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107

Post-Work Imaginaries

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terms
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notes

Williams, A. and Srnicek, N. (2016). Post-Work Imaginaries. In Williams, A. and Srnicek, N. Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. Verso, pp. 107-128

108

[...] The proposals in this chapter will not break us out of capitalism, but they do promise to break us out of neoliberalism, and to establish a new equilibrium of political, economic and social forces. From the social democratic consensus to the neoliberal consensus, our argument is that the left should mobilise around a post-work consensus. With a post-work society, we would have even more potential to launch forward to greater goals. But this is a project that must be carried out over the long term: decades rather than years, cultural shifts rather than electoral cycles. Given the reality of the weakened left today, there is only one way forward: to patiently rebuild its power – a topic that will be covered in the chapters to follow. There simply is no other way to bring about a post-work world. We must therefore attend to these longer-term strategic goals, and rebuild the collective agencies that might eventually bring them about. By directing the left towards a post-work future, not only will significant gains be aimed for – such as the reduction of drudgery and poverty – but political power will be built in the process. [...]

basically they're arguing for patience, and baby steps, but still in a transformative way (just one step at a time)

—p.108 by Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek 4 years, 3 months ago

[...] The proposals in this chapter will not break us out of capitalism, but they do promise to break us out of neoliberalism, and to establish a new equilibrium of political, economic and social forces. From the social democratic consensus to the neoliberal consensus, our argument is that the left should mobilise around a post-work consensus. With a post-work society, we would have even more potential to launch forward to greater goals. But this is a project that must be carried out over the long term: decades rather than years, cultural shifts rather than electoral cycles. Given the reality of the weakened left today, there is only one way forward: to patiently rebuild its power – a topic that will be covered in the chapters to follow. There simply is no other way to bring about a post-work world. We must therefore attend to these longer-term strategic goals, and rebuild the collective agencies that might eventually bring them about. By directing the left towards a post-work future, not only will significant gains be aimed for – such as the reduction of drudgery and poverty – but political power will be built in the process. [...]

basically they're arguing for patience, and baby steps, but still in a transformative way (just one step at a time)

—p.108 by Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek 4 years, 3 months ago
112

[...] Full automation is something that can and should be achieved, regardless of whether it is yet being carried out. For instance, out of the US companies that could benefit from incorporating industrial robots, less than 10 per cent have done so. This is but one area for full automation to take hold in, and this reiterates the importance of making full automation a political demand, rather than assuming it will come about from economic necessity. A variety of policies can help in this project: more state investment, higher minimum wages and research devoted to technologies that replace rather than augment workers. In the most detailed estimates of the labour market, it is suggested that between 47 and 80 per cent of today’s jobs are capable of being automated. Let us take this estimate not as a deterministic prediction, but instead as the outer limit of a political project against work. We should take these numbers as a standard against which to measure our success.

While full automation of the economy is presented here as an ideal and a demand, in practice it is unlikely to be fully achieved. In certain spheres, human labour is likely to continue for technical, economic and ethical reasons. On a technical level, machines today remain worse than humans at jobs involving creative work, highly flexible work, affective work and most tasks relying on tacit rather than explicit knowledge. The engineering problems involved in automating these tasks appear insurmountable for the next two decades (though similar claims were made about self-driving cars ten years ago), and a programme of full automation would aim to invest research money into overcoming these limits. A second barrier to full automation occurs for economic reasons: certain tasks can already be completed by machines, but the cost of the machines exceeds the cost of the equivalent labour. Despite the efficiency, accuracy and productivity of machine labour, capitalism prefers to make profits, and therefore uses human labour whenever it is cheaper than capital investment. A programme of full automation would aim to overcome this as well, through measures as simple as raising the minimum wage, supporting labour movements and using state subsidies to incentivise the replacement of human labour.

—p.112 by Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek 4 years, 3 months ago

[...] Full automation is something that can and should be achieved, regardless of whether it is yet being carried out. For instance, out of the US companies that could benefit from incorporating industrial robots, less than 10 per cent have done so. This is but one area for full automation to take hold in, and this reiterates the importance of making full automation a political demand, rather than assuming it will come about from economic necessity. A variety of policies can help in this project: more state investment, higher minimum wages and research devoted to technologies that replace rather than augment workers. In the most detailed estimates of the labour market, it is suggested that between 47 and 80 per cent of today’s jobs are capable of being automated. Let us take this estimate not as a deterministic prediction, but instead as the outer limit of a political project against work. We should take these numbers as a standard against which to measure our success.

