Labor Day: Human Labor, Human Rental, Human Gift

By Lambert Strether of .

I finished The Empire of Necessity by Greg Grandin the other day. As Grandin follows the money, the book is almost a picaresque, his see-taste-smell-hear-feel language is amazing, and the sourcing is impeccable. It’s pleasant to see that America can still produce scholarship, albeit readable, popular scholarship. Here’s Grandin on the hold of a slave ship. :

Along the way, Africans died from contagious diseases or from the miseries of crossing the ocean in a claustrophobically small space. Some went blind. Others lost their minds. Even when the circus [?] followed the best practices of the early nineteenth century, the holds were never cleaned fast enough to counter the accumulating strata of excrement, vomit, blood, and pus. With poor ventilation, baking under the equatorial sun, cargo bays festered and putrefied. Slave ships could be smelled from miles away. “The confined air, rendered noxious by the effluvia exhaled from their bodies, and by being repeatedly breathed, soon produces fevers and fluxes, which generally carries off great numbers of them.” observed a British slave ship surgeon in the 1780s. When bad weather forced the portholes and hatches to be closed for long periods of time, the floors of the holds would become so covered with “blood and mucus” that they “resembled a slaughter-house.” “It is not,” said the surgeon, “in the power of the human imagination to picture to itself a situation more dreadful or disgusting.”

“Slave ships could be smelled from miles away.” In other words, everybody knew, much as the Germans knew, from the stench of ash and burning meat from the chimneys of concentration camps, or from the arms and legs waving between the slats of cattle cars. An entire political economy knew, over several centuries; my own, too, as it happens. (I can’t find the origin of the phrase “Southern slaves on Yankee bottoms,” but see Lawrence Goldstone’s Dark Bargain for the wheeling and dealing between Southern slave-owners and Northern shipping interests that enabled the Constitution to be passed.)

The good news for Labor Day, however, is that clearly “wage labor” (human rental) is a cultural — rather, civilizational — advance over slavery (human sale). No matter how horrid and lethal Blake’s dark Satanic mills were — and they were — they weren’t as bad as slave ships, or the entire vile process that enslaved humans, brought them to market, and sold them; or bred them and sold them.[1] And there was a moment when the United States chose to make that advance, :

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other.

I know it’s fashionable to say that the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery, but over the Union; which is in a narrow sense true; but had there been no conflict over slavery, no war would have been fought. I’m also taken with the idea that what we call the “Revolutionary War” was in fact a civil war between English-speaking peoples; and that what we call the “Civil War” was in fact a revolutionary war, because it culiminated in the complete overthrow and destruction of an entire political economy of continental scope, human sale (slavery), and replaced it with a different set of social relations, human rental (“wage labor”). The house ceased to be divided. Fast forward to .

* * *

I got my first “job” (wage labor) in the sixth grade: Shelving books in our town library; and I got my Social Security card at the same time. Every afternoon after school I’d come in and get the cart where the returned books had been piled, and wheel the cart along the stacks, putting the books back in their places. Working with Dewey Decimal system ignited a life-long interest in Classification systems! Of course, the work was easy, because I already knew where the books were, having read them or decided not to read them, even the adult ones.

My second job was mowing lawns in my neighborhood, and I got a lot of work, because the wage I (as entrepreneur) paid myself (as wage laborer) was wildly insufficient; I’ve always underbid on work, from that day to this. Nevertheless, I loved the work itself, since it involved figuring out an economy of motion: How to maneuver the lawn mower, with its oceanic, all-enveloping sound and fresh smell of gasoline, so as to have completely covered the lawn, with a minimum of effort. (I found it better to pull the mower rather than push it; I wonder if others feel the same?) And this ignited a life-long interest in time and motion study, which stood me in good stead when I went to work in the mills. Mowing lawns was also fun for me because I was nerdy (glasses) and have always been terrible at sports; but here was a physical activity I could strengthen my body doing that was fun, too, and a had a little bit of a challenge.

Do “kids these days” have time for such things? My impression is that they are scheduled within an inch of their lives, enmeshed in a hideous post-9/11 compliance regimen, and very rarely alone; back in the day, I was what I think today they call and so I did all the work on my own. And spent the money on model trains!

So I believe in what, on Labor Day at least, we call the “dignity of labor.” Of course, we do tend to identify “work” with “wage labor” and a “job,” but the three concepts are, or ought to be, distinct. The formula I remember, which I’m sure is over-simplified, is work equals force over distance: Moving the books from the cart to the shelf; dragging the mower through its pattern; the saccade of the eye, grokking a call number; the swing of arms and torso, muscling the mower onto a new track. Those are not social relations, unlike “job” or “wage labor,” where the question of the day seems to be whether you have to rent a human for an amount sufficient to purchase the necessities to recuperate that human’s body from the work that it does for you; and if you’re a Walmart worker, the answer of the day is likely to be “No, you don’t have to” which is why you might have to go on food stamps if you work there, which I hesitate to call dignity. It’s hard to retain dignity when you lack for food.

So I value work. When we were very young, our work was play. It is true that when I write about gardening, I say “I don’t like work,” but all that means is that I don’t want to do unnecessary work; like weeding, for example, or watering, when I can lay down sheet mulch and avoid both those chores. (And work taking pictures, or blogging.)

Leading us to raise policy issues. Should society value work, and if so, how? As opposed to valuing jobs, or human rental? Or the money that comes either from renting humans, or from having been rented? That’s an important question and goes directly to policy options that will increasingly — if we have anything to say about the matter — be matters for public debate. For example, is a Jobs Guarantee preferable to a Basic Income Guarantee, or BIG? ; he believes that work is better than cash transfers, and I find myself not in disagreement:

I oppose the use of a BIG as the primary means of poverty reduction for the following reasons:

  • It creates a dependency on passive welfare payments.
  • It creates a stigmatised cohort.
  • It does not provide any inflation buffer and is inconsistent with the macroeconomic principles spelt out by MMT.
  • It does not provide any capacity building. A BIG treats people who are unable to find adequate market-based work as “consumption” entities and attempts to meet their consumption needs. However, the intrinsic social and capacity building role of participating in paid work is ignored and hence undervalued. It is sometimes said that beyond all the benefits in terms of self-esteem, social inclusion, confidence-building, skill augmentation and the like, a priceless benefit of creating full employment is that the “children see at least one parent going to work each morning”. In other words, it creates an intergenerational stimulus that the BIG approach can never create.

Unlike the BIG model, the Job Guarantee model meets these conditions within the constraints of a monetary capitalist system. [Some might regard this as a bug.]

It is a far better vehicle to rebuild a sense of community and the purposeful nature of work. …. It also provides the framework whereby the concept of work itself can be broadened to include activities that many would currently dismiss as being leisure, which is consistent with the aspirations of some BIG advocates.

It also allows for capacity building by integrating training and skills development into the paid work environment.

So I do not favour cash grants being extended to some form of BIG as the primary means through which the fight against poverty is conducted. Instead, I argue that, large-scale employment programs be introduced and cash transfer systems be used to ensure that families of workers are also able to live beyond poverty.

I also consider it essential, that consistent with poverty alleviation objectives, that the Job Guarantee wage (which would become the minimum wage) should be paid upon the person signing in for work irrespective of whether the government can offer meaningful work at precisely that time.

While this might have the semblance of a BIG, the dynamics of this system would be very different. The primary source of income would still be work (or a willingness to work) and it would then be the responsibility of the government administration not to waste this great productive capacity through inefficiency.

It would also recognise that frictions exist across time and space which would require the on-going Job Guarantee wage to be paid while workers shift housing or projects change.

No person who is capable of working in any nation should be left without an adequate income if they are willing and able to work. For those unable to work because of age, disability, illness or child-rearing, the primary source of poverty alleviation should be a upgraded cash grant system.

One key point is that “the concept of work itself can be broadened to include activities that many would currently dismiss as being leisure”; FDR’s Federal Writers Project (I wish!) would be an example of this, as could almost any form of citizen engagement, from gathering weather data through doing research on public policy (say, landfills). And the second key point is that, for good or ill, work has dignity in a way that cashing a check does not.

So, if one must have a system of human rental, the Jobs Guarantee would seem to be a good way of mitigating its ill effects, and a better way than a Basic Income Guarantee.

* * *

So at this point one asks, “But what about the robots?” Suppose we end up with a society where robots have “taken all the jobs”? What then?

To me, the loss of jobs to the robots would mean that just as human rental superseded human sale, human gift sould supersede human rental; that is, people — even the proles! — would offer work as a gift, with the full range of adult power, just as kids today play, also as a gift. We might then have a society where people gathered in the desert[2] to go to the office, or to punch a time clock, or to send out hundreds of their resumes, all as part of an exotic, life-changing adventure. Just to see what things are like on the other side.

I know that the sale -> rental -> gift transition sounds teleological, and I don’t even believe in teleologies. Nevertheless, as Gramsci wrote:

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

We know all about the morbid symptom; but I believe “the new” could be the transition I have just described.

NOTES

[1] Grandin’s book has made me very leery of locutions like “debt slavery” or even “wage slavery.” Considered as abstract descriptions of social relations, the terms have merit. (You can, after all, go to prison for debt, in some states.) However, I believe these terms create a false equivalence that minimizes the human suffering caused by chattel slavery, and that’s to be avoided for the sake of those whose families suffered, and .

[2] The Burning Man squillionaires are the very last people to implement such a utopian scheme for the whole of society. For those who can pay for the ticket to get in, sure. Not for proles. “House divided,” eh?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

105 comments

  1. Clive

    Happy Labor Day !* And to think, they say that you Americans don’t do irony.

    (* I hope that is the suitable expression; we don’t have “Labor Day” back here in the Old Country, if we did, we’d spell it correctly, it should of course be “Labour Day”. I am assuming, perhaps unwisely, that the appropriate congratulatory / appreciative response is indeed “Happy Labor Day”, like “Happy New Year” or “Happy Birthday”). Also, for some reason, Independence Day isn’t a big thing over here either.

    1. ambrit

      I suspect that you’ll never see an American Guy Fawkes Day either. (Who even knows the words to the second chorus of “God Save the King,” much less sings them?)

      1. Andy Monniker

        Would an American Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the Senate in order to effect constitutional change be regarded as a hero or a traitor?

    2. We Americans just realized that one vowel could do the work of two. If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s efficiency. Just think how much ink has been saved in the US by the simple expedient of dropping all those unnecessary “u”s.

