work

Mental Illness Discrimination Forced Me from Ohio State

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/08/2018 - 11:55am in

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depression, work

Find out how the Ohio State University discriminated against me because of my mental illness

Can a Universal Basic Income rid the world of bullshit jobs?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/08/2018 - 10:15am in

This piece was originally published on Patreon.

In his best-selling book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, professor David Graeber makes the case for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a means to move away from the wage labour system.

Perhaps it is my cultural background — I am the product of two, very hard-working Jewish / Catholic parents both with an insanely Protestant work ethic — but the idea that we are moving into an age of post-employment is a little terrifying to me.

As I look around even my local community, I see so many different areas of the economy that are poorly served or simply non-existent. Surely, there must be enough meaningful ones to replace the bullshit ones?

So, I caught up with Graeber to ask him a couple of questions, namely: why a UBI and not a job guarantee?

“I mean there’s enough meaningful work, right?,” says Professor Graeber.

“But does it have to be organised into jobs? To me the difference between the job guarantee and the UBI is simply who’s going to decide how the labor is allocated.”

“I don’t have a problem with the jobs guarantee as a supplement to a Basic Income. But one of the interesting things is who the burden is on.”

Who gets to create jobs?

Graeber credits prolific Twitter user @rattlecans who recently made the very valid point that when governments or industry talk about job guarantees, they always assume they’re going to be the ones deciding who should do what.

“So if a job guarantee was based on, ‘I’m trained as a chemist, find me a job as a chemist’. Well, sure,” he says. “Nobody would object. Yet somehow that doesn’t seem to be what they are talking about.”

The anthropologist says it is telling why so many in the professional managerial class love of the concept of a job guarantee and are suspicious of a basic income.

“They fantasise that once work becomes completely automated, workers of the world will just sit around getting drunk, playing darts and fighting all day,” he says.

“Because they don’t trust people. Because they have no imagination about what people are like.”

As an anthropologist, Graeber says he is keenly aware that people, even with only two-or-three hours of actual work a day, can come up with of all sorts of interesting things to do with the rest of their time, if you give them enough time to work on it.

“It’s a vicious circle,” he says. “We imagine people can’t think of things to do.”

The 30-year war on community

With regards to the concept of work and how it is organised, Graeber says there has been a 30-year war against community relations: People don’t know their neighbours. They wouldn’t even know how to begin forming groups together to address local, regional or federal problems.

“So if there’s a problem like the canal needs cleaning or something, in a functional community where everybody has a basic income, people can get together to clean the canal, for example,” he says.

“But you could make the argument that this will be harder in societies where people are really atomised. On the other hand, all you need is one or two people with initiative on a UBI to dedicate themselves to these things.

“To some degree the The Works Progress Administration, some of those examples, they did actually pay people to do things that people came up with locally.”

(The WPA was a public works agency that grew out of the New Deal which employed millions of people in public works programs like infrastructure, construction, roads, teaching and literacy).

“That’s one of the reasons everybody always pulls that example out,” he says. “But that’s a little different than what they’re talking about.

A jobs guarantee that, like: ‘if you are unemployed and come to me with a project, I guarantee I will fund it’, well that would be ok. Who would object to that? We need a post office. Ok, we’ll hire you all to build a post office. But I haven’t seen a proposal that looks like that.”

Does your job matter? The pay probably sucks

In his book and in a recent presentation to the Bank of England, Graeber outlined that, particularly in Britain, but also in the United States and other parts of the world, austerity policies have been most punishing on those with the most socially useful occupations.

This is particularly the case in health, education, and care industries, but also police, transit workers and others, while private sector resources appear to have been distributed upwards to the administrative and executive sector.

The obvious question this leads me to is: would a UBI reflate the value of meaningful work that pays poorly? (Like, journalism, say…?).

“Well that’s a good question,” he says.

“I think it would definitely inflate the value of trash collection.

“I imagine journalists would manage to get paid exactly the same as what they are paid now, but on top of a UBI. That is what I am guessing would happen.”

The danger is we might end up getting paid less…

“The thing is, if you have UBI, what you’re validating is the people,” says Graeber.

“So there’s an assumption you start at, which is that everybody is valuable, that is why you have a living allowance.”

