Work in 2021: What Makes a “Good Job” Good?

Yves here. I had posted this just after midnight on the 10th, but the software put it as the 9th and so it didn’t appear in Recent Items. It’s an important enough topic that I hoisted it by restamping the time so more readers would see it.

This post focuses on the nature of work, as well as having a job, as in paid employment. I am personally offended by those who try to take the position that everyone should get an income and no one should work. How do you propose to have your abode cleaned, not just the labor involved but the various implements and cleansers? How about your food? Do you also posit that God will provide manna? And please describe childrearing. Who does that? How do the wee savages become educated and socialized? And how do you get medical care if no one is trained and incentivized to do that? To put none too fine a point on it, Aristotle’s life of leisure and contemplation is a refined version of a top 1% fantasy. In his day, it depended on slaves.

And please don’t tell me you plan to become a subsistence farmer. Report back to me after you’ve killed and cleaned your own deer and are figuring out how to cook it. It’s very bloody business.

My gene pool on my father’s side for >10 generations until his grandparents was entirely Yankee farmers and fishermen. Living off the land or sea is hard work, as in “hard on your body” work. And even then, they used implements made by others: knives, butter churns, plows, tillers, anchors and rope, sails.

In other words, you have to go to lower than Little House on the Prairie standards of living to escape the modern paradigm of paid, specialized labor providing goods and services for use by others.

Similarly, a lot of what makes work valuable is not so much the task but having some measure of control over your tasks or pacing of your day, how well you are paid, and the amount of respect you are accorded. I grew up in a series of paper mill towns. The mill employees had status in their communities. They produced the paper for the stock and covers of major magazines like Time (they much later went to lighter grades of paper to save money); they could buy a house, support stay-at-home wives and kids, and regularly had a small “camp” house in the woods on a lake or owned a boat. Friends of mine from those days often went to college; one became a full professor, another went to Harvard on scholarship (I ran into her my freshman year).

Or think of being a receptionist, a role that has been disappeared at most firms. The ones I know even now take pride at being a face of their employer. They exchange pleasantries with visitors and sometimes have to make excuses as to why their host was running late. Or how about one of Lambert’s early jobs, of putting books back on shelves at his library, or my having a paper route? I enjoyed my delivery duties and wouldn’t mind doing something like that even now if I didn’t have to earn more to cover my expenses.

Yet the top 10%, who seemed obsessed with the need to be special, harp on the idea of work needing to be creative or provide for self-expression. Yet Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, contends that happiness lies in achieving a state of “flow,” which is immersion in a task. That I believe is why some people find cleaning house or washing dishes to be therapeutic; I always enjoyed sweeping a stage as a stage manager and similarly like vacuuming very large floors.

Or as a Buddhist saying has it: “Before I was enlightened, I hauled water and cut wood. After I was enlightened, I hauled water and cut wood.” A contemporary example:

Rebecca Gordon below describes the job satisfaction of a Cambodian sweatshop bag maker compared to one at Louis Vuitton. Gordon points out that it’s not a result of work content. As much as the Lousi Vuitton might take special pride in making a high-priced product (and Louis Vuitton can market the craftsmanship), high end designer goods are standardized. This maker can’t be allowed to put her own mark on her production. That would be called a reject.

By Rebecca Gordon. Originally published at TomDispatch

A year ago, just a few weeks before San Francisco locked itself down for the pandemic, I fell deeply in love with a 50-year-old. The object of my desire was a wooden floor loom in the window of my local thrift shop. Friends knowledgeable on such matters examined photos I took of it and assured me that all the parts were there, so my partner (who puts up with such occasional infatuations) helped me wrangle it into one of our basement rooms and I set about learning to weave.

These days, all I want to do is weave. The loom that’s gripped me, and the pandemic that’s gripped us all, have led me to rethink the role of work (and its subset, paid labor) in human lives. During an enforced enclosure, this 68-year-old has spent a lot of time at home musing on what the pandemic has revealed about how this country values work.  Why, for example, do the most “essential” workers so often earn so little — or, in the case of those who cook, clean, and care for the people they live with, nothing at all? What does it mean when conservatives preach the immeasurable value of labor, while insisting that its most basic price in the marketplace shouldn’t rise above $7.25 per hour?

That, after all, is where the federal minimum wage has been stuck since 2009. And that’s where it would probably stay forever, if Republicans like Kansas Senator Roger Marshall had their way. He brags that he put himself through college making $6 an hour and doesn’t understand why people can’t do the same today for $7.25. One likely explanation: the cost of a year at Kansas State University has risen from $898 when he was at school to $10,000 today. Another? At six bucks an hour, he was already making almost twice the minimum wage of his college years, a princely $3.35 an hour.

It’s Definitely Not Art, But Is It Work?

It’s hard to explain the pleasure I’ve gotten from learning the craft of weaving, an activity whose roots extend at least 20,000 years into the past. In truth, I could devote the next (and most likely last) 20 years of my life just to playing with “plain weave,” its simplest form — over-under, over-under — and not even scratch the surface of its possibilities. Day after day, I tromp down to our chilly basement and work with remarkable satisfaction at things as simple as getting a straight horizontal edge across my cloth.

But is what I’m doing actually “work”? Certainly, at the end of a day of bending under the loom to tie things up, of working the treadles to raise and lower different sets of threads, my aging joints are sore. My body knows all too well that I’ve been doing something. But is it work? Heaven knows, I’m not making products crucial to our daily lives or those of others. (We now possess more slightly lopsided cloth napkins than any two-person household could use in a lifetime.) Nor, at my beginner’s level, am I producing anything that could pass for “art.”

I don’t have to weave. I could buy textiles for a lot less than it costs me to make them. But at my age, in pandemic America, I’m lucky. I have the time, money, and freedom from personal responsibilities to be able to immerse myself in making cloth. For me, playing with string is a first-world privilege. It won’t help save humanity from a climate disaster or reduce police violence in communities of color. It won’t even help a union elect an American president, something I was focused on last fall, while working with the hospitality-industry union. It’s not teaching college students to question the world and aspire to living examined lives, something I’ve done in my official work as a part-time professor for the last 15 years. It doesn’t benefit anyone but me.

Nevertheless, what I’m doing certainly does have value for me. It contributes, as philosophers might say, to my human flourishing. When I practice weaving, I’m engaged in something political philosopher Iris Marion Young believed essential to a good life. As she put it, I’m “learning and using satisfying and expansive skills.” Young thought that a good society would offer all its members the opportunity to acquire and deploy such complicated skills in “socially recognized settings.” In other words, a good society would make it possible for people to do work that was both challenging and respected.

