May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)
Contents Bulletin Scripting in shell and Perl Network troubleshooting History Humor

Slackerism as Guerilla tactics in Neoliberal Corporations

News Bureaucratic alienation Recommended Links Workagolism as escape path from social problems Information Overload Sociology of organizations Dictionary of corporate bullshit
Absurdity of bureaucracies Bureaucracy as a Political Coalition Bureaucratic avoidance of responsibility Bureaucratic Collectivism Bureaucratic Inertia Meetings mania Military Incompetence
Computer-related Variants of  OCD Information addition Compulsive browsing of the Web Procrastination Social Problem in Enterprise Unix Administration Bureaucratic ritualism Corporate bullshit as a communication method
Fundamental Absurdity of IT Management Managing Managers Expectations  Slackerism Quotes Ten Commandments of the IT Slackers Society Manifest of the Softpanorama IT Slacker Society Humor Etc

Vonbek777 wrote:

That night I dreamed a surreal Dilbert type revolution where oppressed cubical workers everywhere rose up and pitched workstations out windows, torched the server rooms, danced on the backup tapes in the streets, and bowled mid-level managers strapped to fake leather office chairs into vending machines and stacks of office water bottles, the big ones.

Perhaps you should seek professional help :-)


JP wrote:

Perhaps you should seek professional help.

Are you suggesting that isn't a normal fantasy for frustrated IT people everywhere?

Advance Report- Real Annualized GDP Grew at 3.2% in Q4

The current US cultural norms glorify and misrepresent "hard work" making emphasis on the "hard" part: tremendous effort, long hours, no vacations, etc.  This a kind of groupthink. In other cultures  the emphasis in not on the word "hard" but on the word "quality.  Social approval is bestowed on those who are  "doing their best" rather than "working hard" (i.e. long hours, up to physical exhaustion). And there is not this neoliberal "you're going to get the payoff if you work hard" quid pro quo. For example, Japanese culture glorify those who have done their best. Which can done more for the a personal satisfaction than for a financial compensation. That same is true about Russian culture. Glossing over some complexity, workagolism is not socially desirable trait in many cultures. 

OK, you understand that neoliberalism rules. That means that you soon will be outsourced. Or that you have a psychopathic boss. If not yest you will soon have. that the logic of neoliberlism too (profits before people). Or authoritarian boss. Or that any initiative is drown in Organizational Stupidity, Pointless Policies and Muddled Management. Now what ?  Please understand that the resistance is not futile and can take many forms.

Here we will discuss just one -- slakerism. As Mark Kingwell, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, observed  the idea of just "slow yourself down" in not that crazy in the modern society (The Barbed Gift of Leisure)

At this point, we return with renewed urgency to the political aspect of the question of leisure and work. Everyone from Plato and Thomas More to H.G. Wells and Barack Obama has given thought to the question of the fair distribution of labor and fun within a society. This comes with an immediate risk: Too often, the "realist" rap against any such scheme of imagined distributive justice, which might easily entail state intervention concerning who does what and who gets what, is that the predicted results depend on altered human nature, are excessively costly, or are otherwise unworkable. The deadly charge of utopianism always lies ready to hand.

... ... ...

Veblen, after his fashion a sharp critic of capitalism but always more cynical than the socialist dreamers, demonstrated how minute divisions of leisure time could be used to demonstrate social superiority, no matter what the form or principle of social organization; but he was no more able than Marx to see how ingenious capitalist market forces could be in adapting to changing political environments. For instance, neither of them sensed what we now know all too well, namely that democratizing access to leisure would not change the essential problems of distributive justice. Being freed from drudgery only so that one may shop or be entertained by movies and sports, especially if this merely perpetuates the larger cycles of production and consumption, is hardly liberation. In fact, "leisure time" becomes here a version of the company store, where your hard-won scrip is forcibly swapped for the very things you are working to make.

Worse, on this model of leisure-as-consumption, the game immediately gets competitive, if not zero-sum. And this is not just a matter of the general sociological argument that says humans will always find ways to outdo each other when it comes to what they buy, wear, drive, or listen to. This argument is certainly valid; indeed, our basic primate need for position within hierarchies means that such competition literally ceases only in death. These points are illustrated with great acumen by Pierre Bourdieu, whose monumental study Distinction is the natural successor to The Theory of the Leisure Class. No, the issue can really only be broached using old-fashioned Marxist concepts such as surplus value and commodity fetishism.

It was the Situationist thinker Guy Debord who made the key move in this quarter. In his 1967 book, Society of the Spectacle, he posited the notion of temporal surplus value. Just as in classic Marxist surplus value, which is appropriated by owners from alienated workers who produce more than they consume, then converted into profit which is siphoned off into the owners' pockets, temporal surplus value is enjoyed by the dominant class in the form of sumptuous feast days, tournaments, adventure, and war. Likewise, just as ordinary surplus value is eventually consumed by workers in the form of commodities which they acquire with accumulated purchasing power, so temporal surplus value is distributed in the form of leisure time that must be filled with the experiences supplied by the culture industry.

... ... ...

And here, at the limit of life that idling alone brings into view in a nonthreatening way, we find another kind of nested logic. Call it the two-step law of life. Rule No. 1 is tomorrow we die; and Rule No. 2 is nobody, not even the most helpful robot, can change Rule No. 1. Enjoy!

From another angle, it's probably time to look at the IT without rose glasses and see not only datacenter often impede company growth and stifle people initiatives but in general,  Information technology, in fact, often diminishes workplace efficiency. Scientific American ("Taking Computers to Task," July 1997) pointed out that despite the $1 trillion spent annually across the globe,

 "productivity growth measured in the seven richest nations has instead fallen precipitously in the last 30 years ... Most of the economic growth can be explained by increased employment, trade and production capacity. Computers' contributions, in contrast, nearly vanish in the noise..." .

This is probably not so simple as price of oil is the major factor in economic growth that author forgot to take into account, but they have a point.

Guerilla tactics at work
(Column No. 5; Guardian, 11/12/06)

Office employees are required to sacrifice more than just their time and energy. They're expected to yield their souls too. As early as the interview stage it's made clear to new recruits that total commitment to the company is mandatory. This means adopting the company ethos and believing in its "mission". It's like joining a cult.

Your employer requires your sincere devotion. Cynicism is regarded as an attitude problem, and will result in your behavior being closely monitored. In this kind of environment you need to disguise your contempt, otherwise everything you do will be regarded with suspicion.

Mask your sarcasm with humor, and avoid attracting unwanted attention. In fact it's probably best to channel all your simmering frustrations into covert propaganda rather than risk self-incriminatory verbal outpourings.

Office propaganda wars are the business world's best kept secret. Thousands of disenchanted employees are engaged in clandestine projects to counter the corporate propaganda relentlessly churned out in the form of newsletters, notices, memos, staff debriefings, team pep-talks, etc. The employer's aim is to make staff view the company goals as all-important. The antidote to this brainwashing is ridicule and parody, which can take the form of graffiti, stickers, fake notices, spoof emails, etc.

Ambitious, careerist types won't appreciate this subversive humor, as it undermines their sense of self-importance. Consider these folk as your enemies in the propaganda war. They might be your colleagues, but you don't have to socialize with them. Taking coffee breaks together isn't mandatory – make excuses and go later when you can read a newspaper undisturbed. But beware of being branded unsociable, as this attracts scrutiny from the company thought-police.

You can always fake sociability. On occasions when you can't avoid your colleagues, join in the office chit-chat. But whenever there's a choice, look for an escape route. Always keep an important-looking document close to hand, so you can pretend to be on an urgent errand.

Performance reviews will reveal whether you've successfully concealed your "attitude problem". If your supervisor suggests that you're not a "team-player", it means they're onto you. This means you'll probably be sent on team-bonding courses and be press-ganged into socializing with career-driven morons.

Avoid work through invisibility

13/11/06 | Guardian

As an office employee, you need a strategy for avoiding work – it's a requirement for job fulfillment. If you're unlikely to become a manager, the next best way to avoid work is to become invisible. If people can't see you, they can't pester you with work assignments.

Start becoming invisible by lowering the height of your chair and positioning your computer so you're hidden from your boss. You might also want to build tall stacks of documents around your desk. The next step is to be invisible in meetings. The easiest way is to not turn up. Five minutes before a meeting starts, make sure you go as far away as possible from your desk and colleagues. You can hide in the toilets or go for a walkabout. Nobody will notice you sneaking off – they'll be too busy preparing for the meeting and mentally rehearsing their lines.

You probably won't be missed, but have an excuse ready in case you're asked. Be imaginative when inventing explanations. For example, you had to go to your car because the security desk noticed squirrels tampering with your windscreen wipers. Remember to laugh in a self-deprecating way when you recount such stories – this is an old trick, taught to spies, for dealing with interrogation.

Once you've mastered guilt-free lying, you can progress to hard-core invisibility, otherwise known as skiving. The best-known method is to take sick days. As with avoiding meetings, it helps to have a set of fabrications memorized, just in case you're suddenly struck one morning with a massive disinclination to go to work.

Plan ahead. You can use your time in the office productively by searching the web for illnesses which sound convincing but not too obvious. Make a note of details of interesting symptoms, so you'll at least sound as if you're making an effort to seem believable. Claiming to have a "cold" every time will be regarded by your manager as a personal insult.

Some people have a guilty conscience about phoning in sick. The remedy is to imagine, vividly, how you feel at work on a typical Monday morning. That should make you feel queasy. By dictionary definition, "queasy" means ill. Therefore it's your duty to phone in sick. If you don't feel queasy at the thought of Monday morning, then by definition there must be something wrong with you, so you should phone in sick anyway.

Far too many people spread low morale by going to work when they don't feel like it. It's better for you, your colleagues, and the national economy if you stay at home. Or, to put it another way: prevention is better than cure, so phone in sick before you get ill.

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Old News ;-)

[Mar 23, 2017] F@ck Work?

Notable quotes:
"... By Scott Ferguson, an assistant professor of Film & Media Studies in the Department of Humanities & Cultural Studies at the University of South Florida. His current research and pedagogy focus on Modern Monetary Theory and critiques of neoliberalism; aesthetic theory; the history of digital animation and visual effects; and essayistic writing across media platforms. Originally published at Arcade ..."
"... requirement ..."
"... You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone ..."
"... F-k Stupid Jobs with Bad Pay ..."
"... F-k Work ..."
Mar 23, 2017 |
Posted on January 5, 2017 by Yves Smith Yves here. The reason I prefer a jobs guarantee (with an income guarantee at a lower income level) is that the time an income guarantee was implemented on an open-ended, long term basis, it produced an unskilled underclass (see our post on the Speenhamland system for more detail).

Moreover, the idea that people are brimming with all sorts of creative things they'd do if they had an income to allow themselves to do it is bunk. For instance, MacArthur Foundation grant recipients, arguably some of the very most creative people in society, almost without exception do not do anything productive while they have their grant funding. And let us not kid ourselves: most people are not creative and need structure and pressure to get anything done.

Finally, humans are social animals. Work provides a community. If you are extraverted and need to be around people during the day, it's hard to create enough opportunities for interaction on your own.

By Scott Ferguson, an assistant professor of Film & Media Studies in the Department of Humanities & Cultural Studies at the University of South Florida. His current research and pedagogy focus on Modern Monetary Theory and critiques of neoliberalism; aesthetic theory; the history of digital animation and visual effects; and essayistic writing across media platforms. Originally published at Arcade

In the wake of Donald Trump's alarming election to the White House, historian James Livingston published an essay in Aeon Magazine with the somewhat provocative title, " Fuck Work ." The piece encapsulates the argument spelled out in Livingston's latest book, No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea (The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

In both his book and the Aeon essay, Livingston sets out to address several overlapping crises: an alienating and now exhausted "work ethic" that crystallized during the Protestant Reformation; forty years of rampant underemployment, declining wages, and widening inequality; a corresponding surge in financial speculation and drop in productive investment and aggregate demand; and a post-2008 climate of cultural resentment and political polarization, which has fueled populist uprisings from Left to Right.

What the present catastrophe shows, according to Livingston's diagnosis, is the ultimate failure of the marketplace to provision and distribute social labor. What's worse, the future of work looks dismal. Citing the works of Silicon Valley cyber-utopians and orthodox economists at Oxford and M.I.T., Livingston insists that algorithms and robotization will reduce the workforce by half within twenty years and that this is unstoppable, like some perverse natural process. "The measurable trends of the past half-century, and the plausible projections for the next half-century, are just too empirically grounded to dismiss as dismal science or ideological hokum," he concludes. "They look like the data on climate change-you can deny them if you like, but you'll sound like a moron when you do."

Livingston's response to this "empirical," "measurable," and apparently undeniable doomsday scenario is to embrace the collapse of working life without regret. "Fuck work" is Livingston's slogan for moving beyond the demise of work, transforming a negative condition into a positive sublation of collective life.

In concrete terms, this means implementing progressive taxation to capture corporate earnings, and then redistributing this money through a " Universal Basic Income ," what in his book is described as a "minimum annual income for every citizen." Such a massive redistribution of funds would sever the historical relationship between work and wages, in Livingston's view, freeing un- and underemployed persons to pursue various personal and communal ends. Such a transformation is imminently affordable, since there are plenty of corporate funds to seize and redirect to those in need. The deeper problem, as Livingston sees it, is a moral one. We must rebuff the punishing asceticism of the Protestant work ethic and, instead, reorganize the soul on more free and capacious bases.

Lest we get the wrong idea, Livingston maintains that social labor will not simply disappear in a world organized by a tax-funded Universal Basic Income. Rather, he envisions an increasingly automated future, where leisure is our primary preoccupation, social labor becomes entirely voluntary, and ongoing consumption props up aggregate demand. Eschewing utopian plans or prescriptions, he wonders,

What would society and civilisation be like if we didn't have to 'earn' a living-if leisure was not our choice but our lot? Would we hang out at the local Starbucks, laptops open? Or volunteer to teach children in less-developed places, such as Mississippi? Or smoke weed and watch reality TV all day?

Enraged over the explosion of underpaid and precarious service work? Disaffected by soulless administration and info management positions? Indignant about the history of unfree labor that underwrites the history of the so-called "free market"? Want more free time? Not enough work to go around? Well, then, fuck work, declares Livingston. Say goodbye to the old liberal-democratic goal of full employment and bid good riddance to misery, servitude, and precarity.

"Fuck work" has struck a chord with a diverse crowd of readers. Since its release, the essay has garnered more than 350,000 clicks on the Aeon website. The Spanish publication Contexto y Acción has released a translation of the piece. And weeks later, Livingston's rallying cry continues to resonate through social media networks. "Fuck Work" has been enthusiastically retweeted by everyone from Marxists and small "l" liberals to anarchists and tech gurus.

The trouble is that Livingston's "Fuck Work" falls prey to an impoverished and, in a sense, classically Liberal social ontology, which reifies the neoliberal order it aims to transform. Disavowing modern humanity's reliance on broadscale political governance and robust public infrastructures, this Liberal ontology predicates social life on immediate and seemingly "free" associations, while its critical preoccupation with tyranny and coercion eschews the charge of political interdependence and caretaking. Like so many Universal Basic Income supporters on the contemporary Left, Livingston doubles down on this contracted relationality. Far from a means to transcend neoliberal governance, Livingston's triumphant negation of work only compounds neoliberalism's two-faced retreat from collective governance and concomitant depoliticization of social production and distribution.

In a previous contribution to Arcade, I critiqued the Liberal conception of money upon which Marxists such as Livingston unquestionably rely. According to this conception, money is a private, finite and alienable quantum of value, which must be wrested from private coffers before it can be made to serve the public purpose. By contrast, Modern Monetary Theory contends that money is a boundless and fundamentally inalienable public utility. That utility is grounded in political governance. And government can always afford to support meaningful social production, regardless of its ability to capture taxes from the rich. The result: employment is always and everywhere a political decision, not merely a function of private enterprise, boom and bust cycles, and automation. There is therefore nothing inevitable about underemployment and the misery it induces. In no sense are we destined for a "jobless future."

Thus upon encountering Aeon Magazine's tagline for Livingston's piece-"What if jobs are not the solution, but the problem?"-I immediately began wondering otherwise.

What if we rebuffed the white patriarchal jargon of full employment, which keeps millions of poor, women, and minorities underemployed and imprisoned? What if, in lieu of this liberal-democratic ruse, we made an all-inclusive and well-funded federal Job Guarantee the basis for a renewed leftist imaginary?

What if we stopped believing that capitalists and automation are responsible for determining how and when we labor together? What if we quit imagining that so-called "leisure" spontaneously organizes itself like the laissez-faire markets we elsewhere decry?

What if we created a public works system, which set a just and truly livable wage floor for the entire economy? What if we made it impossible for reprehensible employers like Walmart to exploit the underprivileged, while multiplying everyone's bargaining powers? What if we used such a system to decrease the average work day, to demand that everyone has healthcare, and to increase the quality of social participation across public and private sectors? What if economic life was no longer grounded solely in the profit motive?

What if we cared for all of our children, sick, and growing elderly population? What if we halved teacher-student ratios across all grade levels? What if we built affordable homes for everyone? What if there was a community garden on every block? What if we made our cities energy efficient? What if we expanded public libraries? What if we socialized and remunerated historically unpaid care work? What if public art centers became standard features of neighborhoods? What if we paid young people to document the lives of retirees?

What if we guaranteed that Black lives really matter ? What if, in addition to dismantling the prison industrial complex, we created a rich and welcoming world where everyone, citizen or not, has the right to participation and care?

What if private industry's rejection of workers freed the public to organize social labor on capacious, diverse, and openly contested premises?

What if public works affirmed inclusion, collaboration, and difference? What if we acknowledged that the passions of working life are irreducible to a largely mythical Protestant work ethic? What if questioning the meaning and value of work become part of working life itself?

What if we predicated social critique on terms that are not defined by the neoliberal ideology that we wish to circumvent?

What if we radically affirmed our dependence on the public institutions that support us? What if we forced government to take responsibility for the system it already conditions?

What if we admitted that there are no limits to how we can care for one another and that, as a political community, we can always afford it?

Livingston's argument cannot abide such questions. Hence the Left's reply to "fuck work" should be clear: fuck that.

1 0 24 0 0 This entry was posted in Credit markets , Economic fundamentals , Free markets and their discontents , Guest Post , Income disparity , Politics , Social policy , Social values , The destruction of the middle class on January 5, 2017 by Yves Smith .
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Subscribe to Post Comments 131 comments BecauseTradition , January 5, 2017 at 4:58 am

Again the seemingly endless conflation of work, good, with being a wage slave, not so good. Progressives would do well to focus on justice and that does not include making victims work for restitution. One would think Progressives would wish to f@uck wage slavery, not perpetuate it.

Finally, humans are social animals. Work provides a community. If you are extraverted and need to be around people during the day, it's hard to create enough opportunities for interaction on your own. Yves Smith

I solve that problem with volunteer labor at a local laundry. I do it ONLY when my favorite worker is there because I like her, she has a family to support, she is overworked, she is in constant pain from fibromyalgia, has carpal tunnel syndrome and because of the interesting people I get to see there.

How can I afford to do meaningful work for free? Because I'm retired and have a guaranteed income from Social Security and a small pension.

And let's be honest. A guaranteed job as opposed to a guaranteed income is meant to boost wages by withholding labor from the private sector. But who needs wages with an adequate guaranteed income?

cocomaan , January 5, 2017 at 8:58 am

I'll also piggyback onto this, even though I am not keen on basic income until I see a little more work put into it.

Many people aren't actually contributing anything in any given work environment in our current system. To expect differently if we have a guaranteed jobs program seems naive.

In the administrative structures I've worked under (both private and non profit, often interacting with government), many workers have obstructionist compliance responsibilities. Decisions are put off through nonsense data gathering and reporting, signatures in triplicate, etc. It's why I've become a huge proponent of the Garbage Can theory of administration: most of the work being done is actually to connect or disconnect problems from decision making. When it comes down to it, there are only a few actual decision makers within an organization, with everyone else there to CYA. That goes for any bureaucracy, private or public.

David Graeber has detailed the "bullshit jobs" phenomenon pretty well, and dismantles bureaucracy in his book, and says all this better than I. But the federal job guarantee seems like a path to a bureaucratic hell. Of course, an income guarantee for the disabled, mental, physical, otherwise, is absolutely critical.

Left in Wisconsin , January 5, 2017 at 11:46 am

There is no magic bullet, whether JG or UBI. But I think the author and Yves are absolutely correct in asserting that there is no workable UBI under the current political economy. It would by definition not meet the needs its proponents claim it could because private (and non-profit!) employers would scream about how it was raising labor costs and otherwise destroying the "real" "productive" economy. A UBI after the revolution? Perhaps. Before? Extremely problematic.

On the other hand, a JG that emphasized care work (including paying people to parent) and energy efficiency would meet screaming needs in our society and provide many people with important new skills, many of which would be transferable to the private economy. But even here, the potential pitfalls and problems are numerous, and there would no doubt be stumbles and scandals.

Jesper , January 5, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Two things:
1. Goverments can hire people without a JG, the argument that the JG is necessary for the goverment to find employees is therefore not a very convincing argument.
2. Increasing and enforcing reduced hours an employer can demand of a worker will strengthen the bargaining position of all workers. But the people advocating the JG appears to see the reduced hours of work as a bad thing? People get to meet people at work but the more pleasant interaction (to me) comes outside of work with the same people.

How many paid days off should a person in JG get? As many as Germans get? Or the Japanese? Or?
When can a person in JG retire? At 60? 65? 70? When does work in JG stop being a blessing and instead living at leisure is the bliss? Are we all to be assumed to live for work?

And finally: If income guarantee is too liberal, isn't job-guarantee too much of one of its opposites – totalitarian?

Lambert Strether , January 5, 2017 at 2:28 pm

Why on earth is a Jobs Guarantee totalitarian?

Jesper , January 5, 2017 at 3:12 pm

most people are not creative and need structure and pressure to get anything done.

How does JG put pressure and structure onto people?

lyman alpha blob , January 5, 2017 at 3:46 pm

I think a combination of both would be best. As has been said many times here, a lot of current jobs are complete BS anyway and I don't really want to be guaranteed a job just so I can take the dirt out of Boss Keen's ditch and then put it back in.

Then there's automation which has already taken away a lot of jobs and will continue to do so. That's not a bad thing as long as people are still getting an income.

As there likely isn't enough productive work to go around, ideally there would be a UBI and instead of a job guarantee, have a minimal job requirement . That exact amount of work required could be tinkered with, but maybe it's a couple days a week, a few months a year, or something similar. You'd have to report to work in order to be able to collect your UBI when your work was no longer required.

When you're not doing required work, you can relax and live off your UBI or engage in some sort of non-essential free enterprise.

Yves Smith Post author , January 5, 2017 at 3:53 pm

I don't know what sort of fantasy land you live in. Being an adult means doing stuff that is not fun so that you and your family can survive. This is the nature of the human condition, from the hunter-gatherer phases of existence onward. You see to believe that you have the right to be paid for doing stuff you enjoy. And the sort of jobs you deem to be "bullshit jobs" would seem like paradise to coal miners or people who had to go backbreaking manual work or factory workers in sweatshops in the 19th century. Go read Dickens or Karl Marx to get some perspective.

Kurt Sperry , January 5, 2017 at 4:07 pm

Was this meant to be a reply to cocomaan's post? It seems like it's replying to something else.

If I understand "Bullshit jobs" aren't bullshit because they are unpleasant to do, but because they are to some significant degree unproductive or even counterproductive. Administrative bloat in acedemia is pretty much the gold standard here from my perspective. They are great jobs to have and to do, just useless, unnecessary, and often counterproductive ones. High rise office buildings are, I have always suspected, staffed with a lot of these well paid administrative types of bullshit jobs.

rd , January 5, 2017 at 4:12 pm

The Civilian Conservation Corps is, to my mind, the single most important civilian jobs program of the past century because it provided millions of people meaningful work at a time when they could not get it.

The military also provides a similar function to many people with no other way out of a poor situation. It is likely that one of the reasons that there was such a huge economic post WW II economic boom is because many people (men and women) learned discipline and skills in the military and industrial work places during WW II.

Problems with deadlines are the key drivers for productivity. If there are no problems defined with no deadline, then most people will simply drift. Occasionally a Faraday, Edison, or Einstein will show up who will simply endlessly grind through theoretical and experimental failures on ill-defined problems to come up with something brilliant. Even Maxwell needed Faraday's publications of his experiments showing electro-magnetic fields to get him to come up with his great equations.

Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 12:33 pm

The assumption that work (for profit) is good is very entrenched in culture. The argument that people aren't motivated to work (Americans are lazy) is disputed by the sheer amount of 'volunteerism' (unpaid labor).

Corporations are not going to give up on marketing jobs as they get the vast benefit of labors efforts.No one system works it will take employee ownership to counteract the negatives of private ownership and a ubi along with a job guarantee and expenditures on leisure to shift from a consumer based economy.

I always thought that people were supposed to argue for more than they want and then settle. Here the argument is always on the right side of the political spectrum capitalism and private ownership. Privatize schools and then use a transfer of wealth through taxes and a captured labor force to work in them?

swendr , January 5, 2017 at 5:27 am

Job guarantee all the way, as long as our bosses aren't dicks. We've already kicked people off of public assistance and into shitty underpaid jobs. If having a job is so important, there should always be a good one available. And anyone that can't or won't work can live off a limited basic income. Makes for a smooth and just transition too when our dirty, dull, and dangerous industries are shut down or automated out of existence.

philnc , January 5, 2017 at 10:42 am

Which brings us, along the way, to the need for meaningful educational opportunities for those who the system has heretofore failed.

Concrete case in point. My cousin is a young, single mom in central North Carolina who works hard but is just barely scraping by. Recently my wife and I decided to help her out by giving her the money she'd need to get broadband service so that she and her teenage daughter could take advantage of free, high quality online resources like ( , check it out if you haven't yet). But actually getting her hooked up has been a challenge because the Internet provider Duopoly dropped their most affordable plans sometime last year (around $15/mo) so that the cost will now be a minimum of $40/mo before modem rental, taxes and whatever other fees the carriers can dream up (for the techs out there, even DSL costs $35/mo in that service area). This in a state where there's a law prohibiting local governments from providing Internet services to its citizens in competition with the Duopoly, and where a private initiative like Google Fiber has stumbled so badly that it actually has had a negative impact on price competition.

Of course you might say this is a first world problem, heck at least we have (semi) affordable electricity nowadays. But this happens to be a first world country, where big business pushes paperless constantly to cut its own costs and a semester in college is basically the price of a recent model preowned sedan, _every semester_.

So, a guaranteed job for everyone PLUS the resources to learns what's needed to obtain a job that's more than another dead-end.

P.S. Anyone who has ever tried to use free Internet services at their local library knows that's not a viable option both because of restrictive timeouts and bandwidth caps.

Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 1:01 pm

Bosses will be more likely to be dicks when their employees are a captured labor pool. If you don't comply with commands you'll be out of your 'job guarantee'.

jgordon , January 5, 2017 at 5:37 am

I support Yves' idea for a basic income as a default position for disabled people. Although I'll advocate for something a bit different if possible for the ambulatory: instead of a monetary income, let's provide free basic rations and solar panels, along with a small plot of land in a rural area, free gardening and household supplies, (including free seeds that are appropriate for the given area). And free classes in ecology, cooking, composting, soil management, blacksmithing, carpentry, appropriate technolies and any other good stuff I happen to think of.

