November 29, 2016

"To begin with, what purposes could we choose if the job – economic necessity – didn’t consume most of our waking hours and creative energies?"

"What evident yet unknown possibilities would then appear? How would human nature itself change as the ancient, aristocratic privilege of leisure becomes the birthright of human beings as such?"

From "Fuck work/Economists believe in full employment. Americans think that work builds character. But what if jobs aren’t working anymore?"

Via Metafilter.


MikeR said...

Well, I know what _I'd_ do. Waste most of the day in comments sections.

SDaly said...

Based upon the evidence around me, I would say porn, daytime "judge" shows, and video games.

eric said...

Someone comes along every day to demonstrate for your children what not to do.

They used to call these people fools.

Paddy O said...

Nothing like those aristocrats as models of human thriving and virtue.

Let's all wallow in excess and still be horrible to each other!

Lance said...

What if Ivy League history professors aren't working any more?

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lance said...

Prof. Livingston needs to spend some time with Mike Rowe.

Sebastian said...

"How would human nature itself change as the ancient, aristocratic privilege of leisure becomes the birthright of human beings as such?" Human nature wouldn't change. By assigning everyone a new "birthright," society would simply give free rein to the basic human impulse to exert arbitrary power over others and extract by force the value they created.

Dave D said...

Only a free-time enabled tenured professor at a major university (or some other similar egghead) would think of such ridiculous things. Most of us in the 53% are too busy working 9-12 hour days jobs that are probably NOT our ideal dream positions in order to try to feed our families and to retire before we die.

rhhardin said...

We'll always need dog trainers.

Rob said...

Any discussion of this subject is incomplete if it doesn't reference John Maynard Keynes's stunningly good "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren," which contains the following passage:

The “purposive” man is always trying to secure a spurious and delusive immortality for his acts by pushing his interest in them forward into time. He does not love his cat, but his cat’s kittens; nor, in truth, the kittens, but only the kittens’ kittens, and so on forward forever to the end of cat-dom. For him jam is not jam unless it is a case of jam to-morrow and never jam today. Thus by pushing his jam always forward into the future, he strives to secure for his act of boiling it an immortality.

Paul Snively said...

In what universe are man's wants not in excess of his attainments? What is the system by which everyone's needs and wants are to be satisfied without exchange, and without labor being a commodity to be exchanged?

And I thought Debt - Updated and Expanded: The First 5,000 Years was high-grade fantasy.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Just because human labor is not needed, why do you think people would be given the necessities let alone luxuries of life, instead of being obliged to find new ways of earning a living other than what forms of work you think will be obsoleted?

Will everybody get a free car?

Only one?

Will it be a Hyundai or a Cadillac?

Will it be a compact or an SUV?

Sebastian said...

OK, I've now made it through half of this drivel.

"because there aren’t enough jobs." WSJ today: tight labor market is forcing Amazon to slug it out with rivals, low unemployment and recent pay gas for the nation's lowest-wage workers have forced Amazon to get nimbler etc. Last week: famers bitchng abut not getting enough Mexicans to do the field jobs.

"We already have some provisional answers because we’re all on the dole, more or less." But there's the rub: some more, some less. The dole only works long term if some are less on the dole than others.

gadfly said...

How should work change? We should have standards under which we can bar lazy-ass SOBs from ever entering any location where productivity is generating economic growth and maintaining economic stability.

We should further reduce welfare payments to non-workers in order to eliminate the possibility of a writer ever gaining income for even suggesting that humanity excludes work.

Todd said...

Lance said...

Prof. Livingston needs to spend some time with Mike Rowe.

11/29/16, 10:17 AM

Absolutely. Livingston is another great example of an over credentialed idiot, he proves that before the 6th paragraph. That which he does not out-right get wrong, he confuses cause and effect.

The "official" US unemployment rate is 6%? Wait until the day after Trump is sworn in and then check what the papers report as the unemployment rate! The current reported rate does not include those that have just given up looking for work.

As for that fourth of adults that earn less than the poverty rate, dig into that and you will see that part of the reason for that is those adults have multiple part-time jobs so as to enable their employers to avoid Obamacare and other excessive regulations.

Bob Boyd said...

As my wise old grandma used to say, the devil finds work for idle hands.

robother said...

The Aristocrats--its not just a joke, its the Future!

mikee said...

The steps from a welfare state to a totalitarian dictatorship where people starve as they are led to the prison labor camps have been demonstrated multiple times in the past century, with Venezuela as a recent example. It is not the individual citizens that one need fear in the welfare state, it is the state itself.

cubanbob said...