Writing in the late 1980s, she took for granted that “welfare capitalism” of Europe, and to a far lesser extent the United States, would provide for people’s basic material needs. Unfortunately, decades later, it’s hard even to teach her critique of such welfare capitalism — a system that sustained lives but didn’t necessarily allow them to flourish — because my students here have never experienced an economic system that assumes any real responsibility for sustaining life. Self-expression and an opportunity to do meaningful work? Pipe dreams if you aren’t already well-off! They’ll settle for jobs that pay the rent, keep the refrigerator stocked, and maybe provide some health benefits as well. That would be heaven enough, they say. And who could blame them when so many jobs on offer will fall far short of even such modest goals?

What I’m not doing when I weave is making money. I’m not one of the roughly 18 million workers in this country who do earn their livings in the textile industry. Such “livings” pay a median wage of about $28,000 a year, which likely makes it hard to keep a roof over your head. Nor am I one of the many millions more who do the same around the world, people like Seak Hong who sews garments and bags for an American company in Cambodia. Describing her life, she told a New York Times reporter, “I feel tired, but I have no choice. I have to work.” Six days a week,

“Ms. Hong wakes up at 4:35 a.m. to catch the truck to work from her village. Her workday begins at 7 and usually lasts nine hours, with a lunch break. During the peak season, which lasts two to three months, she works until 8:30 p.m.”

“Ms. Hong has been in the garment business for 22 years. She earns the equivalent of about $230 a month and supports her father, her sister, her brother (who is on disability) and her 12-year-old son.”

Her sister does the unpaid — but no less crucial — work of tending to her father and brother, the oxen, and their subsistence rice plants.

Hong and her sister are definitely working, one with pay, the other without. They have, as she says, no choice.

Catherine Gamet, who makes handbags in France for Louis Vuitton, is also presumably working to support herself. But hers is an entirely different experience from Hong’s. She loves what she’s been doing for the last 23 years. Interviewed in the same article, she told the Times, “To be able to build bags and all, and to be able to sew behind the machine, to do hand-sewn products, it is my passion.” For Gamet, “The time flies by.”

Both these women have been paid to make bags for more than 20 years, but they’ve experienced their jobs very differently, undoubtedly thanks to the circumstances surrounding their work, rather than the work itself: how much they earn; the time they spend traveling to and from their jobs; the extent to which the “decision” to do a certain kind of work is coerced by fear of poverty. We don’t learn from Hong’s interview how she feels about the work itself. Perhaps she takes pride in what she does. Most people find a way to do that. But we know that making bags is Gamet’s passion. Her work is not merely exhausting, but in Young’s phrase “satisfying and expansive.” The hours she spends on it are lived, not just endured as the price of survival.

Pandemic Relief and Its Discontents

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris arrived at the White House with a commitment to getting a new pandemic relief package through Congress as soon as possible. It appears that they’ll succeed, thanks to the Senate’s budget reconciliation process — a maneuver that bypasses the possibility of a Republican filibuster. Sadly, because resetting the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour doesn’t directly involve taxation or spending, the Senate’s parliamentarian ruled that the reconciliation bill can’t include it.

Several measures contained in the package have aroused conservative mistrust, from the extension of unemployment benefits to new income supplements for families with children. Such measures provoke a Republican fear that somebody, somewhere, might not be working hard enough to “deserve” the benefits Congress is offering or that those benefits might make some workers think twice about sacrificing their time caring for children to earn $7.25 an hour at a soul-deadening job.

As New York Times columnist Ezra Klein recently observed, Republicans are concerned that such measures might erode respect for the “natural dignity” of work. In an incisive piece, he rebuked Republican senators like Mike Lee and Marco Rubio for responding negatively to proposals to give federal dollars to people raising children. Such a program, they insisted, smacked of — the horror! — “welfare,” while in their view, “an essential part of being pro-family is being pro-work.” Of course, for Lee and Rubio “work” doesn’t include changing diapers, planning and preparing meals, doing laundry, or helping children learn to count, tell time, and tie their shoelaces — unless, of course, the person doing those things is employed by someone else’s family and being paid for it. In that case it qualifies as “work.” Otherwise, it’s merely a form of government-subsidized laziness.

There is, however, one group of people that “pro-family” conservatives have long believed are naturally suited to such activities and who supposedly threaten the well-being of their families if they choose to work for pay instead. I mean, of course, women whose male partners earn enough to guarantee food, clothing, and shelter with a single income. I remember well a 1993 article by Pat Gowens, a founder of Milwaukee’s Welfare Warriors, in the magazine Lesbian Contradiction. She wondered why conservative anti-feminists of that time thought it good if a woman with children had a man to provide those things, but an outrage if she turned to “The Man” for the same aid. In the first case, the woman’s work is considered dignified, sacred, and in tune with the divine plan. Among conservatives, then or now, the second could hardly be dignified with the term “work.”

The distinction they make between private and public paymasters, when it comes to domestic labor contains at least a tacit, though sometimes explicit, racial element. When the program that would come to be known as “welfare” was created as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, it was originally designed to assist respectable white mothers who, through no fault of their own, had lost their husbands to death or desertion. It wasn’t until the 1960s that African American women decided to secure their right to coverage under the same program and built the National Welfare Rights Organization to do so.

The word “welfare” refers, as in the preamble to the Constitution, to human wellbeing. But when Black women started claiming those rights, it suddenly came to signify undeserved handouts. You could say that Ronald Reagan rode into the White House in 1980 in a Cadillac driven by the mythical Black “welfare queen” he continually invoked in his campaign. It would be nice to think that the white resentment harnessed by Reagan culminated (as in “reached its zenith and will now decline”) with Trump’s 2016 election, but, given recent events, that would be unrealistically optimistic.

Reagan began the movement to undermine the access of poor Americans to welfare programs. Ever since, starving the entitlement beast has been the Republican lodestar. In the same period, of course, the wealthier compatriots of those welfare mothers have continued to receive ever more generous “welfare” from the government. Those would include subsidies to giant agriculture, oil-depletion allowances and other subsidies for fossil-fuel companies, the mortgage-interest tax deduction for people with enough money to buy rather than rent their homes, and the massive tax cuts for billionaires of the Trump era. However, it took a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, to achieve what Reagan couldn’t, and, as he put it, “end welfare as we know it.”

The Clinton administration used the same Senate reconciliation process in play today for the Biden administration’s Covid-19 relief bill to push through the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was more commonly known as “welfare reform.” That act imposed a 32-hour-per-week work or training requirement on mothers who received what came to be known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. It also gave “temporary” its deeper meaning by setting a lifetime benefits cap of five years. Meanwhile, that same act proved a bonanza for non-profits and Private Industry Councils that got contracts to administer “job training” programs and were paid to teach women how to wear skirts and apply makeup to impress future employers. In the process, a significant number of unionized city and county workers nationwide were replaced with welfare recipients “earning” their welfare checks by sweeping streets or staffing county offices, often for less than the minimum wage.

