Living Well

My synthesis. Read the full article (with the author’s permission) at https://newint.org/features/2021/10/07/living-well

Richard Swift, New Internationalist, 10 December 2021
The obsession with full employment is a dead end in a world on the ecological brink. Richard Swift explores what could sustain us instead.

The long and the short of it is this: the elusive full employment that continues to be advocated by politicians across the political spectrum will be the death of us as a species. ‘Jobs for all’ (the way the world is currently organized) will continue to pile up irreversible damage to the natural world and undermine the ecological basis for the existence of many species, including our own. Full employment is intimately connected to full-throttle growth – a growth we simply cannot afford. It is hard to overstate the importance of ‘the job’ in our current political economy of growth. Jobs can overshadow every other value – mental and physical health, national independence, democracy, our increasingly threadbare environment – and all too often they steal the joy from our lives. The late anthropologist David Graeber, in the preface to his seminal work Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, concluded that: ‘We have become a civilization based on work – not even “productive work” but work as an end and meaning in itself… half the time we are engaged in utterly meaningless or counter-productive activities. Today there are more humans who live off recycling garbage from massive urban dumps in places like Manila, Mexico City and Nairobi (an estimated 15 million in 2018) than those holding relatively well-paid jobs in the car industry worldwide (about 14 million pre-Covid-19). David Graeber and a number of other critics of full employment focus on the arbitrary and useless nature of what pass for far too many jobs. They have a reasonable point – wouldn’t the world be better off free of telemarketers, consultants, layers of middle management and a good deal of what is euphemistically called ‘the financial services industry’? To do this it will be necessary to move the distribution of wealth and income away from a labour market where for the vast majority of people one’s income is based primarily on the job one does. A whole new era of distributive policies needs to be on the horizon. These include a universal basic income, reduced working hours, an international tax regime that dismantles billionaire-centred inequality and guaranteed basic services such as decent healthcare and free education. Our new era of modesty and limits might best be represented by the lowly sloth with its aversion to unnecessary effort and the redoubtable snail which has become the symbol of both the slow food and degrowth movements. The jobs we do despoiling nature are simply in contradiction to our own evolutionary survival.

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