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The value theory of labor


This seems, um, resonant:

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, ‘taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.’ Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

That’s from David Graeber’s 2013 essay “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.”  Graeber, an anthropologist, has expanded his thoughts into a book, which looks pretty awesome.

Graeber seems to be grappling with several critical issues:

(1) If technology destroys the need for labor, as it obviously does, why do people work as many hours as they did nearly a century ago?  (Keynes predicted in 1929 that by the early 21st century people wouldn’t be working more than 15 hours a week or so.)

(2) Why does the social value of work increasingly seem to be inversely correlated to its compensation?

(3) Why do so many jobs in the contemporary world seem so pointless even, or especially, to those who do them? (I should ask the Associate Vice Chancellor for Interdisciplinary Synergism to look into organizing a symposium on this.  Maybe even virtual symposium that flips the classroom).

Anyway this is a book to read.

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