In 1997, I was working with Californians for Justice (CFJ), then a new statewide organization dedicated to building political power in poor communities, especially those of color. Given the high unemployment rates in just such communities, our response to Clinton’s welfare reforms was to demand that those affected by them at least be offered state-funded jobs at a living wage. If the government was going to make people work for pay, we reasoned, then it should help provide real well-paying jobs, not bogus “job readiness” programs. We secured sponsors in the state legislature, but I’m sure you won’t be shocked to learn that our billion-dollar jobs bill never got out of committee in Sacramento.

CFJ’s project led me into an argument with one of my mentors, the founder of the Center for Third World Organizing, Gary Delgado. Why on earth, he asked me, would you campaign to get people jobs? “Jobs are horrible. They’re boring: they waste people’s lives and destroy their bodies.” In other words, Gary was no believer in the inherent dignity of paid work. So, I had to ask myself, why was I?

Among those who have inspired me, Gary wasn’t alone in holding such a low opinion of jobs. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, for instance, had been convinced that those whose economic condition forced them to work for a living would have neither the time nor space necessary to live a life of “excellence” (his requirement for human happiness). Economic coercion and a happy life were, in his view, mutually exclusive.

Reevaluating Jobs

One of the lies capitalism tells us is that we should be grateful for our jobs and should think of those who make a profit from our labor not as exploiters but as “job creators.” In truth, however, there’s no creativity involved in paying people less than the value of their work so that you can skim off the difference and claim that you earned it. Even if we accept that there could be creativity in “management” — the effort to organize and divide up work so it’s done efficiently and well — it’s not the “job creators” who do that, but their hirelings. All the employers bring to the game is money.

Take the example of the admirable liberal response to the climate emergency, the Green New Deal. In the moral calculus of capitalism, it’s not enough that shifting to a green economy could promote the general welfare by rebuilding and extending the infrastructure that makes modern life possible and rewarding. It’s not enough that it just might happen in time to save billions of people from fires, floods, hurricanes, or starvation. What matters — the selling point — is that such a conversion would create jobs (along with the factor no one mentions out loud: profits).

Now, I happen to support exactly the kind of work involved in building an economy that could help reverse climate devastation. I agree with Joe Biden’s campaign statement that such an undertaking could offer people jobs with “good wages, benefits, and worker protections.” More than that, such jobs would indeed contribute to a better life for those who do them. As the philosopher Iris Marion Young puts it, they would provide the chance to learn and use “satisfying and expansive skills in a socially recognized setting.” And that would be a very good thing even if no one made a penny of profit in the process.

Now, having finished my paid labor for the day, it’s back to the basement and loom for me.

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  1. Tirednurse

    A position in a place to work where I knew I actually mattered(ie not a cog or an associate, a cost center)The organization invested in my training ( not a video from 2002)was concerned about my well being. Communicated what was going on in the organization( currently I have a lot in common with a mushroom) Did not immediately overload me with a high acuity load (because profit)and make me worry every night when I went home. Enough money to pay the bills and not run out by the end of the month and a bit left over to dream on.

    Fact is I haven’t seen or have any hope for my above wish list.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I have no idea what you are talking about. The full post appears in my Safari and Firefox browsers. I am not logged in as an admin in Firefox. I just checked Chrome too, all fine.

      In all, I see the last line, “Now, having finished my paid labor for the day, it’s back to the basement and loom for me.”

      Perhaps if you are running an adblocker, you are getting cut off by code from TomDispatch for their book link. If so, serves you right for not having whitelisted NC.

      1. ambrit

        Tap dancing into a minefield here, but, I do do “that which shall not be named” and get the TomDispatch book ad.
        Otherwise, I am the optimal TechnoLuddite.
        Stay safe over there!

      2. Dirk77

        I wasn’t able to see the whole post using Safari on my iPhone with iOS 13.7. But the whole post appeared about 9pm EST last night. The DuckDuckGo browser on my iPhone still doesn’t handle JavaScript well as I’ve been burned using it to post comments, but that’s another story.)

  2. John Anthony La Pietra

    We could go back to that observation of that perpetually youthful philosopher Thomas Sawyer: “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and . . . Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

  3. Victoria Hanks

    The key to work that begins to be even tolerable, when we are talking about where millions work every day-a big or medium sized corporation in a cube farm, is having substantial control over what you do and when you do it throughout the course of the day, week and year. You could be doing filing or reviewing legal contracts or calling customers for example, none of which sound like creative pursuits, but if you can structure your own day, you will feel at least less like you are a caged animal waiting for your bi-weekly handout. But most jobs I’ve had over 40 years, in many industries and two “careers” have been tedious, underpaid (based on what I found out my male counterparts made – from the horse’s mouth mind you), and often unnecessarily micro-managed by extremely poor and untrained managers and had me looking at the clock waiting for the end of the day and longing for Friday. The focus was on making money in for profit companies and saving it in non-profits. I am out of that now and making art and designing clothes. I will not make a living at either but I have enough to feed and water myself for now to not have to endure all that. We were told to be grateful for our soul killing jobs but what we were grateful for was the health benefits that were grudgingly doled out and chipped away at year after year with larger co-pays and enormous deductibles. This is not a life but it’s what most people put up with in the United States and these are considered the “good” jobs. If you climb up to higher paying roles those are still governed by senior management and CEO’s, you will have more money but way more stress. Some think that is success but their health suffers and they never see their family. The whole work thing in America is a horrible mess but now during a pandemic people will take anything most likely and that will perpetuate the crappy jobs that if you are lucky will pay slightly more than the elusive $15.00 per hour. I don’t see an answer for any of this except I hope young people forgo college and go into a trade such as auto repair, hair dressing, carpentry, etc. where you have a solid chance of having your own business and calling your own shots. Working for corporations is miserable.

    1. Dirk77

      You are not alone and getting more company by the day. A close friend worked at an Amazon warehouse last year. When he was mercifully able to quit a few months ago he said he had flashbacks for weeks afterward. My last job, uggh, and the whole life-shortening stress on the job working for clowns, and off the job when looking for work after lay-off after lay-off. So I can understand the attraction of UBI as neither of us wants to work for anyone ever again. Yet even when the lower rungs realize that the higher ups have broken the social contract, so why should they obey it, and execute all the latter in their beds, there will still be work that needs to be done, as Yves mentions. In this manner, I think improving the quality of work is the way to go. All work has value, and if it helps you as the intrinsically imperfect human that you are to stay present, i.e., in the flow, as quoted above, then so much the better. I think Buddhists call this “working meditation”.

    2. dummy

      I was not material poverty that Marx saw as the basic tragedy of the workers under capitalism, but their stunted development.

