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Workers of the world... Relax!
January 29, 2013 4:24 PM   Subscribe

"Because work is unnecessary except to those whose power it secures, workers are shifted from relatively useful to relatively useless occupations as a measure to assure public order." -- The Abolition Of Work by Bob Black

Bertrand Russell published In Praise of Idleness eighty one years ago (previously).
posted by jeffburdges (92 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
skimmed the first 8 or 9 paragraphs, didn't see a proposal for who would pick up the garbage, mine sulfur, wash the dishes or bury the dead. FAIL.
posted by spicynuts at 4:29 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Uh, based on what?
posted by parki at 4:31 PM on January 29, 2013


didn't see a proposal for who would pick up the garbage, mine sulfur, wash the dishes or bury the dead

According to the video, these will either be turned into computer-game-like activities that people will do simply because they're so much fun, or else given to the robots.
posted by shivohum at 4:37 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Workers of the world... Relax!"

I think this slogan is much better than the previous one.
posted by hoskala at 4:47 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Plus there's Paul Lafargue's The Right to be Lazy (1883). Lafargue was Karl Marx's son-in-law.
posted by lathrop at 4:48 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Good point about people often returning from vacation more exhausted than when they left. Reminds me of every family Christmas get together, when the people who look forward to it every year get so stressed about everything going perfectly that they wind up arguing over every mundane detail and missing out on the simple joy of the one time of year when we're all in the same room.
posted by mannequito at 4:50 PM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


the simple joy of the one time of year when we're all in the same room.

You say these things, but I do not know how they go together.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:57 PM on January 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


Yep, robots. Just imagine a minecraft like interface for a robot. Millions of people worldwide would pay good money to strip mine. You can have that idea world, I got plenty more.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:00 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


didn't see a proposal for who would pick up the garbage, mine sulfur, wash the dishes or bury the dead

Nothing wrong with having jobs for people who want to make extra money. I think the real question of the future is challenging whether full employment is a necessary goal. Can society run without threatening people at the bottom with homelessness and starvation?
posted by the jam at 5:05 PM on January 29, 2013 [26 favorites]


"Lafargue was Karl Marx's son-in-law."

And if the wheel of fate had turned a degree further, Marxism might have been a different philosophy entirely, and the twentieth century might have become a very different place.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:05 PM on January 29, 2013


I agree. Let us hang the jerk that invented work.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 5:19 PM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Workers of the world ... [Frankie says] Relax!"
posted by octobersurprise at 5:22 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is it technologically achievable now? Yes, almost certainly. Is it socially realistic? I'm donno, rainbow gatherings have drainbows after all, but like the jam pointed out, we're talking about some massively moderated market economy, not hippies living in the woods. I bet it'd work frankly, but that's not why I posted it. :)

It's an interesting evolution from Bertrand Russell's claim that "four hours' work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life" in that it appropriately ups the ante and lays blame.

You witness similar sentiments hopefully and whimsically in Richard Brautigan's poem All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace (text) as well. Yet, any real political action requires popular anger. You remember all the commentators saying the Arab Spring resulted from populations recognizing their society's progress but not benefitting, right? Did you wonder what might make westerners feel that anger while they live comfortable lives? I say try the ideas expressed here.

I particularly loved the sentence "Because work is unnecessary except to those whose power it secures, workers are shifted from relatively useful to relatively useless occupations as a measure to assure public order." Said differently, the bankers, lobbyist, manager, prosecutors, police, etc. earn so much money because they help run the system of control.

In fact, we're already closer to Russell's four hours per day than anyone realizes, provided you count all the time people waste on facebook, reddit, metafilter, etc. Yet, one should not count that time as leisure time in Russell's sense due to the opportunity costs. In effect, we're adapting our structures of control to survive there not being nearly so much justifiable make-work anymore, ala "come do your four hours but hang around another four watching TV 2.0 so you don't cause any trouble."
posted by jeffburdges at 5:25 PM on January 29, 2013 [24 favorites]


I think the real question of the future is challenging whether full employment is a necessary goal.

Just so you know this isn't even a goal right now. Western economies use policies that maintain at least 10% unemployment. Every time you hear about 'controlling inflation' what they are really saying is 'lowering employment'. This is to prevent wage increases that would be caused by worker demand exceeding worker supply. Your government is keeping you poor and the rich rich on purpose.
posted by srboisvert at 5:27 PM on January 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


I've seen a few other things like this, and there always seems to be some huge degree of naivete to them.

In this case, it was with the writing-off of the real estate industry as one of the pointless ones because all it does was produce "pointless pieces of paper" or some such. However - those "pointless pieces of paper" are often legal documents, which spell out exactly what happens to the property if X, Y, or Z circumstance happens. And you NEED all that documented because you can't know what the hell is going to happen down the road - and trusting that everyone in the world is going to be all happy and laid-back about it if the previous owner of the house stops by and sees that whoops, the new owner ripped out the prize rosebushes because they didn't want to bother, or whatever, shows a real lack of grasp of the negative potential of human nature.

I would love for things to work out the way Bob Black says too - but that depends on human beings behaving 100% perfectly 100% of the time, and you can't count on that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:40 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hmmm. And the government is all rich people. No, that can't be it. The rest of us are just lazy.
posted by Splunge at 5:40 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


it is in our DNA as humans to hoard for famine which is where any system
that assumes there is an objective level of 'enough' for all humans, whether it be number of items of clothing, square footage of shelter, means of transportation, items of ornamentation, etc falls apart and the whole thing goes to hell.
posted by spicynuts at 5:45 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


From lathrops link: Lafargue attacks the work ethic from a Marxist perspective. Uncharacteristically for a Marxist, he is highly critical of the working class, condemning them for having internalized an ideology that had originally been imposed on them by capitalists.

"If you do not work, you do not eat" is something I've heard a lot in the area I live in. Struggling 40+ hours a week and not seeing your family and giving your best years to something that cares not one whit about you is idolized by many people I have met and know. Running yourself ragged for a company is a badge of honor and not the shameful thing I think it is. These people would be dumbstruck if they saw this video. Then that shock would melt in to white hot rage as they realized that some one wasn't doing their fair share of suffering for a boss. Heck, that same crap I just mentioned is something I've internalized as well thanks to my surroundings. It makes me so sad to think of all the hours with friends I've lost because I was called in to work and instead of saying NO! I did "The Right Thing" by going in.

I want to believe in things like this, that we can stop killing each other and using each other but my faith and hope is always pushed back by things like this article.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 5:45 PM on January 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


didn't see a proposal for who would pick up the garbage, mine sulfur, wash the dishes or bury the dead

Whoever does should definitely be paid a lot more than actors, golfers, "professional investors", lawyers, elected officials or CEOs. Because any of these categories could disappear from the face of the earth with much less negative social effect than the ones listed before. Duh.
posted by evilmidnightbomberwhatbombsatmidnight at 5:48 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the real question of the future is challenging whether full employment is a necessary goal. Can society run without threatening people at the bottom with homelessness and starvation?

I'm mashing my entire computer desk, but this isn't being transmitted directly into every human brain.
posted by DU at 5:51 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't wait to meet the robots who will do the logistics and supply chain management for the robots and robot parts.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:52 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I refer you to dhens' fabulous and instructive Russell quote from the recent "The Robots are Coming" thread.
posted by sneebler at 5:58 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm less enthused about eliminating real estate too, EmpressCallipygos. We should need fewer real estate workers today than 50 years ago though, thanks to computers. Instead, we invented securitized mortgages that push dangerous mathematicians and physicists into doing finance.

I agree with you're larger point about naivety as well, but that's simply because Bob Black hasn't lived in the society he proposes either. Yet, his naivety doesn't invalidate his point that people should be pissed off that our society is built on useless make-work.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:59 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is something else to consider, play and work do not mean the same things to all people. I don't want to sit by a pool, frolic in the grass, travel, or experience any exuberant outburst of joy or any type of ludic anything. If I didn't have to work, I'd still program, I'd just switch my hours to suit myself instead of the global labor market.