    3. Propertius

      As I have been known to point out to Dr. Mrs. Propertius (a proud Canadian), preferring an English misspelling of a Norman misspelling of a Latin root to the original Latin root itself is a pretty bizarre definition of “correct spelling”.

      As an aside, one of the original (slang) meanings of the Latin word “labor” is “copulation”. So, “Happy Labor Day” indeed!

  2. ambrit

    Happy Class Solidarity Day Lambert!
    {I’ve always suspected that Labour Day was created to distract the ‘working classes’ from May Day.}

  3. ira

    @ambrit

    You don’t have to ‘suspect’; this is precisely why it was done. The irony being that the country where International Workers Day originated is now the country where it’s not officially celebrated.

  4. abynormal

    “I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”
    E. V. Debs
    Happy Hot barf Dog barf Day

  5. Carolinian

    Good stuff! Curious how lawnmowing–in my neighborhood at least–was once considered fit work for local teenagers and is now done by grown men with large Ford pickup trucks and trailers full of gear. Undoubtedly the rise of the “lawn care specialist” says something about the changes in our economy as well as the overvaluation of real estate

    1. jrs

      Here (Cali) it’s mostly done by adult cheap immigrant labor, much more so than teenagers. But it’s been that way for decades.

  6. vlade

    I really like the idea of the progression from property, to rent, to gift.

    I’m not sure I’m that much in for JG. You write:
    “responsibility of the government administration not to waste this great productive capacity through inefficiency.”

    Well, given my cynical view that human society operates on the least-effort least-resistance principle, I believe that JG would over time detoriate into BIG. Of course, there’s the cultural thing, that for (literally) millenia we had “by the sweat of your brow” culture (i.e. most of the humans had to really really do something to survive, doing nothing was a priviledge), turning it 180 degrees (where doing something valued would be a priviledge and doing nothing default behaviour) is probably too much to ask for.

    That said, I believe that we humans would still have the curiosity, and the forcing the issue could be better over the long term. If we, as species, lose our curiosity, we’re done for anyway, it becomes just a question of (pobably not much, geologically speaking) time.

    1. trish

      “view that human society operates on the least-effort least-resistance principle, I believe that JG would over time detoriate into BIG.” The potential for abuse, misuse exists in and out of government. How much abuse is there of the huge amounts of corporate welfare doled out and channeled up to the elites’ pool of luxury-funding? Its very existence is abuse. I think the overall benefits of JG would outweigh. Along with a BIG.

    2. Bart Fargo

      I thought the same thing when I read that phrase. Although, any kind of society which would institute JG would also have to be fundamentally different from present-day America, which knowingly elects leaders who do nothing even when it is the path of most resistance. And a BIG would still be much preferable to what we have now, where those without adequate employment cannot make ends meet (with or without public benefits which practically amount to a half-hearted BIG anyway).

  7. Jesper

    A couple of counterpoints:

    -dependency on guarantee doesn’t change by changing dependency from income to job.
    -a person in receipt of income guarantee is stigmatised but a person in job guarantee is not? Not sure if that matches with reality. The people in job-guarantee schemes in Sweden are both embarrassed and stigmatised.
    -neither job nor income guarantees inherently have buffers for inflation
    -job guarantees are not guaranteeing that capacity is increased or learned. Again that is the Swedish experience. Waste of time and meaningless busy work are the most common opinions of the job-guarantee.

    The benefits of the job-guarantee is more for the elite: They get to humiliate the people who can’t find a job and it scares the workers so they’ll not complain. Who’d ever risk ending up doing meaningless busy work for peanuts?

    1. So the problem isn’t the guarantee aspect, it’s sh*tty program design which results in JG jobs being meaningless busy-work. Sounds like what the elites would want out of a JG program, doesn’t it? But I’m sure that’s just coincidence.

      The lesson I draw from your brief description of the Swedish experience, is that JG jobs need to be useful. I can think of all kinds of useful work that needs done, but which no private firm is currently doing. I’m sure you can too. The design of the JG system needs to be such that necessary work is being done by JG employees. One thing I would like to see is more in-home care being provided for our elderly. The more we help keep people in their homes, however, the less need we’ll have for nursing homes, which the nursing home owners wouldn’t like too much. That, I think, will be the major problem with any JG program we actually get: it will have been designed by the elites to serve their ends, and so it will be hamstrung from the get go.

      1. Andy Monniker

        I can think of few things more soul-destroying than having to get up in the morning to spend the day in pointless labour – the old army punishment of white-washing the coal comes to mind, or digging holes just to fill them in again.

        Yet if the Jobs Guarantee work moves into areas of useful work there will be ‘entrepreneurs’ who will start screeching that this socialism is depriving them of the opportunity to make money by providing a service.

        The BIG gives people choice as to whether they want to work, and what they want to work at. ‘Work’ to get done will have to make itself attractive, perhaps through flexible hours or by satisfactorily rewarding skills and talents, with the money it pays being simply a bonus.

        1. Calgacus

          Yet if the Jobs Guarantee work moves into areas of useful work there will be ‘entrepreneurs’ who will start screeching that this socialism is depriving them of the opportunity to make money by providing a service.

          Your error is that “useful work” must be ones where “entrepreneurs” can make money. This is not true. In fact, it can’t be true in any real world economy. If the government didn’t “lose money”, nobody would have money. Keynes has some great observations here – that this sort of bad accounting leads people to support destructive pursuits like war, instead of obviously
          beneficial ones like public works.
          The BIG gives people choice as to whether they want to work
          No. It. Doesn’t. A BIG gives people money. That’s all. It would probably boost employment, but there will be unemployed people, so the BIG perpetrates and perpetuates the crime of unemployment. Depending on the details, the BIGness of the BIG, like the classic BIG (Van Parijs) there will be (hyper)inflation – so big deal – everybody gets lots of money which isn’t worth anything.

          Most get it backwards, but the BIG is a top-down, authoritarian idea. The JG is bottom up, has the possibility of being libertarian, pro-freedom – and there isn’t anything that could be better. Of course in a rich, sane society with a JG, there should be a BIG for those who can’t work, or a smaller one for the incurably lazy like me. :-) But the JG is the essential. A BIG without a JG to protect it is just an elite tool to degrade the poor.

        2. Yves Smith

          What is soul-destroying is the attitude you bring to work. How do you feel about cleaning your own home? Do you also regard that as soul destroying?

          As a stage manager, I had to sweep stages. Big stages. I never resented that (or cleaning bathrooms when I did that for money). Or telemarketing. I didn’t relish it, but I focused on getting the task done and doing it well.

          1. jrs

            What if you had believed you would spend your entire life as a telemarketer or cleaning bathrooms? Whether this is a true of false belief is a debate to take up with someone else, as sometimes it’s false and sometimes it’s not, as some are able to escape to better with effort and some aren’t regardless of effort (and I don’t think in this society ALL are!).

    2. trish

      stigmatizing. and shaming. To a great degree that has been cultured by those at the top (or at least they took that idea and ran with it) and marketed and fed to all those not. goes along with pitting those with less against those with lesser (or those with slightly more, as the right has successfully done re public employee pensions).

      I wonder if when things were at rock bottom during the depression, after WWII in places, there was less of that as more were struggling.

      Seems that stigmatization and shaming are aspects to try to address, ie change a cultural mindset, rather than avoid a large generous guaranteed work program.

      “The benefits of the job-guarantee is more for the elite: They get to humiliate the people who can’t find a job and it scares the workers so they’ll not complain. Who’d ever risk ending up doing meaningless busy work for peanuts?” I think that avoiding this is part of the idea of the post- or at least a potential benefit.
      As for the elite humiliating their lessers, well they do that to a great degree already, at least there’s more in it for the lessers with a BIG and JG. I do think a key is dignity.

      1. jrs

        Stigmatizing is definitely pushed by the elites. HOWEVER I don’t the elites are the sole reason it gains traction! I think many people with jobs are just jealous on some level of “lazy welfare cheats who don’t have to work”. Ok yes you and I might agree that in the U.S. at least the social safety net is almost non-existent and that life is unlikely to be great for anyone who does manage to get some kind of safety net (disability etc.). But we can’t ignore the fundamental truth here: MOST PEOPLE HATE THEIR JOBS. To stir up their despair about how they spend their lives into hatred (veiled envy) of those who somehow escape it isn’t that hard. But why not hate the capitalist then? Ok now that IS entirely due to propaganda.

        1. nony mouse

          thank you for this comment. it is exactly they way it is. people have to rationalize that what they are doing is ‘valuable’ because they are being paid for it. therefore, people who are unable to get work are not valuable, and by definition anyone on any kind of public benefit can’t get work, or can’t get ‘real’ work. hating people who need charity (they don’t ‘need’ charity, they need a way to live) rather than seeing that as a structural issue is all propaganda, but that people buy into it means that it tickles some kind of very large psychological need.

        2. trish

          “many people with jobs are just jealous on some level of ‘lazy welfare cheats who don’t have to work’”. Yes, I said, “goes along with pitting those with less against those with lesser (or those with slightly more, as the right has successfully done re public employee pensions).”

          and, “MOST PEOPLE HATE THEIR JOBS. I agree. But, “To stir up their despair about how they spend their lives into hatred (veiled envy) of those who somehow escape it isn’t that hard. But why not hate the capitalist then? Ok now that IS entirely due to propaganda.”

          I am not sure that the ideas of the post (read through) or what I commented really were really about stirring up despair, and re making people do what they hate, I liked the post and I commented about vastly increasing definitions of/options for jobs…and I do think that we need to address the ignorance-based and elite-encouraged stigmatizing and shaming.

          and, “But why not hate the capitalist then?” Well, I think our system is wrong. very. I think the capitalism is the only good/fair/free/sensible/workable (whatever, pick your nonsense) system mindset has been carefully crafted, marketed and ingrained by those who benefit and their press. Yes, very effective propaganda. I would like to think that some Labour day, laborers will be celebrating its demise.

          1. Yves Smith

            I strongly believe that most people do not hate the substance of their work (they may not like it much) but what they hate is how work is organized: petty and arbitrary rules, self-important, controlling mediocre bosses (particularly the type that is bullying), stupid/nasty workplace gossips. And America has been breeding a LOT of terrible workplaces over the last 20 years.

    3. Mel

      Well of course there’s a stigma. People who work for a living are schmoes. Everybody knows that and no weasel wording will change it. The whole program can be made viable at a stroke by changing the Basic Income Guarantee to the Basic Investment Income Guarantee — the BIIG. Not only does it look larger, but by allowing every person an income of $3millon on their investment of walnut shells, or bottle caps, or whatever they have, it provides them a place at the pinnacle, which is the only place to be.