While full automation of the economy is presented here as an ideal and a demand, in practice it is unlikely to be fully achieved. In certain spheres, human labour is likely to continue for technical, economic and ethical reasons. On a technical level, machines today remain worse than humans at jobs involving creative work, highly flexible work, affective work and most tasks relying on tacit rather than explicit knowledge. The engineering problems involved in automating these tasks appear insurmountable for the next two decades (though similar claims were made about self-driving cars ten years ago), and a programme of full automation would aim to invest research money into overcoming these limits. A second barrier to full automation occurs for economic reasons: certain tasks can already be completed by machines, but the cost of the machines exceeds the cost of the equivalent labour. Despite the efficiency, accuracy and productivity of machine labour, capitalism prefers to make profits, and therefore uses human labour whenever it is cheaper than capital investment. A programme of full automation would aim to overcome this as well, through measures as simple as raising the minimum wage, supporting labour movements and using state subsidies to incentivise the replacement of human labour.

—p.112 by Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek 4 years, 3 months ago
115

[...] On top of this, a vast amount of work is unpaid and therefore uncounted in official data (there is also an ongoing gender divide within this unpaid labour force). While waged work remains difficult for many to find, unpaid work is proliferating – an entire sphere of ‘shadow work’ is emerging with automation at the point of sale, with work being delegated to users (think self-checkouts and ATMs). Moreover, there is the hidden labour required to retain a job: financial management, job searching if unemployed, constant skills training, commuting time, and the all-important (gendered) sphere of the labour involved in caring for children, family members and other dependents.

—p.115 by Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek 4 years, 3 months ago

[...] On top of this, a vast amount of work is unpaid and therefore uncounted in official data (there is also an ongoing gender divide within this unpaid labour force). While waged work remains difficult for many to find, unpaid work is proliferating – an entire sphere of ‘shadow work’ is emerging with automation at the point of sale, with work being delegated to users (think self-checkouts and ATMs). Moreover, there is the hidden labour required to retain a job: financial management, job searching if unemployed, constant skills training, commuting time, and the all-important (gendered) sphere of the labour involved in caring for children, family members and other dependents.

—p.115 by Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek 4 years, 3 months ago

the use in manufacturing industry of the methods pioneered by Henry Ford, typified by large-scale mechanized mass production

121

The second related feature of UBI is that it transforms precarity and unemployment from a state of insecurity to a state of voluntary flexibility. It is often forgotten that the initial push for flexible labour came from workers, as a way of demolishing the constraining permanency of traditional Fordist labour.

—p.121 by Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek
notable
4 years, 3 months ago

The second related feature of UBI is that it transforms precarity and unemployment from a state of insecurity to a state of voluntary flexibility. It is often forgotten that the initial push for flexible labour came from workers, as a way of demolishing the constraining permanency of traditional Fordist labour.

—p.121 by Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek
notable
4 years, 3 months ago
124

One of the most difficult problems in implementing a UBI and building a post-work society will be overcoming the pervasive pressure to submit to the work ethic. [...] Work, no matter how degrading or low-paid or inconvenient, is deemed an ultimate good. This is the mantra of both mainstream political parties and most trade unions, associated with rhetoric about getting people back into work, the importance of working families, and cutting welfare so that ‘it always pays to work’. This is matched by a parallel cultural effort demonising those without jobs. Newspapers blare headlines about the worthlessness of welfare recipients, TV shows sensationalise and mock the poor, and the ever looming figure of the welfare cheat is continually evoked. Work has become central to our very self-conception – so much so that when presented with the idea of doing less work, many people ask, ‘But what would I do?’ The fact that so many people find it impossible to imagine a meaningful life outside of work demonstrates the extent to which the work ethic has infected our minds.