Where does Althouse find the time to spend looking for such stereotypical leftist crap as this? Yes Professor Livingston lets say fuck you to tenured positions subsidized by taxpayer money. See if you can earn a living wage outside your artificial bubble.

Nonapod said...

Almost half of employed adults in this country are eligible for food stamps (most of those who are eligible don’t apply).

Typical idiotic big government waste. Assuming that this group of people aren't starving in the streets (they aren't), why in gods name do we have a program that covers so many people that don't need it.

As to the subject of this article: in the future there's obviously going to be fewer and fewer jobs, whether we like it or not. If you believe that things like "punctuality, initiative, honesty, self-discipline" can only be achieved through gainful employment, then I suppose the future must look very grim indeed. Personally I'm not so sure.

Birkel said...

The professor must believe that food appears at the local grocery store by virtue of magic or alchemy.

Some things are so stupid only the well-educated could believe them.

Terry said...

The article is full of really stupid statements like this:
"Most jobs aren’t created by private, corporate investment, so raising taxes on corporate income won’t affect employment."
There is so much stupid thinking in the article I was surprised to see that it was written by a history prof. It reads more like something a twenty four year journalist would write for Vox when he is under the gun to fill his daily word quota.

Henry said...

"What evident yet unknown possibilities would then appear? How would human nature itself change as the ancient, aristocratic privilege of leisure becomes the birthright of human beings as such?"

The Freakanomics guys answered this question with their own rhetorical question:

Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?

And their answer is the answer to Livingston's opaque cloud of questions. Without work, everyone gambles on glamour:

So if crack dealing is the most dangerous job in America, and if the salary is only $3.30 an hour, why on earth would anyone take such a job?

Well, for the same reason that a pretty Wisconsin farm girl moves to Hollywood. For the same reason that a high-school quarterback wakes up at 5 a.m. to lift weights. They all want to succeed in an extremely competitive field in which, if you reach the top, you are paid a fortune (to say nothing of the attendant glory and power).


In the glamour professions—-movies, sports, music, fashion—-there is a different dynamic at play. Even in second-tier glamour industries like publishing, advertising, and media, swarms of bright young people throw themselves at grunt jobs that pay poorly and demand unstinting devotion. An editorial assistant earning $22,000 at a Manhattan publishing house, an unpaid high-school quarterback, and a teenage crack dealer earning $3.30 an hour are all playing the same game, a game that is best viewed as a tournament.

* * *

As an aside, this chapter in Freakanomics starts with a philosophical point:

The first trick of asking questions is to determine if your question is a good one.

Livingstone's article is a casserole of a 1000 questions larded with blobs of academic conventional wisdom (Citizens United? It's in there. Not sure why). He needs to pick one.

traditionalguy said...

Working for themselves to succeed enobles men. It is the free man's purpose that created the Protestant Work Ethic of healthy people. It gives them success and something to teach the children by example like Fred Trump taught Donald and Donald taught his kids.

Work by free men IS the pursuit of happiness for which Patriots formed our covenant Constitution.

Peter said...

Why work? Better by far to just amuse ourselves. Just plant a few wires in our brains and stimulate us with attractive, realer-than-real fantasies while machines feed and clean and otherwise tend us until, ultimately, they dispose of our remains.

Why work? Why achieve? Why do anything other than sit around all day, every day, in an adult-size diaper.

So long as we can be well entertained, of course.

Bruce Hayden said...

I do think that this is going to be a problem. We aren't talking about not working, but rather, being able to work. The problem is that we are rich enough that we can afford to give everyone most of the basics. And automation has made much human labor cost ineffective.

I was struck the other day reading about the history of fabrics and making clothes. Throughout most of human history, even making thread was long and laborious. We are now at the point where basic clothing is dirt cheap. Getting ready to move again, I was going through some of my clothes, and found 40-50 sport coats (almost 20 navy blazers), over 20 high quality (corporate attorney type) suits, maybe 150 ties, etc. Shirts, pants, shoes, etc. in probably almost as obscene levels. And, my partner is getting the big walk in closet for her collection of clothes. I will have to stuff all my stuff in one smaller walk in closet, and maybe two regular closets. Won't fit. And, that was after I moved half of my cold weather clothes to our house in MT last spring (my insulated navy blazer though is in our condo in the mountains here in CO). All because clothing is dirt cheap.