Throughout history work has been luck of the draw. People who lived near mines, mined. People who lived near fields, farmed. People who lived near the sea, fished. The world was blind to desire or aptitude. Their work and play were two different things, but their work could be their play.

I have no doubt, that if given the chance, some people would shuffle papers, count inventory, manage supply chains, and consider it play.After all, people play Eve Online. The trick is getting the people who want to manage supply chains to the opportunities.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:59 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Workers of the world... Relax!

+1 for the Dead Milkmen reference (warning: lyrics site)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:00 PM on January 29, 2013


We've done incredible automation in logistics and supply chain management, Sticherbeast, well that's sneebler's link's quote I guess. We'll need supply chain engineers that institute a more mechanized approach, thus removing most remaining humans from that profession. I've one mathematician friend seemingly working vaguely in that direction.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:08 PM on January 29, 2013


I can't wait to meet the robots who will do the logistics and supply chain management for the robots and robot parts.

This is like how farmers, grocery stores and doctors aren't humans because they do stuff FOR humans.
posted by DU at 6:18 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


When people wonder (or snark) about the robots that are supposed to maintain our current system, I feel like they're missing a big point: we're talking about radical, gradual change over long periods of time with this stuff. Complexity and industrial civilization as we know it aren't necessarily even desirable. My own ideal life is something like a Buddhist temple: a small, self-sufficient community with day to day work and a culture that values stillness and reflection. That doesn't necessarily need robots or factories. While I enjoy a lot of aspects of our complex civilization (like having easy access to pretty much any book), I do feel like increased complexity = increased fragility. Even right now, using my computer is making me feel really schizophrenic when 10 years ago the internet--partly because of the novelty, partly because of a narrower bandwidth--had a more positive effect on me.
posted by byanyothername at 6:22 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd agree that "humans to hoard for famine", spicynuts, but perhaps that's one necessary realization. Imagine for-example if, in addition to providing a basic income, we limited people's maximum spending. I doubt that approach works actually, well it fails to "fully" accounting for human nature. You'd simply create bureaucrats jockeying for position for their kids, ala communisms political games. Instead, one should reconsider what Peter Singer's Darwinian Left says about hoarding. An interesting direction though nonetheless.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:26 PM on January 29, 2013


Bob Black's essay is a big part of the reason I said fuck it and wrote a book. (Another big contributing factor was reading about anarchist free schools.) Because I didn't want employment and because I felt like I was making a zero contribution to the world through employment and I thought playing would be more productive for all of us.

I mean, I sell my books now, but it still feels like play. Also, good. So there's that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:29 PM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Okay, I listened to the video and took a glance at the written manifesto. Some thoughts, in unstructured, play-like order:

Before the invention of agriculture people used to work only as much as they needed to. It varied depending upon climate and local fauna, but I remember reading somewhere that hunter-gatherers spent less time doing survival related tasks than the farmers that came after them. They tended to be healthier and live longer, too. Life was still hard, and people would often die from things like hunting accidents and sickness, but in general there was a lot of time for what we might call "hobbies" today: artistic weaving, carving, telling stories, singing songs, inventing calendars and so on.

But there weren't many hunter-gatherers. When agriculture was invented the population boomed, and it was discovered that more and more people were needed to do the (literally) back breaking agricultural labour that kept the larger population alive. In time, a specialization of labour developed, wherein a relatively small number of people would spend their careers doing things like pottery and double entry bookkeeping so the rest of the population could devote all their time to the serious business of agriculture.

And that's the system we inherited today. Our values, social psychology, or whatever you call the invisible beliefs that make up our collective mental landscape, were shaped for a world where the majority of people had to work at physically demanding, mentally dreary jobs just to keep the massive population of human beings alive. Societies with well developed "work ethics" prospered, while those slightly more inclined to balance work and leisure were usually defeated and overwhelmed by their more productive neighbours. Work became it's own reward, because this was a necessary belief to make society thrive. People came to identify with the work they did, and take pride in their jobs, because that work was their contribution to the betterment of all. It gave them a purpose, and all humans like to have purpose in their lives.

Mechanization started to mess this up (in Europe) in the seventeenth century. For the first time in ten thousand years the primary sector (as Black names it) didn't need so many people to function, and there was a surplus of healthy males with nothing to do. The immediate solution was to kill them off in wars, but this was chaotic and could only happen about once per generation, so there were no good solutions and it was kind of rough for awhile until the surplus labour pool was finally absorbed into manufacturing. We don't "need" manufactured goods like we need to eat, but it kept people busy while simultaneously increasing everyone's standard of living. And on top of that, the old social programming still worked because you still had a mass of people doing difficult, dreary jobs that enriched society as a whole. We adapted, but didn't really change our social software.

And now here we are in 2013, in an era where machines have steadily replaced human labour in job after job, and it's pretty clear now that the old model of a mass of people doing hard labour on the bottom and a few people on top supporting them is no longer necessary. It now becomes possible to seriously discuss ideas like Bob Black's "Ludic Revolution," or talk about The End of Work. We can all see a time coming when the mass of people will no longer be employed in farm work, manufacturing or any other industry that directly produces things, because machines will be cheaper and more efficient. But we still have the same software that's worked for 10000 years: the work ethic, and the need to find identity and purpose through one's job.

And that's the real challenge to any manifesto like Black's. What will we do with the ninety percent or more of the population who find meaning and purpose in work? They can't just start playing like kids. They won't want to go home when their shift at the factory ends and it's time for someone else to play. They won't find fulfillment in a life filled with hobbies, because nothing in our society has ever told them that this is a good idea. Everyone they know, and everyone that they ever heard about found fulfillment and self-identification in good, hard, socially necessary work. And changing that software on a worldwide basis is going to be tough.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:34 PM on January 29, 2013 [25 favorites]


man, this stuff hella resonates with me.
posted by rebent at 6:34 PM on January 29, 2013


I like to work, I just don't like to have to deal with commuting and internal politics and getting up at times I find inconvenient. But work itself? Yes, i like much of it. But I wouldn't do it for free and I wouldn't do it outside the home without a direct reward specific to my work.
posted by windykites at 6:38 PM on January 29, 2013


We've done incredible automation in logistics and supply chain management, Sticherbeast, well that's sneebler's link's quote I guess.

Bertrand Russell quotes ain't making my job any more mechanized. Some people might like some parts of it, but unpaid, nobody's going to like all the parts, let alone all the parts where things have to change completely because people go on strike, or are understaffed, or because it's Chinese New Year, or because they did something wrong and they can't be held accountable. Tell your mathematician friend to get on it, I guess?

Sorry to be a grump, but I have absolutely no reason to take this any more seriously than an Ayn Rand-style utopia. If you can't tell me how a FCL of paring knives is going to get from Yantian to Southaven without lots of people all along the chain - if you can't give me an answer more concrete than "well, it'll be mechanized! it'll happen in the future!" - then there's nothing there. More people are needed to do more things than most people realize. Even with mechanization. Even with automation. Even with Excel formulae.

Or, what I said the last time something like this was posted. There are many interesting, even radical ways to consider different views of employment, especially in a world where some jobs can be automated, but the mere fact that a highly privileged man once asserted that we only needed four hours of work a day does not make it so.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:39 PM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Lovely idea, but I think this applies.

My own personal guiding principle is to never let earning a living outweigh my living.
posted by es_de_bah at 6:50 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another question that would apply to this hypothetical Ludic Revolution is how society could still produce the professionals it does need, when becoming qualified for those professions involves many years of difficult study. Nobody wants a society filled with hobby doctors or part time nuclear engineers.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:58 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


But I wouldn't do it for free...