As for what the guest poster wrote–well he seems like a good guy but this social justice warrior thing is a dying fad that'll provoke a very unpleasant counter reaction if it keeps up for much longer. I'm positive that Trump garnered thousands of votes in those vital Midwestern swing states thanks to the highly visible sjw activities on campuses, and theis backlash is only going to increase as this goes on.

Moneta , January 5, 2017 at 8:01 am

I have a son with a disability. Without a job, he would watch movies all day.

With a job he becomes a productive part of society. He loves it and he is dedicated. It also gives him the opportunity to bond with people which is hard when you don't have full autonomy because of some aspects of your disability.

From my personal experience, a large percentage of people with a disabilities would prefer a job to income guarantee.

And many would be quite happy with what most consider shit jobs.

Arizona Slim , January 5, 2017 at 9:56 am

Amen, Moneta!

My mom shops at a store that hires intellectually disabled people to do things like shopping cart roundups and bagging customers' groceries. These aren't the kinds of jobs that most of us would flock to, but that's our perspective.

Uahsenaa , January 5, 2017 at 10:25 am

I have to second this. Having worked briefly with developmentally challenged students, they have a much easier go of things when they feel empowered, when they feel like they have some control over their lives, despite the challenges they face. Rendering them even more helpless simply increases frustration and exacerbates existing problems.

Which I think should be brought into the larger argument. It surprises me that any Marxist worth her salt would glomp onto this, when, it seems, the purpose is to further alienate people from the means of production and control over the political economy. When Silicon Valley types and Charles Murray are arguing for it, you have to wonder what the underlying reasons might be. Murray never met a poor or uneducated person he didn't want to drive into the ground, so I find it rather curious that he would suddenly be all for a form of social welfare.

And as to the boss point above, there's nothing stopping anyone from making the jobs program have a cooperative structure. As the article says, these are all political choices, not naturally occurring phenomena.

Romancing The Loan , January 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm

When Silicon Valley types and Charles Murray are arguing for it, you have to wonder what the underlying reasons might be.

My tankie friends on Twitter think that basic income is a trojan horse that's going to be used to try and trick the American public into ending Social Security and Medicare. They're usually right, sadly.

Stephanie , January 5, 2017 at 1:47 pm

It seems to me as if basic income would also be a great excuse to chip away even further at the idea if public education and single-payer health care as social goods. If your parents aren't able to shell out for them, well, you don't need to be healthy or literate to recieve UBI.

lyman alpha blob , January 5, 2017 at 3:49 pm

If there were both a UBI and a job requirement rather than a job guarantee, that might solve the problem you mentioned.

If everyone were required to work a certain amount in essential services like housing, food production, health care, etc before they could collect a UBI, that would require a trained and healthy workforce.

Lambert Strether , January 5, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Yep. The level will be set by the requirements for rental extraction, and nothing else. There will be no surplus over that amount.

RC , January 5, 2017 at 12:58 pm

As a disabed person myself I would argue it's not jobs that disabled people are necessarily after, it's being able to actively participate in society in a contributing, meaningful and productive way, to be included in something with a purpose, a purpose you believe in. If income is not an issue, most people would still engage in projects. Your son would watch movies all day only because there is no better role to play, we are at a transition stage where disabled people, still considered invalids, are being discovered to be not so invalid.

I take issue with the notion that disabled people would be happy to do any deadend work. We deserve more and better than that, everyone does.

I'm a deaf person with a talent which fintech wants and needs, which so happens to be ensuring our tech is accessible, inclusve, making it so much better; so disabled people can truly participate in society, to do all the same things tech supposedly does to liberate while making it truly liberating for all.

But we are also socially responsible for finding meaningful and significant work for the talents disabled people actually have, as opposed to getting them to do something stupid because it's something to do and they're disabled and so should be satisfied with whatever they get. We're not vegetables, nobody is. So that goes for non-disabled folks too.

Which brings us to the heart of this UBI/JG discussion, either you're coming to this from a perspective of people should have jobs, any job, cuz they're basically vegetables or some kind of autonomous machination which goes through motions and capitalism doesn't work without those machinations so there's some kind of moral imperative to labour or wage slavery, and the measure or class of a person is whether they are jobbed machinations/slaves, or UBI/JG is secondary to the question of are people as a whole happy and doing what they'd rather be doing, are they truly participating in society, as part of the human project.

That's the reality most corporations are facing at the moment. The meaning and nature of "work" itself is undergoing change, becoming "play", as capitalism shoots itself in the foot and in the drive for profit either necessitates socialism and classlessness, or mass social upheaval and less profits.


Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 1:41 pm

Thank you. It gets tiresome that the default is people are lazy. People are describing what seems to be human nature . the desire to connect with others and to contribute.

Laughingsong , January 5, 2017 at 1:49 pm

After reading some of these arguments, and thinking about what I have experienced and seen, I think there are merits to both approaches (UBI and JG). From experience I can't entirely agree with Yves that people would remain unskilled and not pursue activities that engage with others and improve their lives and skills. Perhaps this is because I have always been fascinated by and have known many Hippy communities. I live in Eugene Oregon now, but grew up in San Francisco. The running joke I was told was that all the hippies left SF and came to Eugene because there were no jobs :-). I did see hippy groups in SF that did pretty much nothing but play all day. They didn't last. However, here in Eugene I see many lasting legacies of what they built after they "dropped out"; many if not most of my favorite businesses were created by these people: the alternative groceries like Sundance (supposedly Whole Foods was purported to model themselves after this store-bah!) and Kiva and Growers Market, the Saturday and Farmers Markets, Tsunami books. The Oregon Country Fair, the coops. Not all were directly started by "hippies" per se but the early hippy groups did much to create a culture and an environment that encourages this.

I also know a lot of people here that work "precariously" and there are times when work is hard to come by. But these people do not seem to sit around, they find other things to do, like learn about gardening, or get skills volunteering for Bring recycling (they do things like find creative re-use or "decom" houses slated for demolition and take out useful items), or Habitat for Humanity, or Center for Appropriate Transport (bicycle and human powered), or local tree planting and park cleanup. They often find work this way, and make connections, and get new skills. They don't have to But they want to stay active and involved.

This is why I think UBI is not such a bad thing.. I know many people who would benefit and still do many things like I've described I also am aware that there are more general tasks that society needs doing and that is where the JG might come in. But maybe Eugene is too much of an exception?

Of course, all this is besides what these policies may be used for by the PTB. That's an entirely different discussion; here I am arguing the merits, not the agendas.

Moneta , January 5, 2017 at 2:52 pm

I was careful to use the word many and not all people with disabilities.

My son has an intellectual disability. He needs to be instructed and the routine will not come on its own unless it is well practiced. But as long as someone is directing, he does great work.

It is obvious by your post that the menial job he would enjoy does not correspond to what you could offer the world!

I spent hours holding him in the NICU, worrying about his future until one day, instead of feeling sorry for the both of us, I looked around and noticed a regular guy, apathetic looking, spending his entire day cleaning and disinfecting the room then the thought came to me that someone with special needs could do the same job and actually be happy.

Around that time, I read an article about the problems they were now encountering with the integration of people with special needs in France. It would seem that when the job became boring, many would just stop showing up to work Why bother when the state and society has always been there for support that's what happens when individuals never get to feel true independence.

Any action that produces a good or a service is a form of work. Hugging is a service. So are smiling and cleaning a toilet.

For some reason we have huge trouble putting monetary value on many of the most essential services.

We are also having a very hard time filling the jobs with individuals who have the right skill set and temperament.

I don't know how we solve these issues.

rd , January 5, 2017 at 4:20 pm

Amidst the miserable news of 2016, this uplifting story of a woman with Down's syndrome retiring after working 32 years restored my faith in the potential of humanity.

Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 1:38 pm

Oy .. make the disabled do hard labor of agriculture? Blind? Deaf around heavy machinery? Wheelchairs on plowed land?

You are proposing this as it seems enriching, gets them out of your community, and is economically sound. This lifestyle choice should apply to everyone. Let any who want do this and you will have removed people from the labor pool (made up unemployment number magically goes down) less resource consumption.

Marco , January 5, 2017 at 5:39 am

Thanks Yves for pounding this issue. As a former lazy BIG'er I am naturally wired to stare at my navel all day. I think at the heart of it we have an existential problem with toil. Tcherneva's succinct take-down of BIG vs JG also set me on the straight and narrow. Plus she spanks Yglesias which is always enjoyable.

Marco , January 5, 2017 at 8:51 am

My biggest quibble with JG is that "work" often involves needless consumption. Most people (in America) require a car and 1-2 dangerous hours a day getting to and from "work". Personally this is a very good reason NOT to work.

Leigh , January 5, 2017 at 8:59 am

1-2 dangerous hours a day getting to and from "work".

The reason I get to work 2 hours before I'm required to is because I find driving to work is the most stressful part of my day. I commute while the roads are quiet. The deterioration in driving etiquette is maddening. It is dog eat dog out there. The fact that we are all flying around at 70 MPH in 4,000 pounds of steel and glass is lost on most drivers.

dontknowitall , January 5, 2017 at 12:58 pm

I think there should be an indicator on the dashboard showing the probability of surviving a frontal impact at your current road speed, people might slow down as they saw the number approach zero

George Phillies , January 5, 2017 at 6:12 am

"If you are extraverted and need to be around people during the day, it's hard to create enough opportunities for interaction on your own."
People have all sorts of mental quirks, but to what extent do we rig society to handle them? As a justification for work, this one sounds expensive.

I Have Strange Dreams , January 5, 2017 at 7:01 am

We are social creatures. That's not a quirk, just a fact. The average work environment already has people with various "quirks". Some are chatty, some not. Not a big deal, no need for a radical redesign.

As for costs – unemployment imposes devastating costs in sickness, addiction, crime, etc. JG is a no-brainer. It's been tried with great success in Argentina. It works. There's a slogan for ya: Work Works .

roadrider , January 5, 2017 at 8:05 am

We are social creatures.

Well, OK, but we all vary in the level of our sociability. Some need people around them all the time others value their solitude and still others are in between.

That's not a quirk, just a fact.

One that you're overstating.

The average work environment already has people with various "quirks". Some are chatty, some not. Not a big deal,

Actually, it is a big deal since noise and lack of privacy are two of the biggest problems in today's workplaces, particularly those with "open work space" designs. I speak from personal experience here.

no need for a radical redesign.

Ummm, yeah, there actually is.

Massinissa , January 5, 2017 at 1:41 pm

Whether or not JG is the answer or not, there is most definitely a need for a radical redesign of the capitalist workplace

jgordon , January 5, 2017 at 8:15 am

I'd rather be out in the woods spending my time growing fruit trees. I hate people–and reading above about all the inspirational work the government would be giving me and the people I'd have to be around while while doing it left me wondering about whether or not going postal would be a good idea.

Secondly, the wishlist I saw above for everything the government is supposed to be doing to help people was pretty scary. Ehile the intentions might be good, power like this given to government never, ever turns out well for the people. As an example, let's say Scott waved his magic wand and suddenly Trump had all the power and authority he needed to accomplish everything on Scott's list today. Alright, now try to imagine just how awful the next four years would be. Not good!

Uahsenaa , January 5, 2017 at 10:32 am

I sympathize with the desire to just be alone and do your own thing–I'm like that as well–but I think you're missing an important aspect of the argument, one which Tcherneva makes more forcefully, which is that there is a knock on benefit of people being more engaged in public life: they are harder to politically disenfranchise. I wouldn't be surprise if one of the reasons why elites are so gung ho about UBI is that it would serve to further alienate people and fragment communities, thus preventing them from organizing anything like meaningful resistance to state power.

Also, Ferguson kind of already addressed this:

What if private industry's rejection of workers freed the public to organize social labor on capacious, diverse, and openly contested premises?

Tivvy , January 5, 2017 at 11:26 am

The problem with a JG and that line of argument, is that JG does not propose to engage people more in public life than an Unconditional Income, as an Unconditional Income is by definition, far more inclusive of all kinds of work that people may do for others.

You may even do things that nobody in a society approves of, with an Unconditional Income, like trying to prove that the world is round, not flat.

JG got nothing on enabling people to be active citizens. It's a policy to look backwards, or it's so inclusive that it's basically an unconditional income to everyone. You gotta be willed to take a long shot sometimes (increasingly often, looking at the world as it is today and might increasingly be tomorrow), to properly empower people so they can be active citizens.

jsn , January 5, 2017 at 4:03 pm

As best I can tell UI doesn't engage people at all: by what mechanism does UI engage people "more in public life?"

Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 1:46 pm

How about we have more public housing I would like to see boarding houses come back but another option could be monastery type living? There could even be separate ones for men, women and families that way you could select a monastery that is focused on agriculture and you could have space away from women.

Laughingsong , January 5, 2017 at 2:00 pm

I sometimes have incredibly vivid dreams. One of them I hade a couple of years ago was somewhat apocolyptic; something had happened (unknown) and I was in a dilapidated city of middlin' size. The blocks of cheek-by-jowl houses and storefronts were all boarded up. But I entered one and found that 1) they had been connected by knocking down walls between them, and 2) the Interior Of the block was completely open. All the buildings faced inward (no boarded windows) and that had been transformed into a Commons with gardens, vegetables, corrals, parklands, small outbuildings. Maybe something like that .

Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 3:45 pm

It would never happen but eminent domain should apply to abandoned buildings. If it's been unused for x amount of years, it's raffled off for public use . housing, education etc. Heck, it could apply to manufacturing. If a corp wants to leave, don't let the door hitcha, but that building is going to the employees as a coop as competition is as good for the goose as it is for the gander.

I would imagine more people will be having dreams like yours if things keep declining and people try to imagine what's next.

jjmacjohnson , January 5, 2017 at 6:54 am

Actually I know a few artist who won the Guggenheim Award and I beg to differ. Art is not something that given bunch of money produces great work. It comes with time and time spent contemplating and thinking. Most of the artists who won had to work to pay the bills before. Many were teachers and many still are. There are so few fine artists who just make art. The 1980s really pulled the wool over non-artists eyes.

Case in point since getting the grant, not right after of course, Cara Walker made one the best pieces of her career. A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

Plus she continues to teach.

timround2 , January 5, 2017 at 7:09 am

She won the MacArthur Foundation Award.

Yves Smith Post author , January 5, 2017 at 3:58 pm

Sorry, it was MacArthur Foundation grant winners who typically do not do much during the grant period. Fixing the post.

Disturbed Voter , January 5, 2017 at 6:55 am

Job guarantee maybe, but not corvee. We can have jobs for everyone, if we build pyramids. Forced labor is totalitarian. But entitlement and free lunches are destructive of society. Neo-liberalism involves entitlement and free lunch for some people, and for some countries (I see what you are doing to everyone else USA, GB, Germany, Japan). Entitlement isn't just for individuals. I love my work, as long as it is "sort of" a free choice. Economic necessity works for most of us, and while wage and debt slavery aren't fun, they are both better than chattel slavery.

I Have Strange Dreams , January 5, 2017 at 7:05 am

In a country like the USA, the only limit on socially useful, meaningful work for everyone is the will and creativity to do it. Off the top of my head I can think of more programs that could be implemented than people to fill them.

Moneta , January 5, 2017 at 8:26 am

I agree. But the problem seems to reside in the link between the services and the hard goods.

One is unlimited while the other is limited so the human tendency is to use money from the unlimited side and consume/stock up/hoard the hard goods creating a scarcity.

I don't see how we can solve that problem with property rights as they are protected now.

In my mind, land and resources would have to be a common good why should someone get the waterfront property or more arable land or pools of oil just because of a birthright or some other non sharing policy.

Going even further, why should some groups/countries benefit from resources while not sharing with others?

Lots of sharing problems to deal with nationally and globally before we get it right

For the last few decades, our system has been based on debt to income and debt to GDP. Those nations and individuals who loaded up on it did ok . so we did not think of the fair distribution of resources.

But now that debt levels are hitting what we consider ceilings we will be changing the rules of the game you know what happens when someone decides to invent their own rules in a board game midway through the game!

All this to say that even if we guarantee jobs the physical world of resources will constrain us.

Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 3:56 pm

There needs to be a shift from work and consumption to leisure. Leisure is infinite . walking trails, biking trails, parks, movies/music in the parks (our community puts up a big screen and a 150 or so show up with lawn chairs, snacks and blankets), art shows, community theatre, festivals, music, picnic areas, chess/checkers concrete tables .

I want to start a game library: sort of a pub/restaurant with games. Have a bite, beer and a game of scrabble. I like the idea of pub nites with quiz events. If there were public buildings, gathering spaces would not have to make a 'profit', public health would be the benefit.

schultz , January 5, 2017 at 7:13 am

"What if public works affirmed inclusion, collaboration, and difference? What if we acknowledged that the passions of working life are irreducible to a largely mythical Protestant work ethic? What if questioning the meaning and value of work become part of working life itself?

"What if we predicated social critique on terms that are not defined by the neoliberal ideology that we wish to circumvent?

"What if we radically affirmed our dependence on the public institutions that support us? What if we forced government to take responsibility for the system it already conditions?

"What if we admitted that there are no limits to how we can care for one another and that, as a political community, we can always afford it?"

First, thanks for this article – this is a good and interesting debate to have.

It makes me suspicious that the author's sort of trump-card, climactic 'takedown' of UBI is a series of questions rather than answers. Things which even the author can't figure out the answer to, apparently, so how can they expect UBI to have the answers.

Think about the answers (i.e. in terms of, policy changes to people's material lives) to the questions posed above. What would any of those policies look like? Who knows?

My point is, it's easy to make things (including UBI) look dumb by comparing them to impossibly high vague standards like "no limits to how we can care for one another."

If the author had a better more concrete, specific reason why UBI is bad, they would have used that, yeah?

Tivvy , January 5, 2017 at 11:47 am

In my view, Unconditional Incomes answer these questions without being wasteful of human life, and with being unconditionally pro-labor, as opposed to being conditionally pro labor as a JG would be. JG only empowers labor that is recognized immediately, by some body of people who do not represent the valuations of all who are part of society.

Unconditional Incomes recognize labor that only later might generate appreciable results, and it recognizes broad valuation of the fine grained process where it is societally worthwhile, as individuals perceive it. If understood as enablement and pay for all labor related time, unconditionally.

Pay beyond that would be representation of how much respect you command, how much you desire to obtain monopoly incomes, and how much you might hate a job. But not the labor value. That's what unconditional incomes can provide. To the guy writing open source for a greater benefit to many, to the hardworking construction worker whose job involves a lot of undesirable factors (for which he may demand additional comensation), to the superstar/superbrand owner who seeks to maximize customer awareness and monetization with a blend of natural and artificial marketing and monopolization strategies, and to the guy who strategically maximizes market incomes to do even greater things for society than what he could be doing with just writing open source.

On that note, thanks Amazon for pushing the envelope. At least for the time being. We can financially burden all of these market/rent incomes to provide unconditional (labor) incomes, to ensure that there's not too much emphasis on just cashing in on your good (brand) name and market position. Coca Cola is a prime example for what such a cashing in would look like. Customers are beasts of convenience, unless there's breakthroughs that radically improve on some process of delivery or production, that somehow isn't taken notice of by the big brand, before another active citizen takes the opportunity to compete by help of it.

tl;dr: No to turning society into a glorified Arnish settlement, yes to Amazon as it is today, though with a higher tax burden, yes to unconditional incomes, yes to political activism, independent research, parenting work, work for being a decent person among equal people that may look however like you chose.

jsn , January 5, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Its way back up there at the top:

BIG was tried before with disastrous results. When a BIG program can be proven to address its deep and complex past failure, it may be worth a try. I agree with Yves on when and where an IG is appropriate until someone somewhere test drives a better one.

Tivvy , January 5, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Don't worry, most UBI experiments and proposals nowadays aren't 'Income Guarantees' but rather Unconditional payments to all, or Tapered negative income tax proposals (britain's RSA has a UBI equivalent NIT proposal like that at least), on top of which people could earn more. Only experienceing regular taxation or a modest clawback rate of the benefit.

UBI is commonly understood to not be a top-up to the same point for everyone as the speenhamland system was, which of course destroys motivation to expose oneself to a strenuous environment, when you can't actually get compensated for your troubles. Any sensible person would tell you that the speenhamland system was an insane offer to the people, it asked of people to work for free, basically.

As for UBI experiments, they're generally rather encouraging. Particularly this coincidental observation might give prove to be useful, if you're concerned about the timely restricted nature of pilot projects/experiments.

jsn , January 5, 2017 at 5:37 pm

By what mechanism does UI prevent employers from bidding down wages? As Yves post form last year says, "Taxes would therefore need to be increased to offset those effects. The best tax outcome you could expect would be a progressive tax on income. Thus the end result in a best-case scenario would be tantamount to a means-tested BIG, graduated so as to avoid any sudden cutoff for someone who wanted to work. Thus the result (whether achieved directly or indirectly) is likely to resemble Milton Friedman's negative income tax, with the zero tax rate set at a living wage level." Meaning the UI just pushes free money into an otherwise unchanged system incentivized from the top down to soak that money back up and out.

So pushing more money into the system just inflates the system while sustaining the ongoing upward redistribution.

Thus: "The trouble is that Livingston's "Fuck Work" falls prey to an impoverished and, in a sense, classically Liberal social ontology, which reifies the neoliberal order it aims to transform. Disavowing modern humanity's reliance on broadscale political governance and robust public infrastructures, this Liberal ontology predicates social life on immediate and seemingly "free" associations, while its critical preoccupation with tyranny and coercion eschews the charge of political interdependence and caretaking. Like so many Universal Basic Income supporters on the contemporary Left, Livingston doubles down on this contracted relationality. Far from a means to transcend neoliberal governance, Livingston's triumphant negation of work only compounds neoliberalism's two-faced retreat from collective governance and concomitant depoliticization of social production and distribution."

craazyamn , January 5, 2017 at 7:33 am

It sounds like it's is going to be a lot of work - to abolish work.

Who's gonna do all the work involved? LOL.

If you think of sub-cultures where nobody works - like ancient Roman nobles, Europes aristocrats, gang-bangers, southern antebellum planters– mostly they got into fights about nonsense and then killed each other. That is something to consider.

craazyboy , January 5, 2017 at 9:05 am

The crap jobs will be the easiest to get rid of, but then we won't have any necessary goods and services. The Romans knew this, which is why they had a pretty good run before collapsing.

OTOH, with so much more humanity getting their creative juices going, we could end up with lots and lots of art. There would be so much art, it would probably be given away for free!

Then there is the start your own biz path. I've been keeping an eye on our local self serve dog wash. The sign outside changed to "Self Service Pet Wash". Has me wondering what's that all about. Expanding the biz into cats, hamsters, parrots and turtles maybe? Good to see success in the entrepreneurial class, but then I wonder if that's really for everyone and there may need to be some larger organizational structure geared towards producing some more complex thing or service. Dunno, but that could be food for thought as a next step for analysis in this whole job creation subject.

craazyman , January 5, 2017 at 12:06 pm

If anybody actually expects to get paid for their "art", that's when all hell will break loose.

A self-service dog wash is interesting, but if you let a dog wash itself it may not do a good job. Dogs hate to get washed. I'm not sure if this is gonna work.

craazyboy , January 5, 2017 at 6:06 pm

Good point. But there is risk in business. Any businessman knows that.

cocomaan , January 5, 2017 at 9:06 am

Kwame Anthony Appiah talks about the end to duels in his book on Honor. It's interesting stuff.

One takeaway I remember is that the lower classes actually began to clamor for an end to the idea that murder was okay if you were in the upper classes, since dueling was a matter of challenging, preserving, and reifying an upper class. The other way to look at it is that the lower classes wanted in on the action.

It also ended when everyone was embarrassed and fed up that their leaders were slaying each other by night.

craazyman , January 5, 2017 at 7:36 am

Great philosophical thougths are cauught. In the Moderbator!

Even the moderbator is already working to thwart illumination and enlightenment. That should be a lesson of some sort. I'm not sure what though. That wouldd mean mental work. I'll do it but it's still kind of early. I'll do it later.

From Cold Mountain , January 5, 2017 at 7:38 am

Yup. There is a big difference between work in a Capitalist ecosystem and work in an Anarchistic ecosystem. In the first you have to ask for a Universal Basic Income and equality, etc. In the second there is no need to ask for it.

So maybe "F@ck Work" is really "F@ck Capitalism" or "F@ck Authoritarianism", but they just don't quite get it yet.

Carolinian , January 5, 2017 at 8:33 am

Agreed that what the author is really saying is f@ck capitalism. Pretending it's all about the current fad for neoliberalism ignores the reality that neoliberalism is simply old fashioned laissez-faire capitalism with better excuses. The problem with left utopianism is that human nature works against it. So the author's "what ifs" don't carry a lot of intellectual punch. What if we all loved each other? Well, we don't.

Personally I'd rather just have the BIG and the freedom. The Right may be just as paranoid as the Left when they claim all forms of government social engineering are totalitarian but there is a grain of truth there. Neither side seems to have a very firm grasp of the human problems that need to be solved in order for society to work.

JTFaraday , January 5, 2017 at 4:18 pm

"neoliberalism is simply old fashioned laissez-faire capitalism with better excuses"

I think it has worse excuses, actually. No excuses. There is no excuse for the centrally managed wealth extraction in the name of "markets" that we have been seeing since Bill Clinton made nice with Goldman Sachs in the 1990s.

Pelham , January 5, 2017 at 7:52 am

While MMT correctly conceives of money as a limitless resource, what it doesn't take into account is the fact that continuing to allow vast accumulations of the stuff at the top of the economy inevitably translates into political power.

And I suspect that those with such power, principally the financial industry, will work assiduously to reinforce conventional notions of money as finite, which in turn enhances their power and their ability to profit from widespread misery.

Higgs Boson , January 5, 2017 at 9:15 am

That is the taproot of The Big Lie – keeping the masses convinced of money scarcity, which goes hand-in-hand with scare mongering on the national "debt". The delegitimizing of the national currency as worthless IOUs, mere "scraps of paper".

The .01%, who have accumulated political power through this con, will not just give it up.

It reminds me of the (probably apocryphal) anecdote about Queen Victoria hearing about Darwin's Origin of Species and asking, "Is it true?"

"I'm afraid so, your majesty."

"Well then, let's hope the commoners don't find out!"

UserFriendly , January 5, 2017 at 7:58 am

Great piece!!! Does anyone know of any proposals or white papers for a State or City wide Job Guarantee? Laboratory for democracy or something. I know the lack of a currency printer throws a wrench into the MMT aspects and clearly there would be migration affects greater than on a national scale, but I think that a state or local program would almost necessarily have to come before a national one, or at least would make the debate about a national one less arduous. This is something I am pushing with my state house rep (Raymond Dehn, who recently threw his hat in the ring for Minneapolis's Mayoral contest)

DanB , January 5, 2017 at 8:01 am

"What if we admitted that there are no limits to how we can care for one another and that, as a political community, we can always afford it?" MMT acknowledges that the availability of natural resources is a limit to money creation and, overall, economic growth. I wish this essay had addressed this issue, as I believe we are in the post-peak oil world and still not facing how this fact -peak oil when properly understood is an empirical fact to me- is dismembering modern political economies. Simultaneously, this destruction is proceeding in accord with neoliberal domination.

