Month: August 2018

Fuck Work: Contra Productivism

I teach several sociology courses in my department’s “economy, work and development” concentrations, and I have assigned James Livingston’s books, blogs and articles to the students in those classes. Rarely do readings polarize my students’ responses as much as Livingston’s do. But the students’ disagreements do not revolve around the issues that Paul Jorion lays out in his preface. No one has yet been bothered by the question of whether Livingston’s argument boils down to sour grapes now that work is disappearing or the premise that we were stupid to have ever loved work. To my view, these are not exactly the two options, and they aren’t mutually exclusive anyway. In fact, I think Livingston has argued that work is an abomination, and we should never have learned to love it, and now that there is not enough work we should wake up and embrace our dis-employment and spend our time loving each other. Besides, it does not matter how we each feel about work, individually; it matters how we feel about it as societies, as cultures. Regardless, this is not the problem my students have had with No More Work. Instead, they focus largely on two questions that Livingston’s book does not, in their minds, adequately address, and many of them conclude that while it is fun to read—”energizing”, as Jorion says—its ideas are “unrealistic.” (The fact that...

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Fuck Work: Labor and Morality

Both Livingston and Jorion say paid work in labor markets is destined to decline, but I think this is far from clear. A cursory look at the US statistics indicates as such. In the celebrated post-WWII US economy the civilian labor force participation rate never reached more than 58 percent in 1953 during the Korean War. Then, it fell to 55.2 percent in 1961. Congress held hearings on “automation.” But what is the labor force participation rate today? In April 2018 it was 60.3 percent. So more people are working today than during the vaunted golden age of capitalism, when Americans produced something instead of flipping burgers or houses. True, from its all time peak of 64.7 percent in 2000, the US labor force participation rate has declined ever since. And there is evidence that new technologies are biased towards replacing rather than augmenting labor. Jorion had the historical record wrong here, it seemed to me. During Industrial Revolution, often the machines created new demand for labor. When we talk about jobs disappearing lets be clear what we are talking about. We are talking about a certain kind of job that was the anchor of industrial society. We are talking about middle-income male employment. The crisis of work is a crisis for men. Who are “men” going to be in the future and what will they spend their days...

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Fuck Work: Futurism, Choice and Realism

What lies in the future? What is inevitable, what is possible, what is inherent and what is to be chosen? Paul Jorion’s introduction to the French translation of James Livingston’s No More Work is an essay on these questions in relation to the future of work, and of resource distribution beyond wages. Jorion neatly challenges the link between livelihood and work. But though Jorion echoes Livingston’s deep skepticism of our attachment to (and moralization of) work (or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, of wage labor), he falls into three common traps in thinking about such futures. These are the trap of assumed human innateness, the trap of historical determinism, and the trap of faulty arithmetic. Yes, arithmetic. In fact, Jorion’s math is the least interesting, the most common and the least contentious of the three traps – but perhaps the most important to set right. This is a fundamental mistake in understanding the cost of a universal basic income. As Livingston (and many others) points out, by guaranteeing a livelihood to all, a UBI could help divorce distribution from work, enable bargaining for shorter hours and decenter the economic primacy of labor. Yet Jorion dismisses UBI in passing as unrealistically expensive. (Though Jorion’s alternative to UBI – abolishing money – can hardly call realism as its greatest strength.) One cannot blame Jorion for this: he merely...

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Public Image Ltd. — The Public Image is Rotten (Songs from the Heart)

Public Image Ltd. The Public Image is Rotten (Songs from the Heart) Virgin PiL hasn’t been on Virgin Records in a long-time, since the early 90s, before the official break occasioned by John Lydon returning to the Sex Pistols to make filthy lucre on tour.  But, here we are, with a 5-set compilation from Virgin that includes some tracks of the two most recent PiL albums, This is PiL (2012) and What the World Needs Now (2015), both of which they released themselves.  There isn’t really a lot to report here in a lot of ways. Despite vague promises of never-before-heard tracks and remixes, there isn’t a lot here a dedicated fan hasn’t heard, and most of it was on the Plastic Box boxset in 1999.  But, it is worth noting that this compilation is the soundtrack to a new documentary about PiL of the same name. But what I found interesting about this compilation is that I have always thought that whilst PiL is Lydon’s bus, it is impossible to take its ouevre as a single, digestible piece.  PiL is best understood in periods.  The first period, which included the brilliant Jah Wobble on bass and Keith Levene on guitar, officially ended when Levene wandered off in 1983.  Wobble had left in 1980. From 1983 to 1985, PiL was essentially Lydon and drummer extraordinaire Martin Atkins (one of the best Twitter follows...

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Fuck Work: An Introduction

My condensation of the 2016 book, No More Work (UNC Press), for Aeon, the online magazine, reverted to the original title, “Fuck Work.”  That piece went totally viral.  To date it has received over a million reads (not hits, actual reads that last 14 minutes) and roughly 90,000 Facebook shares.  WTF? Paul Jorion, a French sociologist andf all-around intellectual, noticed the traffic, and enjoyed the argument, so he commissioned a translation and a comment for his blog.  Then he went further and pitched a translation of the book to Flammarion, the esteemed French publishing house.  That translation is now in print, with his introduction up front I asked Matthew Barlow, our ace from Politics/Letters Live, to translate the introduction, so that we might then argue over the content and the reception of my argument.  Bruce Robbins, one of our associate editors, elaborated on Barlow’s translation.  Here’s the result. We’ll follow up with responses by Jon Levy of the University of Chicago, Liz Fouksman of Oxford University, our very own Bruce Robbins, and Karen Foster of the University of Nova Scotia.  I’ll try to summarize the state of the debate, and then Paul Jorion will get the last word.   With any luck, we’ll have some...

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