    4. nony mouse

      we do not have a jobs guarantee in the U.S. but, what we do have is that, in order to use public services such as Food Stamps (SNAP) you have to be able to prove that you are exempt from working for some reason (full time student, disabled. possibly caring for a child or other dependent) or they will send you out on a job that they have contracted to fill with the employers. you have absolutely no choice over what kind of work that is, or who your employer is, and if you do not comply your benefits will be cut off immediately. if, after working for the employer he/she offers you an actual job, you MUST accept it or be penalized by the government. you can’t receive food stamps, and possibly even other government benefits, unless you sign on to these requirements.

      I would say that this is like turning people who are ‘ready and available’ to work a job of their choosing into a permanent temp class and basically rental slaves. how about after you work for that employer (by force of the gov.) you decide that their ethics are shoddy, the job is not one you’d be wanting to do forever, etc. you have to take that job? the employer gets to essentially purchase you from the social services department. in England, supposedly their program was similar and they were able to place you with employers who could somehow legally flaunt the min. wage laws. I watched one young lady tell a news reporter that she had been placed in a job well below her abilities, for lower than min. wage and could say absolutely nothing about it.

      and this is not slavery?

    5. zapster

      What I find most attractive about a BIG is that it can fund entrepreneurship. It should be a dividend that is not stigmatizing; if everyone gets it, there’s no stigma. Adding small amounts of work, such as when you are starting a business, simply improves your status–the lack of money is never a total barrier to taking risks.

      Jobs are inherent barriers to independence. Starting a business while working regular jobs can be nearly impossible, especially now with employment contracts exerting claims to anything you invent, whether on company time or not, non-competes, and other underhanded ways of enslaving every moment of your life.

      A basic income guarantee frees workers from being forced to endure such indignities, and makes work truly a choice, not slavery.

      1. Yves Smith

        It’s not very realistic to expect most people to become entrepreneurs, particularly if you live in towns where the major employers are cutting back. And being an entrepreneur requires that you have sales skills, be able to do accounting or hire someone to keep adequate books so you don’t have an IRS disaster, etc.

        9 out of ten businesses fail in the first three years. A BIG is not going to change those odds.

        1. trish

          But billionaire “start-up America” Tom Friedman says in a globally integrated economy, everyone can be an entrepreneur!

        2. Mel

          It doesn’t have to change the odds. Changing the number of entrants will be fine. If 100,000 people across the country start enterprises, then that possibly means 10,000 established enterprises 3 years later. And the BIG helps the other 90,000 not to starve while they try to think of something else. The problem I foresee is coming up with the stuff to meet the demands of all those people who spend their guaranteed money — but the stuff problem is one that we have to solve regardless of what rules we pick for distribution (barring a policy of mass starvation.)

          1. Yves Smith

            You’ve clearly never started a business that failed. It is typically draining, emotionally and financially. It is mean-spritied to push people into a course of action that American peculiarly romanticizes when the overwhelming majority that will PREDICTABLY fail will wind up bruised, if not battered.

            And running a business is no party either.

    6. Calgacus

      Not an expert on Sweden, but this bears no resemblance to any description of Sweden I have ever read. First of all, although many people have impressions from the past, Sweden is now and has been for decades a neoliberal country without full employment or anything like a Job Guarantee. Of course once it went neoliberal economic performance worsened – but good economic performance is not what neoliberals want. Their boot on your throat is what they want.

      neither job nor income guarantees inherently have buffers for inflation
      ??? An income guarantee is inflationary (esp with full employment). Of course – it is something (money) for nothing.
      A job guarantee is not, and is anti-inflationary – because it is something for something. A JG pool is a buffer stock and a JG prevents the destruction of a colossal resource – human resource. Current government spending – destructive (military) or something for nothing (bond interest) is obviously far more inflationary.

      Job Guarantees do increase capacity (in what sense is not clear, but no matter). The American experience, the WPA, the PWA, the NYA, the CCC etc or more generally the worldwide postwar Keynesian era experience, including Sweden, shows that government guaranteeing (near) full employment enormously increases all capacities.

      “Waste of time and meaningless busy work are the most common opinions of the job-guarantee.” Yes, but whose opinion – the opinion of neoliberals, plutocrats, authoritarians, who have no problem with wasting everyone’s time catering to their often disgusting whims – as long as they are guaranteed the “job” of getting money from the government for their absurd pursuits, while they prevent anyone else from getting money to do sensible things for the public – like a JG. The elite hate the JG like the plague. It is the only thing they fear, because it takes their boot off of people’s throats.

      Again, any objective observers using any rational measure saw the US “JG” efforts as extraordinarily successful.

      1. Jesper

        Since you’re not aware then perhaps you should read up on Sweden? FAS3 and a couple of the current election manifestos.

        If the neo-liberals hate jg, then why did they introduce it? Why do they defend it? Why do they make profits on it? And why do all the participants in the job-guarantee hate it? Your theory does not match with reality.

        “capacity building” was used as a selling argument for jg over big. If you as a supporter of the jg don’t know what it is then maybe it is what I said it is, meaningless.

        A regular public job is a useful job that people are paid to do, a job-guarantee job is useless busywork. Maybe you conflate regular public jobs with a job guarantee?

        1. Calgacus

          If the neo-liberals hate jg, then why did they introduce it? Why do they defend it? Why do they make profits on it? And why do all the participants in the job-guarantee hate it? Your theory does not match with reality.
          Neoliberals destroyed and attack full employment and real Job Guarantees everywhere. They didn’t introduce them. I think you understand “JG =Job Guarantee” to be something different from the standard meaning. Sweden effectively, nearly had a JG, before the neoliberals. Now it doesn’t.

          You might be interested in looking at stuff by /L, a knowledgeable Swedish Marxist who comments here and billyblog occasionally. For instance see our discussion: here at NC. describes the end of the Swedish model. is another paper on Sweden’s history, that I got from /L, from a essentially MMT/Keynesian/traditional Swedish Socialist point of view.

          “capacity building” was used as a selling argument for jg over big. If you as a supporter of the jg don’t know what it is then maybe it is what I said it is, meaningless.
          It was not and still is not clear what precise meaning you are referring to : industrial capacity, capacities of those employed, whatever. But as I said, it doesn’t matter.

          A regular public job is a useful job that people are paid to do, a job-guarantee job is useless busywork. Maybe you conflate regular public jobs with a job guarantee?
          Yes, I am conflating the two. Because they are the same thing. JG jobs are useful jobs that people are paid to do. Plutocratic “neoliberal” opponents of full employment and a JG have been saying they are useless busywork for centuries, when the actual historical record shows that they exceedingly useful to everyone – except these morally depraved capitalists.

  8. TarheelDem

    One of your best, Lambert. Exactly the right questions for this Labor Day.

    As for the difference between a Jobs Guarantee approach and a Basic Income Guarantee approach, it depends on whether you imagine supply of labor or demand by consumers as being the major economic problem we face. While the immediate need is to kickstart job creation through increased consumer demand, the difficulty is that the private economy will not allocate the money from that consumption to provision of the needed infrastructure required continue stable economic prosperity. Public employment creating infrastructure of all kinds (even the careful digitizing of archival documents and creation of public art) certainly avoids some of the issues critics of a Basic Income Guarantee have raised.

    The issue of the dignity of work, however, is fundamentally a cultural staus one of social beliefs. And the racial caste and social class system has deformed this into avoiding manual labor, being the most competitive, and keeping score with personal wealth. As issues of knowledge and psychology, one would think that this ascription would be the easiest to change; as beliefs, it is the hardest. One of those current beliefs is that all publicly financed work is undignified bureaucrat work. Thus the demeaning of state park personnel, teachers, or other providers of publicly financed infrastructure. Any Jobs Guarantee program will have to avoid the CETA-ization of its workers as second-class workers incapable of mobility to other employment.

    1. jrs

      This society in truth neither believes in the dignity of work nor is able to go full out in praise of leisure. Yes, yes it may seem like a “work ethic” culture but I don’t think it really is. It merely is a total absence of a mature “leisure ethic” or “play ethic”. “Work ethic” in this culture is mostly code for obedience. “Shut up and do what your told” (which incidentally is exactly what most jobs demand). Because if it was really truly about the dignity of work, to believe in the dignity of work would be to Respect workers (and not just top 10% or 20% workers). And even to pay them decently. To respect work for what it is is to understand at a deep level what it actually involves (it sometimes does involve human virtues, but we’re seldom honest about what they are – they are often just proceeding on in incredibly boring tasks). It would not be to degrade some jobs as being lesser etc.. It would not be a culture that fantasies about getting rich, becoming an entrepreneur and eventually escaping work. Or that envies the rich who don’t work. The dignity of work would not be that.

      At the same time it’s not a “leisure ethic” or “play ethic” culture. It can’t understand Bertrand Russel on leisure or Bob Black. How culture and play can produce the greatest human achievements.

    2. jrs

      This culture only respects work to the extent that it leads to the things this culture ACTUALLY respects: shiny stuff, riches, status (although any working person is in status above most unemployed people). To respect work is to respect the actual task itself, work itself, the labor, the doing, the active process.

  9. JEHR

    I learned the necessity (and pleasures) of labour through my mother. She divided the household work between my brother and me and it usually took about 5 hours for us to complete the work on a Saturday morning. We swept, washed, waxed and shined floors; we cleaned toilet and tub; we cut the grass and weeded the garden and every morning we made our beds and prepared our own breakfast and washed our dishes. On other days we (actually I) washed the clothes and ironed. For our labour, we were each given 25 cents which gave us enough money to go to an afternoon matinee, buy something to eat and have 5 cents left over (for bus fare). I used to resent having to do this work but it forever instilled a genuine regard for the necessity of labour and for the wages of same!

    1. Pretty close to my experience, although the figures were substantially increased in my case. My parents were very clear with us, they went to work to provide all the stuff we had and did, and we needed to do our part for the family as well. As mom would say, “Why would I have had kids if I couldn’t make them do the dishes?”

      I also got to experience sexual discrimination, as in our house there was “boy’s work” but no “girl’s work.” My sister had to do chores, just like me, but some chores only I had to do…because taking out the trash is “boy’s work” dontchaknow. I think mom was just trying to give me some empathy for the BS women have to put up with. I think…I’ve never actually asked her about it. At the time it seemed like an unjust conspiracy between my mother and my younger sister…and dad would just shrug, unconcerned. “Take the trash out and stop complaining, for gawd’s sake, It’s not that big’a deal.”