Graeber says that the effect a UBI would have on different types of work is an interesting question morally.

“I think the moral advantage of saying that your existence and your freedom is the ultimate value, that is going to more than compensate for other discrepancies,” he says.

“The whole thing about a UBI, is that there is no structure to say who gets it. There’s no minimal requirement for annoying people deciding whether you get it or not.”

How much should a UBI pay?

So, how much would each member of the public need to receive in order to rid the world of bullshit jobs? And does the anthropologist really expect the governments of today to shell out that kind of money?

“Well, first of all, governments are already shelling out that kind of money,” says Graeber. “They’re just doing it in really stupid, bad ways.

“Take even Quantitative Easing. They calculated recently that spending per person in Europe is like €6000 a year or something. They could have just given it to them. I mean, that’s not enough, but it’s a good start.

“Obviously you can make the argument that one reason it wasn’t inflationary is because people sat on it anyway. Whereas, if they gave it to people, they’d spend it, but that would also stimulate the economy. I think with QE they were trying to create inflation and failed.

“Inflation is harder to create than you think.”

But, the ‘where do we get the money’ argument, that comes from a broad misunderstanding of money, what it is and where it comes from, the anthropologist says.

“They, (the government), can make it up, (issue the currency),” he says.

The question is: what would be the larger effects?”

Graeber’s UBI proposal is a transitional demand.

“It would be the kind of thing which would move us maximally in the direction of moving away from the wage labour system,” he says.

Change the tax code

In the meantime, governments ought to be changing their tax codes to address the casualisation of the work force.

“One of the British Labour party’s platforms is to change the tax code to make it easier for self employed people,” says Graeber.

“More than half of the money I make on my books is taken away from me. But if I were a parasitic investor, it would be like 7%. Instead, it’s like 55%, if you’re actually producing something and you’re not somebody’s slave.

“I kind of like the French tax system. It’s still not that bad, but back in the ’80s, it was entirely value-added, but it was negative on stuff they thought were necessities: wine, bread and meat, basically,” he said.

“Most groceries aren’t taxed. Things considered a human right are subsidised. And if you buy a Maserati, it’s like 300%. Because you want to boast about how much you paid for your Maserati.”

Thank you for reading. I couldn’t afford to continue my research, or write this book, were it not for the support of my generous sponsors. Support independent journalism, sponsor me on Patreon, starting at $3 a month, or throw some money at my PayPal.

Preview: Can a Universal Basic Income rid the world of bullshit jobs?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/07/2018 - 12:31pm in

In his best-selling book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, professor David Graeber makes the case for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a means to move away from the wage labour system.

I recently caught up Graeber to ask him a couple of questions, namely: why a UBI and not a job guarantee?

“I mean there’s enough meaningful work, right?,” says Professor Graeber.

“But does it have to be organised into jobs? To me the difference between the job guarantee and the UBI is simply who’s going to decide how the labor is allocated.”

“I don’t have a problem with the jobs guarantee as a supplement to a Basic Income. But one of the interesting things is who the burden is on.”

Read the rest of the interview by subscribing to my Patreon for as little as $3 a month.

Does Living Abroad Boost Intercultural Competence?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/07/2018 - 1:45am in

Tags 

Education, work

A new study investigates a recurring question: Do interculturally competent people go abroad, or does going abroad increase one's intercultural competence?

The 'Humanity First' Candidate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/07/2018 - 10:37pm in

Tags 

Politics, work

The Great Displacement will mean lost jobs for millions, an epic shift for society. One candidate says this can be a great opportunity, if we plan for it.

Failure of Imagination

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/07/2018 - 7:47am in

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work

Designers may simplify cues and capabilities to make things easier. Unfortunately, making the job easier in normal operations can make it impossible under abnormal conditions.

A very British disease

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/06/2018 - 3:35am in

The desire to judge people's motives rather than addressing their needs is a “British disease”. We have been suffering from it for hundreds of years, cycling endlessly through repeated cycles of generosity and harshness. Each cycle ends in public outrage and an abrupt reversal: but the memory eventually fades, and the disease reappears in a new form. In this post, I outline the tragic history of Britain's repeated attempts to "categorise the poor".