Moneta , January 5, 2017 at 8:41 am

And most of the time, when I see MMT, it seems to be associated with projects and investments that are incredibly energy and resource intensive.

Many MMT supporters seem to work on the assumption that the US will always have the right to consume an inordinate share of global energy and resources.

Alejandro , January 5, 2017 at 12:36 pm

It seems that many attempting to pigeonhole MMT, seem to not recognize the role of fiscal policy to regulate and modulate. Full employment need not correlate to consuming " an inordinate share of global energy and resources." IMHO, how the term "growth" is often used with and within "economics" seems misleading and disingenuous.

Moneta , January 5, 2017 at 3:13 pm

And Trump has all the answers on how to modulate fiscal policy under MMT?

MMT will not help the people unless the right leaders are modulating.

Alejandro , January 5, 2017 at 4:39 pm

Its not about messianism it's more about recognizing that the constraints on the user are not constraints on the issuer of a currency.

fresno dan , January 5, 2017 at 8:04 am

It seems to me we have done that no work experiment for .OH, 70 years. Its called social security.
Maybe every single person on social security doesn't have as many friends as they should – the book "Bowling Alone" as well as many other publications about the isolation of modern society address what is a problem. But many people with jobs are isolated, as well as not getting social interaction on and off the job. I think if you asked the average social security recipient, the first thing they would want is mo' money, mo' money, MO' MONEY.

People on social security can work, volunteer, follow a hobby or take up one. In CA old folks used to be able to "audit" college classes, where you could attend for free but get no credit. Alas, no longer the case (as well as when I was young and went to college, it was dirt cheap – how did it get so frigging expensive?).
And to the extent old people are isolated, more money would do a lot to allow old people to take cruises and other activities that cost money and give people the opportunity to mingle. I imagine young people would do the same, especially if the stress of wondering where there income would come from was removed.

There were people at work who said they would never retire because they wouldn't be able to fill their time. I find that just sad. Somebody has to give these people something to do because in there whole lives they have never developed any interests?
I was very lucky to have a career that was interesting. It was also frustrating, difficult, and stressful, and besides the friends from work, there were also the assh*les. It was fine for 26, but it was time to move on. And though I thought about getting another job, I have found that not working is ..WONDERFUL.

B1whois , January 5, 2017 at 9:55 am

I also do not work, and I enjoy it. I need to find things to fill my days (other than NC), but this is complicated by not having competence in the local language. I could speed up my citizenship process by getting a job here in Uruguay, but I don't want to go back to a stressful life feeling like I don't have enough time to do interesting things. So learning Spanish is my job now.

Katharine , January 5, 2017 at 10:28 am

as many friends as they should

How about, as many friends as they want? There surely is no obligation to have some number defined by other people.

rusti , January 5, 2017 at 11:18 am

I think if you asked the average social security recipient, the first thing they would want is mo' money, mo' money, MO' MONEY .

And to the extent old people are isolated, more money would do a lot to allow old people to take cruises and other activities that cost money and give people the opportunity to mingle

I suppose it's a much larger ambition in many ways, but I've always thought that a more worthwhile aim than a basic income guarantee would be de-financialization. Private health care and car-based communities put people in the very precarious position of having to worry about their cash buffer for lots of basic survival needs. I live in a country with government-funded health care, and even though my income is a fraction of what I made when I lived in the US it would be easy for me to quit my job and live on savings for an extended period of time, since the only real expenses I have are food and housing, and the other necessities like clothes or bicycle repairs can be done on the cheap when one has lots of free time.

Public transit connecting libraries, parks, community colleges, and other public forums where people can socialize are much preferable to cruise ships!

Lee , January 5, 2017 at 12:52 pm

I too have for years now enjoyed and sometimes struggled with not having to work for money. While my ability to engage in many activities is currently limited by health issues, I have previously gone back to university and earned a degree, learned fine woodworking, volunteered as a charity fundraiser and done field work for the wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone. I have also spent a lot of time reading, gardening, fixing up my old house, watching movies, political activity, fishing, motorcycling, the list could go on. However, to be honest, I do suspect that the years I did spend working and the earnings therefrom did lay a foundation upon which I could build an edifice more of my own choosing.

Gaylord , January 5, 2017 at 8:07 am

Make work more interesting and rewarding by directing it toward esthetic goals. Promote the arts and education at all ages. Put art, design, music, theater, & crafts back into the curriculum, identify people with special skills & talent, support them and provide venues for learning, exhibits & performances with low- or no- cost access to the public. Elevate culture to the epitome of human achievement in all walks of life and expand involvement. Discourage commercial television watching, especially for children.

jabawocky , January 5, 2017 at 8:12 am

I do wonder if there's a kind of circular argument to this piece, or at least there is a continuum between this job guarentee solution and the basic income. In one sense, it is said that people cannot be left to themselves to create because they just won't. So the solution is some kind of municipal creativity, an entitity which does the creating and then forces people to work on its projects in return for income. The more top down 'new deal'-like this is, then it looks like a JG system. If it can be bottom up, it more closely resembles a basic income.

diptherio , January 5, 2017 at 10:26 am

That's why my personal proposal for a JG incorporates aspects of Participatory Budgeting to determine what jobs are getting done by JG workers:

Basic Income vs. Job Guarantee

Clark Landwehr , January 5, 2017 at 8:21 am

There is little difference, in the real world, between sitting on a park bench all day and sitting in a cubicle filling out spreadsheets, because most jobs are already busy-work. So most people are already doing corvee labor in a totalitarian civilization: digging holes and filling them up again. In a typical office building, the only people who are doing real, productive work are the janitors and maintenance engineers.

Eureka Springs , January 5, 2017 at 8:31 am

I think it would take a long time, as in many generations, to begin to know who we are, what we would do and be without a Protestant work-ethic. It's almost impossible for most to imagine life in some other form just as it's impossible for most to imagine a democratic process, even within just one party. Idle time scares the beejesus out of so many people I know. I've watched people 'retire' and move to these beautiful Ozark mountains for decades and do nothing but destroy them, over and over again, out of boredom and idle guilt. I can't remember the last time I cut down a live tree for firewood.. since there are always mountains of forrest being laid to waste.

But we must face the fact most work is useless, crap, BS, and or outright destructive. MIC and Insurance come to mind immediately. To enforce human work for the sake of it is to perhaps destroy the big blue marble host at – at best an highly accelerated rate. If we keep making ourselves act like drones our world will continue to look like it's what we are doing / who we are. Just drive down any street America built post 1960 looking for something esthetically pleasing, somewhat unique, that isn't either mass produced or designed to fall apart in a few decades or less.

Or maybe with a jobs guarantee we should just outlaw bulldozers, chainsaws, 18 wheelers, private jets, dwellings/offices with more than four units, and large farm equipment.

If we are going to force labor then give every man and woman a shovel or a hoe with their HS diploma – not a gun, not an office for predatory FIRE purposes. That way we wont destroy ourselves so quickly.

Joni sang.. You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone . What about the people who never knew what was there to begin with? Will some of us live long enough to morn the passing of parking lots?

JohnL , January 5, 2017 at 10:03 am

Thank you. When a "job" means profit for someone else and more destruction, consumption, and waste, we fewer "jobs", not more.

Tivvy , January 5, 2017 at 9:21 am

"A job at a decent wage, set by public policy, will eliminate at least 2/3 of poverty. we can then work on eliminating the rest thru compassion."

Doesn't strike me as morally agreeable to reduce the right to nature and ideas that anyone may reason to have, to a matter of compassion.

"This is the high road that can increase productive capacity"

Giving people an unconditional income and letting people earn money on top, could also increase productive capacity, and having a JG scheme in place might as well reduce productive capacity where it pretends to people that they're doing something important, when they're not. Overpaying work can be a disservice to the people and society alike. Let individuals themselves tell others how much they think something is worth, in respect and in monetary terms. We just need to equip people with money (that maintains relevance in relation to the aggregate of all money), for that.

The high road that can increase productivity is a commitment to enabling people as individuals, unconditionally, to make economic expressions, rooted in their rights to nature.

Octopii , January 5, 2017 at 9:34 am


financial matters , January 5, 2017 at 9:36 am

""Modern Monetary Theory contends that money is a boundless and fundamentally inalienable public utility. That utility is grounded in political governance. And government can always afford to support meaningful social production, regardless of its ability to capture taxes from the rich. The result: employment is always and everywhere a political decision, not merely a function of private enterprise, boom and bust cycles, and automation. There is therefore nothing inevitable about underemployment and the misery it induces. In no sense are we destined for a "jobless future."""

Wouldn't it be interesting if it took someone like Trump to get the fact that money is a public utility into the public mindset.

This is a strong and powerful tool. Seems like it could be up his alley.

Praedor , January 5, 2017 at 12:21 pm

But Trump WONT do that. He's very much a super 1% elitist who thinks of people as winners and losers. He thinks the government is like a business that has to balance its books and "live within its means" (means = tax receipts + fees).

Trump is NOT an MMTer. He's closer to gold standard idiots in the GOP (whether they actually want the gold standard to return or not means nothing the idea that the federal budget needs to be balanced is 100% outgrowth of the gold standard dinosaur days so they are ALL goldbugs at core).

financial matters , January 5, 2017 at 3:53 pm

Probably true, but he now has his hands on the biggest business around.

He has a lot of money available which could make him a popular and useful leader.

Michael , January 5, 2017 at 9:53 am

Great Article and food for thought.

I agree with many of the skeptical views above. In the endeavor to provide equitable incomes an underlying problem is who decides what industries or groups get funded from the taxes collected? Is there private capital? How do you keep certain people from manipulating the system to assure they can collect more wealth than someone else?

All of these might be questions may be resolved with strict laws, but I can recall in my childhood such laws and such cultures that assured a more equitable system, but these too were corrupted by people who wanted to "keep their wealth", because "they earned it", or inherited it ("Death to the Death Tax!").

This utopia sounds good on paper, but it appears to me that the execution is most times corrupted by the connected and powerful.

In any case the most difficult task in this process will be getting enough power to take any sizable wealth away from the "shareholders" , ie owners, to redistribute in a society controlled via media and laws by our lords and masters.

David , January 5, 2017 at 10:04 am

I think we need to remember just how modern is the concept of "work" is that's being debated here. In nearly the whole world a century ago (and still in parts of it today) people didn't have "jobs", they raised crops, tended cattle, caught fish, practised manual crafts, played a role in the community and family etc. and were in general productively occupied most of the time. Even with the factory system, and the beginning of paid employment, many of the workforce were skilled craftsmen with years of training and a high social status. The modern idea of a "job" as an unnecessary task carried out to gain money you don't need to buy things you don't want would have seemed incomprehensible. Indeed, there are parts of Africa today where a "job" is what you get to earn enough money to live on for a while and that's it.
The real problem then is a sense of purpose in life. There's some evidence that work can and does provide this, provided that work is minimally useful and satisfying. Certainly, the psychological damage from long-term unemployment as well as the psychological dangers of working alone are extensively documented. But the opposite is also true – work can make you ill, and the line between guaranteeing work and forcing people to work is a treacherously easy one to cross.
It would be better to move towards thinking about what kind of society and economy we want. After all, much of the contemporary economy serves no useful purpose whatever, and could be dispensed with and the assets invested elsewhere. Without getting into the magic wand thinking in the article, it must be possible to identify a host of things that people can usefully "do", whether or not these are "jobs" in the traditional sense.

Katharine , January 5, 2017 at 10:57 am

You're onto something here. Reading the post and comments, I couldn't identify what was bothering me, because when I think of work now (having been out of the paid workforce a while) I think in terms of things that make life more livable, either in very practical ways or through learning, enlarging my view of the world, and I don't in the least want to see the elimination of that kind of work. It's the other kind of work, that expects you to feign devotion to the manufacture or marketing of widgets, that probably needs to be largely eliminated (I won't say wholly, as there may be some for whom widgets are mentally rewarding). The author seems too certain of what needs to change and how. I think you're right that we need to give it more thought.

akaPaul LaFargue , January 5, 2017 at 12:18 pm

The author of this review misses much of what James Livingston is all about. JL spends some time discussing how to imagine a meaningful life and he refers to Freud (!) that we need work and love. If work is no longer available then how do we imagine love as the basis for social solidarity? OR, is solidarity another way to express love? The author's concerns for wonky policy BS takes us down the wrong path into the scrubland of intellectual vapidity.

And btw Fred Block has devastated the Speenhamland analogy long ago. I think not many folks have gotten beyond Andre Gorz on these topics.

Massinissa , January 5, 2017 at 1:56 pm

Yeah, I'm sort of skeptical of BIG myself, but I really don't think Speenhamland is a good comparison at all. Speenhamland had too many particularities that separate it from most modern BIG proposals IMHO.

Lambert Strether , January 5, 2017 at 2:22 pm

It would be helpful if you'd list some of those particularities.

River , January 5, 2017 at 2:15 pm

I think we need to remember just how modern is the concept of "work" is that's being debated here. In nearly the whole world a century ago (and still in parts of it today) people didn't have "jobs", they raised crops, tended cattle, caught fish, practised manual crafts, played a role in the community and family etc. and were in general productively occupied most of the time

Too true. If you want to see what someone's ancestor most likely did, look at their last name. Tanner, Cooper, Fuller, etc.

Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 2:35 pm

People used to have a right to land with which they could harvest building supplies, roofing supplies, food to feed themselves, fuel to heat and cook, raise livestock for food and fiber. The people have been stripped of the rights and ability to provide for their basic needs by force. They now have to have a job, the majority of their labor benefits someone else, to gain money in a system where nearly every transaction isn't just monetized but exploitative.

There is still the pull towards liberalism . to develop a hierarchy of needs, and a hierarchy of the usefullness/productiveness/profitability of tasks. There needs to be a ubi along with the jg. When the focus is on developing hierarchies, the end result will be a rigid bureaucratic structure and the use of force to ensure compliance.

Tivvy , January 5, 2017 at 10:04 am

"What if we predicated social critique on terms that are not defined by the neoliberal ideology that we wish to circumvent?"

To do this, I propose that we give everyone, unconditionally, an income, as expression of their potential (and natural desire) to contribute to society, and all the prerequisite time that goes into that, and for the very contributions themselves. An unconditional labor value derived income, for all. An income that both enables all kinds of work, and pays that labor value in the same stroke.

From there, additional earned income becomes a matter of how much respect you command, how well you utilize monopolies, and how much you hate your job and require compensation for how much you hate it. But the labor value would be accounted for, unconditionally.

In a world where there's superstars (and superbrands) who command respect and natural monopolies to make a lot of money, and people writing open source for the greater benefit of everyone else predominantly, it makes sense to make a statement such as that, about labor value, and to pay it to everyone. Mothers and fathers in active care of their children too, could agree, I'd imagine.

But making a list of things that you think might be cool for society, and try to have tangible compensations for only those, seems problematic, if not to say, counterproductive. Rather recognize ALL the time that people spend, to be decent people among fellow people, to educate themselves formally and informally, be it in the process of being an entrepreneur in a broader sense, at times. A sense of justice that can only be achieved by the state deciding for its people what is purposeful, will fall flat on its face when it comes to practicality, unless we have artifical super intelligence. Because you will have to literally know better than the people, what they will appreciate to what extent. And you don't know that. Neither do I.

There's great things in community/entertainment space happening today, that nobody was thinking of 5 years ago. Because people still have some power to recognize things as individuals, that others do, as purposeful (as much as aggregate demand is increasingly in a sorry state, as the result of a 3+ decade long trend that seems to still keep going. Just fixing that issue would already help a lot.). I say we should build on that, and further empower people in that direction. Which to me means to give money to all the people of the society, so they can more directly at times, express what benefits society, that is themselves. And for macro economic/long term considerations we can always have direct democracy.

Schwarmageddon , January 5, 2017 at 11:31 am

The sorts of psychopaths that tend to be in control of modern human societies clearly prefer money as a tool of social control to money as any sort of public utility that would facilitate individual productivity and/or affirm human dignity, whether in the context of neoliberal derangement or not. That's the view from the long-frozen Rust Belt and certainly nothing new in history.

It also appears that any human capacity for moral innovation is easily constrained by our basic feces-hurling primate OS, particularly if said primates consider money to be something finite and concrete.

On the real balance sheet, though, the sweet old Earth likely can't afford a JG for a population of 7 billion, at least not under any current or previously existing model of labor exploitation. As all NCpeeps know, we're resource-constrained, not dollar-constrained.

So we arrive back at the same old power relationships, the coercion, desperation and ecocide to which we have been accustomed, in the absence of any disruptive® (!) moral innovation. Can anyone suggest that modern humans have demonstrated a capacity for moral innovation outside of prison camps? Actual, non-hopey-changey varieties of moral innovation? If so, is that capacity retarded only by misperceptions regarding the nature of money? Retarded perhaps by an exceptional propaganda system? One might only answer that for themselves, and likely only until the SWAT team arrives. It seems unlikely that some rational and compassionate bureaucracies will be established to compensate in their stead: Congress is wholly unable to formulate policy in the public interest for very good reasons, none of them admirable. It seems the social economic entities they protect require human desperation just as much as they require currency liquidity or juvenile male soldiers.

In the absence of representation, rule of law or some meager rational public policy, a reproductive strike may be a better individual approach than FW, as not having children avoids the voluntary provisioning of debt slaves into a corrupt and violent system of social control. There is also the many ecologically salubrious effects of less humans and a potential opportunity to avoid being forced to constantly sell one's labor at a sharp discount. Couples I know, both having made catastrophic errors in career choice (education, research, seriously OMG!), are able to persist with some degree of dignity only and precisely because they have avoided begetting, in the very biblical sense, more debt slaves.

Shom , January 5, 2017 at 11:48 am

The author's contention that JG is better than BIG is persuasive; however I am not convinced that JG is best implemented by the govt. We have had systems like these, e.g. USSR, and it is very clear that central planning for large masses never works.

Why not implement that JG as saying that the govt guarantees X $/hr for up to T hrs per week for every one, no matter where they are hired. Advantages:
– small business owners are afforded breathing space to get their dreams off the ground,
– Walmart workers will walk off if Walmart doesn't up its game significantly beyond $(X x 4T) per month,
– Non profits will be able to afford to pay volunteers more reliably,
– People who want to be alone / not work can setup their own "self preservation" business and earn the minimum $X/hr for T hrs.

This form of decentralized planning may help implement JGs in a more sustainable manner than centralized planning. It also puts a floor on minimum income. Also, when combined with barriers on moving jobs outside the US, it helps provide a sharper threshold on how good automation needs to be in order to replace labor.

X and T can be the $15 and 40 hrs that is being implemented in big coastal cities, progressive states. Or it could be set to just above poverty level earnings, depending on how comfortable we are in letting go of our Pilgrim/Protestant shackles.

Praedor , January 5, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Past time to kill off the Protestant Ethic. The future has always supposed to be made up of robots doing scut work while people get to chill out and NOT do shit work.

The job race is why people STILL don't take enough vacation or full vacation. It is why they feel COMPELLED to not take days off because if they do, their boss will hold it against them come promotion time.

Not all jobs are worth doing and forcing people to take them doesn't do anyone any good, and makes people into commodities, THE biggest problem with neoliberalism. People are NOT commodities and work should NOT be a measure of one's value. CEOs outrageously overvalue themselves for doing little or nothing while engineers and workers they mistreat do EVERYTHING. That is neoliberalism and capitalism in a nutshell.

Guaranteed Basic Income ends that. Set a max income so there will be no more over-compensated CEOs AND provide a decent income for EVERYONE, gratis, so they are not forced to take a job polishing the shoes of the useless eater CEOs.

Praedor , January 5, 2017 at 12:08 pm

I prefer the Universal Basic Income guarantee to the Work guarantee. The Work guarantee guarantees MAKEWORK . "Here, have a broom and do some sweeping with it. Somewhere."

Or, "Here's a desk and a pile of papers with staples in them. Remove the staples."

"You! Toss this box of trash in the street and you, walk behind him and pick it up and put it in THIS box!"

Fuck work. In particular, fuck MAKEWORK. A job, ANY job, just to say you have a job is CRAP.

Better: Income guarantee. Period. Gratis. If a company wants you to do a job for them then they will have to provide incentive enough to get you to take the job. You don't HAVE to take a shit job because you have a guaranteed income so employers better offer a sweat deal like good pay and benefits (and LESS pay and benefits for CEOs, etc the lazy do-nothing self-entitled class).

Lambert Strether , January 5, 2017 at 2:50 pm

I hear the make-work talking point over and over again. It's nonsense. It didn't happen where the job guarantee was implemented , and it doesn't have to happen if the work is under democratic control.

Adam Eran , January 5, 2017 at 12:21 pm

The basis of job guarantees would universally empower or improve the public realm–shared goods.

The "anti-collectivist" propaganda that dominates most mainstream media now forbids anything but public squalor and private opulence.

We work to construct a pyramid of Democratic skulls , January 5, 2017 at 12:35 pm

The basic income and the job guarantee are natural complements. In terms of the acquis that any sovereign state must comply with (the UDHR,) you have the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of [your]self and of [your] family, and the right to free choice of employment. Two different rights. That means work should be an option.

The idea is, you're not on the treadmill, it's the state that's on the treadmill, working continually to fulfill your economic and social rights. It's the state that bears duties, you have rights. So if you want to do something and you need structure, knock yourself out, work for the state or some customer or boss. If you want to spend all the time you can with your kid before the mass extinction starves her, that's fine too.

When you ask people, Do you exist for the state, or does the state exist for you? People are quick to say, I don't exist for the state, that's totalitarianism! But people seem to accept that they exist for the economy. They accept that their life depends on acceptable service to the labor market. Just like I don't exist for the state, I don't exist for the economy. The economy exists for me. That is the revolutionary import of the ICESCR (and that's why the US strangled Venezuela when Chavez committed the state to it.)

Human rights is a complete, consistent and coherent alternative to neoliberal market worship. The idea sounds so strange because the neoliberal episcopate uses an old trick to get people to hold still for exploitation. In the old days, the parasitic class invented god's will to reify an accidental accretion of predatory institutions and customs. Everybody nodded and said, I see, it's not some greedy assholes, it's god's will. After a while everybody said, Wait a minute. The parasitic class had to think fast, so they invented the economy to reify an accidental accretion of predatory institutions and customs. So now you submit to that. Suckers!

Sandwichman , January 5, 2017 at 1:22 pm

I would prefer not to.

anon y'mouse , January 5, 2017 at 2:17 pm

i love you.

please marry me!

wait, i think i know what the answer will be

Lambert Strether , January 5, 2017 at 2:37 pm

Thank you, Mr. Bartleby.

jerry , January 5, 2017 at 1:30 pm

"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."

I am in favor of the job or income guarantee program. We really should not and do not need to work nearly as much as is common in U.S. (nevermind the even more repressive slave labor in Asia). The claim that "algorithms and robotization will reduce the workforce by half within twenty years and that this is unstoppable" seems like a pretty likely scenario at this point. Why have we been working for millenia to build this advanced civilization, if not to relax and enjoy it and be DONE slaving away?!

I recently sold everything I had and travelled around the US for 6 months, and it was delightful. I was next to broke, but if I had an income guarantee I could have had way more freedom to stop here and there, get involved in who knows what, and enjoy myself with very low stress.

I agree most people will not do anything productive unless forced, but that is what we need to finally work on: ourselves and our crippling egos. The world is plenty advanced technologically, we have made incredible inventions and that will continue to happen, but people need to start working on themselves inwardly as well or the outward world will be destroyed.

Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 1:58 pm

What does being productive mean? Besides making a profit for an oligarch. Everything is work. Cook for yourself, not work. Cook for someone else, work. Garden for yourself, not work. Garden for someone else, work. Travel for yourself, not work. Travel for someone else, work. etc.

Has anyone run the numbers for a 4 day work week, or 3? How about if full time work were lowered to 30, 25 hours per week?

Automation was supposed to free up labors time. Workers have participated in designing automation, installing automation, testing automation and training others for automation. It's time labor takes the share of their labor and if oligarchs get the permanent financial benefit of labors efforts to automate, so does labor.

Lambert Strether , January 5, 2017 at 2:34 pm

> I agree most people will not do anything productive unless forced

That sounds like the persistent notion that the pyramids were built with slave labor. Michael Hudson has debunked this :

We found [the pyramids] were not built by slaves. They were built by well-paid skilled labour. The problem in these early periods was how to get labour to work at hard tasks, if not willingly? For 10,000 years there was a labour shortage. If people didn't want to work hard, they could just move somewhere else. The labour that built temples and big ceremonial sites had to be at least quasi-voluntary even in the Bronze Age c. 2000 BC. Otherwise, people wouldn't have gone there.

We found that one reason why people were willing to do building work with hard manual labour was the beer parties. There were huge expenditures on beer. If you're going to have a lot of people come voluntarily to do something like city building or constructing their own kind of national identity of a palace and walls, you've got to have plenty of beer. You also need plenty of meat, with many animals being sacrificed. Archaeologists have found their bones and reconstructed the diets with fair accuracy.

What they found is that the people doing the manual labour on the pyramids, the Mesopotamian temples and city walls and other sites were given a good high protein diet. There were plenty of festivals. The way of integrating these people was by public feasts.

Now, you can argue that labor is no longer scarce, so the logic doesn't apply. But you can't generalize that people won't work unless forced; it's not true.

Sandwichman , January 5, 2017 at 3:27 pm

Perhaps the best solution would be a Universal Beer Income?

jerry , January 5, 2017 at 5:51 pm

I see what you mean, but they built the pyramids because they needed money to survive, the beer and festivals is an added bonus. Whether you call it slave labor or working for a decent wage, the premise is the same – your survival depends on doing the work so you do it.

The distinction I think relates to what waldenpond says above. People want to feel a sense of ownership, meaning and community around what they are doing, and then they do it of their own volition, so it is not seen as work. This is something quite rare in todays labor market, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Looks like people chose to work not just for pay but for pay and the addition of leisure activities (cooking, eating, partying) and a sense of community.

ekstase , January 5, 2017 at 6:06 pm

I agree with this. I think of the people I knew who had to work at two or more jobs, full time or more, to be "allowed" to be a painter, musician, writer, or performer, etc. It is sapping us culturally, not to let the creative people have time to do what they were born to do. And I think at least a little of this lives in all of us. There are things that we are born to do. How much does our society let us be who we are?

anon y'mouse , January 5, 2017 at 2:24 pm

similar arguments made regarding all of the lands in North and South America.

"they aren't using it for anything productive. best we take it from them."

who are you to say what is productive in another person's life? if we had a meaningful culture and education in this debased society, each of us would be able to make the decision about what exactly we find most productive and worthy of our efforts, and what isn't. since we have no public lands to hunt and gather and fish and farm and live upon, we are forced into this economic system. i find it odd as heck that two people who are effectively "unemployed" find it better for everyone else to be chained to a money-for-work scheme. will you both be signing up for some labor-conscription hours? will it be compulsory for all, without ability to opt-out except for complete physical/emotional disability with no gaming by the rich? (my apologies if you all do not agree, and i have misrepresented your positions)

more rationales to make people love their chains, please. because we know how this would work out: rather as it does now when you sign up for unemployment/food assistance-you MUST take the first job for the first abuser that comes along and makes an offer for you.