There's a lot of stuff I would (and do) do for free. Much, even most, of this stuff is good for society and the Earth. But not a lot of it overlaps with what is traditionally called "work". And a lot more of the good stuff is being actively prevented by "work", mainly because I lack time to do both.
posted by DU at 7:02 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just so you know this isn't even a goal right now. Western economies use policies that maintain at least 10% unemployment. Every time you hear about 'controlling inflation' what they are really saying is 'lowering employment'. This is to prevent wage increases that would be caused by worker demand exceeding worker supply. Your government is keeping you poor and the rich rich on purpose.

I don't think that's how it works. Low inflation means that it's hard to make money passively, so people who want to invest need to invest in new ventures with greater risks and rewards. That means creating and expanding businesses which means hiring people. High inflation guarantees that every raise you get will quickly be eaten up by higher costs all around and your effective purchasing power goes down. So you ask for more next time and the spiral ramps up another notch. Low, but non-negative, inflation is exactly what you want for maximum employment.

I believe the US's target is 3 or 5% unemployment, which is basically the necessary number to account for the natural churn in workers changing jobs. Anything below whatever that magic number is effectively negative unemployment and this creates bubbles in wages. Which are not good.

Bubbles destroy, and inflation causes bubbles. Slow and steady wins the race.
posted by gjc at 7:05 PM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


But I wouldn't do it for free...

There's a lot of stuff I would (and do) do for free. Much, even most, of this stuff is good for society and the Earth. But not a lot of it overlaps with what is traditionally called "work". And a lot more of the good stuff is being actively prevented by "work", mainly because I lack time to do both.


Doesn't it depend on how well our needs are met? There are lots of things I'd do for free, including work (even hard work), if my needs and wants were already satisfied. Especially in an environment with less scarcity.
posted by gjc at 7:09 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


...could still produce the professionals it does need, when becoming qualified for those professions involves many years of difficult study. Nobody wants a society filled with hobby doctors or part time nuclear engineers.

I've never been convinced by this argument in either the context of a coercion-free society or in the open-source software context. People who are forced to become professionals generally aren't. I mean, look around your workplace and mentally tag the people that are putting in their hours just to get home and do what they really like. Are those the doctors you want to go to or the nuclear engineers you want in charge of the plant in your town?
posted by DU at 7:11 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's funny how often I pause and think, man, this works sucks, I wish I could stop, and then I realize, oh wait, I can't stop, because if do, I will die.

It's funny how that realization hits me as if new every time. It's really a hard thing to believe.
posted by chortly at 7:14 PM on January 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


I walked out of a "good" factory job after two years and suffered almost three years of even more terrifying depression because I stood up for myself and my life. I couldn't take the endless before work meetings where were all told that if we don't work harder and faster then "we'll just find people that want to work." So fucking hateful and even now it makes me quiver with anger at those managers and their superiors. I took a drunk piss on the first XMAS card I got from the Hallmark family. After I walked out I was so ashamed that I had made a decision for myself and took control of my days that I could barely get out of bed to enjoy them. Eventually the shame became so great that I was terrified of being seen because I was not working.

Work has caused so much misery for myself and literally everyone I know. Would my grandfather have been such an angry, mean man before his retirement if he didn't have to work all his life? I'll never forget how happy and relieved he looked the first day of his retirement. I had seen this man almost daily for all my then twelve years. It was work that made him short tempered and mean. For the longest time even thinking these types of things about Good Honest Work felt like I was rebelling against something so good and pure; I had no right to slander work! We should be so grateful we are given jobs (I mean oppportunities) and our precious time taken from us and put to good use for some one else. When I find myself hoarding my precious free time because I have to be at work tomorrow something is seriously wrong. Damn it! What do we do?!
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 7:15 PM on January 29, 2013 [15 favorites]


It's not work itself that's the issue, Our Ship, it's the KIND of work many of us are stuck in.

And that's one of the reasons that so many people were gunning for a better health care system - because a lot of the people who would LOVE to be doing some more creative and fulfilling work with their time suck it up and take day jobs instead solely because of the health insurance.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:21 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


They can't just start playing like kids. They won't want to go home when their shift at the factory ends and it's time for someone else to play. They won't find fulfillment in a life filled with hobbies, because nothing in our society has ever told them that this is a good idea. Everyone they know, and everyone that they ever heard about found fulfillment and self-identification in good, hard, socially necessary work. And changing that software on a worldwide basis is going to be tough.

I don't know about that. The people doing dreary work do, whenever they can, slack. They surf the internet, take long smoke breaks, work slowly to keep from getting more piled on them. The impulse to not work is definitely there. Office Space had that as a major theme, and people loved that movie.

People say what they think will get them approval, especially if the people whose approval they seek also hand out the paycheck. But much as people hating "entitlements" are first in line for their Social Security check, people opining about the glory of work may very well leap at the chance for leisure if they can get it.

We only separate hobbies from work because no one pays you to do hobbies. Once you don't need to work, your hobbies can very well be what you do. Many hobbies, after all, like building things, repairing things, gardening, etc. were once work, not so long ago, and useful work at that. If food is available for all because robot farmers grow it (in skyscraper farms? sure why not), there will still be people growing heirloom tomatoes for the taste or the heck of it.

My parents basically worked till they died, not because they wanted to, but because they had to. They praised hard work too, but they resented not being able to retire because my dad's uninsured health problems bankrupted their retirement savings. And if you can accept retirement leisure, why is it so hard to accept more lifelong leisure?

I guess what I mean is that the Puritan work ethic is something people use to justify an existing situation which they are powerless to change; if the situation changes, I don't think the ethic will survive.
posted by emjaybee at 7:26 PM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


FFS, the lead video is full of crap.

After all, a worker is a part time slave.

Yeah, the boss can whip you, chain you and you wife, control your children, and sell you for whatever purpose he desires during your workday. That's what we think of as work. Workers are NOT slaves - work can be tiresome and infuriating, but it is not in any way like true slavery.

The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime.

Oh, like someone has an idea of how to turn a profit from labor, allowing the laborers to perform a set of tasks and (not always but that's a different problem) turn a profit themselves on the time spent? As long as I need food, I need to work, whether to find or grow the food, or to be able to buy the food. I have to produce value. God forbid someone has a plan to produce value from labor where a laborer doesn't have create and follow the plan from whole cloth.

He tells you how much work to do and how fast.

Like, you know, following a plan. We don't need that bullshit to make things work.

He's free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating if he feels like it, the clothes you wear, or how often you go to the bathroom.

I've hired plenty of people in my life so far, and I've worked for plenty of people. Yeah, work can be humiliating sometimes. People, all of them, need some humiliation now and then. No-one is above it, regardless of stature, class, or money, and the modern media is doing a fair job of proving it out.

With a few exceptions, he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors and talking back is called insubordination, just as if the worker was a naughty child.

Uh...work is evil, and it robs you of humanity, but you have a right to do work and when you're fired for not doing work or for disrupting the workplace that a bad thing. Sure. (If you show me a manager who's firing people for wrongful reasons, I can show you a manager who needs to be canned because they're fucking it up worse).

For certain purposes,

for my sensationalized purposes...

it's not too misleading to call our system democracy, or capitalism, or better still industrialism,

...because, you know, other people can agree on these terms but I'm not special if I use them too.

but its real names are factory fascism or office oligarchy.

THERE ARE PEOPLE IN CHARGE! BE CONCERNED! FEAR THE POWER! They have plans and they aren't afraid to make use of them. Also, ignore how this applies to the political system which might, if they go completely bonkers, change this.


Anyone who says these people are free are lying, or stupid.

Because in America, no free person has managed to succeed in living an enjoyable life outside of work. It's all a lie.

You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid, monotonous work, chances are you'll end up boring, stupid, and monotonous.

If you do work that isn't creative or free of the burdens I have described, then you are the slaves I'm talking about. Your work defines exactly who you are. You will never feel satisfaction or achieve adulation from doing constructive things outside of work, because you are too boring, stupid, and monotonous to be useful.

