Abundant, paid work might be an old-world way of measuring prosperity. After all, many manufacturing jobs are being taken over by bots, leaving those without computer science or relevant degrees in the dust, without work. Chris Twomey, policy director of the non-profit organization Western Australian Council of Social Service, argues we shouldn’t be trying to create more jobs; instead, we should be working less.
Twomey's essay is one part of a series of essays put out by the Green Institute, all working together to create a larger conversation surrounding a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a plan that gives people unconditional, free money regardless of employment. The Green Institute remains agnostic on whether a UBI is what we need in order to fix many of the issues we face, including inequality and a shrinking job market. But they agree it’s a conversation worth having, if only to find a way to create a better, fairer society.
Technology is helping to make a future of less work possible, however, the noise of politics has created a distorted message. Our politicians are going around trying to bring back the jobs, says Twomey. Many in America’s heartland feel like President-elect Donald Trump will help bring the factories back from China. Here’s the problem, China is a scapegoat for the real issue. The factories have been coming back, and the jobs? Not quite as much. Because of the rise of automation, factories have been hiring only a fraction of the workers.
“Computers and automation are creating a world with fewer and fewer paid jobs, and more insecure work,” Twomey writes. “Education and training, supporting innovation, are important in this context. But they will not be sufficient. Working less, sharing jobs, and institutionally supporting people to do so, will be vital.”
The world is changing around us, which requires a shift in how we perceive work. Work is necessary, but do we really need 40 hours of it each week?
Here we arrive at the idea of fewer jobs, more shared work, and more meaningful work. “Technology has the capacity to free us from tedious and mundane work and enable us to pursue more meaningful and productive activities.”
Anthropologist David Graeber says our capitalist society has managed to create “bullshit jobs.” These are areas of industry that have little to no value other than to provide work for people to do – like a symptom of Soviet socialism. Middle managers who file inconsequential reports no-one will read. Unnecessary administrators who orchestrate meetings. Or take telemarketers. If all these were to go away, no one would miss them. This is what Graeber defines as a “bullshit job.”
“It seems to be this idea that work is a value in itself,” Graeber said in an interview.
What we need to realize is there’s also value in leisure from a health and environmental standpoint. Leisure is time to create, invent, educate, care for our family, and more.