    3. Mantid

      It’s going to be a very unique world in a short time. Unique meaning not understood, little stability, etc. Grew up (60’s USA) paper boy, resto cook, shipping/receiving clerk, loan officer, drywall installer, handy person, you name it. Entire time, I was a musician and played on weekends, film scores, taught music in schools 20 years. Not a unique life in “them days”. However, dealing with young teens now I see difficulty ahead. Few know “lefty loosy, righty tighty”, how to extract their eyes from a smart (?) phone and many are marching to the drumbeat of STEM. So much future work will be unavailable due to software and hardware. Nearly all of the above jobs are being eliminated. When was the last time you were at a live musical concert? Also, consider that global warming (not “Climate Change” – a Republican talking point) is just beginning to wipe out entire cities including their infrastructure and factories (Fukashima comes to mind). I see much more resilience in my lower income students.
      The idea of subsistence work and the ability to work a loom, sew a handbag, or prepare a meal (from soil to sauce) is what “work” will be. Work is difficult to define, but will surely become quite limited – to necessity. The Iris Marion Young comment “good society would make it possible for people to do work that was both challenging and respected” is spot on. Without the starting point of a good society, I don’t think many first world citizens are up to the challenge.

  4. Keith Newman

    Interesting article by Rebecca Gordon. I had never heard of her.
    With respect to Yves’ comment : “I am personally offended by those who try to take the position that everyone should get an income and no one should work.” I agree but am more puzzled than offended. It obviously makes no sense to pay people to do nothing when there is so much important work to be done e.g. top quality childcare, seniors’ care, rehabilitation of the environment, etc., etc. These should be public non-profit programs. It is clear why for-profit ideologues would be against these. But I don’t understand why so many others think it better to have people do nothing. When a friend told me seriously about Universal Basic Income (UBI) I thought it was a joke.
    Whenever I have read the justifications for (UBI) they have been entirely unconvincing. Either they are a rejigging of existing programs for people who legitimately can’t work (therefore irrelevant) or so vague as to be meaningless.
    Yesterday Lambert posting something by Guy Standing, a proponent of UBI. He seems generally coherent so I’m thinking of reading his book on the subject.

    1. Carla

      I’m reading Pavlina Tcherneva’s “The Case for a Job Guarantee,” which I think is a better idea than the UBI. There is so much work that needs to be done in the world, with the impediment being that nobody wants to pay people to do it. Yes, the JG beats the UBI in my opinion.

      1. Adam

        Tcherneva’s work on this topic is great and definitely what immediately came to mind when reading this article. I remember that in one of her papers, she wrote that participants in the the Jefes government job program in Argentina (who if I recall correctly, were mostly women who were working on sectors or jobs that the “free” market did not find sufficiently profitable but had immense societal value) found the ability to feel like they were helping society almost as important (or maybe even more important) than the wage they were earning.

        While I do think UBI has it’s place, that paper what was convinced by that a jobs guarantee would likely be far more impactful in improving people’s lives overall since it both provided a living and a purpose.

      2. Keith Newman

        @ Carla (6:45 pm)
        Yes… but the Job Guarantee isn’t supposed to be for permanent vitally needed public service jobs like childcare, eldercare, public healthcare, etc., etc., etc. Those should be on-going permanent programs. The JG is designed so that the number of people in it fluctuates with the economic cycle i.e. more JG when there is high unemployment. While some people will be permanently in a JG job they are people with particular personal difficulties that make it hard to work regularly at a standard job.
        In short, the JG is not designed to be a source for what should be permanent public sector caring jobs. It is in large part a way to set the minimum cost of labour. It avoids using unemployment to reduce inflationary pressure in the economy contrary to neo-liberal practice.

      3. vlade

        My problem with JG, which I haven’t seen addressed and honestly do not believe it fundamentally can be addressed at the moment *), and is actually mentioned here in the post.

        Which is that what jobs will be created/offered under JG is a political decision, on many levels. And how those jobs will be allocated then is also a political (albeit a more operational) decision. And that can kill any usability of this. In fact, it can make it an instrument of oppression – think about conservatives getting in a legislation that those who will NOT take a JG offered job can claim limited, if any benefits. That’d be turning a JG into an indentured-servant programme.

        As I said, it’s a political (laws/regulations/decisions) problem, so fundamentally cannot be dealt with by a befehl.

        Noth JG and UBI can be politically massively misused, so you need a (political) countervaling force to balance the misuse.

        And IMO, it’s to have them both (at a reasonable level). But I don’t think we as a society are there yet.

        *) yes, people said “read Tcherneva’s book”. Sorry. I’m not going to buy a book to find out if someone does or not propose something to address what I see as a fundamental questions. I will read a paper, and if the paper is convincing enough, I may buy and read the book.

        1. skippy

          Hence why JG proponents suggest a social democratic administration at a state and regional level to deal with local needs.

          1. vlade

            You mean “JG dictature?”. Because in a system where people are free to vote you cannot impose that forever and ever.

            And a problem of a stable sucessfull system is that the people cannot see the disasters it averted, hence they don’t value it.

            1. skippy

              Spontaneous Dictatorship knee jerk …

              The idea has been fully fleshed out and has historical precedent, so I don’t know where your getting your views from, because you seem to be projecting some personal baggage on it.

              1. vlade

                There is no historical precedent worth anything fo a free-vote electorate keeping a single party in power for any historically significant period of time.

                If for no other reasons, there was no a free-vote electorate around for any historically significant period of time.

                For the record, I do not consider US or UK a free-vote electorate, as each of the parties in power keep making changes to the system which favour them. Do you really believe that if a miracle happened, and Dems installed Tcherneva’s with powers to implement in law JG, it would never be changed, and never misused at a local levels where Republicans (or corrupt Democrats) won?

                Saying “has historical precedent” w/o saying what the precedent is doesn’t hold water. For example, do you mean New Deal? If that’s true, then it’s actually a precedent for me, as it’s trivial to show how over time all the New Deal stuff disappared – and in fact can be used as a good example of how a steady-system that avoids disasters is its worst enemy (no, it won’t go out with a bang, it will most usually be a subject to steady crapification, with every chance taken to undermine it).

                The simple thing is, any JG (same as any human activity) will be limited by
                a) laws
                b) executive powers

                Any idea that once a JG is established neither of the above can change to the detriment of the JG original goals is not only “assume can opener”, it’s contrary to the evidence of millenia of human history.

                You’d be in effect saying that JG is so special it will operate outside and independently of human society.

                Do I think JG would be better than what we have now, even if we managed to get it only for a generation? Absolutely.

                Do I think JG is a perfect solution to the human condition that once implemented can last forever and bring in the uplit sunlands, as it’s way too often sold (same with UBI)? Not for a second.

                1. skippy

                  I’m not the one seeking perfection and all outcomes invariably end up ad hoc.

                  I assume nothing.