JTFaraday , January 5, 2017 at 2:35 pm

I think we should separate the wage/salary component of work from social welfare provisioning. Namely, universal health care and universal old age pensions. The more you think about it in the context of today's various pressures, the more sense it makes.

Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 5:58 pm

Social welfare provisioning isn't just the means of exchange, it's the ability to acquire the necessities of survival of shelter, food, heat etc. If the focus is just within the capitalist system of private ownership and rent seeking is not ended, the welfare is merely passed through and ends with the oligarchs.

cojo , January 5, 2017 at 2:39 pm

I have several questions, concerns with UBI. One is if everyone is given a base salary who is to decide what that amount should be. Will it be indexed to inflation, what will it do to inflation, specifically, inflation for housing, food, healthcare.

Will a UBI be an excuse to gut all social contracts/guarantees. Who will make those decisions. What will happen to social services (public schools, hospitals), and social needs (clean water, air, sanitation/trash, police/fire protection).

Primitive human cultures traditionally "worked" to fulfill their needs only 3-4 hours a day. The rest was leisure, taking care of children/elderly, and rest. I agree, that a large percentage of time at work is wasted time due to hour artificial 9:5 business schedule. If we all perform work from home, what will the hours be like? Will we have more time to meet our neighbors and become more involved in the community or will we be shut in our houses all day not seeing anyone. Will the family unit be stronger, since people will not have to travel across the country for job opportunities and stay near each other.

Who will be provided with basic education, will that be free or for a fee, or will the idle relatives and neighbors collaborate to provide it.

Will some neighborhoods/regions be more organized and successful than others? Will all the "lazy people" filter into future slums riddled with crime and disease? Who will provide for them if there is no longer any social services.

inhibi , January 5, 2017 at 3:01 pm

I'm sure someone has already posted this, but my idea was to have a huge Federally funded Environmental Cleanup Dept. that essentially hires mass amounts of people to literally clean streets, parks, waterways, sort through trash, etc. It's needed, its relatively low skill labor, but at least it could provide an alternative to Welfare, which is a huge huge scam that's imprisons people in the lowest class (cant own a car or land).

Obviously this doesn't solve the entire issue, but it's become pretty clear that just having a huge Welfare state will not work longterm, as Yves mentions, the detriments are huge and real: unskilled lower class, unmoivitated lower class (more free time = more criminal activity), etc.

Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Again with the Americans are lazy myth. I would argue criminal activity is more related to being blocked by state violence from accessing a thoroughly monetized society (poverty) and a purposely bled social structure than from boredom.

If a person has access to a share of the resources of a society (shelter/food and enrichment) they will not likely commit crime. For those that want a rush, we can add some climbing walls etc. ha!

For those that are critical of the'welfare state'.. it isn't natural nor accidental, it's purposeful. Stop putting in so many resources (legal, political, financial) to create one.

David , January 5, 2017 at 3:26 pm

What do you actually want to work for ?
In early societies, you worked so that you and your family and community didn't die, and could produce the goods needed to make society function. But that's changed, and today we work to earn the money to pay other people to carry out these same functions. We even work to earn the money to pay the costs of working to earn the money to pay others. We buy a house (which in the past would have been constructed by the society) and have to pay to travel to work to earn the money to pay for the house, and then the insurance on the house, and the business clothes, and then buy a car and insurance on the car because the time we spend working and traveling means we have to shop at the supermarket instead of local shops, and then we pay a garage to maintain the car, and we pay someone to look after our garden because between trips to the supermarket we don't have time ourselves, and then we pay someone to look after our children because we work so hard earning money to pay for childcare that we have no time actually left for caring for our children. And the idea is that everybody should be guaranteed the right to do this?

JTFaraday , January 5, 2017 at 5:08 pm

You think too much. ;)

J Gamer , January 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm

In the drive towards totalitarianism, universal basic income is the carrot that enables the abolition of cash. India is the trial run. Although after seeing what's transpired in India, it's probably safe to say the ruling elite have wisely concluded that it might be better to offer the carrot before rolling out the stick.

Gil , January 5, 2017 at 3:45 pm

Read Edmund Phelps' Rewarding Work for good ideas about how to generate full time jobs with adequate wages.

Sandwichman , January 5, 2017 at 4:07 pm

As I wrote at EconoSpeak back in December, "everyone is wrong."

There seems to be this false dilemma between the impending "end" of work and the unlimited potential of creative job creation. BOTH of these utopias are apocalyptically blind to history.

In 2017 what counts as "work" - a job, wage labor - is inseparably bound up with the consumption of fossil fuel. A "job" consumes "x" barrels of oil per annum. Lumps of labor are directly quantifiable in lumps of coal.

The ecological implications of this are clearly that the dilemma does not resolve itself into a choice between different schemes for redistributing some proverbial surplus. That "surplus" represents costs that have been shifted for decades and even centuries onto the capacity of the ambient environment to absorb wastes and to have resources extracted from it.

Can such an extractive economy continue indefinitely? Not according to the laws of thermodynamics.

Sandwichman , January 5, 2017 at 5:22 pm

From April 2015, UBI Caritas :

A UBI might reduce the dire incentive to "work or starve" at the same time as it increases opportunities and incentives to pursue the bright elusive butterfly of "meaningful work." That would be good if it was the only consideration. But it is not. There is also an inconvenient truth about the relationship between productivity and fossil fuel consumption. In the industrial economy, larger amounts of better work mean more greenhouse gas emissions. Productivity is a double-edged sword.

We have long since passed the point where capital "diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary."

Currently, world-wide carbon emissions per year are roughly double what can be re-absorbed by oceans and plants. This is not to say that the re-absorption by oceans is harmless –it leads to acidification. But clearly more than half of the emissions are superfluous to sustainability. Lo and behold, carbon emission increase in virtual lockstep with hours of work. In the U.S., the correlation between the two has been about 95% over the last quarter century.

Don't even think of using the "correlation doesn't prove causation" gambit. We are talking about a "water is wet" relationship. Fossil fuel is burned to do work. Period. Not just correlation - identity.

So the bottom line is we either need to cut hours of work at least in half or the remaining hours need to be less productive not more.

Reducing the hours of work also implies the potential for redistributing hours of work to create more jobs from less total work time. This of course flies in the face of " laws of political economy " that were discredited more than a century ago but nonetheless get repeated as gospel ad nauseum by so-called "economists."

UBI Caritas et amor

bulfinch , January 5, 2017 at 4:16 pm

I like where this guy is trying to go, but I think I'd put forth more of a F-k Stupid Jobs with Bad Pay ethos, rather than F-k Work . Too oversimple too broad. Work, on some level, is really all there is. The idea of a collective life devoted to perpetual and unbridled hedonism just sounds like death by holiday to me; just as awful as working yourself into the grave.

As to Yves' notion - probably this is true. Pressure is a fine agent for production and problem solving; but I suspect that stagnant period might just be a byproduct of the initial hangover. Guilt is an engine that hums in many of us - I think most people feel guilty if they spend an entire day doing nothing, let alone a lifetime tossed away.

rd , January 5, 2017 at 4:24 pm

It is going to be interesting to see what happens as the financial sector "high value" employees continue to be replaced by passive investing and computer programs. I suspect this process will result in a rethinking of many of these people about the value of work and job security.

Waldenpond , January 5, 2017 at 6:15 pm

I have been stating this also. So many tasks are open to automation in law, healthcare (remote offices), writing (algorithms), teaching (one math teacher per language!), policing. I can even imagine automated fire trucks that can pinpoint hot spots, hook up to hydrants, open a structure and target.

Dick Burkhart , January 5, 2017 at 5:58 pm

What we need is not a guaranteed minimum income, but universal ownership of key productive assets, like Alaska does with its Permanent Fund. These assets could include partial citizenship ownership of our largest corporations. All paid work would be on top of this.

As Peter Barnes says, "With Dividends and Liberty for All". Thus everyone would have a base income, enough to prevent extreme poverty, but still with plenty of incentives for jobs. Note: You'd also need to make it illegal for these "dividends" to become security for loan sharks.

Craa+zyChris , January 5, 2017 at 6:01 pm

I spent a lot of time over the holidays thinking about the future of human work and came to this conclusion: As we move forward, robots and other automation will take over a lot of human work, but in 3 areas I think humans will always have an edge. I'll summarize these 3 essentially human endeavors as: "sex, drugs and rock-and-roll", but each of those is a proxy for a wider range of human interactions.

"Sex work" (compare to "Fuck Work" from this essay) means what it says, but is also a proxy for human interactions such as massage, phys-therapy, etc. Robots will encroach on this turf somewhat (serving as tools), but for psychological reasons, humans will always prefer to be worked over by other humans.

Drugs is a proxy for human appreciation of chemical substances. Machines will of course be used to detect such substances, but no one will appreciate them like us. The machines will need us to tell them whether the beer is as good as the last batch, and we must make sure to get paid for that.

Finally, rock-and-roll is a proxy for human artistic expression as well as artistic appreciation. Robots will never experience sick beats the way we do, and while they may produce some, again for psychological reasons, I think humans will tend to value art created by other humans above that produced by machines.

The good news is that the supply and demand balance for these activities will scale in a stable way as the population grows (or shrinks). So I think the key is to make sure these types of activities are considered "work", and renumerated accordingly in our bright J.G. future.

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[Jan 23, 2017] re F@ck Work naked capitalism

Notable quotes:
"... Demanding a no-strings-attached welfare system, the left seeks to cut government out of social provisioning while at the same time relying on government for regular financial support. ..."
"... How will we provide adequate human and material resources for our growing elderly populations? How can we meaningfully restructure social production to address climate change? ..."
"... no amount of volunteerism, goodwill, or generous welfare payments can adequately meet these demands. Indeed, only government can afford to mobilize the persons and materials needed to answer such demands. ..."
"... I really need to be kicked out of the house, to go someplace and do something I don't really want to do for 8 hours a day. ..."
"... Interesting read society has become so corrupt at every level from personal up through municipal, regional and federal governments that it cant even identify the problem, let alone a solution ..."
Jan 23, 2017 |
By Scott Ferguson, Assistant Professor, University of South Florida. He is also a Research Scholar at the Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity. His current research and pedagogy focus on Modern Monetary Theory and critiques of neoliberalism, aesthetic theory; the history of digital animation and visual effects; and essayistic writing across media platforms. Originally published at Arcade

James Livingston has responded to my critique of his Aeon essay, " Fuck Work ." His response was published in the Spanish magazine Contexto y Accion . One can find an English translation here . What follows is my reply:

Livingston and I share many political aims. We each wish to reverse wealth polarization, to alleviate systemic poverty, and to enable diverse forms of human flourishing. The professor and I disagree, however, on the nature of contemporary economic reality. As a consequence, we propose very different political programs for realizing the sort of just and prosperous society we both desire.

In his rejoinder to my critique, Livingston proudly affirms his commitment to Liberalism and makes a Liberal understanding of political economy the basis of his proposed alternative to the neoliberal catastrophe. Deeming government an intrinsically authoritarian institution, he situates civil society as a realm of self-actualization and self-sufficiency. The problem, as he formulates it, is that while capitalist innovation has made it possible to increasingly automate production, the capitalist class has robbed us of our purchasing power and preserved a punishing wage relation. This prevents us from enjoying the fruits of automated labor. Livingston's solution is to reject an outmoded Protestant work ethic; tax the unproductive corporate profits that fuel financial markets; and redistribute this money in the form of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). The result: each member of civil society will be liberated to associate, labor, or play as they please.

Like Livingston, the left has long flirted with Liberal dreams that autonomous and self-regulating associations might one day replace the difficulties of political governance. After the Great Recession, these dreams have returned . They imagine algorithms and robots to be politically neutral. They seek a life of shared luxury through automatically dispensed welfare payments. This sounds nice at first blush. However, such reveries are at best naive and, at worst, politically defeatist and self-destructive. Abandoned and abused by neoliberal governance, today's pro-UBI left doubles down on neoliberalism's do-it-yourself caretaking. It envisions delimited forms of monetary redistribution as the only means to repair the social order. Above all, it allows anti-authoritarianism to overshadow the charge of social provisioning.

Livingston's articulation of this dream is especially fierce. As such, it crystallizes UBI's central contradiction: Demanding a no-strings-attached welfare system, the left seeks to cut government out of social provisioning while at the same time relying on government for regular financial support. This position, which fails to rethink the structure of social participation as a whole, leaves disquieting political questions unanswered: How will we provide adequate human and material resources for our growing elderly populations? How can we meaningfully restructure social production to address climate change? How do we preserve a place for the arts outside of competitive MFA programs and speculative art markets?

Such questions are unforgivingly realistic, not pie-in-the-sky musings. And no amount of volunteerism, goodwill, or generous welfare payments can adequately meet these demands. Indeed, only government can afford to mobilize the persons and materials needed to answer such demands. And while algorithms and robots are powerful social instruments, we cannot rely on automation to overcome extant logics of discrimination and exclusion . To do so is to forget that social injustice is politically conditioned and that government alone holds the monetary capacity to transform economic life in its entirety.

... ... ...

Carlos , January 23, 2017 at 2:31 am

I really need to be kicked out of the house, to go someplace and do something I don't really want to do for 8 hours a day.

I've already got too much time to fritter away. I'm fairly certain, giving me more time and money to make my own choices would not make the world a better place.

Dogstar , January 23, 2017 at 7:44 am

Hmm. No "sarc" tag Really?? More free time and money wouldn't be a benefit to you and your surroundings? That's hard to believe. To each their own I guess.

MtnLife , January 23, 2017 at 8:39 am

I can see it both ways. Most people see that as sarcasm but I have more than a few friends whose jobs are probably the only thing keeping them out of jail. Idle hands being the devil's plaything and all.

For instance, the last thing you want to give a recovering addict is a lot of free time and money.

Jonathan Holland Becnel , January 23, 2017 at 11:51 am

As a recovering addict, I must vehemently disagree with ur statement. I would love to have as much money and free time on my hands to work on the fun hobbies that keep me sober like Political Activism, Blogging, Film, etc.

Marco , January 23, 2017 at 1:22 pm

Many MANY folks take drugs and alcohol specially BECAUSE of their jobs

JohnnyGL , January 23, 2017 at 10:46 am

At no point in the "Job Guarantee" discussion did anyone advocate forcing you to go to work. However, if you decide to get ambitious and want a paid activity to do that helps make society a better place to live, wouldn't it be nice to know that there'd be work available for you to do?

Right now, that's not so easy to do without lots of effort searching for available jobs and going through a cumbersome and dispiriting application process that's designed to make you prove how much you REALLY, REALLY want the job.

For me, the real silver bullet is the moral/political argument of a Job Guarantee vs. Basic Income. Job Guarantee gives people a sense of pride and accomplishment and those employed and their loved ones will vigorously defend it against those who would attack them as 'moochers'. Also, defenders can point to the completed projects as added ammunition.

Basic income recipients have no such moral/political defense.

jrs , January 23, 2017 at 1:04 pm

The guaranteed jobs could be for a 20 or 30 hour week. I fear they won't be as most job guarantee advocates seem to be Calvinists who believe only work gets you into heaven though.

skippy , January 23, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Totally flippant and backhanded comment jrs, might help to substantiate your perspective with more than emotive slurs.

disheveled . Gezz Calvinists – ????? – how about thousands of years of Anthro or Psychology vs insinuations about AET or Neoclassical

jrs , January 23, 2017 at 1:01 pm

Don't forget commute another 2 hours because you can't afford anything close by!

tony , January 23, 2017 at 6:06 am

It's a common 'argument' by people defending status quo. They claim something is ridiculous and easily disproven and then leave it at that. They avoid making argument that are specific enought to be countered, because thay know they don't actually have a leg to stand on.

fresno dan , January 23, 2017 at 8:37 am

January 23, 2017 at 4:19 am

UserFriendly , January 23, 2017 at 6:57 am

Limitless may not have been the best word. Of course the government can print money till the cows come home; but MMT recommends stopping when you approach the real resource constraint.

skippy , January 23, 2017 at 7:39 am

Taxes to mop up . but that's theft in some ideological camps .

disheveled must have printing presses down in the basement .

Ruben , January 23, 2017 at 7:58 am

Sloppy language does not help so thank you. So the next question is how do constraints (natural or other) affect spending power under MMT, is it asymptotic, is there an optimum, discontinuities?

The other major issue is that although spending power is controlled by legislatures it must be recognized that wealth creation starts with the work of people and physical capital, not by the good graces of gov't. MMT makes it sound as if money exists just because gov't wills it to exist, which is true in the sense of printing pieces of paper but not in the sense of actual economic production and wealth creation. Taxes are not the manner in which gov't removes money but it really is the cost of gov't sitting on top of the economic production by people together with physical capital.

Jamie , January 23, 2017 at 9:55 am

Help me understand your last sentence. So, if I'm a farmer, the time I spend digging the field is economic production, but the time I spend sitting at my desk planing what to plant and deciding which stump to remove next and how best to do it, and the time I spend making deals with the bank etc, these are all unproductive hours that make no contribution to my economic production?

susan the other , January 23, 2017 at 1:48 pm

Yes, Jamie. And as you point out, Ferguson is giving us a better definition of "productive". He is not saying productivity produces profits – he is saying productive work fixes things and makes them better. But some people never get past that road bump called "productivity."

vlade , January 23, 2017 at 5:28 am

The author is making some assumptions, and then goes and takes them apart. It's possilble (I didn't read the article he refers to), that the assumptions he responds to directly are made by the article, but that doesn't make them universal assumptions about UBI.

UBI is not a single exact prescription – and in the same way, JG is not a single exact prescription. The devil, in both cases, is in details. In fact, there is not reason why JG and UBI should be mutually exclusive as a number of people are trying to tell us.

and if we talk about governance – well, the super-strong governance that JG requires to function properly is my reason why I'd prefer a strong UBI to most JG.

Now and then we get a failed UBI example study – I'm not going to look at that. But the socialist regimes of late 20th century are a prime example of failed JG. Unlike most visitor or writers here, I had the "privilege" to experience them first hand, and thanks but no thanks. Under the socialist regimes you had to have a job (IIRC, the consitutions stated you had "duty" to work). But that become an instrument of control. What job you could have was pretty tightly controlled. Or, even worse, you could be refused any job, which pretty much automatically sent you to prison as "not working parasite".

I don't expect that most people who support JG have anything even remotely similar in mind, but the governance problems still stay. That is, who decides what jobs should be created? Who decides who should get what job, especially if not all jobs are equal (and I don't mean just equal pay)? Can you be firedt from your JG job if you go there just to collect your salary? (The joke in the socialist block was "the government pretends to pay us, we pretend to work"). Etc. etc.

All of the above would have to be decided by people, and if we should know something, then we should know that any system run by people will be, sooner or later, corrupted. The more complex it is, the easier it is to corrupt it.

Which is why I support (meaningfull, meaning you can actually live on it, not just barely survive) Basic Income over JG. The question for me is more whether we can actually afford a meaningful one, because getting a "bare survival one" does more damage than good.

PKMKII , January 23, 2017 at 9:27 am

That's why any JG would have to be filtered through local governments or, more ideally, non-profit community organizations, and not a centralized government. New York City's Summer Youth Employment Program offers a good model for this. Block grants of money are delivered to a wide range of community organizations, thus ensuring no one group has a monopoly, and then individual businesses, other community groups, schools, non-profits, etc., apply to the community organizations for an "employee" who works for them, but the payment actually comes from the block grant. The government serves as the deliverer of funds, and provides regulatory oversight to make sure no abuses are taking place, but does not pick and choose the jobs/employers themselves.

Praedor , January 23, 2017 at 5:42 am

I don't see it as either/or. Provide a UBI and a job guarantee. The job would pay over and above the UBI bit, if for some reason, you don't want to work or cannot, you still have your Universal BASIC Income as the floor through which you cannot fall.

Private employers will have to offer better conditions and pay to convince people getting UBI to work for them. They wouldn't be able to mistreat workers because they could simply bolt because they will not fall into poverty if they quit. The dirtbags needing workers won't be able to overpay themselves at the expense of workers because they feel completely free to leave if you are a self worshipping douche.

Dblwmy , January 23, 2017 at 11:03 am

It seems that over time the "floor through which you cannot fall" becomes just that, the floor, as the effect of a UBI becomes the universal value, well floor.

jerry , January 23, 2017 at 11:12 am

Was going to be my response as well, why such absolute yes or no thinking? The benefit of the UBI is that is recognizes that we have been increasing productivity for oh the last couple millenia for a REASON! To have more leisure time! Giving everyone the opportunity to work more and slave away isn't much of a consolation. We basically have a jobs guarantee/floor right now, its called McDonalds, and no one wants it.

Labor needs a TON of leverage, to get us back to a reasonable Scandinavian/Aussie standard of living. Much more time off, much better benefits, higher wages in general. UBI provides this, it says screw you employers unless you are willing to offer reasonable conditions we are going to stay home.

Anti-Schmoo , January 23, 2017 at 6:02 am

Why the Job Guarantee versus Universal Basic Income is not about work, BUT ABOUT GOVERNANCE!

Yep, agree 100%. We live in a capitalist society which is dependent on a (wage) slave population.

UBI? Are you mad?

I for one am mad, give me UBI! Time to end the insanity of U.S. capitalism

Mrs Smith , January 23, 2017 at 6:08 am

I'm curious to know if either of these systems work if there is no guarantee of "free" access to healthcare through single-payer or a national insurance? I'm only marginally informed about UBI or MMT, and haven't found adequate information regarding either as to how healthcare is addressed. It seems clear that neither could work in the US, specifically for the reason that any UBI would have to be high enough to pay insane insurance premiums, and cover catastrophic illnesses without pushing someone into bankruptcy.

Can anyone clarify, or point me in the direction of useful information on this?

UserFriendly , January 23, 2017 at 7:02 am

There are different flavors of UBI, most don't mention healthcare at all. Milton Friedman's UBI flavor prefers that it replace all government spending on social welfare to reduce the government's overall burden. MMT says there is no sense in not having single payer.

Stephanie , January 23, 2017 at 7:06 am

My thought on the last thread of this nature is that if UBI were ever enacted in the U.S., healthcare access would become restricted to those with jobs (and the self-employeed with enough spare income to pay for it). You don't have to be healthy to collect a subsistence payment from to the government.

HotFlash , January 23, 2017 at 11:18 am

Here in Canada we have universal healthcare, as well as a basic income guarantee for low income families with children and seniors. There is a movement to extend that as well, details of one plan here .

In theory, I think it could be possible for the JG to build and staff hospitals and clinics on a non-profit basis or at least price-controlled basis, if so directed (*huge* question, of course - by what agency? govt? local councils?). Ditto housing, schools, infrastructure, all kinds of socially useful and pleasant stuff. However, the way the US tends to do things, I would expect instead that a BIG or a JG would, as others have pointed out, simply enable employers to pay less, and furthermore, subsidize the consumption of overpriced goods and services. IOW, a repeat of the ACA, just a pump to get more $$ to the top.

The problem is not the money, but that the Americans govern themselves so poorly. No idea what the cure could be for that.

Praedor , January 23, 2017 at 12:28 pm

Fixing worker pay is actually VERY easy. It's purely a political issue. You tie corporate taxes to worker compensation. More specifically, you set the maximum compensation for CEOs at NO MORE than (say) 50x average worker pay in their corporation (INCLUDING temps AND off-shored workers IN US DOLLARS no passing the buck to Temp Agencies or claiming that $10/day in hellhole country x is equivalent to $50k in the US. NO, it is $10/day or $3650/yr, period). At 50x, corporate taxation is at the minimum (say something like 17%). The corporation is free to pay their top exec more than 50x but doing so will increase the corporate tax to 25%. You could make it step-wise: 51-60x average worker pay = 25% corporate tax, 61-80x = 33% corporate tax, etc.

It is time to recognize that CEO pay is NOT natural or earned at stratospheric levels. THE best economic times in the US were between the 50s to early 70s when top tax rates were much higher AND the average CEO took home maybe 30x their average worker pay. We CAN go back to something like that with policy. Also, REQUIRE that labor have reps on the Board of Directors, change the rules of incorporation so it is NOT mainly focused on "maximizing profit or shareholder value". It must include returning a social good to the local communities within which corporations reside. Profits and maximizing shareholder value must be last (after also minimizing social/environmental harm). Violate the rules and you lose your corporate charter.

There is no right to be a corporation. Incorporation is a privilege that is extended by government. The Founders barred any corporate interference in politics, and if a corporation broke the law, it lost its charter and the corporate officers were directly held responsible for THEIR actions. Corporations don't do anything, people in charge of corporations make the decisions and carry out the actions so NO MORE LLCs. If you kill people due to lax environmental protections or worker safety, etc, then the corporate officers are DIRECTLY and personally responsible for it. THEY made it happen, not some ethereal "corporation".

BeliTsari , January 23, 2017 at 6:32 am

Durned hippys imagine an IRON boot stamping on a once human face – forever. OK, now everybody back to the BIG house. Massa wanna reed yew sum Bible verses. We're going to be slaves to the machines, ya big silly!

PlutoniumKun , January 23, 2017 at 7:09 am

I'm sceptical whether a guaranteed job policy would actually work in reality. There are plenty of historical precedents – for example, during the Irish potato famine because of an ideological resistence to providing direct aid, there were many 'make work' schemes. You can still see the results all along the west coast of Ireland – little harbours that nobody has ever used, massive drainage schemes for tiny amounts of land, roads to nowhere. It certainly helped many families survive, but it also meant that those incapacitated by starvation died as they couldn't work. It was no panacea.

There are numerous practical issues with make work schemes. Do you create a sort of 2-layer public service – with one level permanent jobs, the other a variety of 'temporary' jobs according to need? And if so, how do you deal with issues like:

1. The person on a make work scheme who doesn't bother turning up till 11 am and goes home at 2.

2. Regional imbalances where propering region 1 is desperately short of workers while neighbouring region 2 has thousands of surplus people sweeping streets and planting trees.

3. What effect will this have on business and artistic innovation? Countries with strong welfare systems such as Sweden also tend to have a very high number of start ups because people can quit their jobs and devote themselves to a couple of years to develop that business idea they always had, or to start a band, or try to make a name as a painter.

4. How do you manage the transition from 'make-work' to permanent jobs when the economy is on the up, but people decide they prefer working in their local area sweeping the street?

I can see just as many practical problems with a job guarantee as with universal income. Neither solution is perfect – in reality, some sort of mix would be the only way I think it could be done effectively.

Torsten , January 23, 2017 at 7:33 am

Yes. Not either/or but both/and.

To provide some context for passers-by, this seemingly too-heated debate is occurring in the context of the upcoming Podemos policy meeting in Spain, Feb 10-12.. Podemos seems to have been unaware of MMT, and has subscribed to sovereign-economy-as-household policies. Ferguson, along with elements of the modern left, has been trying to win Podemos over to MMT-based policies like a Jobs Guarantee rather than the Basic Income scheme they have heretofore adopted rather uncritically.

(Of course Spain is far from "sovereign", but that's another matter :-(

aj , January 23, 2017 at 7:48 am

1) Fire them
2) Prospering region 1 isn't "short on workers" they just all have private jobs.
3) What a good argument to also have single payer healthcare and some sort of BIG as well as the JG
4) private companies must offer a better compensation package. One of the benefits of the JG is that it essentially sets the minimum wage.