Me, finally: Bullshit. You want to shit all over the people who do go to work today and do great things tomorrow? Fine. That makes you an asshole. If you don't like that characterization, tough. There are too many people I know and love who do the work described in that awful video who not only do what he dismisses, but also do the work he suggests can be gamified without being substantially compensated today. What? We're going to make such undesirable work non-mandatory for anyone and expect that people will do it because...games. And as for the crap about automation being a cure-all, I'm sure there aren't an elite few who really understand the way to make current automated systems work, but who will also selflessly continue to work to automate the systems while everyone else...well, I guess they ride bikes and do whatever the hell they please.
posted by timfinnie at 7:27 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here's the disturbing thing about work: millions of people work for wages which don't even cover their own living expenses at walmart so that four of the richest people in the world can get even richer.

I don't mind working, but I'd use my skills in a lot different, and I think more useful, ways, if I knew my basic needs were guaranteed to be met.
posted by maxwelton at 7:37 PM on January 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


We end up with "hobby doctors" and "part time nuclear engineers" when the educational system breaks down, or maybe if your culture explicitly reveres ignorance, Kevin Street, but afaik work has zilch to do with training doctors or engineers.

I've observed huge differences between the doctors and engineers one meets in America, Britain, and Europe. America and Britist medical professionals act like salesmen, exhibiting little apparent creativity or curiosity, and work harder, while their European counterparts act like professionals complete with broader knowledge and seemingly more curiosity. Why? Easy : Europeans select difficult jobs because they want to do them, what with school being free. Americans select those jobs based largely upon salary, with many good ones being scared off by the debt. In France, most doctors only earn about twice what most civil servants earn, but that's plenty for the profession to retain the social status required for enticing students.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:41 PM on January 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


I just accidentally deleted a comment that was pretty lengthy, so I'll sum it up: the difference between work and play isn't money. The difference is in your level of autonomy. I figure my pay is 50% for the actual labour I perform, and 50% having to put up with stupid bullshit because I have no choice, and very limited control.
posted by windykites at 8:00 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just came across this, king's landing in minecraft. Took 100 people 4 months. So yeah, minecraft controlled robots.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:03 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


ad hominem, I would love to run through that city in assassin's creed. Game Games </derail>
posted by rebent at 8:09 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


If all of us unemployed citizens were to serve on Juries every other week, we could clear the backlog of the courts in short order.... and a lot of people would meet interesting folks on the government's dime.
posted by MikeWarot at 9:18 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


We can all see a time coming when the mass of people will no longer be employed in farm work, manufacturing or any other industry that directly produces things, because machines will be cheaper and more efficient.

Honestly, as fantastic as I think your comment is and as much as I support these ideas (and even more far-reaching stuff like arcologies), I really can no longer see this, except maybe in small and isolated parts (that think they're globally interconnected parts) of the world. I think our future looks more like the present I live in: global desertification, breakdown of rigid complexity and stability into organic chaos, with complex civilization becoming much more local and patchwork. As much as I really believe in and support various utopian ideals, I think it's important for us to prepare for "soft landings," too. Undoing our really weird, self-punishing notions of work is absolutely part of that, but I see it happening in future more with decomplexifying and rediscovering personally meaningful work related to survival and autonomy than in increasing complexity. While it's one of the noblest goals I can think of, we've been kind of bad historically at keeping autonomy as we complexify.
posted by byanyothername at 9:55 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


dangerous mathematicians and physicists

I like the sound of that! Can I put it on my business card?

I'm totally painting my pocket protector black.

Oh. Sparkfun already beat me to the market opportunity...

Well, in that case. Yes, with the continual modernization of labor and increasing population, supporting a guaranteed minimum income for everyone, regardless of work level, is the only humane thing to do.

I can't wait to meet the robots who will do the logistics and supply chain management for the robots and robot parts.

Ad Hominem's example of EVE Online actually is a perfect example that this is entirely possible using game mechanics and technology in place right now.

I remember back when I was working/playing as a miner with the industry skill tree a couple years ago, EVE had an "Export to CSV" button built right into the UI. You could download market and pricing data and calculate to your hearts content.

Now it appears they've actually opened up their database, or a subset of it, to the public. And it's led to a market for SQL jobs just to work with that data.

We just need to create the incentive systems to encourage this kind of play.
posted by formless at 10:52 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's funny how often I pause and think, man, this works sucks, I wish I could stop, and then I realize, oh wait, I can't stop, because if do, I will die. It's funny how that realization hits me as if new every time. It's really a hard thing to believe.

I want to favorite this about thirty times.
posted by cthuljew at 11:14 PM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

Didn't Freud say something to the effect that psychological health is the capacity "to love and to work."

During his long engagement Freud stated that his own ambition in life was to have Martha as his wife and to be able to work (e.g. "Couldn't I for once have you and the work at the same time?" Freud-Martha Bernays 21 Oct. 1885).
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:51 PM on January 29, 2013


Although I sympathise with those who are concerned that in a completely "ludic" economy there would be a shortage of people willing to do physically demanding or dangerous jobs, I think that this video makes a number of good points.

In particular, modern workplaces have a lot in common with prisons and schools. Employees are tightly supervised and often have aspects of their behaviour that are not, strictly speaking, relevant to the job at hand, controlled by supervisors. Look at how personal the criticism in a "review" can be, how abstract and undefinable a lot of office work actually is. Look at who benefits from a worker doing more and who loses out. Look at who owns the products of the office worker's labour, at the end of the day. This is not a dignified relationship of equals, on any level.

In many important ways, using the threats of unemployment, debt, shame and even imprisonment, people are pressured into work. This means that employers have an unfair amount of bargaining power when dealing with workers and it also means that in some ways we have recreated a very hierarchical and almost feudal power structure of masters and slaves, just hidden behind a veil of odd, abstract terms.

We do also live in an environment where work is valourised for its own sake. We are bombarded with messages that say that work is inherently heroic and that laziness is something bad. And yet: most real progress in invention comes from experimentation and the free play of ideas and from attempts to find simpler, easier solutions to common problems. Supposedly Bill Gates once said that he would always try to hire a lazy person to do a difficult job, because a lazy person would find an easy way to do it. Laziness is often an important thing and cultures that clear space for people to reflect in idleness or hone their skills without having to engage in meaningless busywork can reap enormous rewards.

I'm not sure that the answer to these things is to abolish work altogether, but they do exist; they represent a real social problem that should not be glibly dismissed.

That isn't to say that I think this video gets everything right. It is too hard on the insurance industry, banking and real estate. These industries can serve a valuable social role. The fact that they do not, at present - that most of the time they are fairly corrupt, predatory and inefficient - is something to be corrected rather than done away with altogether.

And that is my feeling about the workplace in general: I think it should be reformed, rather than utterly destroyed. Work places should be owned and directed by those who work in them. They should not be organised like prisons, to monitor their workers. They should not be set up to squeeze as much work as possible for as little as possible out those who work there, especially not if that squeezing is for the benefit of a class of people who simply "own" things, but do no work themselves.

That is just a master-slave relationship in fancy dress, wearing a suit and tie rather than collars and chains. And it doesn't need to be that way.
posted by lucien_reeve at 3:47 AM on January 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


After all, a worker is a part time slave.

Actually a slave owner has at least some interest in keeping alive/maintaining the health of his or her slaves on an ongoing basis, since the purchase price was for the actual human, so the sooner the human dies the sooner that source of profit ends.

By contrast the classic factory owner of Victorian Britain would cheerfully run down the workers' health until they were at the point of death, and suffer no economic consequences if indeed they did die, as long as there were new workers queueing up to work at the factory the next morning. Slaves did not queue up to replace dead slaves but rather had to be bought for quite a high upfront price - whereas industrial workers were always paid in arrears of course.
posted by colie at 4:01 AM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I remember back when I was working/playing as a miner with the industry skill tree a couple years ago, EVE had an "Export to CSV" button built right into the UI. You could download market and pricing data and calculate to your hearts content.

