Work that involves caring for other people pays less than work that hurts people and/or is meaningless; a new labor movement should redefine work as caring for other people

TL/DR Fascinating article about how the best paid jobs are bullshit jobs that do nothing of value, and that people in bullshit jobs envy people who do meaningful work for a living.

There’s nothing more satisfying in life than growing food in your yard and bringing the harvest to your wife to process and cook for the family. People are afraid of working the land, but they forget this ancient, primal tradition of going outside and coming back in with food, whether it was some squirrels, a rabbit, some fish, or a basket of potatoes and beets. You know you are alive when you produce food for your family directly, when you pick it for the kitchen.

And we need to bring back the potluck, the collective preparation of food together. There is great power in this — economic power, political power, cultural power. If you are one of the people not getting poisoned, that’s a privilege right there that you took for yourself, and good for you for doing so.

Privilege is private law. Observing a private dietary law that gives you the advantage of not being poisoned, rather than the default of Pepsi and Cheez Doodles, is the very definition of privilege. You have a raft of advantages over people who are being poisoned (suffering from obesity). However, this privilege is open to anyone who wants to take it. Here’s the best book on the private dietary law that gives you the privilege of not being poisoned:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Science-Skinny-Understanding-Chemistry–/dp/0738215570/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401706553&sr=8-1&keywords=science+of+skinny

Here’s the author’s web site:

Processed Free America

When I first started backyard growing for your family 14 years ago as a way to protest agribusiness opening the borders to Mexicans and privatizing profits and socializing costs and destroying California and eventually the whole country demographically, I didn’t know about the even more important reason to grow your own — we are being poisoned. There’s no other possible explanation for all the fat people.

So the idea that there is nothing to do for all these people sitting around is crazy. Liberals do a great disservice to their beloved working class in telling them that modernity has solved the problem of work. Just sit back and feast on GMO corn/wheat/soybeans, and let us liberals look after you with tender loving care!

Besides the stupid conclusion, this is a very interesting article by Thomas Frank.

When I talk about bullshit jobs, I mean, the kind of jobs that even those who work them feel do not really need to exist. A lot of them are made-up middle management, you know, I’m the “East Coast strategic vision coordinator” for some big firm, which basically means you spend all your time at meetings or forming teams that then send reports to one another. Or someone who works in an industry that they feel doesn’t need to exist, like most of the corporate lawyers I know, or telemarketers, or lobbyists…. Just think of when you walk into a hospital, how half the employees never seem to do anything for sick people, but are just filling out insurance forms and sending information to each other. Some of that work obviously does need to be done, but for the most part, everyone working there knows what really needs to get done and that the remaining 90 percent of what they do is bullshit. And then think about the ancillary workers that support people doing the bullshit jobs: here’s an office where people basically translate German formatted paperwork into British formatted paperwork or some such, and there has to be a whole infrastructure of receptionists, janitors, security guards, computer maintenance people, which are kind of second-order bullshit jobs, they’re actually doing something, but they’re doing it to support people who are doing nothing.

When I published the piece, there was a huge outpouring of confessionals from people in meaningless positions in private corporations or public service of one sort or another. The interesting thing was there was almost no difference between what they reported in the public, and in the private sector. Here’s one guy whose only duty is to maintain a spreadsheet showing when certain technical publications were out of date and send emails to the authors to remind them it needed updating. Somehow he had to turn this into an eight-hour-a-day job. Another one who had to survey policies and procedures inside the corporation and write vision statements describing alternative ways they might do them, reports that just got passed around to give other people in similar jobs a chance to go to meetings and coordinate data to write further reports, none of which were ever implemented. Another person whose job was to create ads and conduct interviews for positions in a firm that were invariably filled by internal promotion anyway. Lots of people who said their basic function was to create tasks for other people.

I have had bullshit jobs. Where you do 20 minutes of tech support a day, but you have to stick around for 9 hours and pretend to be busy. Pure torture. But this is what pays. Doing meaningful work, because it is satisfying, pays a lot less because doing something meaningful compared to the people stuck in bullshit jobs, is pay in itself.

Retail work is an even worse bullshit job. They have to stand around and look at merchandise all day. A shopkeeper in the old days would read a book, or gossip. Now it’s teenagers in uniform who are not allowed to sit down, even if there’s not a single person in the store. Fucking bullshit!

I dreamed of teaching English as a Second Language, or being a bicycle messenger, or working on a farm. Anything but this!

The conclusion of the Salon liberal is that people should be able to sit around and do nothing if they want, and that those that work, work in the helping professions. No more marketing, sales, et cetera.

