On "antiwork" and necessary labor

In modern day, I think the best argument for UBI is, essentially, that there are legitimately some people who don’t want to work or simply are too incompetent to work productively. Targeted firing of employees can increase productivity because you’re removing that one guy who doesn’t do any work, which gums things up and eventually leads to someone else finally having to do it and then doing it poorly because they’re in a hurry because everything’s been set behind and it’s “not their work to do”. The poor work then, eventually, leads to more issues.

Paying a certain percentage of the population to go sit in the corner and pick their noses could, mathematically, be a financial win for society. Non-mathematically, though, you would have to see whether the social aspect of making such a rule would play out that way. Something working on paper doesn’t mean it would work in reality.

I guess this rhetorical question would have been better phrased as “why does this idea of work-as-virtue persist in an era where there is more surplus production than ever, yet workers retain less control of their work product than ever.”

And the answer to the rhetorical question is that the idea is instrumental to getting people to do things they’d rather not, at wages less than ideal, so that owners can maintain their own desired level of leisure.

Make no mistake, antiwork has always been the central tenet of capitalism. Elites and owners have always been enthusiastic antiworkers, at least as it applies to themselves.

I’ll rage at corporations, exploiters, bankers, and capitalism itself all day long if you like. I’ve carefully studied its history since the industrial revolution began. I got exposed to Marxist critiques back in college, about when Karl Marx was living down the street, thought they were very cogent, and read a few other views since.

But Marxists don’t do well in modern society and they don’t really have a substitute that remotely conforms to any reality I’m familiar with. Ever read a 19th century socialist utopia where all people get a fair share of everything and all they have to do in return is do a fair share of work? Yeah, that keeps being tried and keeps failing. People never want to do the nasty work, the dirty work, the boring work, the necessary work.

I grew up in a union household and I’ll be anti-exploiter until the day I die. Some big entities have to balance off big business. Should we reform work? Sure. Absolutely. Right now. Bring back unions? Of course, although they have some issues of their own. Increase government regulation and change tax laws? Good ideas, although they need to be carefully applied. Use the scarcity of labor to force employers to improve wages, benefits, and conditions? Can’t come soon enough.

Your quote, though, simplifies reality. Marx did not see the future; he was trapped by the bubble of Victorian England’s limits. Labor proved to be a more amorphous term than he could understand and the ways to fight the exploiters greater than he could envision.

Those with money and power have had the upper hand at all times - nobody can argue with that. Work is a means to an end rather than a virtue - I’m not arguing with that either. Nevertheless, the world is always more complicated than any slogan, and tearing it down and starting over has never been a possibility.

Most people have to live within a reasonable distance of where they work. Remote work is changing that for some people, mainly white collar workers, but for many that isn’t an option. So if I buy a house in the Rust Belt, where am I going to work? Also, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for anyone to want a decent house in a nice neighborhood. Part of the problem is that wages have remained low and housing has gone up.

On occasion, I peruse r/Antiwork, and for the most part they bitch about being treated like garbage. i.e. They have many valid complaints. But since it’s the internet, sometimes they have ridiculous complaints there as well.

One of the problems I think we have with creating a Universal Basic Income is that most people focus on the “Universal” part, and not the “Basic” part. This is how we get the “mooching off the work of others” complaints. There seems to be an undercurrent of thought that the people subsisting solely off the UBI will have lifestyles comparable to those who are still going to work every day.

But the income is basic income. It’s what you need to survive, not to live a life of luxury. Like, rent on a small apartment, enough healthy food to not starve, basic healthcare, and maybe an entry level TV for entertainment. We’re rich enough as a society that we should be able to provide that for everyone.

But if you want more, well, that’s where the work ethic comes in. Want a house instead of an apartment? Get a job. That’s how the “essential” jobs will be filled - people will see a direct advantage to them personally if they’re willing to do the work. And as above, the compensation for the work will have to match the value and effort of the work, because if it didn’t, you could just go back to living on the UBI.

Sure, there will be a lot of people “mooching” because they decide the UBI lifestyle is enough for them, but you won’t care because you’re making bank as a farmer or garbage truck driver.

I have no problem with helping someone who is down on their luck and can’t find work or someone who is incapable of working due to a disability of some sort. But I have a big problem supporting anyone who doesn’t want to work. I don’t care if we can support them, I don’t want to.

And since it’s fox news, they naturally found the most ridiculous on to put on TV to reassure their viewers that all complaints from that group have no merit.

It was a whole thing, but long story short is that Fox didn’t go out of their way to set up that interview, they just reached out via reddit and the mod in question insisted on doing it. People were pissed.

We’re definitely not at the point where we could have everyone not working. But we just might be at the point where nobody needs to work.