    2. trish

      I learned the displeasures of certain labour as a kid. I was a girl who had to do housework while my twin brother got to do the cool outdoor boy stuff. (this was in the 70s, not Little House On The Prairie time). At my grandmother’s farm during holidays, the girls had to work with the mothers in the kitchen while the men ordered them to bring yet another beer and fell asleep watching football. The boys played basketball on an old hoop in the hay barn. I tried to hide, duck out, but ended up on kitchen clean-up. Not my brother.
      though finally one summer I convinced my grandmother’s neighbor’s foster-kid farm helper to teach me to drive a tractor and finally got to help with the mowing, raking, bailing, hauling in summer. I loved those summers.
      Then as a teenage girl working in restaurants, retail (both I hated but a paycheck), and later a brief stint in the military, and even later when I finally got to go to college (my dad encouraged and paid for my brother to go to college, not me), doing lowly undergrad research, what sexual harassment, pressure. Not to mention some other really derailing experiences.
      I guess my point is that everyone has a different childhood experience, some better than others, some far better, some far worse. And we need to accommodate that knowledge. My difficulties and failed dreams (and I had them, plenty) forever instilled a genuine regard for acknowledging I haven’t walked in that struggling person’s shoes.

      1. jrs

        Yea, there are psych studies showing chores are generally helpful for kids. But anything done in a dysfunctional family can become dysfunctional (and that may be more than 50% of families). Chores heaped on to such an extent the kids have no time to play etc. – dysfunctional, chores used as punishment or even vengeance could become dysfunctional, chores unfairly divided with kids favored on the basis of gender or just because they are the favored kid etc. – dysfunctional. The problem is with the naive moralists: “I was raised to do my chores and if only all kids were raised to do so then society wouldn’t be this messed up … blah blah”. Childhood chores are beneficial within the larger framework of a functional family (or at least a family that doesn’t make the chores PART OF their dysfunction).

        Yea if you’ll always be scared by the scars of your childhood, and it’s tripped up many of your dreams, and you’ve come to terms that is a long term struggle, you may just end up compassionate to those who have had it even harder (though maybe a period of resentment of them comes first).

        1. trish

          well, and again, I was, have been lucky compared to many. middle class. white. well-off supportive friends today. and maturity, self-reflection, an insatiable curiosity and desire to learn, and a sense of humor that allow me to look back with still a bit of grief but mostly understanding of what is often complicated. My own mother’s grief. My father’s fierce limitations. And perhaps most important, it compelled me to raise my children very differently.
          Oh, and that sense of humor handy when I hear from my son how Uncle Scott (my brother) posted (yet) another right-wing comment (or link) on …or on infrequent (thankfully, due to $) and often regretted visits, my elderly mother comments (again) about those blacks/mexicans/muslims…

  10. Robert Frances

    “To me, the loss of jobs to the robots would mean that just as human rental superseded human sale, human gift sould (sic) supersede human rental; that is, people — even the proles! — would offer work as a gift”

    Nice article. Working for a 3rd-party who decides what we do with our time in exchange for money wages seems highly overrated and highly anti-human. The only way it might work that respects the dignity of humans (and their labor) is if there is permanent over-employment; that is, when there are millions of unfilled jobs offered by 3rd parties and all workers have thousands of unfilled jobs from which to choose. Permanent over-employment should cause most wages to go up and workers would be free to pick and choose the type of work that seems best suited to their talents and interests. (I reject the economic “truth” that a high employment ratio – even a 100% employment ratio – is the main cause of inflation. This “truth” seems more likely a convenient way for the government and its powerful backers to suppress wages and suppress humans yearning to be free.)

    One way to get to a system of over-employment is to reduce the paid work week – perhaps drastically to 24 hours per week – so that an abundance of unfilled paid labor positions are created. Another key component to any economic system that respects labor is sharply reducing the amount of labor required to pay rent (or a mortgage) and sharply reducing the heavy burden of taxes paid by labor. When people are spending almost two days a week to pay rent (or a mortgage) and another two days a week to pay (mostly regressive) taxes on labor earnings, it seems fairly clear that the economic system detrimental to the labor classes for the past few centuries has been also enriching the landlord, banking, capital owners and government sectors at the same time. This isn’t a coincidence.

    Reducing the paid work-week, severely reducing the burden of rent (and a mortgage) and severely reducing the burden of taxes on labor in exchange for much higher taxes on passive incomes such as interest, capital gains, rent income and dividends will free people from the shackles of wage-slavery and create a more just and less violent world.

  11. Jim Haygood

    The “Civil War” … replaced [human slavery] with a different set of social relations, human rental (“wage labor”)’.’

    It also brought the first pilot trial of taxation on human rental (income tax). The 1863 income tax didn’t survive after the war, but in 1913 it was brought back for good, with earnest promises that it would affect only plutocrats, never touching ordinary workers. Now, of course, even teenagers working fast food jobs get dinged for it.

    With no numerical limit on how high it can go (marginal tax rates reached the mid-90s in New York in the Sixties), income tax is simply human ownership by another name. Its beauty (from the standpoint of its collectors) is that it applies to everyone, not just kidnapped Africans. We’s all passengers on the Amistad now.

    You tied my lead and pulled my chain
    To watch my blood begin to boil
    But I’m gonna break, I’m gonna break my
    Gonna break my rusty cage and run

    — Johnny Cash, Rusty Cage

    1. Carolinian

      “We’s all passengers on the Amistad now.”

      Except for that whole blood and vomit thing? A little over the top doncha thnk?

      1. Ben Johannson

        No kidding: that’s what Haygood believes. He also wants a gold-coin economy, criminalization of government spending on anything other than enforcement of sacred contracts and free-market wankery until the end of time.

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        Right, right. The whole “Sail Away” thing, with dreadful mortality of “Tax Ships” coming across the Atlantic, from the dreaded “Tax Coast” of… of… Well, words fail me, but Turner painted a picture:

        Slave-ship

        See the manacles, and the imploring hands, and the sharks, in the foreground? Oh, the humanity!

    2. Paul Tioxon

      No, you are wrong, hamburger flippers are only paying into FICA for Social Security, Medicare/Aid, unemployment, social insurance, which are used at some point in our mortal careers. People who make approxiamately less than $50k pay no federal income tax and in the state of PA, there is tax forgiveness for lower income levels from the state’s flat income tax bill. And of course, many corporate people simply pay no taxes at all, 0, Z E R O % INCOME TAX

      1. jrs

        No you are wrong. While it might be true that many families earning 50k pay no federal income tax because the deductions can add up, look at the actual code for a single person earning minimum wage. They pay income tax.

  12. John

    “The house ceased to be divided.”

    Not so fast. Deep divisions still exist way after the abolition of slavery. Slavery labor may have disappeared, but it has since transformed itself into a separate and unequal society, where people of color bear the brunt of the ‘other’ Americans. Its a wonder there is no long standing outrage against the systemic unfairness of what is going on.

    I invite folks to read the recent published papers on the topic of racism in America — in the 21st century. The papers cover the full spectrum of unfair and unequal policies that has been at the bedrock of American domestic shaping for generations. For many Americans, even if BIG programs were in place, they would still face a gauntlet of barriers.

    I know, race is a very hot topic for some but try swapping the words “black” for “white” if the content disturbs. Actually, the words should disturb. For these folks, pulling oneself up by their bootstrap in order to get ahead is not possible.

    (ArchCity Defenders: Municipal Court White Paper — discusses issues on St Louis County)

    (ACLU blog on discrimination)

    (US Treaty compliance response on racism to the UN, bottom of the page. This session was held 29 Aug, just days after the Ferguson incident. I wonder how the US delegation was able to argue their position? This report had to have been known by Holder before he stepped foot in Missouri. Naturally, the hypocritical Administration made no mention of it to the people of Ferguson. Several of the reports are lengthy.)

  13. tish

    thoughts on pre-robot part: paraphrased, ‘key point is the concept of work itself is broadened to include activities that many would currently dismiss as being leisure and second key point is that, for good or ill, work has dignity.’

    Dignity. And choice. And flexibility. writing. art. gathering weather data (I liked the bit written recently re hobbies), research. improving your community, your environment. A sort of what-is-your-interest supplement, stipend. today pursuing your interest, indeed developing your interests, is often open only to those with the financial means.

    There are a lot of people on the poverty end who never had the nurturing- societal and parental- to even develop much in the way of meaningful interests. Or pursue what appealed to them via education. Or had meaningful jobs, employment from age 13 or so (I think we have to be careful not to make the mistake that OUR experience means THIS for everyone. We need to be cautious about projecting; it can be a more complicated version of when-I-was-your age stuff).

    when I think of many of the poor, I often think of all those un-nurtured minds out of which WHO KNOW WHAT ideas, art, creations might have emerged if nurtured by a supportive home and society. If enabled to rise to their individual “ceilings.”
    Wasted.
    What benefits to society lost? And seems a failure to honor what is intrinsically human.

    Today, reaching one’s ceiling is a class privilege and doing what you love is mainly for the well-off ().

    Public access to learning is a big part of this, too. Including a basic free liberal arts education if one desires (a lot more jobs for college teachers at a reasonable pay level). That freedom to explore interests is not available to many today. And a complete U-turn from today’s cuts to actual education, libraries. And internet a public utility.

    And with people broken by the current system, perhaps ways to educate (with incentives and again, choice and dignity) to help steer gradual generational change? I think of children parenting children or those not nurturing repeating the pattern…Finding different ways to fix what we broke…

    And re a BIG- I always wonder when I hear people rail against welfare, why begrudge what makes a human being’s life less difficult, squalid, hard. provides human beings basic comfort, less anxiety (hence healthier), less needless struggle in their relatively short time on this planet??? allows more pleasure amid the many griefs of life. Something the well-off, again, can take far more for granted.

    1. nony mouse

      thank you for considering us!