        2. diptherio

          My own proposal (which I’m told is close to Tcherneva’s, though I haven’t read her book yet, either) is that the JG jobs be determined through a locally administered participatory budgeting process. Basically citizens, on a neighborhood or municipal level, engage in a process of making proposals for what needs to be done in the community, and then ranking those proposals through a ranked-choice voting system. JG administrators, then, match JG workers with appropriate work from the communities ranked list of needs. Local control, Federal funding.

          Perhaps, for permanent needs, the JG program can also help workers start their own co-ops, and to eventually convert from JG workers to worker-owners with federal contracts to provide for local needs.

    2. Michigan Farmer

      I got a lot out of Standing’s article too-bit much for a single reading so I’ve been clawing into it from the edges. I thought his line about a rentier class was very instructive so I’m working at that angle of analysis to gain an understanding of the tossed up, mixed up, nonsensical, social world around me.

      I really appreciate Yves introduction to this article and as I move towards a frail, very elderly state, I’m very concerned about the nature of eldercare. The Japanese have a long head start in that area. Elder care facilities are vastly understaffed in this country due in large part to low pay which is driven by the urge to meet the needs of that rentier class mentioned earlier. But aside from that, as Yves points out, yes pay workers better. Much, much better. Nursing home associates would start at about $17 or $18/hr if equity was a concern. But again, looking beyond that, the work place has to be designed around an ecological approach to bettering the labor environment. Some don’t want full time work but need and want flexible part time hours, just to list one area of concern that would increase the need for more workers.

      And what about paid time off?

      What about paid vacations after say 6 months of time in with the business?

      There’s more to this but my point is that there is plenty of work that needs to be done (think of reforms to the teaching professions) that would give more people a lot of quality time and benefits and income.
      UBI would then not be needed with the exceptions of:
      Elderly, retired, unemployed, widowed, orphans, disabled.

      The picture of workers trudging off to the salt mines on a daily basis needs to change. This article presents a lot of good ideas for working towards a brighter future.

      1. dummy

        Determination of what activity is useful or what works need to be done and what not is properly not a question of any one man’s judgment.
        Determining what activity is useful is a matter for the sole decision of the person who pays for it, using his own purchasing power to do so.
        Useful activity is that which would exist in a free market if there were no artificial stimulations or distortions.

        1. Sardonia

          Exactly this.

          Having a large percentage of people who genuinely feel that by being born, they have the natural right to have their needs and desires provided by others has never made for a stable society.

          And once Life disabuses them of that viewpoint, many of them seem to only move on to a next stage in which they feel that the worth of their labor is determined by what THEY think it’s worth, rather than what their ultimate buyer thinks it’s worth to THEM (whether that buyer is an end user or an employer).

          1. Carla

            “Having a large percentage of people who genuinely feel that by being born, they have the natural right to have their needs and desires provided by others has never made for a stable society.”

            Right. Having a large percentage of narcissistic rich people has never made for a stable society. I mean, then, who’s left to take care of their many regularly recurring needs?

          2. vlade

            There are some people like that.

            But there are also many people who don’t know, cannot etc. negotiate for themselves on what they labour is worth, while the people buying the labour almost always can.

            Unless you can definitely show that the majority of the people fall into your scroungers category, the argument is invalid.

            In my experience, majority of the people fall into the latter category. Short-term distinguishing of the scroungers vs. the unfortunate is extremely costly, and I believe as a society we’re way better off to just take the hit. I’d rather support one scrounger than let 10 unfortunates go hungry.

  5. Scott1

    “Work is the spiritual struggle for the material necessities.” I said that. I have had a good time, spiritually getting to the workplace on my motorcycle. I enjoyed working on film sets because most of the time talk with the rest of the crew was some fun problem solving. At the end of a fair number of these jobs there would be a party.
    There was another job I had that I enjoyed. I liked working at the Fixed Base Operator businesses. Mostly what I did was fueling airplanes and moving them around on the ground. I learned to fly.
    I’ve experienced the Zone, gotten into the Zone creating music videos on demand from films I made and like that in a night club. Reviews of my work by the club owner made a difference far as how much I got paid.
    I’ve gotten into the Zone painting. My paintings have sold, though not for the money
    I’ve needed.
    Now that I am old and ill what is left that I can do well enough for a paycheck isn’t happening. I miss my motorcycle days.

    1. WobblyTelomeres

      I remember reading an interview of Bud Ekins 15 or 20 years ago. The reporter went to his bike shop in Sherman Oaks and found him in the back, asking, “Are you Bud Ekins?” Ekins replied, “I’m all that’s left of him.”

      Here’s a famous jump – watch for the cut from McQueen to Ekins:

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I liked being a paper boy. And a stage manager. And an engagement manager at McKinsey. That’s acknowledged as the best role in the firm.

      1. dummy

        At the basic level, it is a condition of human existence to oscillate between suffering and boredom.
        Suffering because you desire things you don’t have and boredom when the object of your desire is fulfilled.
        So is the suffering of the unemployed explained by the desire to get a job or the boredom of the employed who already has one.
        Maybe you didn’t stay long enough in your job to reach the boredom stage.
        Jobs are usually routine (boredom) which allows people to function normally and be able to spend 8 hours a day at them without being totally exhausted or can be challenging in which case every day you have to think and question everything, (suffering) and very few people are able to manage that kind of stress before they wear off.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Being a project manager is never boring because the projects change. That is common to being a stage manager (shows change) and an engagement manager. Even when the project sucks, you know the end will come.

      2. Arizona Slim

        I too was a paper boy! And I loved, loved, LOVED that job!

        Ditto for working in that dark, dirty, greasy bike shop. Man, I still miss that place! Alas, it closed in 2000.

        Oh, is anyone else here a fan of the Mike Rowe Discovery Channel series, “Dirty Jobs?” You can now find some of the episodes on YouTube.

        1. Dirk77

          I too was a paper boy in jr high. While the day I started the job was one of the happiest of my life, having to get up at 5:30 am for fours days of the week got old after a few years, perhaps when I started to really grow. The best job I’ve had so far was as a software engineer, it ending too soon.

      3. Carla

        I loved working in a book store when I was 19 or 20, but it only paid minimum wage and I knew if I was ever going to move out of Mom’s house, it wouldn’t be enough to live on.

      4. Cancyn

        My first job was at the snack bar in a movie theatre. I loved that job! I suspect the jobs of our youth were fun because we didn’t depend on our wages to live.
        I retired about a year ago. My husband are lucky to be debt free and Canadian. We are not wealthy, but we have enough. Being beholden to no one for our day to day life is such a positive thing, I never imagined I would be so happy to be out of the workplace. The forced quiet living of COVID this past year has given me lots of time to reflect on my working life. Even though I worked in education, as a librarian, when I look back, it seems to me that there was a lot of nonsense and BS. I am glad I didn’t really realize it at the time. Waking up to feed the birds is a much better thing than waking up to go work for whatever the hell it is we’re all chasing.