Cute, but that spreadsheet bears very little resemblance to what I deal with, especially those parts of my job which are not, at this time, realistically capable of being automated. Those parts of my job which rely on spreadsheets and databases are already quite automated, at a level much more sophisticated than what you get in EVE. By and large, those numbers themselves are not the real timesuck. (The spreadsheets also tend to be many times more complicated, but I'm sure you would have predicted that.)

The thing is, there's much more to the job than the spreadsheet-y/database-y parts, and not all of those parts are even one-twentieth as fun as EVE Online. The less-fun parts deal with aspects which have no equivalent in EVE Online, and worse, they're often the parts which require the most constant attention. The most time-consuming parts also tend to involve numerous parties across several, far-apart time zones. Think it's easy getting all those parties on the same page? Because it's not. Good luck convincing us, the factories, the factories' agents, the distributors, the retailers, the dockworkers, the shippers, the forwarders, and everyone else to get automated in the same way, because that's what it'll take. That's not even getting into the lawyers, customs officials, and all the various people involved in safety inspection. If even one party decides to stick with flesh and blood, then we're back to me at a computer sending panicked emails to actual humans.

Maybe I'm making a detailed L&SCM game sound fun to you. It probably would be! Maybe grumpiness like my own will inspire people to find new solutions to complicated problems. But, it's not enough to create a gamelike interface for even a somewhat realistic simulation. It has to work consistently on a large scale, with many, many different parties. This is a very different task than people making King's Landing in Minecraft.

f you could figure out how to turn half of my day-to-day into an automated process, then that we would do backflips at the office. We would hail you as our monarch. We would shower you with money, if it wasn't for the fact that persons unknown would obviously create this system for non-economic incentives instead.

But even then: if I were spending less time on that, then I'd just be spending more time on something else. I work for a Famous Company, one with fewer employees than you might think. After L&SCM had been licked, we'd turn our attention to strategic planning and other, broader-gauge issues.

...

I'd mentioned lawyers earlier. How do you propose that'll work? If you had told me, when I was in law school, that there was a way to automate my work, then I would have told you that you didn't know what you were talking about. The practice of law is not just the looking up of codes and rules and mentioning them at the right time, especially in legal systems based on the English common law. While some aspects of lawyering are fun and/or inspiring, the vast majority of it is boring dreck requiring hours of fixed attention, especially those parts which would most flabbergast a computer. Not all of it is the kind of stuff people would volunteer to do, either. In a post-scarcity world, would all of the lawyers actually wind up earning relatively more, because they're doing un-fun jobs which the robots can't do?
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:36 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


It has frequently bothered me that we measure progress and health in terms of jobs created, rather than jobs eliminated. Bragging about the amount of work you're creating is pretty bizarre. This is our bright, imagined future?
posted by Stagger Lee at 5:51 AM on January 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


It is interesting to look at the US bill of rights and compare them to how people are treated at my employers, past and present.

It is very interesting that we decided that it violates human rights when elected officials eg charge someone with the same offense twice, but that it protects human rights when an unelected employer does it.
posted by rebent at 6:33 AM on January 30, 2013


I've never been convinced by this argument in either the context of a coercion-free society or in the open-source software context. People who are forced to become professionals generally aren't. I mean, look around your workplace and mentally tag the people that are putting in their hours just to get home and do what they really like. Are those the doctors you want to go to or the nuclear engineers you want in charge of the plant in your town?

I guess the utopia explanation is that when you eliminate the need for someone to just put in the time, you open up a spot for someone who truly excels at and enjoys the work. I guess the incentive to get people to do shit jobs is that in such a meritocracy, the people who are motivated to do the fun/exciting/prestigious jobs would convert some of that motivation into putting in their time. I sort of doubt the numbers would work out, but it's an interesting thought experiment.

Back in the good old days, we had a bullpen of workers who sat around waiting for service calls to come in. Lots of people played computer games, or played cards in the cafeteria. One guy built his own computer, brought it to a dark corner of the office and played some kind of flight simulator game. In my opinion, it was the worst possible game, since it was basically a bunch of flight nerds flying commercial aircraft on scheduled runs. Worse yet, this particular guy didn't even do that- his role in the game was to be an air traffic controller in this universe. He seemed to enjoy it, and it made me wonder if there were enough folks like him that enjoyed seeming drudge jobs that in a perfect society, they could do them.
posted by gjc at 7:07 AM on January 30, 2013


In a post-scarcity world, would all of the lawyers actually wind up earning relatively more, because they're doing un-fun jobs which the robots can't do?

That's how I think it would probably work out. Even if you created some sort of basic guaranteed income so that nobody had to work, there would still be people who wanted to work for additional resources above and beyond the minimum. (Even if there's no real scarcity in stuff that you need to survive, humans will create artificial scarcity in various goods, purely to use those items as status markers if nothing else. Even Doctorow admits that tacitly with "whuffie.")

If everyone has potentially lots of free time on their hands, education is no longer a barrier -- anyone who wants to spend the time learning the material could potentially become a doctor, lawyer, rocket scientist, whatever. So just going to school for a few years wouldn't guarantee above-average income or resource access (not that it's much of a guarantee now), particularly if you studied something that's generally regarded as interesting. There'd be lots of other people who would have studied the same thing in their also-ample free time.

What I think you'd see, and I think there are signs that this is happening already, is that the biggest material rewards go to the jobs that are both difficult to automate and really boring. The less fun a job is, the fewer people would choose voluntarily to do it, and thus the greater the material rewards would be.

There'd be lots of people who wanted to play courtroom lawyer, because heck, that looks like fun! But probably not a lot of people who'd want to comb through thousands upon thousands of pages of discovery material in some modern-day Jarndyce v Jarndyce. But you couldn't have a legal system that only handles interesting cases.

There'd be lots of people who'd want to be pilots or firefighters, but I suspect far fewer who'd want to clean out the airplane lavatories or shovel out piles of wet debris after a fire. We basically acknowledge that those are pretty shitty jobs today, and they're going to seem a whole lot worse when people realize that they don't need to do them anymore, and that they can be a pilot or a firefighter instead, because the barriers that presumably keep them from doing that today (e.g. not being able to afford to go to school and simultaneously not starve) are gone.

The way I see it panning out is that the "rich" (in Whuffie or whatever arbitrary status marker we decide to use) end up being those who have the highest tolerance for boredom. That might not be worse than the system we have today, but I think in a few generations you'd probably just reinvent the old "Protestant work ethic" anew.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:03 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]



I've never been convinced by this argument in either the context of a coercion-free society or in the open-source software context. People who are forced to become professionals generally aren't. I mean, look around your workplace and mentally tag the people that are putting in their hours just to get home and do what they really like. Are those the doctors you want to go to or the nuclear engineers you want in charge of the plant in your town?


You're using anecdotal evidence of people doing a bad job at work currently as evidence that they'll do a bad job at work under a different system?


Are those the doctors you want to go to or the nuclear engineers you want in charge of the plant in your town?

I've had pretty good interactions with doctors and other professionals, although I am still pretty sure that nine times out of ten they'd rather be having kinky sex, drinking nice scotch and driving fast cars, not going over charts and telling the tenth patient in an hour to lose weight. I'm not sure what you're suggesting?
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:07 AM on January 30, 2013




I've never been convinced by this argument in either the context of a coercion-free society or in the open-source software context.

That seems a really strange to invoke, when we're sitting on a pile of evidence that open-source software really does produce good results. With that said, I don't think that we should invoke OSS without great care, because it can't be easily separated from its relationship to capital and business.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:13 AM on January 30, 2013


The sub-conversation about where we'll get doctors or lawyers or physicists is kind of deliberately obtuse, I think. When people talk about abolishing work, they're talking about abolishing toil. Most truly professional jobs consist of meaningful work; you'd get doctors and lawyers and physicists in a world with less toil because you'll still have people who want to do these things; in fact, you'll likely have more of them.

