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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

I’m a post-workist writer and economist, apparently…

Frase belongs to a small group of writers, academics, and economists—they have been called “post-workists”—who welcome, even root for, the end of labor. American society has “an irrational belief in work for work’s sake,” says Benjamin Hunnicutt, another post-workist and a historian at the University of Iowa, even though most jobs aren’t so uplifting. A 2014 Gallup report of worker satisfaction found that as many as 70 percent of Americans don’t feel engaged by their current job. Hunnicutt told me that if a cashier’s work were a video game—grab an item, find the bar code, scan it, slide the item onward, and repeat—critics of video games might call it mindless. But when it’s a job, politicians praise its intrinsic dignity. “Purpose, meaning, identity, fulfillment, creativity, autonomy—all these things that positive psychology has shown us to be necessary for well-being are absent in the average job,” he said.

The post-workists are certainly right about some important things. Paid labor does not always map to social good. Raising children and caring for the sick is essential work, and these jobs are compensated poorly or not at all. In a post-work society, Hunnicutt said, people might spend more time caring for their families and neighbors; pride could come from our relationships rather than from our careers.

The post-work proponents acknowledge that, even in the best post-work scenarios, pride and jealousy will persevere, because reputation will always be scarce, even in an economy of abundance. But with the right government provisions, they believe, the end of wage labor will allow for a golden age of well-being. Hunnicutt said he thinks colleges could reemerge as cultural centers rather than job-prep institutions. The word school, he pointed out, comes from skholē, the Greek word for “leisure.” “We used to teach people to be free,” he said. “Now we teach them to work.”

From Derek Thompson’s “A world without work” in The Atlantic.

I disagree with elements of this article but overall, it covers a lot of ground very well and is a very satisfying read.

And in the new world will you specialise in consumption, communal creativity or contingency?

To paraphrase the science-fiction novelist William Gibson, there are, perhaps, fragments of the post-work future distributed throughout the present. I see three overlapping possibilities as formal employment opportunities decline. Some people displaced from the formal workforce will devote their freedom to simple leisure; some will seek to build productive communities outside the workplace; and others will fight, passionately and in many cases fruitlessly, to reclaim their productivity by piecing together jobs in an informal economy. These are futures of consumption, communal creativity, and contingency. In any combination, it is almost certain that the country would have to embrace a radical new role for government.

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I want you to think about this. I believe it is important. I don’t need your empathy to take the form of you trying to understand my pain as a black person in America. I need your empathy to take the form of you examining your apathy, inaction, and complicity, as a white person in America. I need you to do this, for there to ever be hope that such violence will end. This is the greatest act of love you could give me in this horrible moment.

From “Charleston, and what I want from white people” by Mawiyah at Each Little Spark.

Link from Ruth DeSouza.

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Here class counts for everything. A child of privilege can afford strategic confusion, a child of the masses cannot. Chance opportunities are likely to come to the child of privilege because of family background and educational networks; privilege diminishes the need to strategize. Strong, extensive human networks allow those at the top to dwell in the present; the networks constitute a safety net which diminishes the need for long-term strategic planning. The new elite thus have less need of the ethic of delayed gratification, as thick networks provide contacts and a sense of belonging, no matter what firm or organization one works for. The mass, however, has a thinner network of informal contact and support, and so remains more institution-dependent. It’s sometimes said that the new technology can somewhat correct this inequality, electronic chat rooms and affinity groups supplying the information a young person would need to seize the moment. In the work world, at least at the moment, this is not the case. Face-to-face matters. This is why techies go to so many conventions, and, more consequently, why people working from home, connected to the office only by computer, so often are left out of informal decision gathering and decision making.

In general, the lower down in an organization, the thinner one’s network, the more a person;s survival requires formal strategic thinking, and formal strategic thinking requires a legible social map.

From Richard Sennett’s excellent book, The Culture of the New Capitalism.

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This piece is about art, poverty, classism, compassion, curiosity, commitment, reinvention, re-purposing, racism and rage, community and individualism, craftsmanship and capitalism, ritual and habit and some of how they all intersect:

If you walk along Dorchester Avenue it looks, as Gates says, like a decent street “but sometimes bad things happen. I have to say to my friends, violent things sometimes happen in this neighbourhood, and all the cleaning and sweeping in the world is not going to change the fact that among certain groups of young men and women here, rage is an entirely sensible reaction to their world. I get that. It is not always pretty, it is not always square.”

Gates says there has been no hostility to his efforts to revitalise some formerly “no-go area” blocks. “Well,” he qualifies, “the windows of my studio have been shot out four times by kids – you know, target practice. But I think part of that is a desire to know what is happening on the inside and there being no obvious way to ask. Part of me wants to just catch these brothers to invite them in. In general I’m a co-worker with my neighbours here. And though maybe they don’t have the platform of the Observer to talk about it, they have stuck with this place through many more dire moments than me. My hat’s off to them. They got on with it. They had no leveraging mechanism but they stayed here, and most tried to do the right things.”

