When it came to the future of work, the prophets of the past swarmed. Karl Marx believed that it would be possible for anyone to “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, practice livestock breeding in the evening and criticize after dinner … without ever becoming a hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic”.
In turn, John Maynard Keynes found that people’s biggest problem in 2030 consists in “how to fill the free time”. Then, due to high productivity and large financial assets, “three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week” would suffice for living. Blooming Futurism!
But the 40-hour reality has little to do with the predicted, tormented self-emptying wage front and employment constraints. Who does what he wants to do? Some of them work much more than they would have to, depending on their career, status and personal branding.
The others work because they have to finance family, rent, vacation and a hobby. Happy as in the projections of Marx and Keynes? Is hardly one. Most, if we are honest, are happy to have another job before the next crisis or robotic wave may even make it disappear.
Technologically, you could realize Keynes’ 15-hour vision, but the technology is being used to make us all work more. So, in principle, there are lots of pointless jobs that people in Europe spend all their lives doing, without ever being convinced of their need. In many companies every second job is bullshit, paid humbug with annual wage tax recomputation.
There are plenty of stories of middle-class people who sit idly at any corporate reception – because at least it looks like work. The orders of the employees have to go through the secretary, just so that they do not have to sit around completely unemployed.
The footmen play for power-hungry bosses who fill little paper boxes to document that everything is alright. They write the concept convolutions that neither anyone needs nor reads. They manage the one group that could cope well on its own. Especially in banks and consulting firms, the author breeds such reserve army of idleness -> The industries that live by the myth of working until late at night.
In consequence, this would mean that the near-full employment of the Federal Republic is not worth much more than the hundred percent full employment of the DDR, where the socialist state artificially kept economically dying combinates artificially alive and the discipline of the individual counted more than the content of his work and the viability of the resulting products. The “Organization Man” is still subordinated to the collective in the main, as bureaucratic, hollow and absurd as it may be.
An average company can still do well with taskforces, meetings, powerpoint, townhalls, white papers and strategy communication, what it does best: to deal with itself. The only difference between the modern era and the old days is often the replacement of one’s own office cell with co-working spaces, which has to be conquered on time every day with rolling desks and docking stations.
But is that the case in an economic system that calls out double-digit capital target returns like lottery numbers? The bullshit phenomenon breaks even at first glance with the efficiency constraint, the stock market analysts, hedge fund managers, private equity managers, shareholders and advisors to the Basic Law of operational reality.
A busy population – even if it does a lot of nonsense – has little time for other things. That’s, sorry, bullshit too. First, there are likely to be plenty of video evenings, gaming events, football games, and parties that would be favoured before the revolution, and secondly, there are not some powerful magicians pulling records here, but the various systems of society have such a break from the whims of the world. In other words, the construct, even the illusion work, keeps a society together.
This social agreement is fragile enough anyway. The apps and algorithms of the digital revolution only call into question these bullshit jobs, but also the benefits of offices in general, in favor of work placement via the internet platform (crowd working), work on the move (mobile working) or short-term employment by freelancers (gig working).
The study of economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, according to which every second US job is replaceable over the next two decades, is now a classic. Anyone who then loses his job is unlikely to easily get hold of one of the new jobs that arise in the due structural change. The split between those who have good, bad or no paid jobs is likely to increase. This development is in the hands of those who demand an unconditional basic income for everyone.
In the fourth industrial revolution, do we all hunt, fish, debate, and do we all finally argue, as the ancients from the scholar’s room predicted? Probably not. Most prefer a right to work rather than a right to laziness. But in change, a new look at work itself opens up. What is that? Do not Neighborly Aid, Parent Tasks and Honorary Offices count in any way?
The other important question: what kind of work does a society really need? Will a job really be missed if it goes away? Only then is not it a bullshit job!
Yes, the artisan, who was ordered five days ago and for whom one made a high cash withdrawal at the bank, is missing. Also missing is the relatively cheap car mechanic in the neighborhood who has moved away. Or the nurse and the cleaning lady for the handicapped aunt, who can not leave the house anymore. Or the surgical nurse who works too many shifts for lack of replacement. Or policemen or teachers who have been cut down. Or or or. They all do not get the recognition they deserve.
So there are a lot of jobs that are likely to be in machine age as well. The stronger the automation, the more significant the caring character of work. The unfortunate thing about it: These jobs are either poorly paid, physically tough or socially not very well regarded. Often they are in the public sector. The wealthy part of the population would therefore tend to pay more taxes and social security contributions, or there is a “machine tax” if the state is no longer to owe it. The work does not work out, it just has to be funded differently.
In the end, it depends on what society makes of the changed resources. How she transmits the technologically raised commandment of “disruption” to herself. We have been accustomed to discipline and time consciousness since the 14th century, when many European cities set up bell towers at the behest of merchant guilds to tell the citizens when the hour has come. The same merchants placed skulls on their desks, reminding them of one thing: making the best of the time.
This is still a good piece of advice today. No bullshit at all.