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Gearing Towards a Green Future of Work

By Jean Lambert - Green European Journal, June 21, 2018

Green politics is about building a socially, environmentally, and economically just and sustainable future for everybody on the planet. This vision might be obvious, but the journey to get there is less so. At its core, green political thinking sees humanity as not just existing economically, and getting our economies on the right track is therefore a central challenge. As part of that, we need to understand work and its possible futures.

Economics is, of course, vitally important, and Greens must ensure our economic analysis is robust, evidence-based, and looking to the future. But economics must be seen in context, and human beings exist socially and ecologically as well as economically. Work has the capacity to provide economic security for us as individuals and our families and yet can equally be dysfunctional and exploitative, especially for those in precarious employment or on low pay.  Greens should work to support its positive economic function at personal and societal level, but also for it to add maximum social usefulness while respecting environmental limits.

Economic, social and environmental dimensions are all relevant for a full understanding of work, its value, and its future. Much work is primarily important in terms of social usefulness rather than economically – for example, care work. Unpaid work is a special case needing greater attention. Unpaid work takes place on a huge scale, especially by women, but is not economic in the narrow sense of being undertaken for a wage. Yet it is of immense value to the well-being of society. Without unpaid work our current societies and economies would probably cease to function. A better understanding and valuing of unpaid work is long overdue.

The environmental dimension of work is no less important, although often less visible or easily lost sight of. The environmental impacts of economic and industrial activities are becoming more widely understood. This has led to increased acceptance of the transformative potential of the green agenda for the economy and work. Those seeking to delay, dilute, or frustrate the green agenda’s potential to transform the economy should be reminded that there are no jobs on a dead planet. Faced with the broad trends of reduction in working time, persistent inequalities, automation, Greens also need to go further and put forward a vision centred around green industry, just transition, democracy at work, and education.

Jobs Guarantee or Universal Basic Income? Why Not Both?

By Alyssa Battistoni - In These Times, June 20, 2018

The argument about a universal basic income (UBI) versus a job guarantee (JG) has become one of the liveliest and most contentious debates on the Left. Each has been touted as a solution to all ills: the way to decrease depression, close the racial wealth gap, recognize historically undervalued forms of work, transform the economy, save the planet.

Though UBI and JG are typically counterposed, it’s entirely plausible they could coexist. If paid work is as important to well-being as JG advocates say, most people would want a job even with UBI. In particular, the black freedom movement, from civil rights leaders to Black Lives Matter, has called for both a basic income and guaranteed jobs.

Whether both can do all the things proponents promise—in particular, the essential work of transitioning quickly to a low-carbon economy—is a different, harder question. Whether it’s possible to achieve both is yet another.

A UBI program could actually be a danger to the climate if, in distributing revenue from publicly owned resources, we rely on profits from destructive industries such as oil, as in Alaska. But there are alternatives: a depletion tax on companies that degrade so-called natural capital, a tax on carbon and other pollutants, or a land value tax targeting large landowners—all of which foster environmental conservation and make public claims to natural wealth.

Take This Bullshit Job and Pretend to Love It

By Shaun Richman - American Prospect, June 11, 2018

The British economist Joan Robinson once remarked, “The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all.” What kind of misery is it, then, if your particular form of exploitation is being asked to do nothing particularly useful?

David Graeber explores this question in his thought-provoking and hilarious new book, Bullshit Jobs. Five years ago, he wrote an essay for the radical magazine Strike!, asking why people in the United States and England are not working the 15-hour weeks that John Maynard Keynes had predicted would be the result of technological advancement? In our post-scarcity society, he argued, only a tiny fraction of the population actually has to labor in order to provide for the material needs of all. “It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working,” he wrote.

The essay went viral. Millions of people read it and thousands wrote him to vent about their own pointless jobs. Those first-person accounts enliven and flesh out Graeber’s book.

He breaks down these jobs into five major categories: Box-tickers, Duct tapers, Taskmasters, Flunkies, and Goons. While humorous, it’s also a well thought-out system of categorizing pointless work by the dynamics that create them. A Duct-taper, for instance, is hired because an existing employee (very likely a full-of-it supervisor) either skips or botches one essential part of his assignment and so an entire extra employee is hired to make sure that that one small task gets carried out. That task may be essential, but it hardly amounts to a full-time assignment. 

A Box-ticker, on the other hand, exists mainly so an organization can claim it is doing something that it doesn’t actually take seriously. Much of this involves researching and compiling reports no one will read to comply with a regulation or to document progress on a mission or goal.

Flunkies, meanwhile, are employees hired purely to make their supervisor appear more important. A receptionist whose main function is to place phone calls for a middle manager just to say to the party on the other line, “Please hold for Mr. ____,” is a perfect example.  

These bullshit jobs make up an astonishingly large portion of the global economy. Inspired by his initial essay, one U.K. poll found that 37 percent of respondents did not believe their job made “a meaningful contribution to the world.” A similar poll of Dutch workers found that 40 percent of workers didn’t think their jobs served a useful purpose.  

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