Our Meaningless Hell and the Heaven We Can Build

Summary: (1) The explosion of bullshit jobs and the need to uncouple our livelihoods from such bullshit jobs. (2) A jobless future from automation and the opportunity to create prosperity and leisure for all. (3) A cool video on these topics.

Here is some news: most of the productive manufacturing, agricultural, and useful service jobs of the past are gone. Meanwhile, useless or even harmful(!) administrative and clerical jobs have tripled. We have three times as many people pushing paper than we had in the 1930s, and that is so despite us having computers nowadays, computers which do many times a person’s work accounting, calculating balance sheets, documenting and measuring stuff, answering consumer questions, creating and disseminating communications, and, and, and… With the quickly improving artificial intelligence, we now even have industrial robots that that can learn their tasks, software that writes music and sports news, self-driving cars and patient care robots currently being tested, and so forth.

We must really get used to the idea that many of our jobs will never come back, and many more jobs will be taken over by machines. The trajectory is one of a world without jobs! 

Because of this, we must come to terms with being valuable as human beings, and deserving of the material resources we need to live, even if we don’t drag our ass to a hateful job every morning where we get abused by a boss, can be fired on a whim, and do something a machine can do better.

We need to redefine ourselves and human society, using no longer drudgery as the base, but – shockingly – human values. Let us plan to live more by working less — at least, that is, working less for a paycheck. In other words, let us become full-time humans again. If our economy can be taken over by machines, then we can all live like lords served by peons, only that the new peons will not be oppressed fellow human beings, like in the past, but unemotional machines which simply follow their programming. This was the generally shared hope in the 1970’s, and we would be living in this splendid world today, but our rigged political and economic machine lacked the will for it. This is why we must become politically active. (in the broad sense, that is, not in the candidates’ election races sense)

Don’t worry about what we will do with out time! Human life holds enough things to do on a daily basis, some fun, some not. Outside our jobs there always have been daily chores, and also passions and hobbies, or communal political volunteering, or child rearing and taking care of our elderly relations… It’s just that, until now, we never had enough time for them. As one who has been unemployed and underemployed many times, I can assure you, there is always something to do, even if the next thing on the list is nothing more serious than cooking the next meal. Boy, how I long for a relaxed, low-stress, way of life resembling my childhood, when I could follow my passions without having to worry about an income…

So, basically, our upcoming task is to rearrange our system of creating access to our living resources. Our next system must be ways different from the current model that can be described as work to get money and then spend the money on your resources. If increasingly machines will do our work, then increasingly we will need to get the money that reflects this work without having to do this work ourselves. Makes sense, doesn’t it? The principal realization of this shift is a method known by a number of names, the most common one in the English-speaking world being a “universal basic income.”

A better name might be a “citizen dividend” (like the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, only larger) that allows us all to benefit from our nation’s economy because we all merit a share in our nation. The current model, where our nation is almost entirely “owned” by a handful of billionaires whom the rest of us must toil for and pay rent to, is not only immoral and unjust, but – when work is taken over by machines – it becomes unsustainable in the near future since an incomeless unemployed public would no longer be able to buy the products and services produced by those machines. So far, as the video shared below (featuring David Graeber and others) shows, our plutocratic system has accommodated for the increased machine-labor by inventing a slew of useless (or even harmful) bullshit jobs, mostly in the paper pushing sector.

(Note: if the video linked above gets deleted, you may search the Internet for “Moyers & Company” and the title: “The Explosion of Bullshit Jobs”)

A big reason why we need a universal basic income in a hurry is to have a chance at recapturing a meaningful and enjoyable life. Poverty and despair created by disappearing wages from disappearing jobs needs a remedy. And the ever growing meaningless of so many of our jobs where the basics (like growing food and making things) are performed by a shrinking small percentage of workers needs a cure, so we can stop to live just for working and start to work for living.

As one guy in the video says, a Universal Basic Income would work like venture capital for the people. Just like a traditional venture capitalist with money coming out of his ears looks for ways to invest his money sensibly, regular people having their living expenses met by a Universal Basic Income would look for good and productive ways to spend their time. Their time no longer being forced into meaningless, mismatched, or abusive jobs out of need for money, they could now invest it in activities that suit them well or for which they are well suited, even if it might take a while to find them. We would get back our time to live meaningful and/or enjoyable lives, time a person desperate for a paycheck or bullied by a whip-cracking unemployment agency doesn’t have.

It’s not the only fix we need to stop the Titanic of our current economic system from sinking and to turn it into something beautiful. However, a UBI is an important ingredient in making our lives and activities relevant and good again. Like all things, it is not without problems. For example, the amount at which it is set makes all the difference between funding fulfilled lives and pacifying people concerning their poverty, which is one reason (not the only reason, but one reason) why other measures like a federal job guarantee, say through federal monetization of market-dissed work (like taking care of our children, sick, and seniors, helping the homeless, or all sorts of community work, etc.), make for another important ingredient. Another good measure would be to transition from a billionaire-owned business economy to a worker-owned business economy, as this creates greater inclusion in both prosperity and decision-making.

When several good measures are in place, any insufficiencies of one measure can be balanced out by another. Since the total system transformation we need to move from our current hell to a paradise on Earth will likely roll over a bumpy road, planning for a synergistic multitude of transformative measures is a superior strategy I want us all to embrace. Besides the measures already mentioned, we would also need controls on the current price gouging in the financial, educational, medical, and housing sectors of our economy. Political reform leading to a true democracy rather than our current system of institutionalized bribery also plays a vital role. Making our government not only democratic but also more responsive to our needs, ideas, and wishes, is another. This is where the traditional political “right” and “left” can come together: Outlaw all corruption. Shrink the overreaching parts of government and solidify the beneficial ones which serve the people (like Medicare for All, public hospitals and colleges, UBI via Social Security for All Ages, and so on). Reduce centralized representation and replace it with more local and base-democratic participation.

Let’s keep aiming high for a much better world and make it happen!

~

Note 1: What all that video-mentioned paperwork in the financial industry means is that constantly reworked paper claims that the rich own ever more and we own ever less.

Note 2: And, yes, the government has been co-opted (rigged) by the robber billionaires who are rooted in a rigged economy. To fight the evil of one, we must fix the other evil, as well. We must fix both.

Note 3: UBI is like that money you get when you pass GO in the board game Monopoly. It keeps you in the game (until ruthless capitalism squeezes you out). UBI would likewise help keeping us in the game, but we would likewise be threatened by unfettered capitalism that could still force us out. So, we would need safeguards like rent control to protect us from rent price gouging taking our UBI away from us, a maximum income rule preventing gross income inequality, an inheritance tax or automatic worker-coop-conversation of overly huge private enterprises to prevent huge wealth concentration which then results in system rigging via money in politics, and so on.

Note 4: A UBI could work by the federal government investing in the stock market. The interest gained on the government’s portfolio would then be paid out to the people, regardless of employment status, in the form of a universal basic income (UBI). In practice, this would take the form of a yearly dividend check for every citizen, based off the profitability of the stock portfolio managed by the government. Another way would be by taxing large company profits, large private holdings of stocks, and so on. Alaska is an “owner state,” i.e. its resources belong to all residents. The Alaska Permanent Fund was created in 1976 as a means to share oil profits with all its residents. This is the philosophical concept behind the UBI. Our country belongs to all of us, the people, not just a handful of moneycrats.

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