And, then, I shop a lot at Dollar Tree (and the 99 cents store in PHX and LAS), as well as Big Lots, etc. Scissors used to be a prize. Now I buy them for $1. Flatware, plates, glasses, etc. Ditto a lot of other stuff. I don't run out of batteries, because I probably have 100 unused batteries in a box in the shop. Dozen or two of each of the popular sizes. I probably half at least a half dozen printers that I could get working if I wanted, as well as even more computer monitors. Three working iPads that I rotate through almost daily. We are planning maybe a half dozen TVs in the new house, none of them smaller than 32". They are so cheap - why not? And, we aren't rich. It is just insanely easy to buy a lot of decent stuff these days, stuff that a couple generations ago would have cost a couple weeks work (my hourly billing rate buys me maybe a 42" TV these days).

The point is that we, as a nation, can afford to provide the basic necessities of life to most everyone (at least to the citizenry, but maybe not to the rest of the world, which is part of the problem with Obama's open border policy). And, it is getting worse. More things that used to be expensive are becoming cheap, or at least cheaper. I think that part of where we are going is that work is going to be a privilege, instead of a necessity. But without the need to strive, then what is the purpose of life?

Let me add here that part of the problem that we are seeing in the inner city today is maybe a harbinger of what we may face in the future. Females no longer need males to help them raise their kids financially. The state provides for them instead. But that has negative consequences, including much of the inner city violence, esp. in lower income Black communities, because young males are not being properly domesticated.

Seeing Red said...

Pelosi assured us Obamacare would release all this creativity.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Ah the utopian ideal. A world where robots do all of the work. Where food magically appears on the table cooked to perfection. Where the grocery shelves are stocked by teleportation.

One where the materials, ore, wood, glass all just voluntarily leap out of the ground and form themselves into goods. A world where nothing breaks down. Where there is no crime and all the children are above average. Where the leisured class just lounge around, navel gaze and dream big utopian dreams.

What a dope.

How boring.

Big Mike said...

because young males are not being properly domesticated.

@Bruce, I was with you all the way until that unnecessary ending. Well, sort of with you. I never owned more than two navy blazers at a time (one summer weight and one wool for cold weather) or more than two suits, and only a couple other sports coats besides the navy blazers. (One time I wore a gray tweed sport coat to a function and my son asked why I didn't wear the navy blazer, blue oxford cloth shirt, and khaki slacks that all the other dads were wearing -- I told him I was a mathematician so I wore a different uniform. He got it.)

Anyway, I think young men need to have a positive male role model if they're going to grow up as a productive member of society, but that is different from being "domesticated," properly or otherwise. I think that a matriarchal household has a lot of difficulty supplying a positive male role model, and neither can the government. Same sex marriages and high rates of children raised by single mothers moves us into a cowardly new world, and we need to figure this all out very rapidly.

William said...

I'm currently reading A History of God by Karen Armstrong. It details the different methods men have sought to find and worship God within the monotheistic religions. I'm getting on in years, and I figure it's high time that I discovered the ultimate meaning of life. Ms. Armstrong writes with clarity and purpose, but my eyes keep glazing over. It's hard to develop much interest in medieval Sufi and Kabbalist mystics, but such people did experience the presence of God.....I'm about 250 pages into the book. From what I've read so far I don't have much in common with the various religious mystics. Maybe mysticism is one of those uncommon human talents like throwing a fastball at 90 mph or doing calculus in your head that I simply don't have......You can live a useful and meaningful life without God, but there's no upside to death in the absence of God. Bummer. Life has its distractions and pleasures, and we pursue them to avoid pondering our utter insignificance.

n.n said...

The leisure class is a known cause of spoiled child syndrome and a first-order cause of urban decay.

robother said...

"...a game that is best viewed as a tournament."

And, as in sports, entertainment and other winner take all fields, the extremes of success and failure are incompatible with middle class bourgeois values of family, social equality and stoic virtues.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Already a fourth of the adults actually employed in the US are paid wages lower than would lift them above the official poverty line...

Bullshit. $6/hr, ( well below minimum wage ) 40hr/week, 50week/yr gets you above the poverty line. The issue is not too little wage, it is too many people in the household trying to live off a single unskilled worker.

Here's an idea. Don't have kids you can't afford. Don't have kids until you and your spouse have enough job skills to command a wage on which you and any children can live.

rehajm said...

In summary: If enough of you peons find work in the next few years people will begin to believe everything lefties believe is wrong and my efforts at supplying the narrative for you to follow will have been wasted.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Don't have kids you can't afford. Don't have kids until you and your spouse have enough job skills to command a wage on which you and any children can live.

Lower your expectations of what you must have to live.

Discern between wants and needs. You WANT a new Apple phone. You don't need one. You want unlimited minutes and 8G phone plan. You can get by with a dumb pay by the minute phone.

