflection shows it can't really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the 1920s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones or fancy sneakers.
    Huge swathes of people in the Western world spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed.​
    So what are these new jobs, precisely? A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture. Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, ''professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers'' tripled, growing ''from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment''. In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be).
    But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world's population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the ''service'' sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries such as financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors such as corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza-delivery drivers) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.
    These are what I propose to call ''bullshit jobs''.
    It's as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states, such as the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as it had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem that market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking business is going to do is shell out money to workers they don't really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.
    While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the lay-offs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50-hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organising or attending motivational seminars, updating their Facebook profiles or downloading television series.
    The answer clearly isn't economic: it's moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on its hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the 1960s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.
    Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don't like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinetmakers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Nor does the task really need to be done - at least, there's only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there's endless piles of useless, badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it's all that anyone really does.
    I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.
    Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: ''Who are you to say what jobs are really 'necessary'? What's necessary anyway? You're an anthropology professor, what's the 'need' for that?'' (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And, on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.
    I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago, I got back in touch with a school friend whom I hadn't seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that, in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the frontman in an indie rock band. I'd heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he'd lost his contract and, plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, ''taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school''. Now he's a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.
    There's a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with: what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1 per cent of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call ''the market'' reflects what those people think is useful or important, not anyone else.) But even more it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I'm unsure I've ever met a corporate lawyer who didn't think their job was bullshit. The same goes for almost all the new industries outlined above. There is a whole class of salaried professionals who, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their jobs really are.
    This is a profound psychological violence. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one's job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment? Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one's work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, rubbish collectors or mechanics, it's obvious that, were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or stevedores would soon be in trouble, and even one without science-fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It's not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity chief executives, lobbyists, public relations researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet, apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.
    Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it in Britain, when tabloids whip up resentment against transport workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that the workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It's even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilising resentment against schoolteachers or car workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or car industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It's as if they are being told: ''But you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and healthcare?''
    If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it's hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) - and particularly its financial avatars - but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working three to four-hour days.
    David Graeber is a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. This article first appeared in Strike! Magazine, a radical British quarterly that covers politics, philosophy and art. The article has subsequently struck a chord worldwide and we thank Strike! and Professor Graeber for allowing the Informant to republish it.

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/public-service/the-modern-phenomenon-of-nonsense-jobs-20130831-2sy3j.html#ixzz2dnsGHnGf
  2. Can someone paraphrase this down to a few lines :)
    • Like Like x 1

  3. Work sucks. Do less of it. Ride more.
    • Like Like x 1
  4. Thanks for that :) that's much easier to read and follow (y)
  5. years back, in England, I worked for Lucas, and they crammed the 38 hours into 4.5 days. I got all my boring shopping and banking shit done on a Friday arvo and had the whole weekend free for myself. It had the added benefit of getting a head start on the traffic if I was going away. Now we work the 40 hours in a week to accrue RDOs and in all honesty I'd still rather take every Friday arvo off rather than an RDO
  6. Smiliedude, in the amount of time it took you to cut and paste that, and write your own stuff, I got some really useful stuff done...
  7. I remember something similar to this being forecast for the year 2000+ when I was in my mid teens in 1970. Supposedly the population would outgrow the number of available jobs so work sharing would take place. The figure quoted was about 20 hours per week for a full time position.

    Since then our population has all but doubled, jobs moved off shore, 38 hour week for some but others working up to 6 x 12 hour days a week. Some jobs gone, others created.
  8. #8 Sir Ride Alot, Sep 3, 2013
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 4, 2013
    A four three day weekend would most likely create a strong economic lift as when people are not working they are spending money especially in recreational activities.
  9. #9 Ljiljan, Sep 3, 2013
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2013
    A long story with no overarching message or purpose.

    Funnily enough I had to stop reading this as I walking into a seminar on greed. The Labour day celebration of the 40 hour working week is now just a mocking irony, a silhouette to remind us of what was "a nice idea".
  10. It seems people can barely afford to work only five days. How is reducing peoples income going to create economic lift?
  11. More people will need to be employed although wages will need to not be reduced. For example working a 32 hour four day week at $23.75 per hour as opposed to a 38 hour five day week at $20 per hour. Initially there would be a small spike in inflation allowing business to recoup some of the added cost.

    It would be a win win situation across the board. Lower unemployment, more recreation, increased spending, higher taxation revenue, lower social security spend, more people at a workplace, less stressed workforce, more recreation etc. There aren't any real negatives that I can think of.

    The more I think about it the more sense it makes. I like it.
  12. So you would be happy to have your 4 day working week as Fri, Sat,Sun and Mon for the same rate as someone who works Mon - Thurs ?

    Shorter working weeks sound like a wet dream until you realise it will cover a 7 day cycle.
  13. Um yeah. Beats a 5 day working week.
  14. Moving from 5 days to 4 days won't really change much as more people will be employed. There is no real reason to change anything else especially rates. The weekend will always be the weekend. For example people will either work Mon to Thur or Tue to Fri and penalties will remain. Full timers just drop one day and increase each day by a little. Perfect.
  15. Who cares what day it is? these days unless you live in a small town or canberra everything is open on the weekend and on weekdays, so shifting your cycle to work weekends really isnt going to make much of a difference except maybe having fewer riding buddies on weekdays to hit the twisties with. I agree though a long good artcile but didnt really come to a conclusion i guess it cant though.

    The main issue is that for every one person who would rather focus on life and enjoyment, family etc than work there are two people who are happy to have no life and work 30 hour days to get a head and get the money, no longer can you be good enough, good enough is a failure in modern society you must be the best or your wasting your time. Now a days there are so many skilled people that looking for a life balance will just lead you to be unemployed.
  16. #16 Deadsy, Sep 9, 2013
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2013
    Perhaps Graeber's isn't trying to give you an answer (although I think he is making a clear statement leaning towards: "the problem is systemic"), just trying to get you to question things? Maybe his answer differs from Sir Ride Alot's, which differs from yours, but as long as people are thinking about what he has to say alternatives will be proposed and discussion is created.

    I'm actually surprised SMH ran an article from Strike! magazine.

    You can work 3 hour days. And some people do. You might not get that brand new Street Triple, but imagine how many more times you'll do that favourite road of yours on that older bike in your lifetime.