      I only WISH that I had that halcyon, nostalgic childhood work experience that formed in me a desire to do other people’s unwanted tasks.

      what I got was an education in why work is always a rip-off for the worker.

      first, I was put to work by the abusing and drug-dealing stepfather, cleaning up last night’s partygoer beercans, and cigarette butts. serving them coffee. doing the laundry (on a line). watching my brother because my mother was tending to the stepfather like a slave and couldn’t take time out to watch her own kids. making the dinner, doing the dishes and essentially all of the household work before I was 9 years old. I remember serving oatmeal to the slave-owner lying in his bed on a tray one morning. when I tripped over something on the floor and spilled it all over my school clothes, I just had to wipe it off and go off (crying to myself) to school like that.

      then there was graduation to actually getting an allowance. although I appreciated the money, I figured out that I was the only one working in a house full of 9 people, 7 of whom were adults and at least 4 who were unemployed. I washed all of those people’s dishes, mopped the floors, cleaned the stoves, cleared the weeds from the front pavement with a screwdriver, dusted all of my grandfather’s beer stein collection, and everything else until I realized that, aside from my poor grandmother who worked to support them all, none of these people gave a DAMN about any of it.

      then I worked for an insurance company, where the guys would sit around all afternoon making racist jokes and the manager wanted me to ‘screen out the blacks via telephone’, even though we worked in an office where we NEVER saw the clients that he assumed would also hold racist views and thus not give our company their insurance business. I got a 50 cent raise during a whole year in which I did all of the lackey jobs, the same work (unlicensed) that full agents were doing. at one point, I ran the entire office with a 104 degree fever, because everyone was at our HQ getting training. I was not yet 20 years old. when my ex-boyfriend started stalking me, showing up at work and calling the office 500 times a day, I was forced to end my employment there (not really by my choice) and all my boss could say was “why you? why he should he do all this for you? there are other women out there…”

      after hiding in someone’s home for 2 years, I got a job well across town with someone who was quite a mixed bag. she was a very ethical, small business owner who was willing to train me in all of the ways of her struggling (against the large office suppliers) business. eventually I learned nearly everything there was to learn in that business. I thought I had become a valuable employee to her. at the same time, she screamed and yelled at us in front of clients, and the entire mood of the place would be dictated by how she drove into the driveway. we were constantly under the gun of someone being accused of stealing funds, and yet she would never install security measures nor tech to ensure that this didn’t occur. I refused management, because I could see that her poor managers simply got paid a few extra dollars to be her whipping posts. I left when I relocated out of state, after working for her for 7 years and, I thought, becoming someone she considered a friend and actually respected, but what I should have known is something that my first manager there said to me: “she finds a reason to hate the people who leave here. yeah, they come by a few times and visit, but then she has some kind of falling out and they become persona non grata.” this warned me that I would have to tread a very fine line in order to get a reference from her. two years after relocating, I sent her a friendly email and she responded by making a veiled accusation that, during the ENTIRE 7 years I had worked for her, I was the one who had been stealing funds. I must say also, that the stress of working for her made me sick on average once a month. I was literally down with some kind of head cold or other ‘real’ illness which was probably caused by a suppressed immune system from the stress of it all. she would abuse you, and then bring you a certificate to a spa as a gift the next day. a kind of an abusive spouse ritual (“honey, I got flowers!”). to let you know what kind of a person she was when she was fighting dirty, she once used the knowledge of a co-workers abortion in an argument about something totally unrelated (how could it possibly have been related?).

      and then there was the latest guy. also a racist. chasing ethnic minorities of all persuasions out of his rental units through simply treating them disrespectfully and with different rules. breaking the law in cases where he disliked tenants, or their lifestyles (refusing to fax rental history because the tenant smoked and he didn’t want to have to address the ‘damage’ of that when she moved). fudging and lowering my work hours on my timecard because I was ‘taking too long’ doing a job that he would have paid a crew of 3 people to do, so he didn’t think that I should be able to claim the actual hours I worked.

      I could go on. I guess the common denominator has been me, and no person is perfect. but with employers like these and formative experiences like this, is it really any wonder that I do not want to launch myself into just ANY job that someone would give me? is it so strange that i would view nearly all employment-for-wages as slavery? human beings need something to do, or they simply rot and wither away. but that something should be in keeping with their values, their abilities, and somewhat their desires. i realize all work has components that are less-than-desireable. i say that biggest demerit to any job is a boss standing over you terrorizing you to do the things that you were either already doing, or could well see the necessity of doing. the last guy criticized the way i answered my PERSONAL telephone, and he could throw me out of my apartment within a week. probably stupid of me to expect that even that small power would not go to a someone’s head. it just seems to me that the power of being someone’s manager is often ill-placed.

      1. nony mouse

        oh, and after all of this poor-pitiful-me i neglected to say to your other point: no!

        my family had no money for dance or music lessons.

        the school was too poor for art. it was almost too poor for science!

        i had to leave school at 15 because i had family members telling me that they would be tossing me in the street at 18 (this from someone who sat in her room doing drugs for years at a time, while her mother supported her). i wouldn’t have ‘endless years to figure out what i wanted to do in life’ and had better ‘get your(my) ass to work.’ this is in the household where the 7 adults were living, and yet no one but me was ever washing a dish in the place.

        i knew that the high school was either gearing the ‘poor’ middle class students who attended up for college (and although they did not have money, frequently their parents were educated already and worked i the lower-paying public sector. basically, i went to h.s. with a lot of students who were only in the public school system at all because their parents were teachers or bureaucrats and they couldn’t afford $13k a year on top of Bay ARea rent to send their kids to private). aside from providing for these students, the rest of us would just have to figure it out ourselves. if you were not scheduled to go to college, i think they simply assumed that you wouldn’t be there. i remember a speech at h.s. orientation where the principal basically said “in 4 years, only a quarter of you will still be enrolled and the rest will have dropped out.” and no, I’m not shitting you. he was trying to dissuade us actively. i believe the current mayor of our town was on the school board at that time. so, i had what would have been considered the ‘AP’ classes of that time, but i knew that after graduation, the only job i would be getting in East or West Oakland was at Burger King.

        i left early, took my exit exam, got my equivalent diploma and marched to the community college ($13 per credit hour. those were the days!) to take typing and business courses, so that hopefully i wouldn’t have to do absolute slave labor and could just barely become an office slave. well, you see how that worked out.

        i went to school with people who now have doctorates in physics, archeologists, etc. the main difference: they had parents who were supportive in all other ways than financial. they didn’t have adults around them who were quite willing to throw them to the wolf-pack outside the door. even if their parents could not PAY for college, they were going. many of them played instruments, or enjoyed art or dance. i was essentially taught to be a slave from the off, and nothing else. even learning to drive, i had to work to pay my own instructor and then faced the prospect of working to buy the car and insurance. on $5, in the Bay ARea…i would never have left home, and that was NOT an option. i have relatives who took the car and all of its costs, and still haven’t left home at 30. why? because one can never get a job in the Bay Area that pays enough for both on just a high school degree. even a cousin who graduated college can’t afford to move out from her mother’s place.

        yeah, ‘woe is me’. this isn’t to have a pity party for myself. this is to show the privileged people who tend to populate the internet what it is really like being a slave on the bottom of the pyramid. you might lovingly look back on a childhood learning ‘the value of work’ as an afternoon grass-cutting assignment. for the rest of us, it was the only thing we were being taught to do and the only thing we would be able to do in the future, unless we were lucky enough with some kind of social network to land into something a bit better. is it impossible to do any better when you are from the ghetto? no, but the only people I’ve ever seen who managed it had Union jobs, or worked for the government.

        1. Banger

          Good story. Work itself is neither good or bad–mainly it’s bad though. It’s usually about a-holes lording it over others and that is, by definition, stressful.

      2. jrs

        Yes this essay calling for some of the work being broadened to include enjoyable and useful hobbies that are not currently paid just set up all sorts of alarm bells in me!!! Why? Because I can easily see A FEW people being remunerated for this and others have to do aweful jobs. Because that is how it is *NOW*. The same old divisions of privilege and not. Ok maybe after this JG change, MORE people would have better job, and that IS a net gain (and a net gain for working people in general – as it increases even the person with a BS jobs bargaining power, The working class is blind when it allows itself to be entirely blinded by envy to rejecting all gains) but if it’s still privileged and not, it still falls short.

      3. jrs

        I definitely believe those in the precariat or what have you, definitely have more reason to be disturbed by “just any old job”. They are treated worse. Ok no working people may be treated all that well (solidarity!), but low paid workers are often treated much worse than middle class workers.

        1. nony mouse

          your whole post speaks to developing those other abilities that work, at the lowest level, sucks all time away for and the poor remuneration of same makes impossible to pursue.

          the fact that people would just how worthy work was by their privileged memories of mowing someone’s lawn is insulting to people who have had to genuinely slave for others. it turns into some kind of fetish something which was a kind of devil’s bargain to merely subsist for the rest of us. I do not value ‘work’ as it is constructed in our society, and I generally don’t value a society that makes it some kind of holy endeavor when what it has been nearly forever in this country is a way for the somehow Greater to not have to be bothered with taking out their own pisspots.

          so, I think you speak for us even when you don’t understand that you do. some of us were not able to engage in arts, productive leisure. we don’t have productive leisure, we have mere recuperation from the stresses, physical and mental, that ‘work’ as it exists inflicts upon us.

          I have only had the absolute luxury of being able to learn on my own, go to college and get a (by now worthless) Bachelor’s, etc. because I had a spouse who was willing to support me while I did it. my family was not going to do it, and I would have never earned enough at my low-wage work to enable me to do so AND be adequate at all roles. I met many, many individuals who were doing what I considered a super-human task: working full time and going to school full time. instructors presented us with studies repeatedly showing that anything over 10 hours per week of paid work had an impact upon one’s GPA. I would guess that the longer that goes on, the more likely students are to drop out and not finish because work, and putting food on the table, eventually wins. it did in my case until I had the luxury of quitting my job.

          I was not even able to be educated about all of the vital issues in society until I stopped working, and devoted myself to reading. we are not even getting to the ‘developing an enrichening hobby’ yet. that would take further time and possibly money I no longer have. much less does someone who is down working in a low-wage, stressful and strenuous job going to be able to do such.

          so, even if you don’t understand it, you were speaking about it. hence my thanks.

          1. nony mouse

            and sorry for my many typos, miswords. the longer I read in a day on the computer, the more crosseyed I get and less able to see my copious mistakes.

          2. jrs

            And some of us get what education we can about the vital issues of society by sneaking time from work (that’s what an office job with internet access allows – just reading some NC links, alternative websites, news, look inside this book on AMZN and so on). It’s not as full an education as one would want in a better world, there’s not always energy to read at the end of the day. AND this is the kind of thing one fears to state, that one doesn’t exactly work an 8 hour day, but if one is being honest. Or else it’s all less pretend: let’s pretend we all work 8 or more hour days and put in 60 minutes of every hour, and in many cases commute in the nightmares of U.S. cities, and exercise, and prepare healthy food at home, and read the news, and sleep 8 hours a night, and spend quality time with loved ones. And do housework and other chores and … Yea right.

