Technology’s Promised Land
Why aren’t we all working 3-4 hour days? This is what Lord Keynes predicted back in the 1930s as a result of technological progress.
With the 70s, came expressions of the need to educate the working classes for leisure.
But, instead, we’re working harder than ever. What went wrong?
“The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s),” writes David Graeber, Professor of Anthropology at the LSE, in Strike!
That’s in tune with my memories of the 60s when, as students we would say ‘never get married, never get a salaried job, never buy a house – because that’s how the capitalist system gets you’.
With students like these, the ruling classes in the 60s must have been appalled at the prospect of non-controllable populations.
Well they’ve remedied that. The workless are demonised as chavs. Strikers, even in an obviously just cause, are railed against in the media. And, strangely, the really worthwhile jobs are badly paid.
“In our society,” writes Graeber, “there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that, were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble.”
On the other hand how dispensable, and highly paid, some other workers are. “It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer,” says Graeber, “were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to vanish.”
The promised land of leisure-filled lives has, said Graeber, been replaced by the creation of bullshit jobs. Instead of being marshalled to make life happier, technology has been marshalled to figure out ways to make us all work more.
“In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless,” says Graeber, “huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.”