For centuries, successive British social systems have recognised that there are people who cannot work, whether because they are too young, too old, too ill or too infirm. These people need to be provided for by others – in the first instance families, but where family support networks break down, support must be provided by the wider community.

And for centuries, successive British social systems have also recognised the existence of people who are perfectly capable of working but are not doing so. Most of these people are unemployed due to economic circumstances. But a small minority are not working because they don't want to. And an even smaller minority pretend to be ill, infirm or unfortunate in order to claim benefits, often while working on the sly.

In mediaeval times, most social support was provided by the Church, through the monasteries and the parishes. But after the dissolution of the monasteries, far more of this responsibility fell on the parishes. Welfare provision in Tudor times became patchy and inconsistent – good in some places, less good in others. Eventually, the Poor Laws of 1601 recognised and codified “good practice” in the care of those who could not provide for themselves. Poorhouses were established, in which the old, ill and infirm were cared for, and orphanages were created to house, feed and educate children.It all sounds very civilised.

But there was a darker side. People who were physically unable to provide for themselves were not the only people without work in Tudor times. Unemployment was already high at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, and it was accompanied by persistently high inflation. A growing number of able-bodied people were either not working or not earning enough to support themselves.

There had been a history of vagrancy in England ever since the Black Death. Once feudal ties were loosened by the shortage of able-bodied workers, some people got into the habit of moving from place to place looking for the best-paid work. The first law controlling wages and restricting movement of labour appeared in 1349 and was reinforcedin 1351. But these were poorly enforced and ineffective. And they did not address the growing number of “sturdy beggars” travelling from place to place, supporting themselves with a mixture of casual work, petty crime and begging.

Such itinerant workers were regarded with fear and suspicion, much as modern-day “travellers” are. The first law outlawing “wandering” appeared in 1388. Initially the punishment amounted to public humiliation: the offender was to be put in the stocks until he could persuade someone to pay for him to return to his “hundred”.

Yet many wanderers were repeat offenders: as fast as they were sent back to their hundreds, they left again. There is little doubt that to start with, many were simply migrating around the country in search of better-paid work, while others were professional beggars (and in the case of women, prostitutes) who knew they could make more money in a place where they were not known – rather like today's homeless man in a doorway, accompanied by obligatory dog, who takes the Tube back to his flat in Mill Hill at the end of a successful day's begging*. But once unemployment started to rise in Tudor times, their ranks were swelled by men, women and children who were genuinely unable to find steady work.

The trouble was that no-one distinguished between the genuinely unemployed and the professional vagrants. Punishments for vagrancy became increasingly harsh: in 1530, the Vagabonds Act licensed begging by the old and infirm, but provided for any able-bodied person found wandering outside their hundred to be “whipped until bloody” then forcibly returned to their hundred and compelled to work. The only people excused from this were heavily pregnant women and children under seven.

The legislation was strengthened in 1536, when provision was made for mutilation, imprisonment or execution of repeat offenders. And in 1547, a law was passed allowing for enslavement of vagrants. These laws proved too much for the magistrates: neither law was ever enforced. The 1547 law was repealed in 1550, and the death penalty for vagrancy was abolished in 1597. Imprisonment was as far as magistrates would go. Thus were born the first “workhouses”.

They weren't called workhouses at that time. They were known as “houses of correction”. The idea was that “sturdy beggars” were choosing not to work and therefore had a bad work ethic, which needed to be “corrected”. This was done by imposing hard physical work and a spartan regime.

The Poor Laws codified this distinction. Poorhouses were for the “deserving poor” - those who, through no fault of their own, were incapable of working. “Houses of correction” were for the “undeserving poor” - those who were perfectly capable of working but were choosing not to do so.. But not many of the unemployed actually ended up in houses of correction. Belatedly, Poor Law legislators realised that unemployment was not necessarily wilful, and so chose to support the majority of unemployed with “outdoor relief”, or what we would now call unemployment benefit.

“Outdoor relief” was originally introduced to support agricultural labourers suffering seasonal unemployment. Usually it involved some form of workfare, which was supposed to be socially useful but unfortunately included such beneficial activities as parking the unemployed on benches and leaving them there all day. Finding useful work for the unemployed to do was not always easy for parish administrators in times of high unemployment: modern proponents of a countercyclical job guarantee system might like to take note. They also faced the problem known as “hysteresis”, where the skills of the unemployed degenerate over time.

