Why any job guarantee is a bit suspect

There is an excellent article on Vox reviewing David Greaber’s ideas on ‘Bullshit Jobs.

“The point of an economy should be to maximize leisure in order to pursue passions, not “make work.”

This is also, I’d suggest, effectively Mariana Mazzucato, who infoms that the state usually creates the origination, as it were, of most original thinking .

Then we have this encouraging stuff:

I think we need a rebellion of what I call the “caring class,” people who care about others and justice. We need to think about how to create a new social movement and change what we value in our work and lives.

That’s the really interesting thing. You expect this outcome with a Soviet-style system, where you have to have full employment so you make up jobs whether a need exists or not. But this shouldn’t happen in a free market system.

I think one of the reasons is there’s huge political pressure to create jobs coming from all directions. We accept the idea that rich people are job creators, and the more jobs we have, the better. It doesn’t matter if those jobs do something useful; we just assume that more jobs is better no matter what.

We’ve created a whole class of flunkies that essentially exist to improve the lives of actual rich people. Rich people throw money at people who are paid to sit around, add to their glory, and learn to see the world from the perspective of the executive class.

I’m an anthropologist, and I can tell you there are plenty of societies where people work three or four hours a day. Most peasant societies worked that. You’d work 12 hours a day during harvest time and in the off-season you’d work two or three hours. The average medieval serf worked way less than we do, and the same is true of tribal societies around the world.

And then this mainstrean idea that is so rarely challenged:

“We imagine that if we take people’s work away, they’ll just sit around, drink beer, watch TV, and be depressed all day. But we just don’t have any experience of having time, but societies that do come up with all sorts of things to do.”

That last paragraph is, to me, very true. It is another deceit, to suggest that the working day is a necessary part of the human condition.

Indeed, with less 9-5, the only danger is we might be able to devote more time to participating in, and getting to work better, our faulty democracy.


  1. B Gray -

    I have always been a bit suspect of the JG that is promoted by MMT economists. People don’t need jobs, they need incomes. A job just happens to be one of the ways in which to acquire income. There are many idle rich that are quite happy to enjoy life by living off of their investments.

    Societies, however, do need to employ sufficient labor to produce the necessary output to sustain themselves or grow. There is no value in any jobs created beyond that need. There doesn’t seem to be much difference from an economic standpoint between UBI and creating non-value added JG jobs.

    That being said, there was a recent MMT research paper from the Levy Institute (link below) on how to fund the Green New Deal (GND) that made a decent argument for a JG program. Since this came from MMT economists, the focus was naturally on securing sufficient resources, not money. The paper drew an analogy between the GND and WWII and argued that a JG program would be necessary to help mobilize the needed resources to support the ambitious objectives of the GND. In this case the JG program would be targeted towards specific needs and objectives of society, and not just a make work program, which seems to be a value added application of the JG.


  2. Peter May -

    I agree. As your “People don’t need jobs, they need incomes” suggests we need to be able to have a meaningful and enjoyable existence – not simply unsatisfying drudgery for keeping the wolf from the door.
    A GND is likely to provide some interesting and satisfying job experiences. What could be more important than trying to save the planet?!
    And if we work less we are much more likley to work better.

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