Murph , January 23, 2017 at 9:08 am

Yeah, those are pretty good answers right off the bat. (Obviously I guess for #1 they can reapply in six months or something.)

Plutonium- I feel like true progress is trading shitty problems for less shitty ones. I can't see any of the major proponents like Kelton, Wray or Mitchell ever suggesting that the JG won't come with it's own new sets of challenges. On the overly optimistic side though: you could look at that as just necessitating more meaningful JG jobs addressing those issues.

aj , January 23, 2017 at 11:17 am

I was writing that on my phone this morning. Didn't have time to go into great detail. Still, I wanted to point out that just because there will be additional complexities with a JG, doesn't mean there aren't reasonable answers.

PlutoniumKun , January 23, 2017 at 10:42 am

1. If you fire them its not a jobs guarantee. Many people have psychological/social issues which make them unsuitable for regular hours jobs. If you don't have a universal basic income, and you don't have an absolute jobs guarantee, then you condemn them and their families to poverty.

2. The area is 'short on workers' if it is relying on a surplus public employee base for doing things like keeping the streets clean and helping out in old folks homes. It is implicit in the use of government as a source of jobs of last resort that if there is no spare labour, then you will have nobody to do all the non-basic works and you will have no justification for additional infrastructure spend.

3. You miss the point. A basic income allows people time and freedom to be creative if they choose. When the Conservatives in the early 1990's in the UK restricted social welfare to under 25's, Noel Gallagher of Oasis predicted that it would destroy working class rock n roll, and leave the future only to music made by rich kids. He was proven right, which is why we have to listen to Coldplay every time we switch on the radio.

4. This ignores the reality that jobs are never spread evenly across regions. One of the biggest problems in the US labour market is that the unemployed often just can't afford to move to where the jobs are available. A guaranteed job scheme organised on local govenment basis doesn't address this, if anything it can exacerbate the problem. And the simplest and easiest way to have a minimum wage is to have a minimum wage.

aj , January 23, 2017 at 11:39 am

1) Kelton always talks about a JG being for people "willing and able to work." If you are not willing I don't really have much sympathy for you. If you are not able due to psychological factors or disability, then we can talk about how you get on welfare or the BIG/UBI. The JG can't work in a vacuum. It can't be the only social program.

2) Seems unrealistic. You are just searching to find something wrong. If there is zero public employment, that means private employment is meeting all labor demands.

3) I have no idea what you are going on about. I'm in a band. I also have a full-time job. I go see local music acts all the time. There are a few that play music and don't work because they have rich parents, but that's the minority. Most artists I know manage to make art despite working full time. I give zero shits what corporate rock is these days. If you don't like what's on the radio turn it off. There are thousands of bands you've never heard of. Go find them.

4) Again, you are just searching for What-If reasons to crap on the JG. You try to keep the jobs local. Or you figure out free transportation. There are these large vehicles called busses which can transport many people at once.

Yes these are all valid logistical problems to solve, but you present them like there are no possible solutions. I can come up with several in less than 5 minutes.

oho , January 23, 2017 at 8:04 am

For a more practical first step--how about getting rid of/slashing regressive and non-federal income tax deductible sales taxes? shifting that tax burden to where income growth has been.

Democratic Party-run states/cities are the biggest offenders when it comes to high sales taxes.

universal basic income in the West + de facto open borders won't work. just making a reasonable hypothesis.

Dita , January 23, 2017 at 8:06 am

Make-work will set you free?

voteforno6 , January 23, 2017 at 8:32 am

There might be a psychological benefit to a jobs guarantee vs. UBI. There are a lot of people that would much rather "earn" their income rather than directly receiving it.

BeliTsari , January 23, 2017 at 8:46 am

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Norb , January 23, 2017 at 9:15 am

A JG would begin to rebuild the trust and cooperation needed to have a society based on justice instead of might makes right. Human life is based on obligations- we are all responsible to one another for the social system to work. The problem is always about how to deal with cheaters and shirkers. This problem is best solved by peer pressure and shaming- along with a properly functioning legal system.

I get a kick out of the "make work" argument against a JG. With planned obsolescence as the foundation of our economic system, it's just a more sophisticated way of digging holes and filling them in again. Bring on robotic automation, and the capitalist utopia is reached. Soul crushing, pointless labor can be sidelined and replaced with an unthinking and unfeeling machine in order to generate profits. The one problem is people have no money to buy the cheep products. To solve that dilemma, use the sovereign governments power to provide spending credits in the form of a UBI. Capitalism is saved from is own contradictions- the can is kicked farther down the road.

The obligations we have to one another must be defined before any system organization can take place. Right now, the elite are trying to have their cake and eat it too.

jerry , January 23, 2017 at 11:23 am

Well said!

Jamie , January 23, 2017 at 9:25 am

I agree with those who see a need for both programs. I think the critique of UBI here is a good one, that raises many valid points. But I have trouble with a portion of it. For instance:

by eliminating forced unemployment, it would eradicate systemic poverty

treats 'poverty' as an absolute when it is a relative. No matter what programs are in place, there will always be a bottom tier in our hierarchical society and those who constitute it will always be 'impoverished' compared to those in higher tiers. This is the nature of the beast. Which is why I prefer to talk about subsistence level income and degrees above subsistence. The cost of living may not be absolutely fixed over time, but it seems to me to be more meaningful and stable than the term 'poverty'. On the other hand, in a rent seeking economy, giving people an income will not lift them out of poverty because rents will simply be adjusted to meet the rise in resources. So UBI without rent control is meaningless.

Another point is that swapping forced unemployment for forced employment seems to me to avoid some core issues surrounding how society provides for all its members. Proponents of the JG are always careful to stress that no one is forced to work under the JG. They say things like, "jobs for everyone who wants one". But this fails to address the element of coercion that underlies the system. If one has no means to provide for oneself (i.e. we are no longer a frontier with boundless land that anyone can have for cheap upon which they may strike out and choose the amount of labor they contribute to procure the quality of life they prefer-if ever was such the case), then jobs for "everyone who wants one" is simply disingenuous. There is a critical "needs" versus "wants" discussion that doesn't generally come up when discussing JG. It's in there, of course, but it is postponed until the idea is accepted to the point where setting an actual wage becomes an issue. But even then, the wage set will bear on the needs versus wants of the employed, but leaves out those foolish enough to not "want" a job. Whereas, in discussing UBI, that discussion is front and center (since even before accepting the proposal people will ask, how much?, and proper reasons must be given to support a particular amount-which again brings us to discussing subsistence and degrees above it-the discussion of subsistence or better is "baked in" to the discussion about UBI in a way that it is not when discussing the JG).

PKMKII , January 23, 2017 at 9:44 am

While UBI interests me as a possible route to a non-"means of production"-based economy, the problem I see with it is that it could easily reduce the populace to living to consume. Given enough funds to provide for the basics of living, but not enough to make any gains within society, or affect change. It's growth for growth's sake, not as to serve society. Something is needed to make sure people aren't just provided for, but have the ability to shape the direction of their society and communities.

Teacup , January 23, 2017 at 9:48 am

Where I work @3/4 of the staff already receives social security and yet it is not enough seems to me human satisfaction is boundless and providing a relative minimum paper floor for everyone is just. Yet the way our market is set up, this paper floor would be gobbled back up by the rentier class anyway. So unless there is a miraculous change in our economic rent capture policies, we are screwed

So yes, just describe to people precisely what it is – a 'paper' floor not something that has firm footing yet acknowledges inequities inherent in our current currency distribution methods. And of course couple this with a jobs guarantee. I have met way too many people in my life that 'fall through the cracks' .

Portia , January 23, 2017 at 10:24 am

why is no one bemoaning the rabid over-consumption of the complainers who suck up much more than they will ever need, hoarding and complaining about people who do not have enough? the real problem is rampant out of control parasites

Teacup , January 23, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Must be a capital gains 'earner' . and a professional projectionist

Portia , January 23, 2017 at 12:19 pm

both ends see the other as a parasite

Ignacio , January 23, 2017 at 11:21 am

But Ferguson should also adknowledge that Livingston has some points.

Why on earth we politically put limits to, for instance, public earning-spending while do not put any limit to the net amount that one person can earn, spend and own?

Upward redistribution is what occurs in the neoliberal framework. UBI is distribution. Bear in mind that even in the best employment conditions, not everybody can earn a salary. 100% employment is unrealistic.

LT , January 23, 2017 at 11:58 am

The people marketing UBI and MMT have hundreds of years of attempted social engineereing to overcome. I referring to the " why people want what they want and why do they believe what they believe." Why?

The only suggestion I have is that, since everybody has a different relationship to the concept of work, the populations involved need to be smaller. Not necessarily fewer people, but more regions or nation states that are actually allowed to try their ideas without being attacked by any existing "empire" or "wanna be empire" via sanctions or militarily.

It is going to take many different regions, operating a variety of economic systems (not the globalized private banking extraction method pushed down every one's throat whether they like it or not) that people can gravitate in and out of freely.

People would have the choice to settle in the region that has rules and regulations that work most for their lives and belief systems (which can change over time).

Looking at it from the perspective that there can be only one system that 300 million plus people (like the USA) or the world must be under is the MAIN problem of social engineering. There needs to be space carved out for these many experiments.

schultzzz , January 23, 2017 at 12:05 pm

First, congratulations to everyone who managed to read this all the way through. IMO both this (and the guy he's responding to), seem like someone making fun of academic writing. Perhaps with the aid of a program that spits out random long words.

FWIW, when I lived in Japan, they had a HUGE, construction-based make-work program there, and it was the worst of both worlds: hard physical labor which even the laborers knew served no purpose, PLUS constant street obstruction/noise for the people in the neighborhoods of these make-work projects. Not to mention entire beautiful mountains literally concreted over in the name of 'jawbs'.

Different thought: I'm not sold on UBI either, but wouldn't it mess up the prostitution/sex trafficking game, almost as a side effect? Has anyone heard UBI fans promote it on that basis?

Ben , January 23, 2017 at 12:31 pm

The sound and fury of disagreement is drowning out what both authors agree on: guaranteed material standards of living and reduced working time. If that's the true goal, we should say so explicitly and hammer out the details of the best way to attain it.

MIB , January 23, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Interesting read society has become so corrupt at every level from personal up through municipal, regional and federal governments that it cant even identify the problem, let alone a solution

all forms of government and their corresponding programs will fail until that government is free from the monetary influences of individuals / corporations and military establishments, whether it be from donations to a political establishment or kick backs to politicians and legislators or government spending directed to buddies and cohorts

I don't pretend to understand the arguments at the level to which they are written, but at the basic level of true governance it must but open and honest, this would allow the economy to function and be evaluated, and then at that point we could offer up some ideas on how to enhance areas as needed or scale back areas that were out of control or not adding value to society as a whole

We stand at a place that has hundreds of years of built in corruption into the model, capable so far of funneling money to the top regardless of the program implemented by the left or the right sides of society

first step is to remove all corruption and influence from governance at every level until then all the toils toward improvement are pointless as no person has witnessed a "free market " in a couple hundred years, all economic policy has been slanted by influence and corruption

we can not fix it until we actually observe it working, and it will never work until it is free of bias / influence

no idea how we get there . our justice system is the first step in repairing any society

[Nov 23, 2016] Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It

Nov 23, 2016 |
( 184 Posted by msmash on Monday November 21, 2016 @12:20PM from the dilemma dept.

The New York Times ran a strong opinion piece that talks about one critical reason why everyone should quit social media: your career is dependent on it. The other argues that by spending time on social media and sharing our thoughts, we are demeaning the value of our work, our ideas . (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source .)

Select excerpts from the story follows:

In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable. Any 16-year-old with a smartphone can invent a hashtag or repost a viral article. The idea that if you engage in enough of this low-value activity, it will somehow add up to something of high value in your career is the same dubious alchemy that forms the core of most snake oil and flimflam in business.

Professional success is hard, but it's not complicated. The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about. [...] Interesting opportunities and useful connections are not as scarce as social media proponents claim. In my own professional life, for example, as I improved my standing as an academic and a writer, I began receiving more interesting opportunities than I could handle. As you become more valuable to the marketplace, good things will find you.

To be clear, I'm not arguing that new opportunities and connections are unimportant. I'm instead arguing that you don't need social media's help to attract them. My second objection concerns the idea that social media is harmless. Consider that the ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy. Social media weakens this skill because it's engineered to be addictive. The more you use social media in the way it's designed to be used -- persistently throughout your waking hours -- the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.

Once this Pavlovian connection is solidified, it becomes hard to give difficult tasks the unbroken concentration they require, and your brain simply won't tolerate such a long period without a fix. Indeed, part of my own rejection of social media comes from this fear that these services will diminish my ability to concentrate -- the skill on which I make my living.

A dedication to cultivating your social media brand is a fundamentally passive approach to professional advancement. It diverts your time and attention away from producing work that matters and toward convincing the world that you matter. The latter activity is seductive, especially for many members of my generation who were raised on this message, but it can be disastrously counterproductive.

[Oct 24, 2015] Phone in sick: its a small act of rebellion against wage slavery

Notable quotes:
"... By far the biggest act of wage slavery rebellion, don't buy shit. The less you buy, the less you need to earn. Holidays by far the minority of your life should not be a desperate escape from the majority of your life. Spend less, work less and actually really enjoy living more. ..."
"... How about don't shop at Walmart (they helped boost the Chinese economy while committing hari kari on the American Dream) and actually engaging in proper labour action? Calling in sick is just plain childish. ..."
"... I'm all for sticking it to the man, but when you call into work for a stupid reason (and a hangover is a very stupid reason), it is selfish, and does more damage to the cause of worker's rights, not less. I don't know about where you work, but if I call in sick to my job, other people have to pick up my slack. I work for a public library, and we don't have a lot of funds, so we have the bear minimum of employees we can have and still work efficiently. As such, if anybody calls in, everyone else, up to and including the library director, have to take on more work. ..."
Oct 24, 2015 | The Guardian

"Phoning in sick is a revolutionary act." I loved that slogan. It came to me, as so many good things did, from Housmans, the radical bookshop in King's Cross. There you could rummage through all sorts of anarchist pamphlets and there I discovered, in the early 80s, the wondrous little magazine Processed World. It told you basically how to screw up your workplace. It was smart and full of small acts of random subversion. In many ways it was ahead of its time as it was coming out of San Francisco and prefiguring Silicon Valley. It saw the machines coming. Jobs were increasingly boring and innately meaningless. Workers were "data slaves" working for IBM ("Intensely Boring Machines").

What Processed World was doing was trying to disrupt the identification so many office workers were meant to feel with their management, not through old-style union organising, but through small acts of subversion. The modern office, it stressed, has nothing to do with human need. Its rebellion was about working as little as possible, disinformation and sabotage. It was making alienation fun. In 1981, it could not have known that a self-service till cannot ever phone in sick.

I was thinking of this today, as I wanted to do just that. I have made myself ill with a hangover. A hangover, I always feel, is nature's way of telling you to have a day off. One can be macho about it and eat your way back to sentience via the medium of bacon sandwiches and Maltesers. At work, one is dehydrated, irritable and only semi-present. Better, surely, though to let the day fall through you and dream away.

Having worked in America, though, I can say for sure that they brook no excuses whatsoever. When I was late for work and said things like, "My alarm clock did not go off", they would say that this was not a suitable explanation, which flummoxed me. I had to make up others. This was just to work in a shop.

This model of working – long hours, very few holidays, few breaks, two incomes needed to raise kids, crazed loyalty demanded by huge corporations, the American way – is where we're heading. Except now the model is even more punishing. It is China. We are expected to compete with an economy whose workers are often closer to indentured slaves than anything else.

This is what striving is, then: dangerous, demoralising, often dirty work. Buckle down. It's the only way forward, apparently, which is why our glorious leaders are sucking up to China, which is immoral, never mind ridiculously short-term thinking.

So again I must really speak up for the skivers. What we have to understand about austerity is its psychic effects. People must have less. So they must have less leisure, too. The fact is life is about more than work and work is rapidly changing. Skiving in China may get you killed but here it may be a small act of resistance, or it may just be that skivers remind us that there is meaning outside wage-slavery.

Work is too often discussed by middle-class people in ways that are simply unrecognisable to anyone who has done crappy jobs. Much work is not interesting and never has been. Now that we have a political and media elite who go from Oxbridge to working for a newspaper or a politician, a lot of nonsense is spouted. These people have not cleaned urinals on a nightshift. They don't sit lonely in petrol stations manning the till. They don't have to ask permission for a toilet break in a call centre. Instead, their work provides their own special identity. It is very important.

Low-status jobs, like caring, are for others. The bottom-wipers of this world do it for the glory, I suppose. But when we talk of the coming automation that will reduce employment, bottom-wiping will not be mechanised. Nor will it be romanticised, as old male manual labour is. The mad idea of reopening the coal mines was part of the left's strange notion of the nobility of labour. Have these people ever been down a coal mine? Would they want that life for their children?

Instead we need to talk about the dehumanising nature of work. Bertrand Russell and Keynes thought our goal should be less work, that technology would mean fewer hours.

Far from work giving meaning to life, in some surveys 40% of us say that our jobs are meaningless. Nonetheless, the art of skiving is verboten as we cram our children with ever longer hours of school and homework. All this striving is for what exactly? A soul-destroying job?

Just as education is decided by those who loved school, discussions about work are had by those to whom it is about more than income.

The parts of our lives that are not work – the places we dream or play or care, the space we may find creative – all these are deemed outside the economy. All this time is unproductive. But who decides that?

Skiving work is bad only to those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

So go on: phone in sick. You know you want to.

friedad 23 Oct 2015 18:27

We now exist in a society in which the Fear Cloud is wrapped around each citizen. Our proud history of Union and Labor, fighting for decent wages and living conditions for all citizens, and mostly achieving these aims, a history, which should be taught to every child educated in every school in this country, now gradually but surely eroded by ruthless speculators in government, is the future generations are inheriting. The workforce in fear of taking a sick day, the young looking for work in fear of speaking out at diminishing rewards, definitely this 21st Century is the Century of Fear. And how is this fear denied, with mind blowing drugs, regardless if it is is alcohol, description drugs, illicit drugs, a society in denial. We do not require a heavenly object to destroy us, a few soulless monsters in our mist are masters of manipulators, getting closer and closer to accomplish their aim of having zombies doing their beckoning. Need a kidney, no worries, zombie dishwasher, is handy for one. Oh wait that time is already here.

Hemulen6 23 Oct 2015 15:06

Oh join the real world, Suzanne! Many companies now have a limit to how often you can be sick. In the case of the charity I work for it's 9 days a year. I overstepped it, I was genuinely sick, and was hauled up in front of Occupational Health. That will now go on my record and count against me. I work for a cancer care charity. Irony? Surely not.

AlexLeo -> rebel7 23 Oct 2015 13:34

Which is exactly my point. You compete on relevant job skills and quality of your product, not what school you have attended.

Yes, there are thousands, tens of thousands of folks here around San Jose who barely speak English, but are smart and hard working as hell and it takes them a few years to get to 150-200K per year, Many of them get to 300-400K, if they come from strong schools in their countries of origin, compared to the 10k or so where they came from, but probably more than the whining readership here.

This is really difficult to swallow for the Brits back in Britain, isn't it. Those who have moved over have experiences the type of social mobility unthinkable in Britain, but they have had to work hard and get to 300K-700K per year, much better than the 50-100K their parents used to make back in GB. These are averages based on personal interactions with say 50 Brits in the last 15 + years, all employed in the Silicon Valley in very different jobs and roles.

Todd Owens -> Scott W 23 Oct 2015 11:00

I get what you're saying and I agree with a lot of what you said. My only gripe is most employees do not see an operation from a business owner or managerial / financial perspective. They don't understand the costs associated with their performance or lack thereof. I've worked on a lot of projects that we're operating at a loss for a future payoff. When someone decides they don't want to do the work they're contracted to perform that can have a cascading effect on the entire company.

All in all what's being described is for the most part misguided because most people are not in the position or even care to evaluate the particulars. So saying you should do this to accomplish that is bullshit because it's rarely such a simple equation. If anything this type of tactic will leaf to MORE loss and less money for payroll.

weematt -> Barry1858 23 Oct 2015 09:04

Sorry you just can't have a 'nicer' capitalism.

War ( business by other means) and unemployment ( you can't buck the market), are inevitable concomitants of capitalist competition over markets, trade routes and spheres of interests. (Remember the war science of Nagasaki and Hiroshima from the 'good guys' ?)
" comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt". (Marx)

You can't have full employment, or even the 'Right to Work'.

There is always ,even in boom times a reserve army of unemployed, to drive down wages. (If necessary they will inject inflation into the economy)
Unemployment is currently 5.5 percent or 1,860,000 people. If their "equilibrium rate" of unemployment is 4% rather than 5% this would still mean 1,352,000 "need be unemployed". The government don't want these people to find jobs as it would strengthen workers' bargaining position over wages, but that doesn't stop them harassing them with useless and petty form-filling, reporting to the so-called "job centre" just for the sake of it, calling them scroungers and now saying they are mentally defective.
Government is 'over' you not 'for' you.

Governments do not exist to ensure 'fair do's' but to manage social expectations with the minimum of dissent, commensurate with the needs of capitalism in the interests of profit.

Worker participation amounts to self managing workers self exploitation for the maximum of profit for the capitalist class.

Exploitation takes place at the point of production.

" Instead of the conservative motto, 'A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!' they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, 'Abolition of the wages system!'"

Karl Marx [Value, Price and Profit]

John Kellar 23 Oct 2015 07:19

Fortunately; as a retired veteran I don't have to worry about phoning in sick.However; during my Air Force days if you were sick, you had to get yourself to the Base Medical Section and prove to a medical officer that you were sick. If you convinced the medical officer of your sickness then you may have been luck to receive on or two days sick leave. For those who were very sick or incapable of getting themselves to Base Medical an ambulance would be sent - promptly.

Rchrd Hrrcks -> wumpysmum 23 Oct 2015 04:17

The function of civil disobedience is to cause problems for the government. Let's imagine that we could get 100,000 people to agree to phone in sick on a particular date in protest at austerity etc. Leaving aside the direct problems to the economy that this would cause. It would also demonstrate a willingness to take action. It would demonstrate a capability to organise mass direct action. It would demonstrate an ability to bring people together to fight injustice. In and of itself it might not have much impact, but as a precedent set it could be the beginning of something massive, including further acts of civil disobedience.

wumpysmum Rchrd Hrrcks 23 Oct 2015 03:51

There's already a form of civil disobedience called industrial action, which the govt are currently attacking by attempting to change statute. Random sickies as per my post above are certainly not the answer in the public sector at least, they make no coherent political point just cause problems for colleagues. Sadly too in many sectors and with the advent of zero hours contracts sickies put workers at risk of sanctions and lose them earnings.

Alyeska 22 Oct 2015 22:18

I'm American. I currently have two jobs and work about 70 hours a week, and I get no paid sick days. In fact, the last time I had a job with a paid sick day was 2001. If I could afford a day off, you think I'd be working 70 hours a week?

I barely make rent most months, and yes... I have two college degrees. When I try to organize my coworkers to unionize for decent pay and benefits, they all tell me not to bother.... they are too scared of getting on management's "bad side" and "getting in trouble" (yes, even though the law says management can't retaliate.)

Unions are different in the USA than in the UK. The workforce has to take a vote to unionize the company workers; you can't "just join" a union here. That's why our pay and working conditions have gotten worse, year after year.

rtb1961 22 Oct 2015 21:58

By far the biggest act of wage slavery rebellion, don't buy shit. The less you buy, the less you need to earn. Holidays by far the minority of your life should not be a desperate escape from the majority of your life. Spend less, work less and actually really enjoy living more.

Pay less attention to advertising and more attention to the enjoyable simplicity of life, of real direct human relationships, all of them, the ones in passing where you wish a stranger well, chats with service staff to make their life better as well as your own, exchange thoughts and ideas with others, be a human being and share humanity with other human beings.

Mkjaks 22 Oct 2015 20:35

How about don't shop at Walmart (they helped boost the Chinese economy while committing hari kari on the American Dream) and actually engaging in proper labour action? Calling in sick is just plain childish.

toffee1 22 Oct 2015 19:13

It is only considered productive if it feeds the beast, that is, contribute to the accumulation of capital so that the beast can have more power over us. The issue here is the wage labor. The 93 percent of the U.S. working population perform wage labor (see BLS site). It is the highest proportion in any society ever came into history. Under the wage labor (employment) contract, the worker gives up his/her decision making autonomy. The worker accepts the full command of his/her employer during the labor process. The employer directs and commands the labor process to achieve the goals set by himself. Compare this, for example, self-employed providing a service (for example, a plumber). In this case, the customer describes the problem to the service provider but the service provider makes all the decisions on how to organize and apply his labor to solve the problem. Or compare it to a democratically organized coop, where workers make all the decisions collectively, where, how and what to produce. Under the present economic system, a great majority of us are condemned to work in large corporations performing wage labor. The system of wage labor stripping us from autonomy on our own labor, creates all the misery in our present world through alienation. Men and women lose their humanity alienated from their own labor. Outside the world of wage labor, labor can be a source self-realization and true freedom. Labor can be the real fulfillment and love. Labor together our capacity to love make us human. Bourgeoisie dehumanized us steeling our humanity. Bourgeoisie, who sold her soul to the beast, attempting to turn us into ever consuming machines for the accumulation of capital.

patimac54 -> Zach Baker 22 Oct 2015 17:39

Well said. Most retail employers have cut staff to the minimum possible to keep the stores open so if anyone is off sick, it's the devil's own job trying to just get customers served. Making your colleagues work even harder than they normally do because you can't be bothered to act responsibly and show up is just plain selfish.
And sorry, Suzanne, skiving work is nothing more than an act of complete disrespect for those you work with. If you don't understand that, try getting a proper job for a few months and learn how to exercise some self control.

TettyBlaBla -> FranzWilde 22 Oct 2015 17:25

It's quite the opposite in government jobs where I am in the US. As the fiscal year comes to a close, managers look at their budgets and go on huge spending sprees, particularly for temp (zero hours in some countries) help and consultants. They fear if they don't spend everything or even a bit more, their spending will be cut in the next budget. This results in people coming in to do work on projects that have no point or usefulness, that will never be completed or even presented up the food chain of management, and ends up costing taxpayers a small fortune.

I did this one year at an Air Quality Agency's IT department while the paid employees sat at their desks watching portable televisions all day. It was truly demeaning.

oommph -> Michael John Jackson 22 Oct 2015 16:59

Thing is though, children - dependents to pay for - are the easiest way to keep yourself chained to work.

The homemaker model works as long as your spouse's employer retains them (and your spouse retains you in an era of 40% divorce).

You are just as dependent on an employer and "work" but far less in control of it now.

Zach Baker 22 Oct 2015 16:41

I'm all for sticking it to "the man," but when you call into work for a stupid reason (and a hangover is a very stupid reason), it is selfish, and does more damage to the cause of worker's rights, not less. I don't know about where you work, but if I call in sick to my job, other people have to pick up my slack. I work for a public library, and we don't have a lot of funds, so we have the bear minimum of employees we can have and still work efficiently. As such, if anybody calls in, everyone else, up to and including the library director, have to take on more work. If I found out one of my co-workers called in because of a hangover, I'd be pissed. You made the choice to get drunk, knowing that you had to work the following morning. Putting it into the same category of someone who is sick and may not have the luxury of taking off because of a bad employer is insulting.