    2. jrs

      By the way since the subject being brought up is childhood trauma or lack of childhood nurturing, everyone read’s Arthur Silber’s blog, right? It’s often discussed there:

    3. jrs

      Every middle class office I’ve ever worked at a major source of conversation was buying a house in a “good school district” for one’s kids (unless one goes the private school route). This is very boring conversation if you don’t have kids. But it illustrates to what a huge extent middle class kids (with involved parents) ARE born on 1st base, and those who aren’t are born with 2 strikes already. What about all those kids whose parents can’t AFFORD a house in a “good school district” or even those born middle class whose parents are just too absentminded to care. The middle class doesn’t actually believe American society is all about earning your place, or it can’t without massive cognitive dissonance! Because if so they wouldn’t be obsessed (so that it becomes a frequent topic of conversation) with the absolute burning necessity of their kids getting every opportunity. Opportunity if only you apply yourself is another one of those things American society pretends to but doesn’t really believe, like the “dignity of labor”.

      1. Banger

        I chose where I lived, in part, because I had kids and they went to school in the finest districts in my area. Yes, I got them set up fairly well for life–but now–would I do it again? No, I wouldn’t.

  14. nohomehere

    “Dignity of labor” > socialist speak for (I take pride in being able to support my self . very humanistic > my response! working to live produces sweat and that my friend was the original curse for sin ! The only reason you or anyone else needs to value work is to creat an alternative reality to Our human condition! you nor anyone has the answer to societys ills as long as you ignore the instruction book handed down to us ! you omit flagrently the fact of religious freedom being one of the reasons for the revolutionary war and the civil war a pull on the feelings of justice of the christian masses ignorance of the facts as you have so clouded with facts indeed of abuse and mistreatment of fello men but the religious as Im sure you refer to those of biblical belief system rather like a superstition,were unaware of the fact that dedt
    was almost always payed in this fashion of old. but instead of a rule and regulation document clear and precise were not fully able to see how alternatives to slave labor could be reached ! I notoced last week the CFR cousul on foreign relations suggested the hand out tyhat is to my soul greatly offensive in that it denies debate and rather is like subliminal suggestion! and insulting as it is being suggested after so many of the free americans have litteraly become slaves as Im sure you are inplying in this article

  15. trish

    (had trouble posting initially, and then mistakenly posted in links, so thanks for repeat posting)
    Paraphrased, key point is the concept of work itself is broadened to include activities that many would currently dismiss as being leisure and second key point is that, for good or ill, work has dignity.

    Dignity. And choice. And flexibility. writing. art. gathering weather data (I liked a bit written recently re hobbies, improving your community. A sort of what-is-your-interest supplement, stipend. today this is often open only to those with the financial means.

    And there are a lot of people on the poverty end who never had the nurturing to even develop much in the way of meaningful interests. Or pursue what appealed to them via education. Or had meaningful jobs, employment from age 13 (I think we have to be careful not to make the mistake that OUR experience means THIS for everyone. We need to be cautious about projecting, can be a more complicated version of when-I-was-your age stuff).

    when I think of many of the poor, I often think of all those un-nurtured minds out of which who knows what ideas, art, creations might have emerged if nurtured by a supportive home and society. Were enabled to rise to their individual “ceilings.”
    Wasted. What benefits to society lost? And seems a failure to honor what is intrinsically human.

    today, reaching one’s ceiling is a class privilege. Do What You Love not mainly for the well-off ().

    There needs to be public access to learning, including a basic liberal arts education if one desires. (a lot more college teachers jobs at a reasonable pay level, teaching what hopefully interests them). A complete U-turn from today’s cuts to actual education, libraries…and internet a public utility.

    And with people broken by the current system, perhaps ways to educate (with incentives and again, choice and dignity) to help steer gradual generational change? I think of children parenting children or those not nurturing repeating the pattern…different ways to fix what we broke…

    And I always wonder when I hear people rail against welfare, why begrudge what makes a human being’s life less difficult, squalid, hard. provides human beings basic comfort, less anxiety (hence healthier), less needless struggle in their relatively short time on this planet? allows more pleasure amid the griefs of life. Something the well-off .

    thoughts on pre-robot part: paraphrased, ‘key point is the concept of work itself is broadened to include activities that many would currently dismiss as being leisure and second key point is that, for good or ill, work has dignity.’

    Dignity. And choice. And flexibility. writing. art. gathering weather data (I liked the bit written recently re hobbies), research. improving your community, your environment. A sort of what-is-your-interest supplement, stipend. today pursuing your interest, indeed developing your interests, is often open only to those with the financial means.

    There are a lot of people on the poverty end who never had the nurturing- societal and parental- to even develop much in the way of meaningful interests. Or pursue what appealed to them via education. Or had meaningful jobs, employment from age 13 or so (I think we have to be careful not to make the mistake that OUR experience means THIS for everyone. We need to be cautious about projecting; it can be a more complicated version of when-I-was-your age stuff).

    when I think of many of the poor, I often think of all those un-nurtured minds out of which WHO KNOW WHAT ideas, art, creations might have emerged if nurtured by a supportive home and society. If enabled to rise to their individual “ceilings.”
    Wasted.
    What benefits to society lost? And seems a failure to honor what is intrinsically human.

    Today, reaching one’s ceiling is a class privilege and doing what you love is mainly for the well-off ().

    Public access to learning is a big part of this, too. Including a basic free liberal arts education if one desires (a lot more jobs for college teachers at a reasonable pay level). That freedom to explore interests is not available to many today. And a complete U-turn from today’s cuts to actual education, libraries. And internet a public utility.

    And with people broken by the current system, perhaps ways to educate (with incentives and again, choice and dignity) to help steer gradual generational change? I think of children parenting children or those not nurturing repeating the pattern…Finding different ways to fix what we broke…

    And re a BIG- I always wonder when I hear people rail against welfare, why begrudge what makes a human being’s life less difficult, squalid, hard. provides human beings basic comfort, less anxiety (hence healthier), less needless struggle in their relatively short time on this planet??? allows more pleasure amid the many griefs of life. Something the well-off, again, can take far more for granted.

  16. impermanence

    It should be called “Labor-value day.” What better way to trivialize the source of all wealth then to make a holiday out of it? Hamburgers and hot dogs provide great cover.

    Be it outright slavery or any other form of labor theft, the goal of organized society is figure out the most efficient method of transferring the greatest amount of wealth from the many to the few. The details are unimportant, be it the description of the slave ship, factory floor, or stock exchange.

  17. Paul Tioxon

    I firmly believe that I am a true friend of the working men, as long as I never have to become one. Truer words were never spoken. Other great quotes in this vein, The Average American, is Above Average. And lastly, become a doctor or a lawyer, so you won’t become a slave. The last quote is from my father, who must have said that to me more times than I can count. Somehow, I avoided his advice and the fate he saw in store for those who did not heed his advice. Lucky Me. However, I was a newspaper carrier, a Bulletin Boy, delivering THE PHILADELPHIA EVENING BULLETIN newspaper for many years, 6 or 7. I delivered all the way until my junior year in HS, leaving my afternoons free for the first time in my life as far back as I could remember.

    The Bulletin really was the paper that nearly everyone read in the city. And it was a city of over 2 million at that time! Census reports a peak of just barely 2 million, but most people kept their mouths shut and their business to themselves. And they never let strangers into their homes, except the Bulletin Boy, who was not a stranger, but a daily reminder of the world, delivered without fail every single day, except Christmas, the only newsboy holiday. I would pick up my papers and put them in a delivery bag, a very heavy denim cotton like shoulder bag that could hold up to 2 bundles of newspapers and probably weighed about 35 or 40lbs fully loaded. I needed 2 bags. On Fridays I would collect for the weekly delivery and on Saturday pay up for the papers I took out of the Bulletin newsboys Branch on Martin Mills Rd. I had to face full grown men with homes and paychecks and demand payment for the paper they read. And they dutifully paid me, even tipped me, with the exception of a very small number that would stiff me. The little old ladies and the wives never seemed to not have 85 cents to pay, but there would always be one guy a little short that week. And at the end of my fabled career as a Bulletin boy, I had $3400 in the Cheltenham S&L on the Avenue. That was in 1973. Back then, that was enough to pay a full year tuition at Harvard or Penn. In today’s world, do you think a kid by the age of 16 could save enough by doing local chores such as lawn mowing or snow shoveling which supplemented my newspaper work or burger flipping today, and have the a year tuition for any college?

    1. craazyman

      I had one of those canvas shoulder bags when I delivered the Washington Post. It got all grimy from weeks of newsprint ink and then, when it was washed, it gleamed in the morning darkness like white teeth. The fellow paper boy was a junior high buddy of mine who was a math genius and the smartest person I have ever met in my life. he could kick my butt in everything but one thing — geometry. I actually helped him with his geometry homework. That amazed me. He will certainly win a Nobel Prize in his current field, which is chemistry. It’s amazing that the smartest people I’ve ever me were junior high classmates and paperboys. It has been all downhill from there. hahahahaha

    2. craazyman

      I never felt collecting was a demand. It was just a mechanical routine once a month. I hated it only because it was work and it took time I’d rather spend doing nothing.

      Most people were nice. Nobody stiffed me. At worst they say “Can you come back tomorrow? So & So isn’t home and I’ve got no cash.” Once I told the guy I could take a check. I don’t know why I said that, but he looked at me incredulously with an air of derision and said he wouldn’t write a check for four dollars ad sixty five cents, or some number that low, I can’t recall. I realized my helpful suggestion wasn’t sensible and felt slightly ashamed of my naivete.

      To this day, it’s weird, I have dreams sometimes I’m on my paper route and can’t remember which houses are my customers. It’s always dark, like it was then in the mornings in the winter before school, and I look from house to house up the street, trying to think of names and faces, which I knew, but can’t remember which ones I had to leave a paper with inside the screen doors, the other houses where I didn’t know the people confusing with their existence making the streets uncertain rows of possibilities. It’s just dark houses and lawns and streetlights lit up with nobody anywhere in that strange dreamspace that has dimension and distance but you don’t know how or why,

      1. Paul Tioxon

        The first few years after I quit my route, I would wake up thinking I forgot to deliver the papers. I would wake up in an anxious panic, the papers would not be waiting for someone when they got homje and then, I would have to go and deliver them so late at night, that the next days papers would be ready and the papers I missed would be yesterdays news. Then I would become more lucid and realize my days of being responsible for delivering the news were over and I did not miss carrying out my duty. The anxiety would go away and I went on with my day that no longer included carving out time for delivery.