All manner of creative solutions to the twin problems of unemployment and hysteresis were adopted. The so-called “labour rate” was a property tax specifically used to fund the employment of agricultural labourers. The “roundsman” system was a job guarantee system funded by parishes to ensure that all agricultural labourers were productively employed: it depressed wages, but at least it kept people busy. Philanthropists, too, did their bit to relieve unemployment: one clergyman with more money than sense even built a completely useless tower near Rothbury, Northumberland, purely to keep local stonemasons occupied. And the Speenhamland system of income support attempted to ensure that periods of unemployment and under-employment coupled with high inflation did not leave families struggling to afford bread.

The Poor Laws were in many ways a benevolent institution, reversing the harshness of Tudor times. But the cost of all this assistance grew higher and higher as the population increased in the Industrial Revolution, raising concerns about its affordability. And there was a growing belief that supporting people with benefits destroyed people's incentive to work and was therefore a bad idea from both an economic and, more importantly, moral point of view. Rather than discouraging work with benefits, therefore, people should be compelled to work, if necessary with the threat of starvation.

Driven by both moral and economic concerns, the Old Poor Laws were replaced in 1834with a new systemdesigned to ensure that people took responsibility for providing for themselves and their families. No more were parishes to provide unemployment benefits or income support (although in practice many continued to do so). No longer was there to be any attempt to distinguish between those who would not work and those who could not. Poorhouses and houses of correction merged to create a single institution – the workhouse. And into the workhouse went the old, the ill, the infirm, widows, orphans, the unemployed and their families.

Conditions in workhouses were deliberately harsh. It was believed that “work should pay”, and therefore workhouses should be a last resort for the desperate. Work itself was believed to be virtuous. So workhouses provided just that – work. Hours and hours of it. Pointless, boring, demeaning work such as breaking stones, picking oakum or – stupidest of all – walking a treadmill. The regime was harsh, food was basic and there was no leisure time. You were not in a workhouse to enjoy yourself. Nor were you there to be cared for if you were incapable of work: the old concept of the benevolent poorhouse had gone. Everyone, old, young, ill, infirm, widows and unemployed, were subject to the same regime. Regardless of the circumstances, you were in a workhouse because you had committed the crime of worklessness. There were no mitigating factors.

Because it was believed that worklessness was caused by moral defect, steps were taken to prevent such moral degeneracy from spreading. People who entered workhouses often died there. Children were separated from their parents, often never to see them again. And husbands and wives were separated, usually permanently.

And yet, for all their harshness, Victorian workhouses had benefits. They provided basic healthcare and education, which many people “on the outside” could not afford. This rudimentary safety net made them particularly attractive to the old and those with children. Because of this, they failed in their basic aim, which was to force everyone to support themselves.

The Victorian period was a time of bizarre contradictions: of appalling cruelty inflicted with the best of motives, and of real social improvements coupled with grinding poverty for far too many. The foundation of the modern welfare state was laid during that time, as campaigners and politicians genuinely concerned about the hardships of the poor enacted legislation to improve their lot.

But the moral beliefs that drove both the harsh treatment of vagrants in the 16th century and the unintended cruelty of the Victorian workhouse system persist to this day.

The idea that “work must pay” encourages politicians to make claiming benefits extremely difficult for the unemployed and – more worryingly – for those who are unable to work due to illness or infirmity, just as in Victorian times, workhouse conditions were made deliberately harsh to discourage people from entering them.

Politicians castigate “generational worklessness”, promoting the idea that a tendency to worklessness is somehow inherited, passed on from parents to children. It was this idea that led to the brutal separation of families in the workhouses.

Above all, there remains a strong belief in the moral virtue of work. Work is indeed important for human dignity, so making it possible for people to work is important: but in what way mind-numbingly boring, pointless and demeaning work is dignifying and virtuous is hard to imagine. Nonetheless, the idea that people should be forced to do basic work to “earn” their benefits – even if their time might be better spent looking for a job that actually uses their skills - is electorally popular.