The idea is that toil and meaningless make-work are worth eliminating because it degrades and dehumanizes the worker who loses autonomy by participating in it. A world in which literally every aspect of human society is done by robots is...kind of pointless. We're not a species well suited to Eden.
posted by byanyothername at 8:38 AM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I avoided addressing your supply chain question earlier, Sticherbeast, because all the waste lies with the make-work and harmful social control jobs. I'm fine with work that's beneficial but hard to eliminate earning workers extra social status. Also, we're buying an incredible standard of living with that supply chain work, ala pomegranates in the winter. Yet, radical optimizations still exist :

Idea one : Adjust our morality to consume less.   We're doing this already for environmental reasons, but one could go much much further. "Avoid creating unnecessary work" must become a modern moral principle like recycling. Examples :
  - Combine tools -   I love printed paper books, but I experience liberal guilt whenever I buy one rather than downloading the pdf from gigapedia. Yes, you reduce environmental damage buying used books, but avoiding paper all together saves so much more.
  - Have more patience and foresight -   I order stuff directly form China whenever possible. I experience guilt whenever I spend on time preference for foreseeable expenses.

Idea two : Open non-personal data.   Air travel has gained incredible efficiency by partially exposing reservation databases. Imagine how much easier your job becomes if everyone could read your suppliers databases directly. Imagine if you could search customs email servers. Does customs have any legitimate reason for keeping their email servers secret? How do we gamify the supply chain? Expose the data!  How do we gamify enforcing environmental or financial regulations? Again, expose their servers for read-only public scrutiny, improving security around database writes obviously.

In the same vein, how might we reduce government corruption and graft? Ideally, all government data could be publicly readable except where courts granted "secrecy warrant", such as when police launch an undercover investigation, or when documents contained personal details. We'd manage the security through metadata fields giving warrant ids or identifying the person who's privacy was being protected.

Idea three : Use public forums or wikis where reasonable.   We permit lobbyists because they educate lawmakers about relevant details. Why not achieve the same purpose with less bias and corruption by using open discussion forums? In Germany, the Pirate Party constructs their platform on liquidfeedback.org.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:39 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


you'd get doctors and lawyers and physicists in a world with less toil because you'll still have people who want to do these things; in fact, you'll likely have more of them.

Sometimes it seems that everything important in the world is being done despite capital, rather than because of it. Maybe it's just where I am, but so much of the valuable work is being done through volunteer labour and donations, from organizing community groups, to emergency services, to building parks, to restoring public buildings.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:45 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


When people talk about abolishing work, they're talking about abolishing toil. Most truly professional jobs consist of meaningful work

I think you are simultaneously overestimating the meaningfulness of professional work, which can be truly a soul-sucking grind (just look at the list of jobs most likely to cause you to commit suicide -- there are lots of professional / desk jobs), while also neglecting to consider that "toil" is a moving target. What looks like toil to us today might have been regarded as moderately cushy to a peasant a few centuries ago, or maybe someone in a Victorian workhouse. What looks like a somewhat boring desk job today might fairly be regarded as basically torture to someone a few centuries hence.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:50 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


We've made considerable progress in computer aided document review for discovery proceedings, Kadin2048. In fact, such programs sues out larger patterns than humans law clerks, like some post-mortem traffic analysis. All that requires math savvy programers with domaine expertise, not just lawyers.

All those jobs with suicide rates about 1.4 look overworked and high stress, especially the medical professionals and financial people. I've no clue why hand molders and real estate kill themselves so often, maybe they collected that data during the recession?
posted by jeffburdges at 9:07 AM on January 30, 2013


While I agree with a lot of the points brought up about how drudgery can and should be reduced, the video left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe it's the reliance on dopey buzzwords that strain credibility for me ("Ludic Lifestyle!" "Office OLIGARCHY!" ) , or maybe it's just the brief glimpse of the Poi/fire-spinner at the beginning.

I don't mean to besmirch the practice of fire-spinning, or other such performance arts, but the imagery of it always seems to invariably evoke an ambiguously employed, young, suburban white person, who has an inflated sense of what they contribute to society just by existing. They have a lot of high-minded ideas about 'community' and 'sharing' which tends to bear out as rationalization for why they never have their own food, drugs, or smokes.

I'm not trying to engage in "hippie punching", i think people DO work too hard, and the economic infrastructure in this country needs a LOT of work, but whenever people start positing this "life should be fun! We should be paid for appreciating beauty!" it always comes across as positively SOAKED in privilege.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:34 AM on January 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


Uther Bentrazor I think that's a totally fair criticisms of some theories of communism, and that it does hold merit when we're discussing Bob Black.

It certainly doesn't across the board though, and there other theories that I find a lot more palatable. I think that we should aim to work less, and toward mutually beneficial goals. We can reorganize the economy and our workplaces without getting into this individualist life stylist stuff that people like Black support.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:09 AM on January 30, 2013


I'd probably agree more with Bookchin in the debate summarized (badly) on wikipedia:
Anarchy After Leftism, and the Bookchin controversy

Beginning in 1997, Black became involved in a debate sparked by the work of anarchist and founder of the Institute for Social Ecology Murray Bookchin, an outspoken critic of the post-left anarchist tendency. Bookchin wrote and published Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm, labeling post-left anarchists and others as "lifestyle anarchists" — thus following up a theme developed in his Philosophy of Social Ecology. Though he does not refer directly to Black's work, Bookchin clearly has Black's rejection of work as an implicit target when he criticizes authors such as John Zerzan and Dave Watson, whom he controversially labels part of the same tendency.

For Bookchin, "lifestyle anarchism" is individualistic and childish. "Lifestyle anarchists" demand "anarchy now", imagining they can create a new society through individual lifestyle changes.

In response, Black published Anarchy After Leftism. The text is a combination of point-by-point, almost legalistic dissection of Bookchin's argument, with bitter theoretical polemic, and even personal insult against Bookchin (whom he refers to as "the Dean" throughout).

Besides quibbling over some minor biographical details, Bookchin refused to reply to Black's critiques, which Black continued in such essays as "Withered Anarchism", "An American in Paris", and "Murray Bookchin and the Witch-Doctors"; and which Black later collated into a single book-length critique of Bookchin's views entitled Nightmares of Reason. [6]
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:17 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


As an aspiring capitalist plutocrat, I encourage the distribution of this message to the masses so that in no way will they be encouraged to actually empower themselves within the current system. Huzzah!
posted by fraxil at 11:21 AM on January 30, 2013



As an aspiring capitalist plutocrat, I encourage the distribution of this message to the masses so that in no way will they be encouraged to actually empower themselves within the current system. Huzzah!
posted by fraxil at 11:21 AM on January 30 [+] [!]


No worries. For most people, it's impossible to be empowered within the current system.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:38 AM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Kadin2048, most of the jobs in that list (which is fascinating; I'd imagine there are a whole soup of factors involved there. As someone who does work in the medical field, I can confirm that the hours are just plain insane and everything seems organized to cause the most stress possible) are in harmony with this definition, but to be clear I meant "professional" more in the sense of physicians, dentists, physicists, professors, etc. and not in the more common sense of "I work in an office." I should've been clearer about that!

About shifting definitions of "toil": it's a good thing, because it forces us to reevaluate what's worth doing all the time. Mostly I was imagining minimum wage or below jobs without a scrap of dignity (food service, agricultural labor, mining). By "make-work," I mean more the abstract office work that seems kind of unnecessary and useless to me, which I kinda suspect is just there to occupy the time and energy of an educated middle class.