        1. dummy

          Working is not the purpose of life on earth. It’s rather some form of chastisement for having misbehaved in the Garden of Eden.

  6. Darthbobber

    Braverman’s book (about 1980, I think) Labor and Monopoly Capital, was one of the very few works to focus not on the distribution of income but on the nature of the labor process itself and the effect scientific management, industrial design, and industrial sociology were having.

  7. Jared Holst

    Work, and what you’re able to get out of it, is circumstantial. Well said that all employers bring to the game is ‘money’. If it weren’t for their fortunate, and highly luck-driven circumstances, they wouldn’t even have that.

  8. Baldanders

    Working at a medical debt collection agency for a year made me realize three things:

    1) I am quite capable of violating my own moral code for a buck

    2) Doing unmistakable evil for a living certainly makes any other job seem brighter

    3) White small business owners feel fine not paying a dime on their medical bills(“I have plenty of money and I don’t care about my credit score! Go get it from Obama!”)

    1. dummy

      Working is not a moral endeavor.
      Rather it’s of merchant nature, you get money in exchange.
      The only way to escape medical bills in this country is if you are poor.
      Doesn’t matter the color of your skin, if you have any assets, you can’t escape the debt collector.
      My conclusion hence would be that the small business owner was simply poor.

      1. Baldanders

        I think they were taking the reasonable bet that the hospital wouldn’t bother to go to the legal trouble and expense to get a settlement to recoup their money—you can’t garnish wages from someone who pays themselves.

        (Perhaps it was bravado, but all these guys loved to brag about their big trucks, swimming pools, lavish vacations, etc.)

        Hospitals definitely make a cost/benefit analysis on collecting debt. I know the agency I worked for wasn’t tasked with anything beyond trying to get voluntary payments. The impression among my fellow collectors was that further action on the part of hospitals was fairly rare.

        One medical debt tip—if you owe, and really do want to settle the debt but have low funds, it pays to offer something which would seem crazy (say .99 a month) and stick to it. Most likely you won’t succeed, but it possible you owe someone who has a “take ANY offer” policy that they have set with their collection agency. Not that any collector will admit that to you. If you just are sick of collection calls, say “do not contact me further” and document time, date, agency, and the collector’s name. If they call back, document that as well, then contact a lawyer who does HIPAA suits. It’s an easy win.

        In terms of jobs as a moral endeavor–all I can say is I don’t feel good about what I did for a year.

        It was like working for the Empire.

  9. Synoia

    My fort job was stacking wood on Lorries (Lumber on Trucks) in the docks
    My second was construction in the Largest Propane facility on the Planet.
    My third was filling cars (pulping gas)
    My fourth Rebuilding a Church Organ
    Fifth was learning an operating a building site Crane (Old St Tube)
    My Sixth was managing the remediation a small landslid near Dartmouth in London.
    My seventh, was IBM 360 Programming for Center File in London (Who worked us 80 for a a week and paid for 60, and changes my attitude on Unions for ever.

    Then I emigrated, never to return. There is a whole world out there, and I”v only see about 50% of it, and I dislike being a tourist – too rushed and one is not a part of the community.

    I believe that a significant objective of Neo liberalism was to crush unions and workers.

    My best job was with IBM, when they were at the top pf their form. The worst was being a hate hate object when pointing out ways for them to avoid their decline.

  10. chris

    I’ve noticed something in my current role that I never appreciated as much before at other jobs I’ve had. When you can actually make more money by working more time, when there really is a direct correlation between effort and reward, people feel a lot better about working. Of course, that can lead to other problems in any organization but it helps with a lot of the problems that I encountered at large corporations where salary was salary, bonuses were generally unheard of, you had zero control of what you did from day to day, and to the extent you did any task well it didn’t effect any raises you may have qualified for.

    Having a significant amount of control over who I work for, who I work with, what I work on, and how I accomplish the work, while also being directly rewarded for effort, has been an eye opening experience.

    I wish more people could experience the same thing.

  11. rowlf

    In the early 1980s I went to an Adrian Belew concert at Rutgers University at a small venue. He opened the show and said, everyone get up and come to the front of the stage. During his performance he described all of the sound tools he was using. One tool took whatever he played and entered and played it back backwards. Someone in the audience call out “That’s (Robert) Fripp in a box”. Belew thought that was hilarious.

    Years later, after working at FBOs, airlines and such, I have been working with airplanes that transmit information during flight and working with an aircraft manufacturer on a project to interpret the information for best reliability and safety. “rowlf in a box”. I like going to work, I like the rough stuff. My Name Is Earl overlayed on Airport. I also get a kick out of placing a magnet next to the company’s compass.

    1. rowlf

      I’d like to add that for a while I was involved in union organizing at what was considered the most militant union local in the airline industry and was proud of our efforts. We eventually changed the industry but the companies got the rules changed after our victory.

  12. CanCyn

    It is not so much what you do at work but what the rest of your life is like that makes a job good. With paid sick leave, health benefits, a pension plan and affordable housing, most jobs would be tolerable.
    I also agree that control over your time during the day is huge.
    A decent boss is also important. I’ve had good jobs and bad jobs over the course of my career, and the bad ones always came with bad bosses.
    When my so called liberal acquaintances bemoan the lack of ambition in people with dead end/low paying jobs, I ask them if they would like to live in a world with no restaurants or spas among other things. When they wonder what I am talking about, I follow their logic, absolutely everyone gets MAs or PhDs or starts their own business, no one works in the service industry or retail because they’re all too well educated for that. Usually greeted with silence and someone changes the subject. We need people to do the work. What we don’t need to do is allow them to live in poverty, stress and ill health while they do those jobs.
    A UBI doesn’t have to be about no one working. It should be part of the social safety net that allows people to thrive even if they have service or retail or factory jobs.
    A good job is one that allows people to feel dignity when they are at work and to be able to enjoy life when they’re not. Fulfillment and meaning can come from hobbies or volunteer work, it doesn’t have to come from your paid work.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, some of us are work junkies. I am a second generation work-a-holic. Aside from being very disciplined about working out (when not injured), I’m not good at leisure. A little is nice but not much more than that.

      1. CanCyn

        I think there is a difference between a job and a career or calling. What you have, Yves, is a career, if not a calling. I am not saying that you and others can’t or shouldn’t be workaholics and work as much as you want to. If you want to talk personally, I had a career as a librarian. There were times when I happily spent far more than 40 hours a week on my work. But usually, I was happy to work a regular work week and do other things than my library work with my time. You and I are different that way.
        Now let’s talk more generally….
        If we acknowledge that we need the service, retail, industrial and manufacturing sectors in some form or another, then I would argue that those workers deserve to have decent lives. These are not jobs where work-aholicism makes much sense. Even if you love it, you can’t take your frontline service work or your factory assembly line work home with you. No doubt there are some people who find retail or service or factory work fulfilling and don’t mind the 40 hours a week that they spend working. And some who even stay past their paid time because they want to. But many, many people do those jobs because they have to. The working conditions are often not pleasant, they can be physically difficult and provide very little in the way of autonomy.
        Whether people like their work or not, they deserve decent pay, paid vacation and sick time, health benefits and pensions. Everyone does. The point of this article was discussion about what makes a good job. If you concede the difference between a job and a career, then perhaps you’ll agree that regardless of all of different things we’d like to do for a living and things we find fulfilling and meaningful, a good job is one that provides a basic standard of living far beyond what many currently have.