[Jul 02, 2015] The EIA's Questionable Numbers - Peak Oil BarrelPeak Oil Barrel

Caelan MacIntyre, 07/02/2015 at 8:22 pm
There's a peculiar irony or ironies that I would be speaking, in albeit, limited, fashion about human work-level and 'benefits' with someone, presumably within a 40-hour workweek culture, on a fossil-oil-depletion-related site, where such a substance as oil that requires such little work to extract and produce compared to the (squandered) work and 'benefits' it produces; and where some of whose members seem especially interested in technology, presumably with the idea that it somehow augments quality-of-life, such as with regard to efficiency and reducing work… But no matter…

When we think about work, what are we thinking about and are we thinking the same thing? What is it? And when many of us 'work', how does it affect our world– what kind of work are we doing– and might we be sometimes putting 8 loaves of bread on someone else's table for every 2 we put on ours?

"Did you know that before the Industrial Revolution, the average person worked for about two or three hours a day? Studies from a wide range of pre-industrial civilisations show similar data– it takes only about fifteen hours a week to provide for all of our basic human needs. And that's using hand tools." ~ Walden Effect

"Using the data provided by the United State Bureau of Labor Statistics, Erik Rauch has estimated productivity to have increased by nearly 400%. Says, Rauch:
'… if productivity means anything at all, a worker should be able to earn the same standard of living as a 1950 worker in only 11 hours per week.'
…Since the 1960s, the consensus among researchers (anthropologists, historians, sociologists), has been that early hunter-gatherer societies enjoyed much more leisure time than is permitted by capitalist and agricultural societies…" ~ Wikipedia

"The important thing to understand about collapse is that it's brought on by overreach and overstretch, and people being zealots and trying too hard. It's not brought on by people being laid back and doing the absolute minimum. Americans could very easily feed themselves and clothe themselves and have a place to live, working maybe 100 days a year. You know, it's a rich country in terms of resources. There's really no reason to work more than maybe a third of your time. And that's sort of a standard pattern in the world. But if you want to build a huge empire and have endless economic growth, and have the largest number of billionaires on the planet, then you have to work over 40 hours a week all the time, and if you don't, then you're in danger of going bankrupt. So that's the predicament that people have ended up in. Now, the cure of course is not to do the same thing even harder… what people have to get used to is the idea that most things aren't worth doing anyway…" ~ Dmitry Orlov

"We live in an economy which takes 80% of our each new generation and educates that 80% to obey orders and to endure boredom, and stifles their creativity, and stifles their capacities, and curtails them. They're systematically crushed by a system which does what? Which fills slots, and 80% of the slots need people who just do rote tedious repetitive labour at least at work, and therefore are acclimated to doing that…

Hermitage 2

…If you're callous to the effects on others, you have a potential to rise. The odds are that you can 'compete' your way up. If you care and are socially concerned about others, you're at a tremendous disadvantage. So I think the competitive dynamic that we have does sort of weed out a set of people for success. But I would say that what it weeds out for success is not competence, not creativity, not intelligence, but callousness far more often." ~ Michael Albert

Civilization (Some Restrictions Apply)

"Here's good advice for practice: go into partnership with nature; she does more than half the work and asks none of the fee." ~ Martin H. Fischer

[May 28, 2015] 5 reasons why you shouldn't work too hard

The Washington Post

Forget Russian figure skater Julia Lipnitskaia spinning in a blur with her leg impossibly held straight up against her ear. The sight of skier Bode Miller collapsing with emotion at the end of a race dedicated to his brother while NBC cameras lingered uncomfortably on the long shot. Or even jubilant Noelle Pikus-Pace climbing into the stands to race into her family's arms after her silver medal finish in the Skeleton.

The image that stands out most in my mind during the broadcast of the 2014 Winter Olympics? The Cadillac commercial with a boxy, middle-aged white guy in a fancy house striding purposefully from his luxurious swimming pool to his $75,000 luxury Cadillac ELR parked out front while extolling the virtues of hard work, American style.

"Why do we work so hard? For stuff?" actor Neal McDonough asks in the commercial that has been playing without cease. "Other countries work. They stroll home. They stop by a café. They take the entire month of August off. "Off," he says again, to reinforce the point.

"Why aren't you like that? Why aren't WE like that?"

The first time the commercial aired during the Opening Ceremonies in Sochi, the slight pause after those two questions made me hopeful. I sat up to listen closely.

Was he about to say – we should be more like that? Because Americans work among the most hours of any advanced country in the world, save South Korea and Japan, where they've had to invent a word for dying at your desk. (Karoshi. Death from Overwork.) We also work among the most extreme hours, at 50 or more per week. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American works about one month more a year than in 1976.

Was he going to say that we Americans are caught up in what economist Juliet Schor calls a vicious cycle of "work-and-spend" – caught on a time-sucking treadmill of more spending, more stuff, more debt, stagnant wages, higher costs and more work to pay for it all?

Would he talk about how we Americans, alone among the advanced economies, whose athletes are competing between the incessant commercials with such athleticism and grace, have no national vacation policy. (So sacrosanct is time off in some countries that the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in 2012 that workers who get sick on vacation are entitled to take more time off "to enable the worker to rest and enjoy a period of relaxation and leisure.").

American leisure? Don't let the averages fool you, he could say. While it looks like leisure time has gone up, time diaries show that leisure and sleep time have gone up steeply since 1985 for those with less than a high school degree. Why? They're becoming unemployed or underemployed. And leisure and sleep time for the college educated, the ones working those crazy extreme hours, has fallen steeply.

Americans don't have two "nurture days" per child until age 8, as Denmark does. No year-long paid parental leaves for mothers and fathers, as in Iceland. Nor a national three-month sabbatical policy, which Belgium has.

Instead of taking the entire month of August off, the most employers voluntarily grant us American workers tends to be two weeks. One in four workers gets no paid vacation or holidays at all, one study found. And, in a telling annual report called the "Vacation Deprivation" study, travel company Expedia figures that Americans didn't even USE 577 million of those measly vacation days at all last year.

Center for Economic and Policy Research, May 2013 Center for Economic and Policy Research, May 2013

So as I watched the Cadillac commercial, hanging onto that rich white guy's pause, I was hoping he'd make a pitch to bring some sanity to American workaholic culture. It wouldn't have been a first for the auto industry. Henry Ford outraged his fellow industrialists when he cut his workers' hours to 40 a week. (Standards in some industries at the time were for 12-hour workdays, 7 days a week.) Ford did so because his internal research showed 40 hours was as far as you could push manual laborers in a week before they got stupid and began making costly mistakes. He also wanted his workers to have the leisure time to buy and use his cars.

The rich guy takes a breath and smirks. We work so much "Because we're crazy, driven hard-working believers, that's why."

Bill Gates. The Wright Brothers. Were they crazy? He asks. We went to the moon and, you know what we got? Bored, he says.

"You work hard. You create your own luck. And you've gotta believe anything is possible." Fair enough. "As for all the stuff?" he says as he knowingly unplugs his luxury electric car, "that's the upside of only taking TWO weeks off in August, n'est ce pas?"

[May 01, 2013] The Problem with Work Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries (a John Hope Franklin Center Book) Kathi

In The Problem with Work, Kathi Weeks boldly challenges the presupposition that work, or waged labor, is inherently a social and political good. While progressive political movements, including the Marxist and feminist movements, have fought for equal pay, better work conditions, and the recognition of unpaid work as a valued form of labor, even they have tended to accept work as a naturalized or inevitable activity.

Weeks argues that in taking work as a given, we have "depoliticized" it, or removed it from the realm of political critique. Employment is now largely privatized, and work-based activism in the United States has atrophied. We have accepted waged work as the primary mechanism for income distribution, as an ethical obligation, and as a means of defining ourselves and others as social and political subjects.

Taking up Marxist and feminist critiques, Weeks proposes a postwork society that would allow people to be productive and creative rather than relentlessly bound to the employment relation. Work, she contends, is a legitimate, even crucial, subject for political theory.

[Sep 05, 2012] Anxiety Culture Office Slave

If you're unlikely to become a manager, the next best way to avoid work is to become invisible. If people can't see you, they can't pester you with work assignments.

As an office worker, don't expect to have any dignity. Perhaps the only way to stay sane is to accept that you'll turn into something despicable. Don't fall for the office management propaganda about integrity and professionalism. In the corporate workplace, self-respect is out of the question – it exists only in the delusions of drones.

Start becoming invisible ... positioning your computer so you're hidden from your boss. You might also want to build tall stacks of documents around your desk. The next step is to be invisible in meetings....

To assuage your guilt, it helps to familiarize yourself with the Law of Office called SNAFU, which states that no project is ever completed on schedule. Projects which appear to finish on schedule are, by definition, not really complete. A corollary is that project managers are living in a dreamworld. No amount of hard work on your part can overturn these laws, so why bother straining yourself? Chronic under-productivity is as certain as gravity – you should never feel ashamed of it.

Ambitious, careerist types won't appreciate this subversive humor, as it undermines their sense of self-importance. Consider these folk as your enemies in the propaganda war. They might be your colleagues, but you don't have to socialize with them. You can always fake sociability. On occasions when you can't avoid your colleagues, join in the office chit-chat.

[Sep 01, 2012] Disadvantages of hard work.

Mar 29, 2007


If you have arrived at this page, you may well be asking "why?". In fact, "Why does someone want to write about the disadvantages of hard work, when we are all told incessantly how beneficial it is?"

I conducted an experiment. I entered the terms

"hard work" disadvantages
into (try it for yourself) and found over 21,000 hits.

I then rephrased my question and entered

"disadvantages of hard work"

into Google and got precisely zero hits. No-one on the entire web, it would seem, has written this phrase. Why not? Clearly it is "culturally verboten".

I was motivated to ask this question of the search engine, as, after many years of teaching in the University sector, I have met a significant number of people who I consider have been significantly damaged as individuals by subscribing to the "hard work is necessary" hypothesis.

So let us put the record straight here, and spell out some of the advantages of working just sufficiently to satisfy the various criteria of emotional and spiritual need, the demands of the job, the necessity of keeping body supplied with food clothing and shelter, and the social requirements of interacting with others.

Case histories

Among the people I have observed who subscribe to the "hard work is good" hypothesis are several University academics whose ability to think clearly, and administer effectively, are adversely affected by their permanent state of tiredness. Often, these folk feel the need to intervene when it is inappropriate. People like this generally are unhappy with the status quo, and feel that any change or intervention is bound to be for the better.

Among the students I have met, there are significant numbers whose ability to learn and retain information, let alone process it effectively, have been compromised by years of being forced to acquire unnecessary skills and learn unnecessary facts; I maintain this has actually physically damaged their brains, and that an enlightened court of law would award them damages against their educational institutions. Often, this kind of mental overload seems to be a prerequisite for admission to the course being taken.

At Berkeley (Uni Calif) in the 1960s I noticed that the ability of overworked students to express themselves clearly in spoken English was severely impaired. This was confirmed in the early 1980s when a telephone conversation with a Physics grad student in a Californian University had to be abandoned as the person in question could not communicate fluently. It is also noticeable that overworked students cannot sequence or recall simple facts like names, addresses, and telephone numbers with accuracy. Neither can they spell accurately or proof read what they have written. They also try to "rote learn" ineffectually, as they cannot repeat accurately what they have just seen, read, or heard.

Among the medics I have met, there are a significant number, likewise, who "do what they do, regardless" - thus if you go to a physician you get dosed up with drugs; to a surgeon, you get cut open; in fact, each specialist tries to fit your ailment into his own field of competence. This activity is unrelated to the needs of the case.

Among the politicians I have known, the greatest damage to society is caused by those people who regard themselves as the greatest "movers and shakers". Moreover, there is a class of commentator that regards the activity of "moving and shaking" to be intrinsically beneficial, without regard to the end effects.

Choice in the marketplace

Much of the excessive pressure to work harder, to produce more for less, and to drive staff harder is justified by the mantra "choice for the consumer". It is a psychological observation that given excessive choice, the majority of people have extreme difficulty in exercising it and arriving at a rational purchasing decision. Supermarkets should note this. It is far easier to choose from a limited range of goods than from acres of produce spread out among miles of shelving.

The same observation applies to the motivation of students on modular degree courses. Excessive choice leads to a shallow educational experience. It is also somewhat demotivating for the student. I am often asked to delimit my course materials so that the student knows what is not to be covered in the exam tests.

Feedback regulation

There is a report at that the brain (specifically, the left pre-frontal cortex) undergoes structural changes on long exposure (many years) to stress such as overwork. This makes the brain's owner more disposed to see the negative side of events, rather than the positive. One can see a certain amount of self-regulation here, for positive disposition in a person predisposes him/her to work harder. We can also identify the scientific reasons for negative reactions to excessive perceived stress and the onset of depressive illness caused directly by being subjected to a heavy workload.

Optimum range of workload

It is apparent that most people have a range of demand that they can tolerate, or even feel comfortably happy with. Below the lower limit they feel discontented and underutilised, and above the upper limit they seek to shed work and may even become bad-tempered. An attribute of people who rise to high positions within their organisations is that they are very tolerant of a wide range of work demands; they find occupations for themselves if lightly loaded, and they are benign under pressure, even if it is unreasonable. For this reason, they are candidates for promotion.

Shared views

The tenor of this argument is shared by Prince Charles in a report in the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday 13th Sept 2005.

The Unattainable Illusion of Meritocracy

naked capitalism

I'm a big fan of Richard Bookstaber, the author of the important book A Demon of Our Own Design. And while I'm glad to see a rare new post from him, on how to deal with the matter of inequality (as in whether to deal with the problem ex ante, by creating more equal opportunities, or ex post, by trying to reduce disparities of outcomes), I found one of the core parts of his discussion, on merit and meritocracy, to be maddening. In fairness, this isn't Bookstaber's fault; he's working within an established framework of thinking on this topic.

Repeat after me: in complex societies and organizations, merit is a complete illusion. We nevertheless pretend to achieve that for reasons of institutional legitimacy, and also, to the extent we can generally steer people who are fitter on some key axes towards more important or resource-intenisve activities, for reasons of efficiency. Note that this view is also likely to be more satisfying for individuals, since it will encourage those who may be less capable in certain ways that are considered important (intelligence, social skills, empathy) to apply themselves to do better in those areas. So motivated but less "talented" people have an avenue for their energies (il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux…).

But let's not kid ourselves that an idea that has all sort of upside as aspiration and ideology actually works. Consider what Bookstaber writes, which one can take as an reasonably orthodox view:

I have written various posts on social policy related to the question of whether and how we redistribute income….

I think of income redistribution as an ex post policy. Another approach is to make ex ante adjustments to level the playing field, and then step away and let the chips fall where they may. When properly executed the ex ante approach is consistent with a meritocracy, and indeed creates a better, deeper and more successful meritocracy than ignoring the differences in essential endowments.

Assume that there is an objective standard for merit, and a test that correctly ranks the subjects in terms of that standard. (For the record, though basing merit on a testing regime is common in many societies, I do not advocate it). Also assume that we can identify the factors that govern success on the test that are within the control of those taking the test, such as how hard they work, as well identify as the factors that are beyond their control. Given these two assumptions, one scheme for the redistribution, suggested by John Roemer (and in this short post I cannot do justice to his argument and stray from it in various respect), is first to define what constitutes the endowment of important characteristics that are outside a person's control, and then assign people to cohorts based on their levels of this endowment. For example, if the endowment is parents' wealth and parents' education, we place people into cohorts based on the level of these two factors, with the cohorts made narrow enough so that we can take all those in each cohort as being the same with respect to the endowment.

The example he later uses is a tennis player, where a mediocre but highly trained and motivated individual beats someone with vastly greater native ability. Bookstaber regards this as a poor societal outcome and proposes ways of thinking about how much to invest in each person that are arguably fairer but also better in terms of overall results.

What bothers me about this level of abstraction is that it ignores the salient element of modern society: an extreme degree of role specialization in jobs. Emile Durkheim discussed this in his book The Organization of Religious Life. He called pre-modern societies "mechanical" because everyone was an interchangable part. Modern societies were "organic" because different people could do different things, based on their inclinations and skills. The community is richer because we have opera singers and sports players and other entertainers, as well as people who are good at their crafts or at running or being in a specialized field.

So what exactly is talent? Educated people like to think of it as intelligence, and that intelligence will be reflected in better educational attainment. But education in America has a lot of credentialing and is mixed in terms of substance (there's a very strong argument to be made for the educational system that Bonaparte implemented in France, which has sadly decayed beyond recognition, where it made a systematic effort to find smart kids, no matter how poor their background, and track them so that they had as much opportunity to get into the Grandes Ecoles as children who grew up with highly educated parents. Bonaparte is arguably the father of meritocracy as a paramount organizational principle, and that meant uniform delivery of educational "product" throughout French schools. The same lesson would be taught to all fourth graders at 3:00 PM on a particular day all across the country). And "intelligence" is not all of a muchness; it has numerous components that are not well understood or analyzed (testing makes a stab at that on assessing verbal versus mathematical skills). And that's before you get to the importance of social skills and emotional intelligence. James Heckman stresses the importance of socialization, that students who get GEDs (they pass a test that demonstrates they have mastered the material needed to get a high school degree) do markedly less well than students who complete high school.

So we have a huge range of things that people who have some ability and a reasonable self-discipline might aspire to (and that assumes young people know themselves well enough to gravitate to roles in society that they actually can perform well at). So how can you think about "merit" for jobs as different as computer programming versus writing ad copy versus selling heavy machinery versus being an office manager in corporate cube land?

And achieving meritocratic outcomes within an organization is a hopeless task. As we wrote in The Conference Board Review in 2007:

Consider the experience of OaklandA's general manager Billy Beane, the hero of Michael Lewis's Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. The baseball industry has always measured players' skill and achievements by a handful of well-known statistics, but in recent years researchers have questioned the value of those traditional measures. To make the most of a limited budget, Beane used the new principles to sign low-salaried players whom his analysis showed were dramatically undervalued. The result: The team, with one of baseball's lowest payrolls, has placed first or second in its division each of the last eight seasons…

Here, then, you have a business where the recruiting is unusually transparent, the basic rules have remained unchanged for decades, competitive encounters are in full view, and the incentives for success are high. This would seem to be the perfect environment for developing good decision rules, yet the entire industry was largely wrong

OK, so diversity programs may not serve the people they are designed to help. One of the reasons is that these initiatives are assumed to undermine merit-based hiring and promotion. Indeed, as [Stanford professor of neurobiology Ben] Barres points out, citing research, "When it comes to bias, it seems that the desire to believe in a meritocracy is so powerful that until a person has experienced sufficient career-harming bias themselves they simply do not believe it exists." But the idea that an organization can be truly meritocratic is, alas, a fiction.

On a practical level, the best a company can hope for is that, taken as a whole, the people it hires and promotes are "better" - as defined by the company-than the people it rejects. On an individual level, the role of luck, combined with inherent shortcomings of per-
formance-appraisal systems, make it impossible to have confidence in the fairness and accuracy of any particular staffing decision…

Other factors can thwart an organization's meritocratic efforts (many of these observations derive from a 1992 paper by Patrick D. Larkey and Jonathan P. Caulkin, "All Above Average and Other Unintended Consequences of Performance Appraisal Systems"). Many people, for instance, run up against conflicts between individual and organizational interests. Implicitly, any employee's job is to serve his boss, when his check is actually being cut by the company. If the employee views his role as being different than his boss sees it, the boss's view prevails, whether or not it is correct. In an extreme case, if the boss wants the employee to run personal errands, and the employee refuses, he runs the risk of getting a negative review.

There's the Peter Principle conundrum that the skill requirements at one level may bear little relationship to the demands of the next. You've heard the old chestnut, "Promote your best salesman, and you lose a good salesman and gain a lousy manager." But this situation puts bosses in a real bind. If you promote the person who is best in a department, his skills may fall woefully short of the requirements of his new role. But if you promote the person you deem best suited for that job, and not the top performer at his current role, you will demoralize his former peers, create resentment against him (undermining his authority and effectiveness), and raise questions about your judgment.

And then there are difficulties in ranking employees across organizational units. Even though organizations want consistent ratings firmwide, it's a practical impossibility. There are considerable barriers to a manager giving his staff member honest and useful feedback that lead to inflated ratings. They have an ongoing relationship; and thus both sides do not want the review process to create friction. Yet most employees have an inflated view of their achievements, which predisposes them to doubt, perhaps even resent, a truthful appraisal. And since the assessment of a job of any complexity is largely subjective, it's difficult forthe boss to defend a rating that is at odds with the employee's self-assessment. In addition, managers consider themselves at least partly responsible for their subordinate's performance. Thus a low rating reflects badly on them.

The consequences are profound. It means that the typical defense against the
failure to achieve diversity, that the company was in fact hiring and promoting based on achievement, is hollow. These systems not only are subjective (inherent to most ratings) but also often lead to capricious, even unfair results.

And there is evidence that subjective processes set a higher bar for minorities
and women. For example, a 1997 Nature paper by Christine Wenneras and Agnes
Wold, "Nepotism and Gender Bias in Peer-Review," determined that women seeking research grants need to be 2.5 times more productive than men to receive the same competence score. In 1999, MIT published the results of a five-year, data-driven study that found that female faculty members in its School of Science experienced pervasive discrimination, which operated through "a pattern of powerful but unrecognized assumptions and attitudes that work systematically against female faculty even in the light of obvious good will."

So here you have the worst of all pos sible worlds. You want to achieve diversity, if for no other reason than to forestall lawsuits and present a better face to your customers. Yet you have long believed the main reason is that you haven't been able to find enough "talented" members of the various groups to fill out your managerial ranks. But your performance-appraisal system is subjective and probably unreliable, and the complex nature of organizations means that who rises is largely arbitrary, and it is likely that "out"
groups are subject to higher performance standards. All this to say that women and minorities' frustration at their failure to achieve reasonable representation may well be completely justified. Your organization may be guilty as charged.

One of the revealing things about this now-seven-year-old article how the big concern then about unfairness in hiring and promotion related to race and gender discrimination. It's astonishing how the top income strata have so visibly pulled away in the wake of the crisis that economic mobility is now seen as at least as big a barrier to opportunity.

So while it makes sense for all sorts of reasons to aspire to meritocracy, the fact that it can't even remotely be achieved even when people of good will make genuine efforts means that what Bookstaber called ex post solutions are critical. In other words, tax the rich. They don't deserve it.

David Woodruff

October 26, 2014 at 4:13 am

These are excellent points about the difficulties of meritocracy inside organisations. But I think there's a deeper problem, too. What Billy Beane tried to do was measure contribution to winning baseball games, and used this to figure out how much players should get paid. But what theoretically needs to be measured in an economic context to be meritocratic is marginal productivity in terms of individuals' contribution to making money. Therefore, the measure of merit depends on the price system. But if this is to be morally meaningful the price system itself has to be morally meaningful. And it's not! The money the "best salesman" makes for a luxury car dealership depends fundamentally on the availability of well-heeled customers; even in ideal remuneration system within the dealership doesn't address the fact that it's rewarding success in an economy based on incomes that derive from bargaining power, not on anything recognisable as merit.

So I think the drive for meritocracy is harmful not only because it distracts from ex ante taxation, but also distracts from all the unreasonable ways bargaining power structures earning opportunities.


The Barbed Gift of Leisure - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education often, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The robots, like the rabble, must be kept in their place. But there are yet other worries hidden in the regime of leisure gained by offloading tasks to the robo-serfs, and they are even more troubling.

If you asked the bed-making-hating young man, I'm sure he would tell you that anything is preferable to performing the chore, up to and including the great adolescent activity of doing nothing. A recent Bruno Mars song in praise of laziness sketches how the height of happiness is reached by, among other nonactivities, staring at the fan and chilling on a couch in a Snuggie. (Yes, there is also some sex involved later.) This may sound like bliss when you're resenting obligations or tired of your job, but its pleasures rapidly pale. You don't have to be a idle-hands-are-devil's-work Puritan-or even my own mother, who made us clean the entire house every Saturday morning so we could not watch cartoons on TV-to realize that too much nothing can be bad for you.

We have always sensed that free time, time not dedicated to a specific purpose, is dangerous because it implicitly raises the question of what to do with it, and that in turn opens the door to the greatest of life mysteries: why we do anything at all. Thorstein Veblen was right to see, in The Theory of the Leisure Class, not only that leisure time offered the perfect status demonstration of not having to work, that ultimate nonmaterial luxury good in a world filled with things, but also that, in thus joining leisure to conspicuous consumption of other luxuries, a person with free time and money could endlessly trapeze above the yawning abyss of existential reflection. With the alchemy of competitive social position governing one's leisure, there is no need ever to look beyond the art collection, the fashion parade, the ostentatious sitting about in luxe cafes and restaurants, no need to confront one's mortality or the fleeting banality of one's experience thereof.

Even if many of us today would cry foul at being considered a leisure class in Veblen's sense, there is still a pervasive energy of avoidance in our so-called leisure activities. For the most part, these are carved out of an otherwise work-dominated life, and increasingly there is a more permeable boundary between the two parts. One no longer lives for the weekend, since YouTube videos can be screened in spare moments at the office, and memos can be written on smartphones while watching a basketball game on TV over the weekend. What the French call la perruque-the soft pilfering of paid work time to perform one's own private tasks-is now the norm in almost every workplace.

Stories about the lost productivity associated with this form of work-avoidance come and go without securing any real traction on the governing spirit of the work world. The reason is simple. Despite the prevalence of YouTubing and Facebooking while at work-also Pinterest-updating and Buzzfeed-sharing-bosses remain largely unconcerned; they know that the comprehensive presence of tasks and deadlines in all corners of life easily balances off any moments spent updating Facebook while at a desk. In fact, the whole idea of the slacker and of slacking smacks of pre-Great Recession luxury, when avoiding work or settling for nothing jobs in order to spend more time thinking up good chord progressions or T-shirt slogans was a lifestyle choice.

The irony of the slacker is that he or she is still dominated by work, as precisely that activity which must be avoided, and so only serves to reinforce the dominant values of the economy. Nowadays slacking is a mostly untenable option anyway, since even the crap jobs-grinding beans or demonstrating game-console features-are being snapped up by highly motivated people with good degrees and lots of extracurricular credits on their résumés. Too bad for them; but even worse for today's would-be slackers, who are iced out of the niche occupations that a half-generation earlier supported the artistic ambitions of the mildly resistant.

It is still worth distinguishing between the slacker, of any description, and the idler. Slacking lacks a commitment to an alternative scale of value. By contrast, the genius of the genuine idler, whether as described by Diogenes or Jerome K. Jerome, is that he or she is not interested in work at all, but instead devoted to something else. What that something else involves is actually less important than the structural defection from the values of working. In other words, idling might involve lots of activity, even what appears to be effort; but the essential difference is that the idler does whatever he or she does in a spirit of infinite and cheerful uselessness that is found in all forms of play.

Idling at once poses a challenge to the reductive, utilitarian norms that otherwise govern too much of human activity and provides an answer-or at least the beginning of one-to the question of life's true purpose. It is not too much to suggest that being idle, in the sense of enjoying one's open-ended time without thought of any specific purpose or end, is the highest form of human existence. This is, to use Aristotelian language, the part of ourselves that is closest to the divine, and thus offers a glimpse of immortality. To be sure, from this Olympian vantage we may spy new purposes and projects to pursue in our more workaday lives; but the value of these projects, and the higher value from which these are judged, can be felt only when we slip the bonds of use.