You want to go out to eat at a fast food restaurant 4 times a week. You need to learn how to cook.

You want to have the latest new Nike (whatever) shoes at $200 a pair. You need to go to the Shoe Barn and buy something you can afford....or just wear your old ones.

You want a new $40,000 car. You need to look at a nice used vehicle or keep the one you own.

You want to buy the kids expensive toys for Christmas. You need to learn how to make things, get them involved and lower their expectations as well.

You want to stay home...who doesn't. Too bad. Everyone in the family works, including the kids at whatever they can do. Babysit. Mow lawns. Part time at the Dairy Queen. Everyone.

Budget, prioritize, don't use credit, save until you can afford to buy and decide do you really really NEED this thing after all?

Is it fun living frugally. Nope. Do it anyway until you can justify getting what you want. Millions of people do it. Your Grandparents did it. Stop whining about someone owes you a living wage and figure out how to live and WORK to get ahead.

readering said...

I think videogames will consume most of the day for men in the future.

Larry J said...

One of the big economic wetdreams being discussed in the InterWeb is the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI). The foundation for the belief is that automation is making the idea of work obsolete, leaving people without hope. The UBI would be a payment to everyone just because they're alive. The problem with the idea is that there's no way to make the math work.

According to this source, there were 274,773,709 Americans 18 or more in 2015. Let's round it up to 275 million. If you give each one a UBI of $1000 a month, that's $275 billion per month or about $3.3 trillion a year. That's a lot of money. The total US budget is less than $4 trillion a year. Keep in mind that's only with a payout of $1000 a month, which isn't much. You could modify the particulars so that not everyone gets the money but then it isn't Universal Basic Income, it's just another wealth transfer program. Keep in mind that the US federal government is forecast to collect about $3.6 trillion from all sources in FY2017. You'd need massive tax increases to pay for UBI.

Some of the UBI advocates say that it would replace all of the existing welfare programs, so it would break even. They ignore the fact that millions of union government employees run all of those programs. End welfare and you end their jobs. Yeah, that's going to pass. They're as blind to certain political realities as they are to math.

SukieTawdry said...

As we move into a new era of robotics and automation, I'm seeing this argument made more and more often. In fact, ever since I was a child they've been talking about how automation will one day free us from needing to work. My question then as now is: who pays for this birthright of leisure? The Freakonomics guys claim only 10 percent of us will need to work in the future. That 10 percent presumably will fund the other 90 percent in their leisure pursuits although Dubner and Levitt don't explain how. For a whole host of reasons, I find this idea quite absurd.

SukieTawdry said...

@Larry J:

Last June the Swiss voted on a referendum to provide a guaranteed income of approximately $2500/month. They very wisely voted it down. I did the math and if every adult citizen and permanent resident in the US were given a similar amount, it would cost over $6 trillion annually (I think $1000/month is too paltry a sum to even consider--it wouldn't cover a mortgage payment or rent in many locales).

In Switzerland, the UBI would have replaced all existing social welfare programs. I believe the Swiss have the discipline to actually do that. We do not. Sooner than later, welfare programs would worm their way back into the system because how can you expect a single mother of two to make it on $3000/month? As it is now, they estimate that mother would have to earn over $60,000/year to attain the standard of living public assistance provides.

I simply can't see how schemes of this nature can possibly work.

SukieTawdry said...

@Bruce Hayden: The problem is that we are rich enough that we can afford to give everyone most of the basics.

The problem is that once we stop earning money and doing things like investing and paying taxes, we won't be rich enough to give everyone anything. How will the wealth required to provide the basics to everyone be generated once we stop working towards it?

Larry J said...

SukieTawdry said...

In Switzerland, the UBI would have replaced all existing social welfare programs. I believe the Swiss have the discipline to actually do that. We do not. Sooner than later, welfare programs would worm their way back into the system because how can you expect a single mother of two to make it on $3000/month? As it is now, they estimate that mother would have to earn over $60,000/year to attain the standard of living public assistance provides.

I remember reading many years ago (around 1992) a study that examined the wage someone would have to earn to be the equivalent of what that person could receive in welfare payments. The study looked at the total of welfare payments a person receives to include food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid, cash, etc. The results varied considerably by state, with Mississippi being at or near the bottom and Hawaii being at the top. Even then, a person in the South would have had to earn about $15 an hour to match the welfare benefits. I don't recall if that figure was adjusted to account for taxes. The point was that few of the people on welfare had the skills necessary to earn a salary comparable with what they could get for doing nothing. Their decision to do nothing and draw welfare was actually a rational one. I have no idea what the current figures would be, only that they'd be much higher. Your figure of $60,000 a year is about $30 an hour, so it's not out of line with what I remember when you factor in inflation.