While typically associated with the protestant work ethic, the submission to work is in fact implicit in many religions. These ethics demand dedication to one’s work regardless of the nature of the job, instilling a moral imperative that drudgery should be valued. While originating in religious ideas about ensuring a better afterlife, the goal of the work ethic was eventually replaced with a secular devotion to improvement in this life. More contemporary forms of this imperative have taken on a liberal-humanist character, portraying work as the central means of self-expression. Work has come to be driven into our identity, portrayed as the only means for true self-fulfilment. [...] With work tied so tightly into our identities, overcoming the work ethic will require us overcoming ourselves.

The central ideological support for the work ethic is that remuneration be tied to suffering. Everywhere one looks, there is a drive to make people suffer before they can receive a reward. The epithets thrown at homeless beggars, the demonization of those on the dole, the labyrinthine system of bureaucracy set up to receive benefits, the unpaid ‘job experience’ imposed upon the unemployed, the sadistic penalisation of those who are seen as getting something for free – all reveal the truth that for our societies, remuneration requires work and suffering. Whether for a religious or secular goal, suffering is thought to constitute a necessary rite of passage. People must endure through work before they can receive wages, they must prove their worthiness before the eyes of capital. This thinking has an obvious theological basis – where suffering is thought to be not only meaningful, but in fact the very condition of meaning. A life without suffering is seen as frivolous and meaningless. This position must be rejected as a holdover from a now-transcended stage of human history. The drive to make suffering meaningful may have had some functional logic in times when poverty, illness and starvation were necessary features of existence. But we should reject this logic today and recognise that we have moved beyond the need to ground meaning in suffering. Work, and the suffering that accompanies it, should not be glorified.

the bit about suffering is A+++

basically their arguments for the UBI are the same as those espoused by the jacobin editors during that left forum panel

—p.124 by Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek 4 years, 3 months ago

One of the most difficult problems in implementing a UBI and building a post-work society will be overcoming the pervasive pressure to submit to the work ethic. [...] Work, no matter how degrading or low-paid or inconvenient, is deemed an ultimate good. This is the mantra of both mainstream political parties and most trade unions, associated with rhetoric about getting people back into work, the importance of working families, and cutting welfare so that ‘it always pays to work’. This is matched by a parallel cultural effort demonising those without jobs. Newspapers blare headlines about the worthlessness of welfare recipients, TV shows sensationalise and mock the poor, and the ever looming figure of the welfare cheat is continually evoked. Work has become central to our very self-conception – so much so that when presented with the idea of doing less work, many people ask, ‘But what would I do?’ The fact that so many people find it impossible to imagine a meaningful life outside of work demonstrates the extent to which the work ethic has infected our minds.

While typically associated with the protestant work ethic, the submission to work is in fact implicit in many religions. These ethics demand dedication to one’s work regardless of the nature of the job, instilling a moral imperative that drudgery should be valued. While originating in religious ideas about ensuring a better afterlife, the goal of the work ethic was eventually replaced with a secular devotion to improvement in this life. More contemporary forms of this imperative have taken on a liberal-humanist character, portraying work as the central means of self-expression. Work has come to be driven into our identity, portrayed as the only means for true self-fulfilment. [...] With work tied so tightly into our identities, overcoming the work ethic will require us overcoming ourselves.

The central ideological support for the work ethic is that remuneration be tied to suffering. Everywhere one looks, there is a drive to make people suffer before they can receive a reward. The epithets thrown at homeless beggars, the demonization of those on the dole, the labyrinthine system of bureaucracy set up to receive benefits, the unpaid ‘job experience’ imposed upon the unemployed, the sadistic penalisation of those who are seen as getting something for free – all reveal the truth that for our societies, remuneration requires work and suffering. Whether for a religious or secular goal, suffering is thought to constitute a necessary rite of passage. People must endure through work before they can receive wages, they must prove their worthiness before the eyes of capital. This thinking has an obvious theological basis – where suffering is thought to be not only meaningful, but in fact the very condition of meaning. A life without suffering is seen as frivolous and meaningless. This position must be rejected as a holdover from a now-transcended stage of human history. The drive to make suffering meaningful may have had some functional logic in times when poverty, illness and starvation were necessary features of existence. But we should reject this logic today and recognise that we have moved beyond the need to ground meaning in suffering. Work, and the suffering that accompanies it, should not be glorified.

the bit about suffering is A+++

basically their arguments for the UBI are the same as those espoused by the jacobin editors during that left forum panel

—p.124 by Alex Williams, Nick Srnicek 4 years, 3 months ago