Naturally something so essential to life can be easy to describe and yet surpassingly difficult to achieve. To take just the example most proximate to our current shared consciousness-I mean the experience you are having reading these words-I can tell you that I am writing them, on a deadline, while taking a train trip to deliver a keynote lecture. The trip was arranged months ago, with time carved out of my teaching schedule and the usual grid of meetings with students, colleagues, committees, and administrators that marks the week of any moderately busy university professor. I say nothing of the other obligations, social and cultural, the reading I need to do for next week's seminars, the papers that must be graded, and so on.

Believe me, I am well aware of, and feel blessed by, the fact that my job is itself arguably an enjoyable and rewarding form of idling. I also know how lucky I am to have luxuries such as taking a train journey in the first place-though I confess that the train was chosen in part because it creates more productive time than traveling by the ostensibly more efficient air route. (I just checked my e-mail again, using the train's Wi-Fi connection.)

This is not a complaint; it is, rather, a confession of the difficulties lurking in all forms of work, even the most enjoyable ones. In fact, the more freely chosen a work obligation, the harder it is to perceive that it might be an enemy of more divine play: looking out the window at the sublime expanse of Lake Ontario, reading Evelyn Waugh, composing a sonnet. The train is going very fast now, and my little keyboard is jerking around, reflecting my mental agitation on this point. I have to do a lot of backspacing. And no, I have no actual talent for sonnets.

At this point, we return with renewed urgency to the political aspect of the question of leisure and work. Everyone from Plato and Thomas More to H.G. Wells and Barack Obama has given thought to the question of the fair distribution of labor and fun within a society. This comes with an immediate risk: Too often, the "realist" rap against any such scheme of imagined distributive justice, which might easily entail state intervention concerning who does what and who gets what, is that the predicted results depend on altered human nature, are excessively costly, or are otherwise unworkable. The deadly charge of utopianism always lies ready to hand.

In a much-quoted passage, Marx paints an endearingly bucolic picture of life in a classless world: "In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming a hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic." Charles Fourier was even more effusive, describing a system of self-organizing phalansteries, or cells, where anarchist collectives would live in peace, engage in singing contests-the ideal-society version of band camp-and eventually turn the oceans to lemonade.

Veblen, after his fashion a sharp critic of capitalism but always more cynical than the socialist dreamers, demonstrated how minute divisions of leisure time could be used to demonstrate social superiority, no matter what the form or principle of social organization; but he was no more able than Marx to see how ingenious capitalist market forces could be in adapting to changing political environments. For instance, neither of them sensed what we now know all too well, namely that democratizing access to leisure would not change the essential problems of distributive justice. Being freed from drudgery only so that one may shop or be entertained by movies and sports, especially if this merely perpetuates the larger cycles of production and consumption, is hardly liberation. In fact, "leisure time" becomes here a version of the company store, where your hard-won scrip is forcibly swapped for the very things you are working to make.

Worse, on this model of leisure-as-consumption, the game immediately gets competitive, if not zero-sum. And this is not just a matter of the general sociological argument that says humans will always find ways to outdo each other when it comes to what they buy, wear, drive, or listen to. This argument is certainly valid; indeed, our basic primate need for position within hierarchies means that such competition literally ceases only in death. These points are illustrated with great acumen by Pierre Bourdieu, whose monumental study Distinction is the natural successor to The Theory of the Leisure Class. No, the issue can really only be broached using old-fashioned Marxist concepts such as surplus value and commodity fetishism.

It was the Situationist thinker Guy Debord who made the key move in this quarter. In his 1967 book, Society of the Spectacle, he posited the notion of temporal surplus value. Just as in classic Marxist surplus value, which is appropriated by owners from alienated workers who produce more than they consume, then converted into profit which is siphoned off into the owners' pockets, temporal surplus value is enjoyed by the dominant class in the form of sumptuous feast days, tournaments, adventure, and war. Likewise, just as ordinary surplus value is eventually consumed by workers in the form of commodities which they acquire with accumulated purchasing power, so temporal surplus value is distributed in the form of leisure time that must be filled with the experiences supplied by the culture industry.

Like other critics of the same bent-Adorno, Horkheimer, Habermas-Debord calls these experiences "banal," spectacles that meet the "pseudo-needs" which they at the same time create, in a cycle not unlike addiction. Such denunciations of consumption are a common refrain in the school of thought that my graduate students like to call Cranky Continental Cultural Conservatism, or C4; but there is nevertheless some enduring relevance to the analysis. Debord's notion of the spectacle isn't really about what is showing on the screens of the multiplex or being downloaded on the computers of the nation; indeed, there is actually nothing to rule out the possibility of playful, even critical artifacts appearing in those places-after all, where else? Spectacle is, rather, a matter of social relations, just as the commodity in general is, which need to be addressed precisely by those who are subject to them, which is everyone. "The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images," Debord says. And: "The spectacle is the other side of money: It is the general abstract equivalent of all commodities."

We are no longer owners and workers, in short; we are, instead, voracious and mostly quite happy producers and consumers of images. Nowadays, the images are mostly of ourselves, circulated in an apparently endless frenzy of narcissistic exhibitionism and equally narcissistic voyeurism: my looking at your online images and personal details, consuming them, is somehow still about me. Debord was prescient about the role that technology would play in this general social movement. "Just when the mass of commodities slides toward puerility, the puerile itself becomes a special commodity; this is epitomized by the gadget. ... Reified man advertises the proof of his intimacy with the commodity. The fetishism of commodities reaches moments of fervent exaltation similar to the ecstasies of the convulsions and miracles of the old religious fetishism. The only use which remains here is the fundamental use of submission."

It strikes me that this passage, with the possible exception of the last sentence, could have been plausibly recited by Steve Jobs at an Apple product unveiling. For Debord, the gadget, like the commodity more generally, is not a thing; it is a relation. As with all the technologies associated with the spectacle, it closes down human possibility under the guise of expanding it; it makes us less able to form real connections, to go off the grid of produced and consumed leisure time, and to find the drifting, endlessly recombining idler that might still lie within us. There is no salvation from the baseline responsibility of being here in the first place to be found in machines. In part, this is a simple matter of economics in the age of automation. "The technical equipment which objectively eliminates labor must at the same time preserve labor as a commodity," Debord notes. "If the social labor (time) engaged by the society is not to diminish because of automation, ... then new jobs have to be created. Services, the tertiary sector, swell the ranks of the army of distribution." This inescapable fact explains, at a stroke, the imperative logic of growth in the economy, the bizarre fetishizing of GDP as a measure of national health.

More profoundly, though, is a point that returns us to the original vision of a populace altogether freed from work by robots. To use a good example of critical consciousness emerging from within the production cycles of the culture industry, consider the Axiom, the passenger spaceship that figures in the 2008 animated film WALL-E. Here, robot labor has proved so successful, and so nonthreatening, that the human masters have been freed to indulge in nonstop indulgence of their desires. As a result, they have over generations grown morbidly obese, addicted to soft drinks and video games, their bones liquefied in the ship's microgravity conditions. They exist, but they cannot be said to live.

The gravest danger of offloading work is not a robot uprising but a human downgrading. Work hones skills, challenges cognition, and, at its best, serves noble ends. It also makes the experience of genuine idling, in contrast to frenzied leisure time, even more valuable. Here, with only our own ends and desires to contemplate-what shall we do with this free time?-we come face to face with life's ultimate question. To ask what is worth doing when nobody is telling us what to do, to wonder about how to spend our time, is to ask why are we here in the first place. Like so many of the standard philosophical questions, these ones butt up, however playfully, against the threshold of mortality.

And here, at the limit of life that idling alone brings into view in a nonthreatening way, we find another kind of nested logic. Call it the two-step law of life. Rule No. 1 is tomorrow we die; and Rule No. 2 is nobody, not even the most helpful robot, can change Rule No. 1. Enjoy!

Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto. His most recent book is Unruly Voices: Essays on Democracy, Civility, and the Human Imagination (Biblioasis, 2012).

The Joy of Not Working A Book for the Retired,Unemployed and Overworked by Ernie J. Zelinski

Way too simplistic. People are social animals, and organizations are our herd. It's tough to be outside the herd. But if the current workplace is a hell it is your duty to survive and espcape. Creating a war chest early to survive possibly long (a year or more) period of unemployment is a must. And if frugality is the price, so be it.


Not working is not always joyful April 29, 2007

Believe it or not, I have the soul of a lazy person. I have enjoyed time off from 6 weeks to a year. I've enjoyed freedom in my work, especially now. So I totally understand the joy of Not Working.

Zelinski's book has many things going for it. For example:

(a) Too many of us are workaholics.

(b) We need structure, purpose and a sense of community, with or without a job.

(c) Work smart, not hard ("peak performance").

(d) The checklist on page 54 can be a wake-up call.

(e) We can gain several hours a week if we give up television.

But as a career consultant I am concerned about the book's core advice. Page 55: "The first day your job does not nourish and enthuse you is the day you should consider leaving. Indeed, I advise you to quit." --[That's simply stupid, ridiculous advice, that discredit the author -- NNB]

Pretty strong stuff! In my experience, few jobs provide daily nourishment and enthusiasm every day or even every week. I would say, "If you've outgrown your job, begin a search for alternatives. Don't do anything until you have a plan."

People do miss their jobs - even jobs they hated. I have never seen statistics, but my experience suggests at least 50% of those who quit without another job regretted the decision. One discussion list posted a note from a 40-something woman who had chosen enjoyable, low-paying jobs in the personal growth field. Now she was ready to move on, with no nest egg to fund a career transition.

Job dissatisfaction actually can be a misleading signal. Many people who seek a career change actually need to relocate geographically or work on relationships.

My biggest criticism of the book is the potentially misleading presentation of information. For example, the author mentions "a research study conducted in 2001 by Florida's Nova Southeastern University" which found that over 38% of stockbrokers making $300,000 - $1,000,000 suffered from "subclinical depression" while 28% reported "clinical depression." (Overlap? Additional? We're not told.)

Most studies are conducted by individual researchers, not universities or even departments. The author does not cite his source or indicate whether this study was actually published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal.

How was this sample of brokers chosen? What methods were used to assess "subclinical depression" or "clinical depression?" Was the depression long-term or situational? Was this study carried out in 2001 before or after 9/11? Where's the cause and effect: does the field attract individuals with a propensity to depression?

Other studies are mentioned but not cited or described in detail. For the Schnore study of retirees, I'd want to know how their satisfaction was reported and tested.

Additionally, throughout the book, Zelinski presents letters from readers. He seems to suggest that, "If these folks can do it, you can too."

But nearly all his examples come from people who took only the very first step: quitting or deciding to retire. On page 96, Zelinski writes, "Perhaps you will [say]...married people can't possibly quit their jobs like Ian did. Then go back to page 57 and read the letter [from a married man with 2 kids who quit his job]...Case closed!"

Unfortunately, the letter on page 57 was written by someone who had just marched in to his boss and quit. We don't know what happened afterward. Case not closed, in my opinion!

We do get a few examples of success: a professional who became a music busker in Toronto, someone who moved into a friend's trailer to live on $6000 a year, someone who travels cheaply, and several people who saved a stash of cash and now live comfortably from investments or a spouse's salary. Many readers (and most of my clients) will not relate to those examples.

We should also realize Zelinski writes from Canada, a country with national health care. It's not perfect, but it does open up career options. Those happily unemployed are subsidized by taxes from those who face a 50% tax bracket at surprisingly low salary levels.

I also believe that not everyone will enjoy a life of hobbies and volunteer work. Working for money gives you an edge, changing your thoughts, habits and conversations. Zelinski himself is neither unemployed nor retired: he is a full-time writer. His four-hour-a-day schedule is actually quite typical of professional authors of books. I once heard best-selling mystery author Jon Kellerman speak about writing 3 pages a day. Zelinski aims for four.

Bottom Line: Joy of Not Working is worth skimming to experience a philosophy that can be adapted to many lives. Unfortunately, the adaptation will be up to you.

Erik Olson September 9, 2004 TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE™ VOICE

"The Joy of Not Working" is a welcome antidote to the workaholic mentality. A former engineer, Mr. Zelinski dropped out of the corporate rat race in favor of "The Life of Riley." He does what he loves (consulting, speaking, and writing) to make a living [ I wish we all can do it and have a bread on the table -- NNB], and indulges in leisure the rest of the time. That doesn't mean he loafs around all day watching TV or playing video games. He discourages such empty distractions in favor of well-rounded activities like learning another language and volunteering at a homeless shelter.

Mr. Zelinski makes an excellent case for living a full life free of regret. [Oh, yes, how we never though about it; this way we peobably would never marry and have children --NNB] I liked his positive attitude and constant motivation towards discovering and embracing my passions. His examples of persons who left a dreary job in favor of pursuing their dream occupation might be just the prodding some folks need to make their own leap (a similar book had that effect on me, and earned my eternal gratitude). Overall, the book's lighthearted tone and numerous applicable quotes were uplifting, and every chapter brightened up a break or lunchtime at work (although displaying a book with this title on your desk might upset a Bill Lumbergh-type manager). My favorite part was his short section on becoming an author. Every aspiring or discouraged writer should keep it handy as a pick-me-up.

However, the Life of Riley is a subjective thing, and finding your version of it might take some time and testing. Yes, it would be ideal to immediately discover and make a living in one's passion twenty hours a week. However, it may take awhile to actually discern your calling and develop it into a viable occupation. Until then, having a decent job that provides time and funds for investigating potential passions off-hours doesn't suck. Indeed, that place in life can serve as a transitional period to test the waters while preparing for the risk of a deeper plunge. But if the thought of showing up to work makes you want to take a hostage, then it's time to jump ship right now. From experience, I can second Mr Zelinski's claim that it's worth it in the long run.

Unfortunately, anyone who's not Western and single might find the Life of Riley difficult to achieve. I'm an American singleton, so I have the luxury of finding myself without having to worry about supporting a family, where my next meal is coming from, or if another car bomb will explode in my neighborhood this month. I doubt that a minimum-wage earner with a spouse and two young kids to feed or a woman who lives in Iraq would be able to imitate Mr Zelinki's lifestyle. Perhaps in those situations the Life of Riley will need to be redefined.

At any rate, "The Joy of Not Working" is a great read that provides a much-needed reality check for the average 9-to-5 person. FYI: I've checked out a couple of Mr. Zelinski's other books, and there's some repetition between them. For example, this one and "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free" are different in focus, but often similar in content. Keep that in mind before making your purchase sight unseen.

George Fulmore

Possibly The Most Positive Book Ever Written on Retirement December 26, 2000

The following is a review I did years ago of the first edition of this book. There are later editions that are not out of print, so the book is still very much in print and I still highly recommend it. It think Zelinski is the best there is when it comes to writing about retirement in a positive, helpful light. George Fulmore.

As an instructor in adult education on the subject of retirement, I have looked for books on the subject that cover the major areas of retirement in a positive vein. I think The Joy of Not Working is an absolute classic. I use it as the basis of my class, and I get nothing but positive feedback from those who buy it and read it. As a start, it is clear that retirement is not for everyone. Many people will hate it or not even consider it for various reasons. This book is not really meant for them. It is for the rest of us who are looking for reinforcement and encouragement in making the retirement decision. The author helps us through any thoughts of feeling guilty or fearing bordom in retirement. Then, he is off on a great section that provides very practical ways of filling our increased leisure time. His Leisure Tree chart is worth the price of admission alone, and this is followed by pages of detailed activities in case one has not come up with enough on his or her own. Additionally, there are sensible suggestions on finances, happiness and all kinds of other things that relate to getting on with the joy of retirement and leaving the workplace behind. I highly recommend The Joy of Not Working as THE retirement primer for those who want a positive outlook on life and one's future in a world that does not evolve around work. As I said in the begining, such a life will not appeal to all. But to those of us to which it does, this book will be prized on our bookshelf. Bravo Ernie Zelinski. I truly believe this book is a classic that will wear well with readers for decades to come.

How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free Retirement Wisdom That You Won't Get from Your Financial Advisor

"He tells us that the retirement is another part of our lives, and that we should dedicate it to discovering creativity within ourselves and enjoying it."

A Great Argument For Leading a Balanced Life, August 2, 2010

In today's world of workaholics, greed, and materialism, Mr. Zelinski offers a fresh voice of moderation and living life.

Mr. Zelinski gives case examples of many people who have eschewed a lifetime of corporate servitude, and have chosen the road less traveled. Some people have learned to live on less money. Others retire early to pursue their dreams before the onset old age. The book is a compendium of people choosing to ignore the Pied Piper of Capitalism, and have created their own trail of life.

The road to a life of fulfillment has few signposts, and is difficult for even those of intelligence and independence. Knowing that others strive for independence, and the efforts they needed to achieve their goals has given me new ideas for my own life.

Mr. Zelinski, thanks for your breath of fresh air.

C. Wagner "cecilkunkle" (On the banks of the Wabash far away)

A cornucopia of anecdotes and quotations.

That gets a bit old after the first hundred pages. However, the cartoons, reminiscent of Jim Unger's "Herman", are somewhat entertaining. The cartoons are apparently drawn by the author, since no credits are given.

So, hey, I'm gonna retire, write a book about how being employed is not peachy and you can buy the multiple variations, systems and attend my seminars. Why don't we all retire now and sell our books about not working? Heck! Your job is probably being outsourced anyhow. We have the makings of a virtual perpetual motion machine. But, to cut to the chase, turn to page 161 for the 7 essentials of a happy retirement. Health and cash flow are the biggies. Page 161 pays for reading all the quotes and anecdotes. I suggest you don't wait until you retire to write the book, draw cartoons, or create art. These activities will make your life more pleasant, if you work or not! The author is quite right that you will not get this wisdom from a financial advisor. This book is not intellectual groundbreaking, but the reader should leave realizing that retirement is more than collecting a check the first of the month.

wannabe writer (Longmeadow, MA)

The most helpful book I ever read, November 3, 2009

I am retiring in a few months, and bought this book to steer me through the shoals of a dramatically changing life situation. First of all, the author is brilliant. No I am not related to him, and don't even live in the same country. I normally can't pay attention to anything but crappy novels, despite my Ivy League education. By interspersing his text with hilarious quotes from famous people, he completely held my interest. Some of the quotes were so amazing that I question whether he made them up himself, and attributed them to people long-dead who couldn't dispute their origin. I agreed with what he says almost totally, except that he doesn't think housework qualifies as real exercise. He obviously has never experienced power-mopping. There is so much information in this book, that I'll be researching the links for months. The book is actually not about retirement at all, but about how to be happy, wild and free no matter your circumstance. He just sneaks in the retirement bit to lure unsuspecting customers such as myself into reading what they should have been reading about all

Sam Beckford

I originally found this book while on vacaton in Maui. I'm an entrepreneur/business coach/ semi-retired 41 year old guy.

I teach business owners how to work less and make more, and I lead by example working an average of 15-20 hours per week. After reading this book I bought 100 copies, one for each of my coaching clients and a few for friends.

This book has an excellent combination of philosophy and practical strategies. I was familiar with the author because of one of his other books which I read over 10 years ago "The Joy of Not Working". That book helped me form a strong philosophy that has allowed me to live more and work less. How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free is a must read. If you are actually reading this review, that means you are thinking about buying the book. Just order it! The longer you wait to read it, the less time you will have in your life to reap the benefits of the ideas it will give you.

Lucasta (Towson MD)

Pep talk for the clueless, June 6, 2011

This book doesn't offer much in the way of nuts-and-bolts financial advice, other than to suggest (as others have) that you don't need piles of money to find happiness in retirement. Instead it focuses on how to craft a meaningful life, as opposed to vegetating in front of the TV for the next 20 or 30 years. Many bits, e.g., the value of friendships and the importance of diet and exercise, seem painfully obvious, though others may prove helpful. If retirement is drawing nigh and you're fretting about how to fill all those empty hours,the author provides an exhaustive pep talk. For the more resourceful and imaginative reader, it's heavy going.


Almost every book on retirement seems to focus almost exclusively on the monetary aspects of retirement, and completely neglects one of the most important questions that people need to consider -- i.e., what do I want my life to look like after I stop working? This book fills that niche, covering topics such as social interaction, creating structure in your day, lifelong learning, travel, and health.

Zelinski's main proposition is that without planning and creating structure, people are at risk of spending their retirement years sitting in front of the television; however, with planning and creativity, retirement can be the most rewarding time of life. I especially liked Zelinski's "Get-A-Life Tree," which challenges readers to think about what they enjoy doing now, what they have enjoyed doing in the past and what they have thought of doing in order to give them ideas on what might be rewarding for them in retirement.

One important caveat -- although Zelinski does briefly cover the financial aspect of retirement, I found his attitude toward finances to be cavalier to say the least. His basic premise is that you should retire as soon as possible and if it turns out that you cannot afford to get by working part-time or less, just go out and work full-time for awhile. I think in today's economy, such an approach is reckless. Therefore, I would NOT recommend this book for people looking for guidance on financial planning for retirement. However, if you are looking for some thought-provoking ideas on what to do with your retirement years, this book will get you thinking.

Vera Kolb "Vera Kolb" (Kenosha, WI) See all my reviews

How I got this book is a story by itself. I was vacationing in Belgrade, Serbia, and this book was brought to my attention as the best thing since the slice of bread, as judged by the on-line book version in which one could read only half of each page. I promised to buy the book upon my return to USA and ship it. I did this, and I also purchased a copy of the book for myself.
This book is for anyone who is retired, but it is of equal value for somebody who has not retired yet, which is my case.

The book is essentially a guide to living in which one is true to oneself, gets in touch with one's creative potential and lives life to its fullest. Chasing money is not the way to do it. The book is packed with practical advice, such as how to fight boredom, how to be grateful for what one has, how to structure the free time, how to contribute to the welfare of others, how to travel without luxury, you name it, it is there.

In a sharp contrast with depressing books which tell us how much money we need to save so that we can safely linger in an old age home, where we would be engaged in the safe activity of watching TV, Zelinski takes the bull of the old age by its horns. He tells us that the retirement is another part of our lives, and that we should dedicate it to discovering creativity within ourselves and enjoying it.

This is an extraordinary book. After I have read it (it took me one month, as I took copious notes) for the first time in my professional life I do not feel guilty doing things that please me deeply, and yet are not helping my career and are meaningless to anybody else. The point in case: coloring mandalas.
Thank you Mr. Zelinski for opening our eyes to the art of living our lives in the mature phases of our lives!

Tom K. (Carmel, IN United States)

Ernie Zelinski has a contagious positive spirit, ideally suited for a book emphasizing the non-financial dimensions of successful retirement. This is a comprehensive guide to the many issues and options for retirement planning and living.

The author stresses the need for a personal mission statement to shape choices and engagement. He illustrates why this is necessary and shows how to create one. He shows that without a deeply felt sense of direction, odds are high that retirement will be a failure. He covers the importance of health, friends, structure, variety, self-expression, mental activity and experience, noting that those who ignore these core human needs struggle with retirement.

This is a possibilities thinking book, promoting self-awareness, responsibility and self-actualization. Each person needs to tailor their plans and activities to match their own dreams. Some activities can meet many needs. Goals can be pursued through semi-retirement, volunteer work, extended travel and education options.

The author provides many stories, quotes, sources, examples and checklists. Unfortunately, he rambles at times and repeats points.

Mr. Zelinski effectively challenges the reader to assume control of his life and look past the conventions of society. But, he overreaches in his criticisms of corporations, work and achievement, oversimplifies the retirement timing decision as "just do it" and underestimates the financial resources needed for requirement, asserting that an enlightened individual can easily cut living expenses in half.

This book is a good complement to the many financially oriented retirement guides. The important topics are covered, a strategic approach is outlined and practical advice is shared

David Brown

With this book Ernie Zelinski is providing a valuable service to anybody even thinking about retirement. The focus is mostly on the non-financial issues, which probably turn out to be even more important than financial planning. I don't know of another book that approaches the topic in quite the same way. My only criticism is that if there are twenty ways to say something it doesn't mean you need to use all twenty to make your point. I read the first two chapters word-for-word, but found myself doing a lot of scanning and skipping after that. If you have the patience to sit down and read every word of this book, cover to cover, then you're a better man (or woman) than me. One of the highlights was all the quotations: there's a relevant quote or cartoon on almost every page, over two hundred of them. Researching and assembling all of those is quite an achievement in itself. Read this book for sure; just be prepared to exercise a lot of patience or do a lot of skimming.

[ Sep 27, 2012 ] The posthastism post

August 2, 2012 | Rough Type

Obrist is right, though: realtime is homogenized time and hence needs to be resisted. So sign me up for posthastism, posthaste. "Delays are revolutions": that's a slogan I can march under. My manifesto:

- Never respond to a text until at least 24 hours have passed.

- Wait four days or more before replying to an email.

- Tweet about things that happened a month ago.

- Stop your Facebook Timeline at the turn of the last century.

- Watch the Olympics on NBC after dinner.

[ Sep 27, 2012 ] Hans Ulrich Obrist on His New Art Movement,

An interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist...
Posthastism Artinfo

In his talk at Tate Modern last week, Tino Sehgal talked a lot about slowness, and how it was a key aspect of the way he engages with the world in his work. As someone known for your hyper-productivity, how do you relate to this idea of slowness?

I'm interested in resisting the homogenization of time: so it's a matter of making it faster and slower. For art, slowness has always been very important. The experience of seeing art slows us down. Actually, we have just founded a movement with Shumon Basar and Joseph Grima last week called posthastism, where we go beyond haste. Joseph Grima was in Malta, and he had this sudden feeling of posthaste. Shumon and I picked up on it and we had a trialogue, which went on for a week on Blackberry messenger. Posthastism. [Reading from a sheet of paper hastily brought in by his research assistant] As Joseph said: "Periphery is the new epicenter," "post-Fordism is still hastism because it's immaterial hastism, which could lead now's posthastism." One more thing to quote is "delays are revolutions," which was a good exhibition title.

The beginning of my whole journey was night trains. It's a slow way of travelling and now we are working with Tino [Seghal] and Olafur [Eliasson] on solar airplanes. They fly at a hundred miles an hour, so it would be a little bit like travelling on a night train. Travelling might get slower again, if it's sustainable. All my shows have been conceived on night trains: the kitchen show, the hotel show, the Robert Walser museum, "Cloaca Maxima" in the drainage museum. I would take a night train and reflect on the conversations I've had with artists like Boetti or Fischli and Weiss and arrive in the next city. Somehow that night train rhythm was an idea factory.

How to Fake A Hard Day at the Office

May 15 | Slashdot

twitter: faking it is stupid. (Score:5, Insightful)
by (104583) on Thursday , @07:00PM (#5968702)

Faking it does not work. Most of these techniques are the pathetic kind of thing that only fools the person playing the trick. Notice the dummy remote controling their windoze desktop got canned. This also made me laugh:

"If you're a boss, and you send e-mails at all of hours of the night, the subtle message you're sending employees is, 'I'm working, why aren't you,' " says Anne Warfield, a career coach in Edina, Minn.