Unknown said...

We in fact have more leisure than any people in history. Do you have to walk a mile to get firewood and fresh water several times per day? Do you have to make your own clothes? That is leisure. Many people retire early (like age 62) or voluntarily work part-time. People have time to run marathons, watch too much TV, go out to eat. The entire premise is wrong.

southcentralpa said...

To adapt "Saturday Night Fever": You don't say F**k Work. Work says F**k YOU.

In a more serious vein, if trust fund babies are any kind of an indication, nothing good comes of not working ...

BN said...

If work is unnecessary, neither are workers. Abortion on demand was always meant to be and will someday become the gateway to eugenics on command. Hide and watch. Problems must be solved. Progressivism was supposed to be the science of ordering and running a perfect society. Most of them still believe that's what it is.

Combine that with the coming cyborgization and immortality of the super rich, and you all will become believers in gods eventually. Well, you would if any of you had ever been born, that is.

Yes, indeed, the coming "perfect" society will be pretty empty. And who would have thought it wouldn't be?

tim maguire said...

We already work far more than we need to to meet our basic needs. When we reach the end of scarcity, when the olny job left is software developer and we need one for every thousand people, we will be very unhappy.

Invest in ennui futures. And perhaps assissted suicide machines.

BN said...

Maybe the "Singularity" is called that because there will only be one person... er, god... left.

You know what he'll do then? Create us.

We're very entertaining apparently.

Bruce Hayden said...

@Big Mike - my point at the end was essentially there are costs to a society that does not have to work that we are just discovering. Some of the others are probably drugs and alcoholism.

@Sukie - my other point is that we are rapidly approaching the point where automation and the like will make the basics available to everyone at a cost that we can afford. Some have theorized that at that point, work becomes the luxury, and, yes, maybe the way to afford luxuries. The luxuries are getting more and more ridiculous. I found Trump's comment when he asked someone (I think Gingrich) how much it would cost to run for President. The response was maybe $50-75 million. Trump's response was that was the cost of a yacht, and running for President would probably be a lot more fun. But, for the rest of us, living decently is getting effectively cheaper every year - if you aren't into wasting it on luxuries.

One of the things though that the rich likely will be able to spend their millions and billions on is extended life. And, ultimately, that may mean a two tier system, with beautiful rich people working at interesting jobs, and living essentially forever, and the rest of us.

BN said...

TM: "When we reach the end of scarcity... we will be very unhappy."

This is a profound paradox. The more humans leave the primal world, the more they find they miss of it. We have created a wide variety of deep and complex forms of entertainment to experience The Chase all over again (see e.g., "sports, action movies, rock and roll").

And happiness itself is not understandable. Not. At. All. Sometimes i think it's genetic. For instance, I have known some very unhappy rich folks: junkies, losers, suicides, blog commenters, etc. And conversely, i have known some disgustingly happy folks who were starving and freezing in the dark. Life is so weird.

God created happiness on the 8th day. Murder on the 9th.

Bruce Hayden said...

Uncle Miltie (Milton Friedman) had an idea years ago about what he termed a negative income tax, which essentially a living wage, then an income tax applied to it, starting at the first dollar of income, at a flat rate. No one would starve, and there would be never be an incentive in the tax system not to work. Of course, it is too simple, which is why it never went anywhere - everyone wants their special deals, whether it be mortgage interest deductions, or subsidies for health insurance.

JAORE said...

Did you ever see the 1960 movie The Time Machine?

It's eloi and morlocks all the way down.

Zach said...

"Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon."

--Susan Ertz

Lots of people would like to have a little more money and leisure. But having no need to work does not tend to draw out people's best qualities.

Bruce Hayden said...

"Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon."

One of the things about immortality that isn't covered that heavily in the sci-fi that I have read on the subject is that our conception of time seems to be logarithmic. The older we get, the faster it seems to go by, because we remember less and less of it as it goes by. Which also means that people you meet mean less and less, as you get older, except those that you have known for decades, centuries, or even millennia. One recent theory is that the reason for this is that your brain filters out a lot of the everyday stuff, to keep information overload from happening, and more and more stuff becomes everyday stuff. Something like that.

Martin said...

"Idle hands are the Devil's playground."

THAT is what you get when people don't have work, 'work' being neither more nor less than serving the needs of others who are willing and able to compensate you for it--because they have in turn served others and been compensated.

Where work is scarce, pathology rules. It's really that simple.

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