  13. James Simpson

    There’s more than a hint of nostalgia in this piece, as in “work with your hands was always better than those fancy-smancy artists and poets”. There are some good reasons as well as bad ones for the use of fossil fuel-powered mechanisation of tasks that formerly used human, mostly male, labour. However, given that renewable energy is not truly clean, reliable or even practicable for many purposes currently using fossil fuels such as shipping, it looks like we have a choice: back to manual labour, or no human race in the medium term. Jobs that had gone extinct may see a return.

    1. Nick Bea

      I am glad you mentioned this, I picked up a bit on it as well. It came through in Matthew Crawford’s “Shop Class as Soulcraft”, where he advocates for revisitation of trade work. However, looking at his own work, it’s clear there are different strata of trade work. Crawford works part time on old British motorcycles and praises the art of the hunt in tracking down an obscure part over a beer with an old-timer. With the rest of his time he’s writing books, essays, and working in a university.

      That’s miles away from the mechanic in your local firestone auto repair trying to figure out where to fit in his occupational therapy appointment.

      Yves does hit this when talking about subsistence farming. However, there I think some of the “bioregionalists” and regenerative farmers believe they’ll be able to incorporate some modern techniques or rediscovered ancient peasant techniques. They often point to the likes of Masanobu Fukuoka, a no-till smallholder rice farmer who provided a roadmap to meet basic needs. Similarly, Chris Smaje, a British former sociology professor. The trick today is being able to afford land at all.

      1. Anonapet

        The trick today is being able to afford land at all.

        It doesn’t help that the likes of Bill Gates (230,000 acres) have no limits to the amount of land they may own.

        That’s contrary to the Old Testament (cf. Leviticus 25), btw, in this so-called “Bible-believing” country.

        1. Nick Bea

          Yes, I believe Bezos also owns a very large portion of land. There may be some lessons for us in Scotland, which has a deeper history of disproportionate private land ownership.

          My hope (but not my belief) is that Bezos and Gates may turn some of that land into Sustainable Land Trusts or the like. Unfortunately I think they both believe in centralized control and panaceas, and do not trust individuals, so the likelihood is low.

          Interesting note on Leviticus! Get more Jewish people in land brokerage and more Muslims in banking?

      2. Mantid

        Nick, in Joel Kotkin’s recent book “The Coming of Neo-Feudalism” he addresses your line The trick today is being able to afford land at all. The few will own (nearly all) land. The many will (hopefully) have work on the land to survive, while ducking the drones. The land Lords, Knights and up, will at least have to eat and clothe themselves.

        1. Nick Bea

          Thanks for mentioning that one Mantid. Quite scary, but maybe a useful starting point for me to search for lessons for how feudalism was ended (or reduced) last time. I’ve heard suggestions of “Techno-Feudalism”, but I hadn’t considered literal land feudalism as much. There is a glimmer for me: I recently read Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia founder) book “Let My People Go Surfing”. He reveals that Patagonia are investing in agriculture. My hope is he’ll realize that land trusts may be a way to extend his activism.

  14. Robert Gray

    The best test I know of for ‘What is a good job?’ is whether you would still want to do it, even if you didn’t need the money. Some (lucky) people do love their work. Others, who are financially secure, volunteer at jobs for the personal satisfaction they receive. But for most people, alas, work is drudgery.

  15. Bob Hertz

    Excellent article, thanks for posting.

    One sentence did not ring right with me…..

    ” significant number of unionized city and county workers nationwide were replaced with welfare recipients “earning” their welfare checks by sweeping streets or staffing county offices, often for less than the minimum wage.”

    I am skeptical about all claims of public employee layoffs. If I could see evidence, fine. But it was so common after 2009 to talk about layoffs of teachers and first responders, and when I dug into the data I found tiny actual layoffs. I did find richer salaries and pensions for senior public employees, which one suspects was the whole point of the funding.

    1. Stillfeelinthebern

      I agree with Bob Hertz, in that what we saw was the grifting class come in and profit off the hoops put in for the unfortunate to jump through. Take for instance the simple act of acquiring food. In my community of about 40,000, there are multiple food pantries with various criteria for qualifying. Many of them are getting various govt grants and some even buy wholesale. I maintain this takes the business away from local grocery stores and it is highly inefficient with all the gatekeeping. JUST GIVE people a card to go to the grocery store like all of the rest of us. Yeah, some are going to abuse the system, that’s just how it is.

      And we have the example of Second Harvest. Started out as people gleaning extra produce from their gardens. Now it is Feeding America, it has full blown marketing and a CEO with a big salary. Grifting, always the grifting.

  16. bassmule

    I’ve been a janitor, a dishwasher, a newspaper copyboy, a PR flack, a trade press editor, an industrial consultant (food packaging), and a wine salesman. And, in my free time, an amateur musician. I tried turning pro a few times over the years, and always went broke in less than a year. 10 years ago, having finally saved enough to have a realistic cushion, I turned pro and made it stick. Playing rock’n’roll was always fun, but when it almost became a living (which it hasn’t been for the last year), I’d get comments like “You’d do this for free. Why do you insist on getting paid to have fun?” Setting aside the fact that it is an 8-hour-a-day job (loading the car, driving an hour or so to the venue, setting up, playing, tearing down, driving home, hour or two of practice every day, etc.), getting paid is validation. There are people in the world who will walk right up to you and ask “Are you any good?” To which the answer is always “It’s not for me to say. But I get paid to do it.”

    1. Mantid

      Dear Bass is the Place. Similar story here, there are many like “us”. Artists, artisans and others who have a day job (not gig) and spend time doing real work afterwards. Late in life, got a degree and taught public education, music. Left me time to play my “out” Jazz for appreciative audiences for little pay. Times are changing so fast however. Spotify? Youtube? Not much out there for the future. Do translators get paid any longer? I play much less music and much more garden, canning, preserving and giving food (and music) to neighbours/friends/family. Good comments, good discussion. Stay Low.

  17. dougie

    Ten years ago, I posted job ads for a service assistant at my auto repair shop. Twelve bucks an hour, 45 hours a week(with OT pay) and a full benefits package. We were doing well to find someone who would show up on time 5 days in a row. Hell, even show up 5 days in a row.

