24 March 2016

The Jobs Problem

The main problem we find with jobs is that while pretty much all jobs suck, unemployment is worse.  Working 40+ hours a week, fixed hours, at anything, especially over a period of years, in an assigned office or factory space located someplace inconvenient to your living arrangements, sucks.  Not in the figurative sense that it is necessarily terrible, because in some cases jobs can be rewarding on many levels – but having a job literally sucks, that is to say it takes from you.  Soul-consuming, life-destroying, robbing you of your essence, and so on and so forth.  You can attempt to find meaning in it (and you'd better) but at the end of the day, wouldn't you be much happier doing it twenty-five or so hours a week and spending more time in the yard or by the pool?

Imagine for a second that you were offered sixty-two thousand five hundred and seventy-five dollars a year to fill the position of Simpsons Watcher.  Your job is to watch The Simpsons, to be up on the show in case anyone has any questions about it, maybe you have to write some episode summaries now and again or pull together some funny quotes/clips and present them to an annual review committee, but in general little is expected of you beyond showing up and watching the show.  Since you love The Simpsons, and have spent many of your leisure hours seeking out and enjoying the show, you eagerly sign on.  The catch is that you have to do it at a desk in a cubicle in an office tower downtown, dressed business casual, Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 5:30 with an hour for lunch (but if you go more than 15 minutes over "they" start to dock you) (and there are only two decent lunch places in that neighborhood, one of which is relatively expensive), twenty-one days paid vac a year, full dental etc. etc., the whole standard job thing.  Your manager is not the worst but occasionally bugs you about your concentration levels or insists that you rewrite episode summaries for reasons you regard as idiotic.  You have to attend meetings during which boss rambles for an extra 45 minutes before giving out pointless work assignments which he/she may or may not forget about or suddenly ask for weeks later, or sit through training sessions in which the work of you and your colleagues is tediously dissected and points may be scored at one another's expense.  The fridge in the break room almost always smells awful and it's never your fault.  You know, the whole workplace thing.  So the question of course is, How long would it take before you stopped saying things like I am so blessed I can't believe they are paying me to watch my favorite show and started to hate the Simpsons and dream of the day you could quit your effing soul-destroying job …?

Then too, all jobs are not necessarily so awful, many are honorable and quite worth doing, it's the dehumanizing aspect of being plugged into the work like a machine, on a fixed schedule, day after month after year. Add to this the penalty of how success narrows your options: if you get really good at something you will do it well and make a bundle, but if/when you tire of doing it you will find it a tremendous challenge to get hired to do anything else.

The preferred option is of course to live fat and leisurely-like by feeding off the labor of others; unfortunately the number of vacancies in this field is limited and openings are generally filled from within, along fixed lines of kinship and social proximity. 

While I am against having a job, I am not in favor of not working.  Good honest toil builds character and is, or should be, essential for survival.  What is needed are better ways of doling out work.  Perhaps some system of job sharing or outsourcing on a grand scale, where most jobs can be signed up for and dropped by individuals according to their shifting whims …  Let's say you have some accounting experience and you don't find the tasks too odious, it's even a borderline fun way to kill some time once in a while, so you want to sign up to work for an insurance company, maybe do four seven-hour days a week for three months (presumably to earn enough to buy your ski pass and get your folks something nice for their anniversary).  Simply register in the system, pass a basic competency test, and there you are, you start next Tuesday at 9:30.

But more than that, what if every single job had to be signed up for by a different person every day.  I'm talking here about cross-training on a national level.  Think how much more productive we could be as a nation if we could all do each other's jobs.  That way if Dave were sick one day, Alphonse could step right in and our economy would not skip a beat.  Such a system, effectively implemented, would grow the economic pie for everyone.  And everyone loves economic pie.

And if you refuse to participate in this admittedly bold social experiment, well that's your business but you do run the risk of not earning enough Survival Credits to last the winter (let alone buy a ski pass).

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