Sometimes it seems that everything important in the world is being done despite capital, rather than because of it. Maybe it's just where I am, but so much of the valuable work is being done through volunteer labour and donations, from organizing community groups, to emergency services, to building parks, to restoring public buildings.

Ditto here. Maybe the best I can say about a profit motive is that sometimes it generates enough money for someone to donate to something worthwhile; but it'd be nice to integrate the stuff that's worthwhile into the system, instead of just twiddling thumbs and hoping for the best.
posted by byanyothername at 12:06 PM on January 30, 2013


No worries. For most people, it's impossible to be empowered within the current system.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:38 AM on January 30 [4 favorites −] [!]


Appreciate your help sir.
posted by fraxil at 12:19 PM on January 30, 2013


There will HAVE to be an economy, even in a Ludic world. This doesn't invalidate the basic ideas, however.

Even in a post-scarcity world, there's going to be scarcity--not everything is infinitely replicable. For starters, with real estate it's often pointed out that "they aren't making anymore." (Artificial islands aside.) There can only be so many secluded mountain cabins/beautiful seaside homes/penthouse apartments. There will only ever be one original of a great artist's work if they work in physical media. There's only so many people who can fit in the stadium where the great musician plays. There will need to be so way to apportion these things.

As others have alluded, the economy will have to built upon the undesirability of the tasks and adjusted for the number of people interested in that job and it's location. These things are relative and it would likely be closer to a stock market than a chart of rates. The guy who's job it is to rescue the broken down sewer cleaning robots is probably going to make more money than a doctor in LA, but less money than the medical intern disimpacting bowels in a remote hospital in Juneau during the winter. And if hardly no one wants to spend the years of study it takes to run a nuclear power plant well then that gal will make more than all the others put together.

Furthermore, inheritance needs to go. Any all perks accrued in life apply only to that person and aren't transferable on death. We'll let the lawyers work out the loopholes to prevent tricks like purchasing things for inflated prices from your children, etc. This will be a tough one to sell, since providing for one's offspring is pretty damn hardcoded into our DNA, but it's critical to the success of this type of economy. Never having to work a day in your life should come with the responsibility of having to personally earn every luxury in life you wish to afford yourself.

But to pull all this off will probably required an extremely centrally-manged economy and logistics system. I don't think the problems ultimately scale to human levels. This would probably take damn near Singularity levels of AI.
posted by Freon at 12:35 PM on January 30, 2013


We can reorganize the economy and our workplaces without getting into this individualist life stylist stuff that people like Black support.

In fact, a lot of the labor workers and union organizers that Black is writing off are trying to do precisely that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:58 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't get why logistics or sewer cleaning are examples of edge cases that would fail.
For unpleasant work that requires little skill, I suspect there would be plenty of people who would trade an afternoon digging a ditch for better tickets to (insert sports game or concert or other scarce item).
For more skilled but somewhat unwelcome occupations, I'll go with logistics since Sticherbeast named it as one that makes people grumpy and is hard to automate, is it not possible to break the tasks down into jobs that take less time? I would find shepherding a shipment from south China to the US Midwest on time and for the lowest cost a fun and rewarding puzzle to do once in a while, moreso if I could choose my hours, moreso again if their was a reputational scoreboard or some other status marker reward.
But if my basic needs were met, and this sort of itinerant work was available, I would do a logistics run occasionally, paint somebody's kitchen once in a while, organise a junior soccer team every 2nd season and post more on metafilter.
The trick is gaining the consensus that we should pursue this approach, rather than the winner takes all, we must all work our guts out approach currently adopted.
posted by bystander at 11:19 PM on January 30, 2013


This will be a tough one to sell, since providing for one's offspring is pretty damn hardcoded into our DNA, but it's critical to the success of this type of economy.

Yeah, I think that's a problem right there. If you have to take on biology and win to be successful, the safe bet is probably on biology. Failure is always an option, &c.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:27 PM on January 30, 2013


I avoided addressing your supply chain question earlier, Sticherbeast, because all the waste lies with the make-work and harmful social control jobs.

Okay, but now we're back in a world where there's plenty of non-optional work. Let's say we identify and cut out all the make-work that ever was: we're still left with mundane but necessary jobs, and not all of these jobs can be gamified beyond a certain point.

Also, we're buying an incredible standard of living with that supply chain work, ala pomegranates in the winter.

Pomegranates are a fall and winter fruit, but I catch your drift. I don't know much about fruit logistics, but I would imagine that refrigerated transportation is quite an ordeal unto itself.

Still, at least pomegranates grow on trees. Also, at least where I live, they're much more of a luxury item. What about something that is both more boring and yet also more complicated, such as an affordable, high-quality paring knife? It's not the first thing we think of when we think of a first world lifestyle, but little things like that are all around us, and the ability to manufacture and distribute these items requires a good deal of labor and consistent organization.

Idea one : Adjust our morality to consume less.

Sure, no complaint here. We can all minimize our perceived material needs.

That said, many mundane, non-fancy objects require equal or greater effort to make and distribute as frivolous, unnecessary objects. Hand-carved, wooden statue of yourself with the face of a duck? You can commission that on request and "ship" it to your house by using your own beast of burden. High-quality, affordable paring knife, though? That's part of a larger process.

Have more patience and foresight -   I order stuff directly form China whenever possible. I experience guilt whenever I spend on time preference for foreseeable expenses.

I understand your desire to avoid middlemen, but not only are most of the same L&SCM questions still in play, you're not always saving time or money by doing this, especially if you want to maximize value versus cost. For many objects, yes, for others, no.

Imagine how much easier your job becomes if everyone could read your suppliers databases directly.

I'm sorry, but this is the opposite of what we'd like to happen. We negotiate prices with suppliers, and we need that information to remain private. We have much to lose, and nothing to gain, by telling everyone what our margins are for all of our items, or how prices change when we change factories, and so on.

We already share our distributor price information and MAPs with distributors, so there's nothing new on that score, except when certain distributors get special deals now and again. There are also some other details that I'm not going to go into, but you can take my word for it that there is other information that we keep private for certain parties versus others, and vice versa. If we didn't, then we'd go out of business, and if we're out of business, then we're not ordering stuff, so then the suppliers go out of business, and then the distributors go out of business, and before you know it, all of reality looks like Terminator: Salvation.

Blame capitalism? Sure, go for it. But until you can come up with a post-capitalist business model for our company, it makes no sense whatsoever for us to share supplier prices.

Imagine if you could search customs email servers. Does customs have any legitimate reason for keeping their email servers secret?

Access to customs' email servers wouldn't help us. We would waste far, far more time than we'd save, over the existing system of just having a relevant person tell us what the issue is as it arises.

How do we gamify enforcing environmental or financial regulations? Again, expose their servers for read-only public scrutiny, improving security around database writes obviously.

Doesn't help us. The environmental and food-safe regulations themselves are already freely available, for the obvious reason that countries want those regulations to be followed. We already share the testing data with all the necessary parties. Maybe twice in six months have I had to dig up an errant test report to send to another party.

How do we gamify the supply chain? Expose the data!

I wish I could put you in my job for a few months. You'd find out that the real timesucks are exactly those parts of the job which are most resistant to gamification, and that your proposals are nonresponsive to our real needs.

L&SCM is a tricky one because it's a job requiring quite a bit of human contact and judgment calls, and where you need to provide consistent, routine attention to boring communiques. Some data needs to be kept in confidence, and that same data is often ever-shifting. Methods are often idiosyncratic to particular organizations. Everyone has to be on the same page as far as work flow - it takes time to be trained at any one company. It is exactly the kind of job where it would be least welcome for people to crowdsource just a little bit of their own self-scheduled time to the task at hand.