    Fast forward to today’s gig economy. I posted an ad geared toward restaurant keyholders on Craigslist for an “EXTREME customer care position”. It is the very same job, but now starts at $15/hr, and room for quick advancement. I had 6 well qualified applicant interviews lined up in 24 hours. I had failed to factor in the siren call of a regular M-F job with traditional daytime work hours, full benefits, etc. I was told what a scarce commodity these jobs were, in the current job market.

    One of the applicants asked if he could come work as a janitor, if he was not offered the position he applied for. He has a side hustle on the weekends that utilizes his graphic arts design degree. My managing partner will make the final decision, but she seems to be leaning towards the single mom with a small child, a decision I will support. I bring as many women into our industry as possible, because on the whole, they have better people skills. Single moms also arrive the first day with skin in the game, and something to prove to the world.

    Thank to you, gig economy, my cup runneth over. I wish I could hire them all. At a time in life when most people are thinking about retirement, I am thinking business growth so I will have the opportunity to hire more.

  18. Pelham

    I had a great professional career while it lasted, 32 years in journalism, most of it at major, nationally respected newspapers.

    Yet looking back, the most satisfying job I ever had was in my teens picking up trash on the ramps at a local drive-in theater on days after busy weekend nights. Why? It was self-paced, I was alone with my mind free to wander in a place surrounded by lush green pastures under magnificent morning skies. The mid-morning breaks I took with a cup of icewater in the shade of the concession stand were particularly sweet.

  19. Phil in KC

    I am lucky in that I found a career at the age of 39 that was enjoyable and profitable, a career that no amount of schooling could have prepared me for. Let me say that recognition is a form of respect that is just as motivating as money, but is in shorter supply. My need for income made me go to work every day, but recognition and respect made me stay and enjoy it.

    As an aside, a comment about so-called “job creators:” as my grandfather observed, the real job creators are people who have money in their pockets who willingly spend it. Grandpa was a grocer who lasted through the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the twilight struggle of the Cold War. He knew what he was talking about.

  20. Nick Bea

    I’m a little surprised I haven’t seen mention of a few things in the comments:
    1) The old Keynes saw about how we ought to move toward 15-hour work weeks (
    2) David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs (the idea that a huge swath of white collar work is not that useful, many ‘knowledge workers’ tap out after 3-6 hours.)
    3) The looming spectre of automation in service jobs, manual factory labor and white collar professions like accountancy. The jobs that remain (for now) are some domestic trades like plumbing, ag work like pepper harvesting, and creative or social work like screenwriters and psychology.

    Perhaps these topics are old hat for NC readers though.

    The combination of BS jobs + automation are what underlie UBI. I’m not convinced that there will always be more work. Or at least not at the same level there is now. I think the UBI is a kind of supposition that 20% of available jobs have an outsized impact, so the UBI is a subsidy to discover those best suited to those outsized impacts. If you aren’t worried about healthcare or food, you might try your hand at a business, scientific research. Many of those attempts will fail but by dint of having more attempts, successes are more easily exposed.

    I’m not entirely bought into that idea, because it does seem like it could result in 20% of people living extravagantly and everyone else in government-provided cinder block housing. But perhaps there’s something between a JG and UBI: something like 15 hour JG + a subsidy.

    Like any radical program, it should not be rolled out federally, but run as an experiment at smaller scale, like in Stockton (

  21. Susan the other

    Thank you for this essay. I’m not familiar with Rebecca Gordon, but she’s definitely one of my soul mates. Her last sentence, that we consider a new idea of work to be more like an occupation, socially beneficial but not necessarily profit making financially, to be a goal is something I agree with. In fact, I see financial “profits” as destabilizing the good society in this way: profits need to be reinvested. Nobody ever wants to lose altitude, right? So reinvest for yet more profit ad infinitum. And by churning society to achieve more profits we lose the benefit of simply working to live well. The obvious other thing is that profits are thought to be taken as if by skill and merit – but never by exploitation of something else, the evolution of new technology, or traditionally, labor and the environment. Rarely do profits just pop up because somebody invented something that satisfied a desperate need. So I think profits should never get too far out in front of civilization – which is where they find themselves today. And I’d think true profits would be in close balance with a working society where everyone was in the “flow” and properly paid a living wage, including the living leisure to think about how best to do something and striving to always do it better. Profit is just another dirty word unless it meets certain obligations.

    1. dummy

      …And by churning society to achieve more profits we lose the benefit of simply working to live well…

      I struggled with this question and still haven’t found an answer, what does it mean to live well, and who defines a life well lived?

      1. Susan the other

        I agree with you. It is a difficult question. We can start by eliminating the extreme ends of poverty and wealth and whittle it toward a happy medium from there – but no definition can ever hold its position for long. And regulations will always be broken. But that’s just all the more reason for some good guidelines and a sense of cooperation because the system is fair enough. Fair enough that we all choose to go along.

        1. dummy

          “We can start by eliminating the extreme ends of poverty and wealth”
          Fair enough but who is “we”, I mean the guys in the commission who make the guidelines.
          And why does it has to be about “wealth” only, a life “well lived” sure has to be about more than just money.

          1. Susan the other

            I think legislation can do the excavating. Human Rights. So, basically everyone gets adequate/good housing, medical care, education, food and leisure. And everyone does their share of work toward sustainable goals. That creates a solid, stable social base. A very valuable thing. It can be used to create jobs that clean up and protect the environment, also a very valuable thing. So we can create all that “non-money” equity for civilization. It sets a reliable safety net on the down side. For the upside – it can be designed to free up human leisure and creativity and reward it. There will be people who are happy to go along and get along. There will be people who will want to follow their own good ideas. Success, above and beyond the usual degrees of freedom won’t be precluded. There will be plenty of freedom to do productive things. That old Chinese proverb about not seeing the path until it is walked applies to a transition like this. Maintaining sustainability and human creativity. Why not?

            1. dummy

              “So, basically everyone gets adequate/good housing, medical care, education, food and leisure”
              Excellent, from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
              Why didn’t we think of this before. I like your ideas.
              Sign me up for a big mansion with ocean view, I also like to eat out at sophisticated french restaurants and travel to exotic places.
              Unfortunately my working abilities are limited as I cant concentrate on a task for more than 3 min , have back pain and get depressed when working but I would love to live in the land where milk and honey flow like rivers.

  22. MathTeacher

    “This maker can’t be allowed to put her own mark on her production.”
    In my own field John Taylor Gatto summed it up best, “The best teachers want to write their own script.”
    The trick, from a school principal‘s point of view, is how do you allow teachers to do this while still providing continuity for students and parents from year to year or classroom to classroom? It can be done and what I am proudest of in my career is having the highest teacher job satisfaction in a 2014 survey of CA charters. But it is very rare for administrators to focus on this number one source of misery among employees- lack of control at work.

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