Most of you have probably heard one of the many versions of this joke: How many people does it take to change a light bulb? In my childhood it was popular to replace people with Swedes, and they had they same jokes about us. It had to do with intelligence, or rather lack of one, but it could also illustrate the communist problem.
In a country with a pure form of communism there is no unemployment. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you appear to be doing something. A good communist job would be the guy I saw outside Extended Stay America in Little Rock while I was staying there once. I looked out the window when I heard some noise, and thought I saw Dan Aykroyd, but it wasn’t a ghostbuster. It was just a guy with a leaf blower. It didn’t do much good because he didn’t pick up the leaves and when left to their own devices, leaves will turn to total anarchy. So the leaf blower was back again the next morning trying to show the leaves their place.
This is sort of our counter measure against Darwinism, which I wrote about in Ethical challenges in science. We are not perfect, and some are less so, but we have many jobs we don’t need. I guess it is showing an ability to adapt as well. I have also written extensively about artificial intelligence (AI) the last three years. I mentioned Oskar Levander, Vice President of Innovation, Engineering and Technology, Marine at Rolls Royce in my first post on this topic in 2013. He envisioned AI navigating big ships , and he’s not alone. There are also people working on machines that some day can replace journalists, nurses and receptionists. We are already seeing it in the car industry and companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft.
The British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay in 1930 where he predicted that his grandchildren would have a 15 hour work week. That’s how much he thought technology would help us. He was half right because we don’t have to work as much as we do. The work we do is worth less, even in socialist Norway, but many families feel that they are doing better financially because they work longer hours. An average Norwegian family work 68 hours a week, but the owners have taken most of the profit from automation and technology the last couple of decades.
The anthropoloist and anarchist activist David Graeber has written about bullshit jobs, and he started noticing that the private sector was doing the old communist thing. People spent much of their workday not doing much, or doing unnecessary things, and they felt embarrassed about their jobs. It’s almost like the employers are keeping employees just to make sure they have staff later when they need them. It’s sort of like the chocolate the shops sell for the holidays. There is an enormous overproduction every year, but it seems to be more profitable than producing the amount they expect to sell.
It’s strange that capitalism made private sector behave communist, but what happens when machines can do more complicated jobs? I can’t see governments paying people that don’t work. I am not sure I believe it, but it would be a good thing if this lead to a debate about values and what work is.
So what are the bullshit jobs? I don’t think it would be the end of human kind if we had to manage without lobbyists, telemarketers or conservative media. I think you can even pay someone to wash your dog or order pizza at three on monday morning. I believe people had pretty good lives before this was possible too.