I like the article very much even as I disagree with it’s conclusion. He’s wrong that there’s “nothing for people to do.” I tell you what, there is something to do, and that’s relocalize agriculture so we stop getting poisoned. We will be forced to do so at any rate by Reverend Malthus, but not getting poisoned is a sufficient reason for the time being, and if you don’t believe in the Return of Malthus.

When I talk about bullshit jobs, I mean, the kind of jobs that even those who work them feel do not really need to exist. A lot of them are made-up middle management, you know, I’m the “East Coast strategic vision coordinator” for some big firm, which basically means you spend all your time at meetings or forming teams that then send reports to one another. Or someone who works in an industry that they feel doesn’t need to exist, like most of the corporate lawyers I know, or telemarketers, or lobbyists…. Just think of when you walk into a hospital, how half the employees never seem to do anything for sick people, but are just filling out insurance forms and sending information to each other. Some of that work obviously does need to be done, but for the most part, everyone working there knows what really needs to get done and that the remaining 90 percent of what they do is bullshit. And then think about the ancillary workers that support people doing the bullshit jobs: here’s an office where people basically translate German formatted paperwork into British formatted paperwork or some such, and there has to be a whole infrastructure of receptionists, janitors, security guards, computer maintenance people, which are kind of second-order bullshit jobs, they’re actually doing something, but they’re doing it to support people who are doing nothing.

When I published the piece, there was a huge outpouring of confessionals from people in meaningless positions in private corporations or public service of one sort or another. The interesting thing was there was almost no difference between what they reported in the public, and in the private sector. Here’s one guy whose only duty is to maintain a spreadsheet showing when certain technical publications were out of date and send emails to the authors to remind them it needed updating. Somehow he had to turn this into an eight-hour-a-day job. Another one who had to survey policies and procedures inside the corporation and write vision statements describing alternative ways they might do them, reports that just got passed around to give other people in similar jobs a chance to go to meetings and coordinate data to write further reports, none of which were ever implemented. Another person whose job was to create ads and conduct interviews for positions in a firm that were invariably filled by internal promotion anyway. Lots of people who said their basic function was to create tasks for other people.

–snip

The resentment against those who get to do meaningful labor exists alongside a resentment for having to do meaningless labor to begin with. It’s an unstable mix. But we have to recognize that in countries like the US, it’s been pretty effective.

–snip

A labor movement that manages to finally ditch all traces of the ideology that says that work is a value in itself, but rather redefines labor as caring for other people. I think we saw the first stirrings of that kind of movement during Occupy. I remember being particularly struck with the “We are the 99%” web page—this was a page where people who supported the movement, but were mostly too busy to actually take part in the occupations or assemblies, could contribute by posting pictures of themselves holding up signs where they’d written out their life situation. Demographically it was a very telling. Maybe 80% of them were women. And even those who were men were mostly in caring professions: health care, social services, education. And the complaints were surprisingly uniform: basically they were all saying, “I want to do something with my life that actually benefits others; but if I go into a line of work where I care for other people, they pay me so little, and they put so much in debt, that I can’t even take care of my own family! This is ridiculous!”

Call it the revolt of the caring classes. Because, after all, the working classes have always been the caring classes really. I say this as a person of working class background myself. Not only are almost all actual caregivers (not to mention caretakers!) working class, but people of such backgrounds always tend to see themselves as the sort of people who actively care about their neighbors and communities, and value such social commitments far beyond material advantage. It’s just our obsession with certain very specific forms of rather macho male labor—factory workers, truck-drivers, that sort of thing—which then becomes the paradigm of all labor in our imaginations; that blinds us to the fact that the bulk of working class people have always been engaged in caring labor of one sort or another. So I think we need to start by redefining labor itself, maybe, start with classic “women’s work,” nurturing children, looking after things, as the paradigm for labor itself and then it will be much harder to be confused about what’s really valuable and what isn’t. As I say, we’re already seeing the first stirrings of this sort of thing. It’s both a political and a moral transformation and think it’s the only way we can overcome the system that puts so many of us in bullshit jobs.

Thomas Frank is a Salon politics and culture columnist. His many books include “What’s The Matter With Kansas,” “Pity the Billionaire” and “One Market Under God.” He is the founding editor of The Baffler magazine.

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One Response to Work that involves caring for other people pays less than work that hurts people and/or is meaningless; a new labor movement should redefine work as caring for other people

  1. Erin says:

    I LOVE this article. Story of my life. Lots and lots of White people wish for life’s work that has meaning. I have found it but it took/takes a lot of sacrifice and I have to swallow my pride a lot because making your own path doesn’t make you rich…at least not right away.

    If you are White though, and you tap into the greatness that is inside of you, you can find a way to make money doing what you love. You have to be the best (or one of the best) at what you do and you have to push out of your comfort zone.

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