Underlying this lies the unwarranted assumption that all jobs are intrinsically of value and therefore anyone who turns down work because it is poorly paid, socially useless and utterly boring is lazy. It was this idea that led to workhouse inmates being forced to work long hours in dreary, pointless jobs. Today, we impose benefit sanctions on people who turn down the dreary, pointless jobs we assign to them in the name of “work experience”. Giving it a different name doesn't change its nature. It's the workhouse work ethic all over again.

It is perhaps understandable that we feel angry when we see people we think should be working but aren't. And it is also understandable that when times are hard, we resent paying benefits to those we feel don't deserve them. I suppose the anger that we feel towards those we regard as “scroungers” and “shirkers” will never go away. But categorising the poor is not only difficult – it is harmful, not to the shirkers and scroungers, but to the genuinely deserving. And it is also economically damaging for society as a whole.

Compelling people to work depresses wages for everyone. Harsh treatment of the workless enables employers to bid down wages to the floor in the certain knowledge that people will accept any work, at any price, rather than face the consequences. In Victorian times, fear of the workhouse depressed wages on the outside, forcing workhouses to respond by making conditions inside even worse. There was a race to the bottom in grimness which culminated in the famous Andover workhouse case, where starving inmates were reduced to eating the bones they had been assigned to grind down to make fertilizer. Today, we withdraw unemployment benefits from people who refuse even unpaid “work”. Is it any wonder that real unskilled wages have been falling?

Falling wages mean reduced demand in the domestic economy and lower tax revenues. If there are in-work benefits, falling wages also mean higher benefit bills. The “roundsman” system resulted in unsustainable benefit bills, as employers under-employed at market rates in the knowledge that they could pay less for the “reserve army” of unemployed labourers auctioned off by the parishes. These days, we prevent Dutch auctions in unskilled labour by imposing minimum wages. Ostensibly, this is to “make work pay”: but as benefit withdrawal for people on minimum wages can mean marginal tax rates of 100% or more, work at the minimum wage may not actually pay at all, though it does limit the benefit bills. But we haven't addressed the root cause of the problem: because we still subscribe to Victorian ideas that people will prefer to live on benefits than work to improve their lot, we are still – nearly two hundred years later – trying to compel people to work. The result is spiralling regulation and intervention in labour markets to limit the race to the bottom that such compulsion causes. We have learned nothing from our history.

But worst of all, using rules and sanctions to compel the genuinely work-shy to work diverts attention and resources away from those who really need help. And it unfairly stigmatises the vast majority of those who are not working, or who are not working as many hours as we think they should, whether through unemployment, sickness or disability. Study after study has shown that in general, people want to work. The problem is that suitable jobs aren't always available. And yet there remains a prevalent view, even among people who should know better, that people must be compelled to work, or to work harder, with harsh treatment. But today's sanctions for those who won't or can't work are mild compared to the punishments of old: why should they be any more successful? We would do better to concentrate our attention on helping those who genuinely want to work to find fulfilling, productive and well-paid jobs.

And we should also stop trying to decide whether someone “deserves” social support. We have been trying to distinguish between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor for eight hundred years, and we are no better able to make that judgement now than we were in the fourteenth century, or the sixteenth, or the nineteenth.

It is time to give up this fruitless attempt to judge people's motives. Simply provide everyone with a basic income so that they can afford to live, then let them get on with whatever they want to do.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Related reading:

Rolling out Universal Credit - National Audit Office
Productivity and Employment - Coppola Comment

* I do not mean to suggest that all homeless beggars in London are frauds. But we should recognise that professional begging exists today just as it did in the fourteenth century. Some things never change.

Image is The Andover Bastille, a cartoon from the time of the Andover case. Courtesy of Wikipedia

This post was originally published on PieriaView in 2014, under the title "Categorising the Poor". 

The Dark Side of Self-Control

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/06/2018 - 7:07pm in

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work

Self-control is an important component of success, but it comes with a cost. To achieve our goals, we also need to be attuned to our feelings in the moment.

What Is the "Other" Issue in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/06/2018 - 2:09am in

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Religion, work

What did the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision tell us, and what issues did it leave to be settled another day?

In Hot Pursuit of Happiness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 21/05/2018 - 11:20pm in

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neuroscience, work

Although they are in hot pursuit of happiness, psychologists and neuroscientists do not always clarify the degree to which happiness is primarily a cultural or scientific concept.

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