      2. Yves Smith

        I had a paper route too! I really enjoyed that, getting up early and seeing the raccoons dive into the storm drains when I would make my rounds, and yes, the quirks of some people who wanted their paper delivered Just So. By virtue of when I was looking to get a paper route v. what was available, I wound up with what was considered a bad route (a lot of walking v. the # of deliveries) but I still enjoyed it.

  18. Jesper

    The problem might be about valuation.

    Lets see what most people might actually want:
    -a job that pays enough money to live
    -enough time off work to actually live

    The people at the top tend to be workaholics who set the value of time not worked at zero. If we accept their valuation as being the one and only true valuation then by all means, come up with more job-schemes with busy work. Alternatively, maybe do the: Those who don’t work don’t eat.

    If not, then it is time to share out the work. The workaholics will complain, they’ll get less money (which they care about) and they get more time off work (which they do not care about). The rest will, to varying degrees, find some benefits from it.

    Oh, and this so called benefit of the job-guarantee:
    “It also allows for capacity building by integrating training and skills development into the paid work environment.” is both condescending and demeaning.
    Might as go full Soviet style and write that the unemployed should be sent to social camp for learning how to become productive members of society. Slight difference from the Soviet is that the teachers forced to deal with such people will of course be well paid and the camp-owner also needs to highly compensated (in money, not dignity).

    1. Claudia Woodward-Rice

      Many of those at the top have never worked a day in their lives…they are more like the aristocrats of old who just live on ill-gotten gains of their ancestors. It’s those aspiring to the aristocracy who put in the 90+ hr weeks and then retire to buy the Clippers for 10 times their value. Which also implies that after $10 Billion or so, money has no value and having it causes one to do stupid things in public.

  19. David Petraitis

    We in America tend to forget that we created in the Bills of Rights the first written legal guarantees of human rights. A very large legal innovation at the time. The example of course has led to the Universal declaration of Human Rights where we find the right to human dignity in and through work:

    Article 23.

    (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
    (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
    (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
    (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.


    (Apparently it was written by British English speakers ;))

  20. craazyman

    This is cinematographically traumatic and way over the top. Slave ship mind porn. Talk about a cheap editorial moral frisson! Lambert, really. What are you thinking?

    Labor Day should be a day of shopping, cookouts, leisurely activities or outdoor recreation such as white water rafting. Let the dead bury the dead. Football season is a week away and beer drinking is around the corner.

    Can we get paid for that? It may be possible given the internet, if somebody can find a way to serve beer over the web. Maybe with a 3D printer and a chemical engineer who understands solid to liquid transitions. That and a few hot women who make sandwiches for the guys after the printer finishes making them out of pellets in the tray and the girlfriends are out of work. hahaha, So might be the boyfriends if the women get a hold of the same machines.

    Thta’s Laabor DAy for you. You gotta figure out how to stay competitive and avoid getting replicated by technology. You say you’re authentic and there’s no way a machine can do what you do. Really? It can do 98% of what you do, the other 2% is throw a fit and smash things. Somepeople find that attractive so there’s still hope for humanity as long as the machines can clean up after all of us.

  21. Jill

    This is an interesting statement: “No person who is capable of working in any nation should be left without an adequate income if they are willing and able to work. For those unable to work because of age, disability, illness or child-rearing, the primary source of poverty alleviation should be a upgraded cash grant system. ”

    First it assumes work is defined not by action but by pay. In many cases, child rearing is unpaid labor. So is taking care of people who are unable to take care of themselves. My neighbor took her husband who had cancer to the hospital, to the doctors, she lifted him upstairs so he could see that view he loved so much, she went to hospice, she cleaned up puke, shit, blood and urine. I call that working. She wasn’t paid for that. Society would fall apart if we did not already have people doing gift.

    Also, many people who have a disability can work for pay. The job just has to be structured around them. In our system, people are structured around a paid job.

  22. MaroonBulldog

    “No person who is capable of working in any nation should be left without an adequate income if they are willing and able to work.”

    What does the qualifier “in any nation” contribute to the meaning of this maxim? Would the author really be willing to give up the personal and national claims to all the wealth that would need to be transferred to support the “primary source of poverty alleviation” to be provided through an “upgraded cash grant system” … “in any nation”?

    Is Haiti a “nation”? How about Guatemala? Albania? The Democratic Republic of the Congo? South Sudan? And a litany of other places plagued by drought, famine, and corrupt administration? Does this maxim apply there? Or does this only apply in North Atlantic, East Asian, and/or other oil rich societies?

    If there is not enough arable land to supply food, or potable water to go around, a system of cash grants will not be enough to call them into being.

    Certain intellectuals should spend more time thinking about how to solve the problems they write about, and less time writing.

  23. nohomehere

    Wrong! The U.S. was not the first writers of a Bill of Human Rights ! Human rights have been establish from antiquity in legal code ! One comes to mind called the Hammurabi code another is the book of codes written by moses containing the ultimate in rights protection, the ten comandments, they are all about the code of respect of others rights and privileges.The book containes indpth detailed instructions who to use labor and the treatment of the poor and welfare at its personal level ! Thats part of the freedom Christians enjoyed, to practice these laws! Which was in part a cause of the war for independence! You see, these codes came with a promise of true freedom and Divine protection but only if you practiced them! So then again you cannot legislate righteousness , one must practice it!

  24. Banger

    For some people work is good, for others not so good. I think we ought to concentrate on the purpose we work for. Most jobs are for doing f-cked up things that make the world a more miserable place. On the whole, I don’t buy the whole work worship thing. The things that really need doing don’t get done–what does get done is a-holes get rich.

    1. Jill

      I think we do need another definition of work. As it stands, it’s mostly the way you describe. I do think that much needed work does get done, but it’s often unpaid labor (ie: caring for children, the sick–usually women’s work, but not always). Labor which helps others but is unpaid has no value in our society-dang those burners should start monitizing it for the rest of us!!!!!!

      We need to value people’s actions in a much different way than we do at this time.

      Lambert, thanks for talking about this. It’s really important!

  25. nony mouse

    as you can probably tell, I have VERY big problems with this. very big. I just hope that I can elucidate them in a manner that is explanatory enough that you consider what I have to say.

    this is written from a white, privileged standpoint. were you rolling in dough? that’s not what I’m saying. did you ever, EVER have to do things that were morally reprehensible, senseless, or simply to satisfy the power trip of someone above you, lest you starve in the streets? did you have to do this repeatedly, day in and out because it was very unlikely that there really was anything ‘better’ out there? do you know that for many people on the bottom, work is not and perhaps has never been ‘freeing’ in any way except to free the individual from too much time on their hands?

    I find it disturbing that you stick with somewhat of a Protestant Work Ethic in a society that had its social, legal/political and economic origination in the bowels of both slavery and indentured servitude, that was an escape valve for de-landed serfs by offering them a slightly higher position on the Great Totem Pole of Being by robbing the natives, and that currently treats ALL of those who do vital work in our society as people who should be ‘lucky to have a job’ as they are only one intellectual step above a baboon.

    you would have to change the entire social structure of our society to institute this in way that would not simply replicate and reinforce the current social and power structure. I would say that you are leaving out a LOT of intermediate steps. first, you’d have to change the idea that work is about slaving for another, that those who do ‘real’ (physical) work have it easy and are so stupid that essentially the paycheck they get is a form of charity in itself. you would have to reverse hundreds of years of Elite conditioning and propaganda. you would have to turn over the capitalistic order, and the social relations that have been built to ensure that we all love our chains.

    yeah, is it laudable to give everyone dignified work that supplies for their needs and provides a valuable good-service for society? it is. I would even be one of those individuals who say that there is no work that is too small or lowly (a Hindu/Buddhist perspective, I think). it is not what the people are doing that makes their work worthless (depending. we have had this conversation before when Graeber wrote that article about Bullshit Jobs, and I would posit that there are many of those as well). it is the social function that people play who hold those jobs for everyone else in society. Have you ever worked in an industry that made it clear that what you were was a whipping post for others, almost everyone? Many, many of these ‘lowly jobs’ has one looked down upon by their boss, their customers, even themselves. not because of what they are doing, but because we in this slave-based society have always seemed to believe that work is for suckers, that those who do work should be treated with disdain, and that we will import people that we can ‘otherize’ from somewhere else, who are so downtrodden that they are willing to put up with the millions of indignities, insufficient wages, etc we say they should be grateful to have by risking coming here.

    until you’ve worked in an environment where your boss took crap out on you because they knew you had no other options (or worse), basically making it clear that anything that was not verboten by law was on the table for them, and also simultaneously had to serve a public that believes that you are the lowest of the low, assumes you are stupid, and treats you like a slave that they can take out the petty frustrations of their lives on, then you have not really worked. and to anyone who has had to survive a prolonged period of this, and the damage it does to one’s psychological (much less financial) well being, your Paradise Through Dignified Work is going to seem like something chumps are supposed to tell themselves so that they can endure their slavery a little better.

    Could I be making a strawman of your argument? I don’t think so. you see work from the perspective of some kind of post-capitalist enlightened environment. it’s not that I don’t think people are capable of it. it’s just that I think it would take a very long time to convince someone that they couldn’t enter a workplace and tirade and treat badly those ‘beneath’ them. it is one of the petty enjoyments of the current system, and people don’t even realize that they are doing it, or feel fully justified in doing it. Every time I encounter another human being, I realize how ingrained the hierarchical structure of society is, and how brainwashed everyone has been by it. I tend to treat everyone doing a job as someone who is benefitting ME and helping ME live my life, so therefore no work is too lowly. most people think that people doing a job that does not have the same social/monetary standing as them are stupid, lazy, undisciplined, and are very close to being tossed out of society altogether. Even worse are the truly clueless ones who believe that the slave serving your coffee behind that counter with a smile is doing it simply because The Customer is the Greatest Person on Earth! and I just really dreamed of doing this my entire life. And yes, I would gladly serve coffee forever for a decent wage, as long as I didn’t have to do it for the average Joe-public American–in a neighborhood place, where people actually know each other and are interconnected. Not for some yuppie double-parked in their lexus that thinks that I should ‘hurry it along’ because they don’t want to get a precious parking ticket!