And..

There is always a part beyond what man owes man. It’s like: some decisions, most decisions I make, are not the right smart market decisions, but they are important to me.”

Lately, along with a determined return to his potter’s wheel, Gates has been making – the headline act of the White Cube show – large-scale “tar paintings”, which are as they sound, canvases coated with whorls and geometries of viscous black. He made some of them with his father, now 80, who bequeathed him his tar kettle.

“I could make another kind of work,” he says. “But how about I just really lean into my dad’s tar kettle?”

He believes art, if it matters, has to have roots in autobiography.

“This is the thing about the art market. If a young kid isn’t invited to know what they have inside them, and how to unlock that, then what they have is just devices. And you pretty quickly run out of devices. I had a life before all this. The lights were off for me, I was out in the shed, but that was a really useful way into this world.”

From Tim Adams’ “Chicago artist Theaster Gates: ‘I’m hoping Swiss bankers will bail out my flooded South Side bank in the name of art” in The Guardian.

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And the same message underpins private school scholarships; the idea that only the very gifted can attend such schools for free has the paradoxical logic of both validating the high fees and creating an illusion of meritocracy or superior moral worth. Still, if I had a dollar for every parent I know sweating on the outcome of their child’s scholarship exam, I’d be as rich as the elite schools themselves. Interestingly, the private school lobby likes to say that parents choose these schools  for their “values.” I’m not sure what values are at work in the scholarship system. The private schools would say they’re bequeathing opportunities to less advantaged kids. But these schools cherry-pick kids whose achievements will advantage the institution by attracting yet more fee-paying students. The only “value” exemplified is the value of commerce, with students analogous to high-yield investments.

These schools are in the business of sowing doubt, gutting state high schools of aspirational families and shredding egalitarianism. That’s not surprising; most businesses are driven by self-interest. But where Australia takes the cake for stupidity is paying these businesses for the privilege of undermining educational equity, and by extension, our nation’s economic growth.

We’ve heard time and again private schools claim an entitlement to public funds on the basis they’re “taking pressure off the public system.” In truth, they’re doing precisely the opposite. Luring high-performing students from the public system – whether by scholarship, other inducements or guilt-laced promotion – weakens the cultural mix at government schools, lowering expectations of the remaining students and transforming these schools into options of last resort.  And these “residual schools” are punishing on the public purse, requiring more equity funding to compensate for the concentration of kids from low socio-economic backgrounds, and more money for remedial and other interventions.

From Julie Szego’s “Private schools and their bankrupt propaganda” in The Age.

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.. was about the Productivity Commission’s report on childcare and early childhood. (Whoops, I forgot to tell you).

I snuck in some talk of universal minimum incomes, too.

I don’t regret being a work-outside-the-home mother. There are many advantages to having parents in the workforce – higher family income and social capital opportunities, to name a couple. And as a, now, single mother I can attest to the benefits of staying attached to the workforce in terms of the longer term security it provides me. (Which is why it can make economic sense to work during the early years of motherhood even when part-time work and childcare costs mean you may not lodge a profit. Think of it as an insurance policy). But if we’re going to encourage higher participation rates for women, and quite frankly our economy now depends on such, then we need to think about how we incorporate care into economic systems rather than segregating it outside the system. We must recognise that love and reciprocity are drives as fundamental to us as self-interest.

File all of this with notions like a guaranteed universal basic income and other economic possibilities for happiness that might actually be a real option if we were ready to consider them. Because, we are not talking some stagnant old debate here between capitalism and communism. We’re talking about ways of better organising our economy and care. And it starts with framing the debate around the understanding that children are in many ways a public good and warrant public support accordingly.

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This is how social policy works, in baby steps and trial-and-error and tweaks, not in game changers. Leave the leaps and bounds to computing power. If a 49-cent deworming treatment really does produce a $30 increase in wages for some of the poorest people on Earth, we are assholes for not spending it.

And this is where I landed after a year of absorbing dozens of books and articles and speeches about international development: The arguments against it are myriad, and mostly logistical and technical. The argument for it is singular, moral, and, to me anyway, utterly convincing: We have so much, they have so little.

If we really want to fix development, we need to stop chasing after ideas the way we go on fad diets. Successful programs should be allowed to expand by degrees, not digits (direct cash payments, which have shown impressive results in Kenya and Uganda, are a great candidate for the kind of deliberate expansion I’m talking about). NGOs need to be free to invest in the kinds of systems and processes we’re always telling developing countries to put in place. And rich countries need to spend less time debating how to divide up the tiny sliver of our GDP we spend on development and more time figuring out how to leverage our vast economic and political power to let it happen on its own.

This applies to nearly everything in social policy.

This article, “Stop trying to save the world: Big ideas are destroying international development” by Michael Hobbes in New Republic is the most satisfying read on the topic I’ve come across in ages. It was sent to me by my father who worked for one of the biggest development ‘organisations’ in the world most of his career.

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