Poop. If I believe the email time was not caused by exchange choking all day on viruses, I conclude that the boss does not have his shit together. These days everyone is just hanging on to their job at companies and you are lucky if your company is at 60% capacity. The only reason to work late is make work, usually the kind that's laid down to make life hell before firing a bunch of people.

There is no substitute for real work and everyone knows the difference between it, slacking and make work.

I'm not recomending that everyone "wipe the counter" whenever they are underutilized, but cleaning the desk is not a bad idea. Everyone has some down time, and NYC desks are filthy. When that five minute's worth of work is done, there are plenty of things to do with yourself besides sit in a dinner for three hours. You might read trade publications, email your family, hit slashdot and do other normal things. Sitting in a dinner for three hours, that's like punishment.

The effects of people shirking. (Score:5, Insightful)
by BrookHarty (9119) on Thursday May 15, @07:03PM (#5968721)

Ever had this happen to you?
  1. On a project deadline, they feel your timeline to build the servers can be cut down from a 2 weeks to day, to make the project on time?
  2. Engineering forces a product down your throat, best of the customer blah blah. And forget to include an admin interface? Places the server 150 miles away, and puts it in a DMZ so you cant remotely manage it.
  3. Vendor builds a unix box, on the oldest version of an OS known to man, and wont run any standard tools, and the only monitoring is a log file with "ERROR" in it.
  4. Customer is down, on a new service that dropped form the sky into your lap... No support tools, no access, and your Manager is asking why you are taking so long. Dont even think of asking for documentation.
  5. Your manager learns a new technology buzzword, and all the sudden, you have 10x more paperwork, and nothing has changed.
  6. The software you run crashs all the time, causing outages. The vendor blames you, and points to internal documentation they wrote "last week".
  7. Vendor A blames Vendor B for not following the SPEC, but your service is down, and neither will help you get it back in service.
  8. You call Tech support in the middle of the night to find out your contract number isnt correct, doesnt matter you are the biggest customer and have super duper platnium support. Call back tomorrow.
  9. In all staff meeting, management tells the staff about new work methods, which happen to just only affect you.
  10. You ask a question to one manager, and 2 hours later, an All Employee email goes out about the same subject, that everyone should have already known!
  11. You accept a new project, no training, no tools, no documentation, and its now production. Then they fire the Project Manager, Engineer and consultants the day after.
  12. Marketing sells wizzbang new product, forgetting to see if its really possible.

I tell you, the reason Dilbert and BOFH are so popular, its almost like real life.... Aaargh! (Score:2, Informative)
by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 15, @06:41PM (#5968548)
Didn't I see that crappy software in thousands of popup and banner ads? Isn't there a free, open-source alternative called (Tight)VNC that is probably just as (in)secure?

No, it's not off topic. is mentioned in the article as a good way to remotely control your computer for "only $19.95 a month". Aaargh! by generic-man (Score:3) Thursday May 15, @07:23PM Aaargh! (Score:5, Informative)
by Pxtl (151020) on Thursday May 15, @07:24PM (#5968853)
I noticed that myself - who would pay $20 for a friggin glorified VNC system? If the dynamic-IP adress is a problem, then just get a dynamic-IP redirection service like - that's $25 per year for a big, user friendly business.

Great, I can replicate their service for 1/10th the cost, and could set it up in five minutes flat. Don't even have to memorize an IP address. Not to mention that with the IP redirection, you could also set up an FTP so you could get your files locally.

Hell, I don't see why anyone should ever need to use such a service. With ICQ2Go, Webmail service, and MSN I can log in to all my communications systems at any net cafe or handheld. I can keep in touch just fine - I only VNC to my machine to use the compiler.

Someone modded this as a troll? - Get a clue! (Score:5, Interesting)
by Infonaut (96956) on Thursday May 15, @07:03PM (#5968719)
Zentec is dead on here. With all the bitching about moving IT jobs to India, now is not the time to be joking about this stuff. Seriously, the guys in India, Russia, et. al. are working their asses off for far less money than IT professionals make here.

Do you think they are spending their time wondering how to goof off?

Maybe the person who modded Zentec as a troll is a high school or college kid laughing at how funny the story is, how clever you are, and how concerned all of us old fogies are about what's happening in IT.

But when real life jumps up and bites you in the ass, it's not so funny. I know a lot of people who are out of work right now and making very painful decisions about their future (i.e. - do I stay in IT or become a shoe salesman so I can keep up with mortgage payments).

Secret to Delayed Email (Score:5, Informative)
by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Thursday May 15, @06:46PM (#5968585)
Don't have it automagically send out on the tens or fives.

I liked to keep it on the odd minutes.

1 am is nothing, the 3 or 4 in the morning message have that feeling of really busting your ass.

I always liked Apple Remote Desktop for my control the machine from afar.

Hell I could sit at my Mac at home, remote in, turn on Virtual PC and admin the Novell Network.

Late hours as opposed to early (Score:5, Informative)
by billstewart (78916) on Thursday May 15, @07:12PM (#5968786)
( | Last Journal: Sunday April 27, @07:17PM)
Lots of technical people have the opposite problem - they're not working 6am-2:30pm, they're working 11-9, and getting criticized for slacking by the kinds of people who think arriving before 8am and leaving by 5:02pm is the way to work hard and don't know or care how late you're working because they've stopped thinking about work by 5:01pm.

Sometimes you get their attention about this by sending them email at 8pm, though it can be more effective with some of them to leave voicemails (if your voicemail system gives timestamps, which most seem to.)

This is especially a problem for programmer-types who need to get uninterrupted concentration, and can't do that in the daytime because they have cubicles rather than offices.

I tend to check my email before going to sleep, and one of my coworkers in Boston often gets started early in the morning - we've had email conversations at 2am on occasion.

Hardly Working at College The Overachieving Underperformer's Guide to Graduating Without Cracking a Book Books Chris Morran, Mike Pisiak

Way funnier than it had any right to be., August 31, 2005
peskyninja - See all my reviews

Hardly Working at College would make just as good a gift for a recent college graduate as it would for someone who is just starting, the tips in this book will be so familiar to anyone who recently completed college as to give them unpleasant flashbacks (when they're not laughing hysterically.)

Basically a collection of ways to screw the school system, Hardly Working at College has everything sneaky that you did to make yourself seem like a better student than you actually are.

Some of my favorites:

Funny, funny, funny. Highly recommended.

How-to guide Hardly Working in College joins Cliff's Notes, crib sheets in the slacker pantheon By Joe Katz

June 3, 2005 in Voices
As the U of C increasingly tries to shed its image as the place "Where Fun Goes To Die," the admissions pool consists more and more of students who can be counted on to get out of the library and into frat parties. As such, there are a growing number of first-years who, for lack of a better word, can be called slackers. These students are taking a bit of a risk in giving Chicago a shot. They may know how to get the party started, but they've got to get past the Core to make sure they're still around to keep it going.

Chris Morran, comic, author, and self-proclaimed "noted ne'er-do-work," tries to show them the way with his new work Hardly Working at College: The Overachieving Underperformer's Guide to Graduating Without Cracking a Book. His satirical guide to higher education offers practical advice on how to get as little out of school as you can while still managing to stay in.

Morran splits the student body into three types of scholars: overachievers, underperformers, and the overachieving underperformers. While his discussions of the foibles of the dropout-bound underperformer and the idealized overachieving underperformers will provide some smiles, it's the image of the overachiever that provides the book with its heart. His description is a dead-on portrait of That Guy, down to the suit and tie on the illustration. Morran goes on to ruthlessly mock these blazered study nerds for the next 160 pages. This joyfully condescending attitude towards the suckers who actually show up to class having done the reading, as contrasted with their craftier, party-hardy brethren, is how the book gets you interested. The author brings substantial insight to the table, hoping that putting these unspoken truths of student life in print will earn him some surprised laughs.

His hopes are realized, as page after page calls up fond memories of extensions finagled and papers recycled. Morran knows the drill on how to survive an elite college education and avoid the psych ward in the process, and it shines through brightly in Hardly Working. Mike Pisiak's illustrations provide a major boost to the book in this respect, tying the text together with familiar images of the sudden jump in attendance that all-or-nothing final exams classes receive during the final study session.

The same insight that earns snickers with its solemn recounting of the pros and cons of sleeping through early-morning classes also earns the book a spot on the required reading list for incoming first-years. Why? Because Hardly Working actually contains some useful tips on how to succeed in academia without really trying. Dedicated slackers will find themselves nodding sagely as they read Morran's advice on lecture hall seating (close enough to be visible, but not so close that the prof can tell you're not taking notes so much as checking your Facebook account) and escaping the consequences of tardiness (straightforward humility, or the more daring good-natured ribbing). His tips on how best to get a great recommendation are legitimately worth a review the next time you have an internship or grad school application coming up. Time and time again, readers of Hardly Working will find themselves either saying "Hey, that's me!" or "I'm totally trying that during finals!"

Some chapters are not quite up to that standard. At times, the readers will find themselves moved to send the author suggestions of their own to replace some of his more nonsensical instructions. In particular, Morran's tactics for borrowing someone's notes and ducking out from under the burden of doing lab work stray from the realism that gives Hardly Working its bite. His discussion of how to explain an absence from class is more recognizable, but will likely leave Chicago readers with the firm impression that the University of Virginia, Morran's alma mater, is a far different place from the home of the Maroons. The book also loses steam towards the end, as the final section on post-graduate options lacks the "trust me, I've been there" charm of earlier chapters.

Despite these flaws, this one is worth a long, hard look. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Morran has crafted a chuckle-worthy addition to the library of "how-to" guidebooks college students find foisted upon them by parents and high school counselors. Unlike some of the others, this one might actually come down off the shelf once or twice a quarter. Whether it's just used to relieve stress or to mindlessly survive the Life of the Mind is up to the reader.

Working Hard or Hardly Working By Rachel Neumann

AlterNet Rights and Liberties
October 19, 2005, Printed on December 23, 2006

Barbara Ehrenreich is one of those rare writers who is not only smart and unapologetically progressive, but really funny. That's quite a feat considering the deadly serious subjects she takes on, including the middle class, war, marriage, cancer, and corporations.

Like Alexis de Tocqueville, Ehrenreich seems most interested in the characters, mythologies and systems that make the United States what it is. In hundreds of articles and a dozen books, she's focused on how this country works, who it works for, and who is left behind.

In the bestseller Nickel and Dimed, she worked at a variety of low-wage jobs with the idea of answering the question of how people in the working poor survive and make ends meet.

Her latest book, Bait and Switch, was inspired by a reader who asked,

"What about those of us in the middle class who do everything we're supposed to; what about those of us go to college, work hard, get a job, and then find ourselves unemployed and unable to pay the bills?"

Ehrenreich spoke with AlterNet about class, prevailing American mythologies, and why she's through with going under cover.

Back in the spring, NPR did a show about a recent study showing that class mobility in the United States is basically nonexistent. The single most indicative factor of a person's income is that person's parents' income.

Lower classes in Canada, Britain, Germany and France have a far easier time moving their way up the social ladder than their American counterparts.

Yet, a New York Times study found that 80 percent of Americans believe it's still possible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Did your experience in Bait and Switch and Nickel and Dimed give you any sense of why that belief still persists?

EHRENREICH: There is a tremendous American theme about positive thinking. We have a hard time dealing with truly bad news and discouraging information. Throughout my experience trying to get a white-collar job, I was encouraged to think positively. You are supposed to see your job loss as some great break, your chance to move on to something bigger and better. The reality is that 70 percent of people who lose their jobs and do get rehired, are rehired at a lower pay. But to criticize the system, or to be negative is considered "un-American."

It was a similar attitude that drove me crazy when I was dealing with breast cancer. Despite study after study showing there was no correlation, everyone kept telling me that my outcome would be better if I had a better attitude.

What's so offensive about that insistence, whether in relation to illness or job loss, is the implication that the victim is at fault. If you don't get better or you don't find a better job, then there must be something wrong with your attitude. The government (or the doctor, or the employer) doesn't have to take responsibility for providing for you, because if you aren't doing well, it's your fault. And of course it's an outlook that's enormously satisfying for those on top, because it implies they deserve to be there because of their winning attitudes.

It makes sense that people holding power would believe this, but why do you think others believe it, despite their own experience?

The belief in a positive attitude is so ingrained in American thinking. You can see it in the late 19th century, with the advent of Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science. In the '50s, it was called the Power of Positive Thinking. In the '70s, it was called EST.

Now it's in all the business books I've read. It's crammed down people's throats in books like Who Moved My Cheese.

One job-seeker I met, told me he'd "gotten over" all the negative feelings he had from his firing. He'd absorbed all these feelings in the hopes that this would get him a better job!

What happens to that anger?

I don't know where it goes. Part of pop psychology is that you should acknowledge your feelings, but there's no place for them in the workplace.

In The Mangaged Heart, Arlie Hochschild wrote about the bland mask that workers are required to wear. Eventually, you get used to the affect and people lose the capacity to recognize their own emotions.

Another American myth that falls apart in Bait and Switch is the idea that Americans are so free-spirited, independent and rebellious. You write about how people who are laid off are encouraged to pretend to be at work; to dress for work, even to have a friend or a partner act as a boss.

Yes, you're supposed to structure your life as if you're working. Even though this could be your chance to do something creative and fun. To seize hold of the fact that you have time to do something different.

I finally realized why people seemed so passive; people feel their survival is at stake. If you stood up at one of the "support meetings" for the white-collar unemployed and said, "This is nonsense," you would be shunned. People might withhold a contact for you that might mean the difference between having a job or not.

And yet the people in Nickel and Dimed, who were closer to real poverty than the people in Bait and Switch, seemed to have more rebelliousness, more defiance.

That was my experience. It's of course not necessarily statistically true, just in the settings I was in. But I did find that the blue-collar workers were more willing to express defiance, even if only in small ways: making faces at the boss behind her back or making sarcastic remarks. In blue-collar work, there is a larger gap between the worker and the manager. You aren't required to be as socialized, just to obey.

In blue-collar jobs, they mostly just want to know if you are taking drugs or are a convicted felon. But in the white-collar world, there's much more probing of your personality and they want one specific personality: someone cheerful, upbeat and very social. You are required to be a team player.

And yet you, and reviewers, seem to have more sympathy for the blue-collar workers who aren't working so hard to get along with everyone.

In general, I think it's easier for liberal affluent people to be concerned about those who are chronically poor. Harder to have compassion for the IT person down the street who may be heading to the working poor. And by and large, I found the white-collar people more withdrawn and depressed. Even if they had a job, they were terrified of being laid off. The white-collar person might be only six months away from being in a blue-collar job, if they have a job at all. But part of being in the middle-class is absorbing certain prejudices; white-collar workers may believe they are smarter and more hard-working than those in blue-collar jobs and so this shouldn't happen to them.

Since I was able to get blue-collar jobs, I had more well-rounded experiences of the people I worked with. I tried for over six months to get a white-collar job and couldn't get one. I didn't have the right contacts, the right look or the right attitude. I think if I'd been able to land a white-collar job I may have had more rounded experiences of the people I was working with and perhaps their defiance would come out in subtle ways as well.

You seem surprised in the book by the white-collar emphasis on personality and networking. You mention a woman who is brought in for a sit-down with the boss after she mentions in a work-retreat questionnaire that "irony" is her favorite form of humor. How do you think this culture of positive personality effects the work that is actually being done in white-collar jobs?

I'm not sure this emphasis is even best for the corporate world. Before going deeper into white-collar job searching, I would have assumed the emphasis would be on the bottom line. It seems that corporations would want good problem-solvers, even if they were eccentric and dressed funny.

The computer technology boom did change this somewhat. While it boomed, there was the sense that it didn't matter how you dressed and how quirky your personality was, as long as you were smart. While Silicon Valley boomed, I think this did have some effect on corporate culture. And at Microsoft, Google and Amazon, and places like that I've seen that it still is that way. But when the technology market settled down, general corporate culture withdrew back into conformity. One woman I met during the research for this book was told at an interview, "We're not looking for a 'smart' person right now."

In Thomas Friedman's The Earth is Flat he raises the alarm that Americans are falling behind in science, technology, and business because of globalization. But I think there's a larger problem with American productivity: corporations have gotten flabby. We have a flat business culture where people are not challenged to think independently.

My experience researching Nickel and Dimed made me angrier, but I was also unsurprised by what I found. I had worked some of those jobs before. Bait and Switch was more astounding. I was surprised by how non-rational that work world was and the mystical belief in positive-thinking. I had no idea, for example, how much evangelical Christianity has penetrated this world.

Instead of thinking about how powerful these companies are, which is what I expected, I came out wondering how they get anything done!

You end Bait and Switch with some ideas for organizing unemployed white-collar workers. Has there been any response to that?

I put out some ideas, such as national health care and increased unemployment benefits. But one thing that struck me doing the research for the book was that there was no way for unemployed or underemployed people to come together that wasn't an evangelical recruiting session or a money scam.

As I go around talking to people on this book tour, I've been helping set up networks of local underemployed and unemployed white-collar workers. People have really been excited about the simple thing of being able to sit around and share stories with other people. People feel like their job loss is their fault and just having conversations with others is breaking through the isolation and getting them to think about change.

White-collar organizing has been pretty limited to health professionals, teachers, some professors. It would be great if these meetings could change that.

What's next? Are you thinking of masquerading in the upper class?

You know, I wanted to, but doing the initial research, I came to the sad conclusion that it would take a whole lot of plastic surgery for me to be able to pull it off. The rich just don't look like the rest of us -- all the constant facials and pampering. Their skin is so tight it shines. I don't think I'll be going through that transformation any time soon.

So instead, I'm looking forward to getting back to work on a history book that interests me, a follow-up to Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War.

History doesn't necessarily sell well, but I love it and it's how I understand the world.

Rachel Neumann is Rights & Liberties Editor at AlterNet.

Working Hard, Hardly Working

I learned something else at this job -- something besides the ability to keep a straight face while discussing proactive prioritization of mission-critical objectives that will leverage end-to-end supply chains to maximize profit potential in the e-marketplace. I learned that trying to look busy and productive is much more difficult than actually doing work.

The reasoning here is this: If you're actually doing work, you can focus on it, even if you don't like it. When your boss comes round demanding to know what you're up to, you can tell him, show him on the monitor, provide actual progress reports, discuss problems and solutions, and so forth. It may be tedious, depending on what you're doing, but it usually isn't very stressful.

On the other hand, if you have nothing to do, and can't find anything to do, you have to have a prepared list of action items (translation: "things") to talk about when he saunters by your desk and wants to see what you're doing, because for some reason, "nothing" just isn't an appropriate response to the question "What are you working on?" in the corporate world. "Fuck all" and "jack shit" are even less favorable, accurate as they might be.

To compile this list you have to invent plausible-sounding things that don't actually need to be done, which nobody will be able to determine their level of completion, and that nobody really cares about anyway. You have to invent explanations as to why these things need to be done. It's also best if the things you're pretending to do are things your manager won't understand, or that sound so technical or mind-numbingly boring that he won't ask for details. And you have to have have enough of these fake workloads that you can answer the question several times a day without repeating yourself too often over the course of a week. Conjuring up phantom work that fits all of this criteria is a full-time job in and of itself.

UK employees are busy doing nothing

Hack In The Box Keeping Knowledge Free

Five per cent of UK employees spend up to a quarter of their working week chatting to friends over IM programs such as MSN Messenger, AIM and Yahoo, according to a survey by YouGov for security software maker Symantec.

About 23 per cent of UK employees have been exposed to, or knows someone who has been exposed to, an instant messaging (IM) security risk while at work. Security breaches due to people sending each other files and hyperlinks over instant messaging applications are on the rise and cannot be dealt with by traditional methods.

Symantec has brought out IM Manager, which it claims is developed to deal with such threats. Sean Doherty, head of sales and development at Symantec enterprise messaging, said security products such as Symantec Norton Anti Virus is not enough to stop IM worms.

This is because they spread very fast, having an outbreak time of 20 minutes and anti-virus vendors cannot respond quickly enough.

Why does the couch potato make us so angry

DOING NOTHING: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America
By Tom Lutz
Farar, Straus and Giroux
384 pp., $25

A look at those who would elevate sloth to an art form.

By Larry Sears

"Everyman is, or hopes to be, an idler." With these words of Samuel Johnson, Tom Lutz begins his latest effort, Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America.

This book is a fascinating - although at times also frustrating - analysis of both workers and slackers throughout the past 250 years of Anglo-American history. It begins as a small family story and then expands into a complex examination of the duality of work and leisure, including commentary from a variety of writers and intellectuals.

When Cody, Tom Lutz's son, graduates from high school in 2001, he asks his father if he can live with him while he plans his post-high school life. Remembering his own journey of self-discovery, working at odd jobs, hitchhiking and "doing the period's allotment of drugs," Lutz, who teaches English at the University of Iowa, eagerly welcomes his son.

Early on, he expects that the young man might explore his interest in music by joining an alternative band in Los Angeles or possibly find a channel for his literary talents working with his older sister in Hollywood.

But his son will have none of this. He is, instead, fully prepared to lie on the living room couch eating, absorbing TV, and sleeping in a perpetual weekend of inactivity. All of his father's entreaties to get up and move are greeted with total passivity.

What surprises Lutz the most, however, is the level of his own anger at Cody. Remembering how his own father criticized his earlier journey of self-exploration, he was determined not to repeat his father's behavior. But his anger flourishes nonetheless.

What is it about the nature of the work and leisure, he asks himself, which evokes such strong emotional reactions? After all, isn't each person's work ethic merely a time-based reshuffling of the ideas handed down to us by the Protestant Reformation?

Lutz, after some reflection, concludes that more is at stake here than just a set of ideas. Ideas can make us angry - but not this angry! He goes on to argue, quite persuasively, that we each "experience the work ethic as a feeling."

Look at the language of work itself, he suggests: "we love our job, we hate our job, we thank God for Fridays and we are blue on Mondays." Indeed, how often are we as secretive about our feelings regarding work as we are about the very personal fantasies of our love lives?

He further suggests, in the book's very compelling opening chapter, that if

"the self-made man pulling himself up by his own bootstraps is the typical American, the slacker is his necessary twin, a figure without whom American history is equally unthinkable."

Taking this idea to one more level, he concludes that when we see the slacker idly resting we "can feel attacked or ashamed, insulted or amused, repulsed or enticed" by that image. It is fine if the slacker is me. But what if it is our neighbor - or someone of a different age or cultural group?

With Cody on the couch and himself at work in the study, Lutz begins a superbly detailed analysis of how our culture has reflected on these issues throughout time. Each historical period - from the first machines of the Agricultural Revolution, through the Industrial Revolution, through two World Wars and up through the dotcom '90s - is carefully examined.

We meet thinkers of each period as they struggle with such questions as: What is the purpose of work? How much of our lives should it consume? Can it ever have real meaning and purpose for any of us?

And, of course, leisure comes with its questions, too. Should humans (and for most of history that has meant just men) work hard and then gain leisure as a reward? Or is leisure a more natural state, a time when we can more fully develop ourselves as complete persons? Do artists of any kind truly work?

Although I found myself energized by such discussion on many occasions, at other times I was frustrated. While no one can fault the sheer thoroughness of Lutz's research, that effort does not keep "Doing Nothing" from sometimes becoming a chore for the reader.

Those sections of the book that deal with Benjamin Franklin, Herman Melville, Theodore Dreiser, and the sufferers and healers of early 20th-century neurasthenia brim with wit and excitement. But reading about the lives and ideas of Paul Lafargue (Karl Marx's tedious son-in-law), Oscar Wilde, and Jack Kerouac borders on heavy labor. They may have been fascinating men, but Lutz's discussion of them does not make you eager to linger in their company.

Yet despite occasional slowdowns, the journey this book allows us to make is well worth taking. The questions it raises will remain the topic of serious discussion for many years to come.

Larry Sears is a retired teacher who met with a variety of both slackers and strivers over the course of many years in the classroom.

How to Do Nothing


For those of us who are non-stop workaholics, doing nothing can actually be pretty difficult! If you're like the Energizer bunny in that you keep going, and going, and going, here's how to stop once in a while, think pleasant thoughts, visit the beach, stare at the water, and just do nothing.


  1. Plan ahead. Whether it's an hour, a day, a week, a month, or a year of doing nothing, cancel all of your appointments for that block of time. Try to pick the most boring week or day, a day where you'll most likely sleep most of the time.
  2. Let people know. Tell everyone that you're going to be "busy" and will be unavailable. Whether you choose to tell them that you're actually setting aside some time to do nothing, or you just give them the vague explanation "I'm going to be busy" (busy doing nothing!), tell them not to call, visit, or interrupt unless it's a real emergency.
  3. Find a quiet, private place. Go somewhere you don't feel pressured to do anything. This might be your bedroom, the backyard, or a local park. Find that place and go there.
  4. Set your alarm. Set an alarm of some kind to go off when your "nothing" time is over, so that you don't have to constantly look at the clock and count the minutes.
  5. Turn off the phone. Turn off your cell phone, work phone, pager, PDA, Blackberry, computer and any other means of sending or receiving calls or messages. These distractions will only keep you from enjoying the nothing.
  6. Sit by yourself. Feel the wind, the sun on your face, the chair touching your butt. Listen to the rustle of the trees, birds chirping, water flowing. Always think about the past or future. Avoid the temptation to turn on the TV, listen to music, write a note to yourself, get a bite to eat, or anything else. The only thing you should do is go to the bathroom (if needed).
  7. Learn how to free up your mind. Clear your mind of all thoughts of work, worries, family, etc.. Doing this not only allows your body to do nothing, but your mind as well.



The Art of Doing Nothing

Slakerism: the Importance of Doing the Least Possible in the Workplace Doing Nothing A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America Books Tom Lutz

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Lutz eases readers into this sparkling cultural history of stylish American torpor with an anecdote about his 18-year-old son, Cody, moving into his house and bivouacking on the couch-perhaps indefinitely. Lutz himself spent a decade before college "wandering here and abroad," so his intense anger at Cody surprised him-and inspired him to write this book about the crashing fault lines between Anglo-America's vaunted Calvinist work ethic and its skulking, shrugging love of idling. An English professor who admits to being personally caught between these warring impulses, Lutz (Crying) has a gimlet eye for the ironies of modern loafing:

Lutz's diligent research on a range of lazy and slovenly subjects, from French flâneurs to New York bohos, ultimately leads him to side with the bums. Flying in the face of yuppie values and critics of the welfare state, his "slacker ethic" emerges over the course of this history as both a necessary corrective to-and an inevitable outgrowth of-the 80-hour work week. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Samuel Johnson identified literary loafers in his periodical Idler (1758-60), and here Lutz lays sharp-eyed analysis on society's reaction toward those who repudiate regular work. Productively informing his appraisals of the Thoreaus and Kerouacs with his own youthful experiment in communal living, Lutz weaves no grand theory of the slacker because he finds that wastrels have been different in every generation.

In the late 1700s, a disinclination to work was an aristocratic affectation.

In reaction to industrialism, the back-to-nature primitivist appeared, embodied by Thoreau, while cultural vulgarity made the Gilded Age vulnerable to the effete cynicism of an Oscar Wilde.

In Wilde and others, Lutz nails, with concise sophistication, the mix of anger and amusement such nonconformists provoked.

Though a serious study of spongers, this wry book is fun to read.

With layabouts such as Theodore Dreiser, the Beats, and our epoch's own Anna Nicole Simpson on offer, cultural-history mavens won't be able to pass Lutz up.

Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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