    1. alex morfesis

      NONY…one day you will hopefully let go of the past…take the photos and the memories and put them on a bbq grill and use them to light up the charcoals and take a moment to let life just be…

      and then hopefully you will be the one who becomes the rock for future generations that you bring into this world and give to them what you could not have yourself…

      my grandmother was of chinese cuban decent. the thrown away daughter of a misogynist drunken chinaman who was angry that he was stuck in cuba and had a daughter…how dreadful a daughter…she had a womanizing man whom she never married but had five children with…i am the result of the last child, whom she probably would not have had except the doctor was away and by the time he got back, she was too far along…

      at age six, paul robeson was too young to be off to school, having been the last child born to mary louisa, but on one january day, he witnessed his nearly blind mother burn up from a hot coal that had fallen out of the oven she was trying to move with his older brother. Till the day he died he blocked out that memory as was recounted by his son. Malcolm X in his last year decided to finally go with his siblings and try to get his mother out of the sanitarium she had been placed in for having dared to be the local secretary of Marcus Garveys UNIA and had complained about the murder of her husband which had been classified as an “accident” or as many of us today might say…he was accidented…I don’t expect you to rise up and become some martyr, but share this only to say that when you are ready to allow yourself to move forward, you will…you will wake up and find a reasonable job or you will move to a much more affordable part of america and start a new life…life is what it is and you are either happy or you are sad. It really is not about the proposition but your disposition.

      I convinced the folks who now own the home Paul Robeson was raised in to let me walk through it and take photos and videotape for a documentary I never got close to finishing. Its a small home that held 9 people in it…the home is pretty much as it was when he lived in it. I also got to see where he was on the day he took his last breath, on the top floor bedroom of his sisters home in philadelphia…in life you create your opportunities, for those who have them handed to them, soon, if not they, then the next generation just squanders it…wash away the past, that is what soap and water are for…good luck…and remember joe hill….

      on november 19th of next year it will have been 100 years since he was shot for, among other things in his life, having had the audacity to invade and occupy baja california for six months in 1911 along with a small band of fools who thought they could hold such a big area with a handful of drunks…

      1. Jesper

        You might have worked in mills for 8 years but you did it 30 years ago. What has happened to wages since? What happened to cost of living since?

        A quote from the post you linked to:
        “Back then, on minimum wage, I could afford my own apartment, and have money left over for books.”

        Sorry, but nope, your work-experience from 30 years ago when you were young does not make you an expert on crappy jobs today. Poverty is relative, of the two of you, nony does seem to know what currently living in poverty is about.

        Do a poll here, ask the readers if they:
        -love their jobs and hope to die doing it
        -like their job but looking forward to retirement
        -like their job but would not mind working less
        -hate their job and would quit it the second they didn’t have to do it

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      “you are leaving out a LOT of intermediate steps” Well, yeah. The thesis is that the labor as a human gift would be a fine next step after the degrading human sale (slavery) and human rental (wage labor). Surely that’s an end point that you agree with?

  26. nihil obstet

    The Basic Income Guarantee provides the autonomy to make human choices that a job doesn’t. I’ve met relatively few people on Social Security and/or pensions who wail about how horrible they’re finding dependency on the government. Relatively few = none. And to the best of my experience and knowledge, human beings don’t suddenly change at age 62 or 65. Some want to continue working for money, but I’ve never met anyone who found it demeaning to have a respected source of income that enabled them to decide whether to pursue paid employment or not. All the arguments I see against the BIG seem to come down to “We’ve got to make sure those lazy poor people are under appropriate social control.”

    The Job Guarantee has lots of problems. Among those already mentioned are the likely appropriateness of the job for the individual and the problem of what to do about necessary but unpaid labor such as raising children. A related very serious issue is that dependence on jobs for income locks in place the discriminations of society. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been in place 50 years. Women, minority men, people born into lower wealth classes still suffer disproportionately from life-long exclusion from the higher status and better paying jobs. That is, those people on Social Security I mentioned above? Well, if they’re women they’re poor, because their income continues to be based on what they earned when they faced job discrimination and time out to take care of families. The Job Guarantee with its minimum wage is designed to drive people into private employment controlled by the people who perpetuate the social and economic hierarchies.

    1. Yves Smith

      People who are on Social Security or pensions are retired. Not comparable to what we are discussing.

      I most certainly have no intention of retiring even if I were to win the Lotto. Stopping working is starting to die. My elderly relatives who were happiest kept working, and it was not elite work. One hauled lobster traps into his 80s without a winch, another repaired traps and computers and picked out crabs and lobsters. None of this was glamorous or high status.

      As I said higher up, too many people are conflating the ever-more-stupid and abusive work practices of American work places with work content.

      1. jrs

        My main objection to work is just how much time and energy it takes. I think the vision of humans solely existing to spend almost all their hours of existence doing mostly braindead tasks (much work is) is such a narrow constrained bleak view of human existence and potential. It’s not that routine labor is necessarily objectionable in itself, it’s the fact that it consumes almost all one’s time and energy that is. Work should be more equitably distributed so noone has to work so much.. The time and energy thing, perhaps some people naturally have more energy than others and so they don’t experience it as quite such a strain. I don’t know.

        But the time and energy would feel more worthwhile even in putting in the same hours in a world of conivial worker’s co-ops where you could trade jobs if you got bored of them (maybe the drudge work would be evenly distributed) and work was a social activity that the working class controlled? Perhaps. Not many have much experience with that.

      2. nihil obstet

        As I understood it, the discussion was about how to provide access to resources to members of the society. If it’s simply about morality, then I am indeed wrong. The people who don’t object to receiving Social Security include those with survivors’ benefits who never worked for pay and thus would have a special definition of “retirement”; there are fewer now, but once a reasonably large number of widows who had been full-time homemakers, as the phrase was then, lived out their lives on SS survivors’ benefits. It’s the sort of thing that convinces me that a large part of this is about social control, since the women lived the earlier part of their lives dependent on men.

        We worry about what people will do if relieved from the need to sell most of their time so that their renter makes decisions for them. That would be a long discussion, but I’ll just say that I think the benefits outweigh the dangers. I’m very happy for those of you who are able to do what you want in the context of a job. But use a little imagination — the alternative isn’t just shuffleboard.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      Yep. Shuffleboard is a death sentence.

      I think, in some ways, the “Jobs” Guarantee is misnamed. What should be guaranteed is work (“willing to work”) and in the Robot Future, we may or will need to rethink what we mean by “work.”

  27. jgordon

    “…Job Guarantee…”

    Most jobs people do today are completely worthless and useless anyway. Probably upwards of 90% of jobs could be eliminated entirely, and the only consequence would be that most people’s quality of life drastically increases. And it’s precisely those kinds of useless, stupid jobs that people would be employed in if we have a “job guarantee” program. Personally, I see it as a tremendous and unmitigated positive that people are being shed from the industrial economy left and right these days.

    Instead of having hubristic elites deciding what’s good for the plebs, which is ultimately what a “jobs guarantee” program would end up being, how about letting people support themselves by growing their own food and collecting their own water on an untaxed homestead? A basic subsistence level of living may be absolutely free of monetary requirements–instead only requiring the person/family’s own labor for support. People may choose to “enjoy” other stuff like electricity, gadgets, and processed foods by participating in the industrial/market economy if they really want to. But those things are all extravagant luxuries that people don’t really need to get by. As they will discover after the collapse.

    I do however like the idea of a basic guaranteed income, if only because it leaves people (those who want to) free to do useful things with their time without needing to check with (usually corrupt and/or misguided) authority figures beforehand. “Guaranteed Jobs” program seems like a perfect recipe for empowering a bunch of petty tyrants to run around minding other people’s business for them all day.

  28. financial matters

    While gearing up for a JG this could be a good quick interim measure..

    Even the Council on Foreign Relations Is Saying It: Time to Rain Money on Main Street
    Posted on September 1, 2014 by Ellen Brown

    “”The September/October issue of Foreign Affairs features an article by Mark Blyth and Eric Lonergan titled “Print Less But Transfer More: Why Central Banks Should Give Money Directly To The People.” ()

    It’s the sort of thing normally heard only from money reformers and Social Credit enthusiasts far from the mainstream. What’s going on?

    The Fed, it seems, has finally run out of other ammo.

    There is another reason for handing the job to the Fed. Congress has been eviscerated by a political system that keeps legislators in open battle, deadlocked in inaction. The Fed, however, is “independent.” At least, it is independent of government. It marches to the drum of Wall Street, but it does not need to ask permission from voters or legislators before it acts. It is basically a dictatorship. The Fed did not ask permission before it advanced $85 billion to buy an 80% equity stake in an insurance company (AIG), or issued over $24 trillion in very-low-interest credit to bail out the banks, or issued trillions of dollars in those glorified “open market operations” called quantitative easing. As noted in an opinion piece in the Atlantic titled “How Dare the Fed Buy AIG” ():
    – It’s probable that they don’t actually have the legal right to do anything like this. Their authority is this: who’s going to stop them? No one wants to take on responsibility for this mess themselves. – “”

  29. Stephen Clark

    The entire argument was cast as an alternative between government as Employer of Last Resort and government as provider of a Basic Income Guarantee. The option that avoids the problems of both is the Universal Dividend that has nothing to do with means testing and helping the “poor”. It has to do with establishing every person in society as a land lord and rent collector on such items as Land Ownership, the Money System, and Patents and Copyrights. A portion of these rents could be taxed at a flat rate and distributed equally. This would create no stigma because everyone is receiving the same amount.

    Regardless of what the tax source is it leaves the average person at a net zero. They pay exactly what they receive. The equal dividend is worth more to those at the lower end of the economic pecking order and less to those at the higher end.
    We have designed an entire society with the punishment and stigmatization of sloth as the prime directive. The modern world is designed as if laziness is our greatest problem when in actuality it is the least. Almost everyone will work to improve their lot in life and this is what makes the free market work. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the denial of sustenance at the personal level. This is the base of the malfunction of the free market. When the society is based on the majority of people pushed into such dire straights that they must accept the work conditions offered or starve to death then nothing up line from that is a free transaction.

  30. Jill

    Lambert and others who would enjoy something funny but fitting of this and the burner theme–as told to me by a tree-sitting crew member from out west; a Rainbow brother!

    Apparently, some tree sitting crew members are more equal than others. At the top is the tree sitter. At the bottom are those who pull the buckets of pee and poo down the ropes! This role seems not to change much.

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