All told, of course I can think of ways in which my job could be more automated. But, even if everyone followed my advice to a T, it would never collapse to a point where the process itself automates to a point where someone would stop being necessary. We already have a minimal crew as it is. I don't do make-work. I wish I did make-work. Even if we went far beyond the automation that I think possible, the very best I could hope for in my department would be a situation where I'd still be responding to a bunch of emails a day, except now these emails would have different topics, and the L&SCM emails would be maybe somewhat fewer in number.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:06 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


-David Graeber's Reddit IAmA
-Reddit thread on automation and driverless cars
-FTAV video: the robot employment threat
-Socialism's second chance

(also btw ;)

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 12:12 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow! I love those links, kliuless, thank you!

In broad strokes, you're simply observing that our society's advanced tool for eliminating necessary work make the remaining work more complex, Sticherbeast. I'd agree with that statement overall. In fact, I'm happy if we back off from discussing eliminating work outright specifically because we should witness situations where eliminating the remaining work is harder than simply rewarding someone to do it. How about say a 6 hour work week with overtime exemption only for the company's significant investors?

Is L&SCM currently in such a situation? Your replies suggest that depends upon cultural features. Yeah, perhaps we lack the social infrastructure to eliminate information asymmetry when real money is at stake, but less information asymmetry should create efficiency once we figure out how to do it. Also, I'm not merely "avoiding middlemen" by ordering directly from China, but actually outsourcing all the L&SCM issues, since postal services provides a nicely automatable chunk, never mind Google's self driving vehicles. We could automate the warehousing as well, either here or there. Does warehousing bring real L&SCM issues? Certainly warehouses can be automated down to the vehicles. What if we securitized warehousing to separate the risk from the logistics? It might create another breed of financial parasite if done poorly, but if done right it might liberate the practical issues from the risk management issues, making inventories public knowledge might be a necessary part of this. I donno about securitization really, but the point remains that social advancements play an extensive role. I suppose better free open source software could standardize L&SCM software like how Linux Apache and MySQL largely standardized web servers.

In any case, all the aerial human speed records were set in the 70s, except for Apollo 10's fastest human ever records in 1969 and the Concorde's 1996 fastest commercial flight. Avoiding travel time represents a pretty major standard of living increase for extremely influential people, but nevertheless we deemed it simply too expensive, i.e. too much work. We can choose not to consume really unnecessary stuff.

In particular, we must do that across a wide variety of unnecessary activities in retail, criminal law, civil law, finance, real estate, etc. It's way harder saying "No we won't support this 'for the children' drug war" than saying "I'm not paying for subsidize that rich guy's supersonic flight" despite the fact that second actually help somebody while the first hurts everybody. Yet, societies have said no to both before.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:10 PM on February 4, 2013


Ordering stuff directly from China doesn't really eliminate SCM issues. It just shifts them from the manufacturer who would have otherwise imported whatever you're buying in bulk, and shifted it to whoever runs the common carrier that you're using for the shipment. Those companies maintain some of the biggest and most advanced SCM departments in the world, at least with regard to air freight (Wal-Mart's is widely regarded to be the most advanced / best w/r/t surface transpo).

And in doing so you are creating inefficiencies. It's a lot easier to move a container full of widgets than it is to move a container full of miscellaneous packages. Particularly because, if you're a widget importer, you can choose between a variety of transportation methods for your widget container-loads ... some of them might come via very efficient sea transportation, with only infrequent demand spikes coming by air freight. When you order your widget individually from China, it's going to get packed and almost certainly shipped air freight all the way from China. That would be a rare exception in a well-managed import supply chain.

Whether or not it consumes more human labor when drop-shipped from China vs imported traditionally and sold I'm not sure, and I've never seen any analysis of, but it's almost certainly creating a bigger natural-resource (particularly carbon) footprint; to me that suggests that even if it shouldn't use more human resources, it probably should.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:35 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Afaik, all these companies offering free shipping from China while undercutting Amazon's prices use surface mail that takes a month or two, Kadin2048. It's probably a container full of packages rather than a container full of boxes.

You're invoking a strawman by suggesting that I claimed this reduces labor since I explicitly said "outsourcing all the L&SCM issues". If anything, American warehousing operations use more automation. I proposed this as a trick for consuming less by "Having more patience and foresight" though. Any net work savings comes as a side effect of consuming less this way, i.e. sacrificing time preference improves your purchasing. It's only more efficient in the sense that outsourcing all the manufacturing is more efficient in the first place though, i.e. cheaper labor, but "outsource the outsourcers" is a noble goal as well. Anyways, I should've said merely "online shopping" because automated warehousing reduces labor over brick and mortar.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:29 AM on February 5, 2013


In broad strokes, you're simply observing that our society's advanced tool for eliminating necessary work make the remaining work more complex, Sticherbeast.

No, that is not what I'm saying. In broad strokes, with all due respect, I'm pointing out that you don't seem all that familiar with how supply chain management works. Please: expound less, and ask more questions. You seem to be starting from a certain set of conclusions, and then you are incorrectly assuming facts about the topic in order to make it fit. When you begin with the assumption that, say, sharing our supplier prices with everyone is something that we would want, or when you don't know that warehousing actually carries very significant L&SCM issues, issues which would not be remedied by self-driving cars, then it's as if we were discussing medical issues, and you were assuming that hands and feet grew back on their own, or that nurses could be replaced by little instrument-carrying RC cars.

If you want to show how this massive undertaking could be reduced to a skeleton crew with six-hour workweeks, then you first need to study and understand the topic.

Also, online shopping does not materially compress L&SCM issues. For example, our hands are full enough as it is, and we barely ever touch any issues that affect brick and mortar establishments. What we do on our end is the same exact process, the same exact amount of work, whether it's stuff for Amazon, stuff for a Big Box Store, or stuff for a Small Store.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:04 AM on February 18, 2013


you don't seem all that familiar with how supply chain management works.
I realise this was directed at Jeffburdges, but:
Absolutely I'm not, but you seem to be overlooking the massive amounts of learning and practice that people willingly put in to gaming and simulations, typically after they have paid a fee to do it. It seems reasonable they would do at least as much if they were getting paid a bit.
I have not the slightest doubt that there would be people quite happy to play L&SCM in this kind of scenario, and it seems a small jump for me, to, for example, set up immersive practice simulations that a prospective player could work through, then have them play their first few runs with an experienced supervisor.
You seem to be arguing that this job is so tough, complex and unpleasant that it would be impossible to train anyone to do it on anything other than a 110% committed 50hours a week scenario.
I don't think that is true, and I think your employer would quickly agree if one of your competitors came up with tools that enabled casual 'gamer' style L&SCM that resulted in lower wage costs.
posted by bystander at 6:36 PM on February 19, 2013


It's not necessarily a matter of toughness, complexity, or even unpleasantness. It doesn't even have to do with 50+ hour weeks, unless you're severely understaffed. It has to do with the fact that it is a field where major roles cannot be filled with casual "gamers", who drop in when they feel like it. Long-term relationship continuity and the ability to make (and seek) binding judgment calls are all important here, among other things.

It's not enough to simply say that the whole shebang can be turned into a game. That's nothing more than a conclusory assertion. If you want me to buy that gamifying L&SCM to a practicable extent is in the near future, then you will have to give concrete, workable details as to how that would work. This would necessarily involve extensive familiarity with L&SCM.

If people would be interested, I could come up with an outline of what goes on in some of the major processes, and we could try to think of a way to gamify that outline in such a way that it would be more efficient than simply having some full-time workers. I'd go into this exercise with an open mind.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:23 PM on February 19, 2013


Relax! You’ll Be More Productive
posted by jeffburdges at 8:10 AM on February 21, 2013


Robots and algorithms are getting good at jobs

Just fyi, there is debate between a Federico Pistono and the U.K. Socialist Party in London, not sure if they'll webcast it or what to expect.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:02 AM on February 21, 2013


-The Environmental Benefits of Working Shorter Hours
-Spreading The Work Around
posted by kliuless at 3:21 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud
posted by jeffburdges at 4:31 PM on February 27, 2013


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