To clarify, suppose that there were some sort of UBI, or the like, that was enough, all by itself, to enable survival, with no luxuries. Given that, some folks would just be sloths and continue on with a bloblike bare existence. Some folks would accept the low standard of living, in exchange for being able to spend all of their time on art, or philosophy, or the like. And some folks wouldn’t consider it enough, and would want luxuries (whatever each person considered a “luxury”), and so would work to get additional income to spend on those luxuries. And there just might be enough people in that third category to do all of the work that needs to be done.

Since depending on demand elasticity producing more may not be viable, we can rephrase 1 into less effort = less cost, more profit. Traditionally the benefits of less effort have been split between the owners and workers, in the form of lower hours and/or increased pay. In the last 40 years most has gone to owners. Thus, antiwork and the Great Resignation.
Tie this into the work ethic which translates into working more, with or without increased rewards except in fantasy. Specifically, the companies who have policies of rewarding only top performers, so that increased work by the middle gets no or small reward.
The is an American thing. My son-in-law is German, and he actually took all the paternity leave which his company gave him, which I understand is quite rare here but common in Europe. It hasn’t hurt him a bit.

My concern is that the price of basic necessities might inevitability rise to UBI + minimum wage, and UBI will just be a subsidy to the great pools of concentrated wealth we already have.

Still kind of blinking in astonishment here at the implication that a stay-at-home parent is comparable to an artist in this respect.

I loves me some artists and try to do my bit on Patreon helping in a tiny way to support some of them devote their lives to artistic creation. But I understand how someone of strongly utilitarian views might argue that an artist’s “work” is a matter of self-indulgent personal fulfillment that doesn’t entitle them to societal support for their living expenses.

From that perspective, it’s not outrageous to say that an artist should be expected to “take care of themselves” financially, whether through their artistic career or through a separate day job, instead of expecting to be supported by the community while they devote themselves to art.

But putting that in the same category with a stay-at-home parent? ?? A parent rearing and training young children is doing arguably the most socially important work there is. And it’s quite hard to argue that being a full-time carer for children and a household is merely self-indulgent personal fulfillment.

ISTM that there’s a pretty substantial difference between not earning one’s own living via paid work because of focusing exclusively on unremunerative creative pursuits, and not earning one’s own living via paid work because of spending one’s days nurturing the next generation’s adult humans.

Really? There’s like, over 7 billion of us now, and that’s the single biggest driver behind climate change. Deciding that you are so wonderful that you should have a kid despite this, is the ultimate act of self-indulgent personal fulfillment.

We’d be far better off if more people decided to waste their time doing bad art, instead of becoming parents.

About 25 or 30 years ago a friend and her husband were walking down State Street in Madison, WI. Some young person came up and asked for money since theyhad none - they were maybe 25 or 30. My friend said “there are help wanted signs up and down State Street. Have you tried applying?”

Oh, no, the person said, “I’m not going to work for a living. That’s your responsibility.”

Yeah, zero respect for that person and others for that mind set. They can starve for all I care. I (and my friends) weren’t too proud to work fast food. They can shut up and get jobs.

Do you need a hug or something?

You’ll change your tune once my children solve climate change in a few decades.

No he won’t. Even when the babies he doesn’t want born are the ones growing his food, wiping his ass, and keeping him alive when he’s 80.

Or maybe they won’t

I fundamentally disagree - I think it actually does help that. See, here’s the thing: right now, work is forced via threat of homelessness, poverty, etc. We continue to have forced labor because people are forced to labor in order to avoid being homeless and other negative things - they may not be forced to labor in one particular place, or under one particular employer, and they do have the ‘option’, if you can call it that, of not working and becoming homeless, but realistically, they’re forced.

Now, if nobody was forced to labor through threat of homelessness or other negative things, then as a society, we would be required to look at those jobs that need to be done, and ask ‘what can we offer to actually positively entice people to do these jobs, rather than have them done by those desperate to remain housed and clothed and fed?’ And at that point, the undervaluing fixes itself because now we need to actually look at what rewards are commensurate with the actual work put into these things.

The option - on an individual level - not to work is fundamentally required in order for a genuinely free labor market to exist. The lack of an option to not participate is precisely what creates the ‘race to the bottom’ effect in compensation. Somebody out there is willing to do it for less because they are threatened with homelessness if they do not. For the labor market to function, there has to be a realistic option to go ‘nobody is offering sufficient compensation for my labor, so I choose not to sell it’.

Society needs to stop focusing so hard on negative incentives to work and start working on positive incentives to work. Instead of threatening people with homelessness and hunger and such if they do not work, why not rely on rewarding those that work? While it’s not directly connected, many studies show that a positive workplace where the workers are well-compensated and well-treated is very productive, and people actually feel good about working there and want to do it. People can be motivated to work without threats, if their work is well-compensated and appreciated and they are not treated poorly.

And if you think that people would immediately quit working once they’re able to, how do you explain people who have enough money to live a simple existence for the remainder of their lives continuing to work? Because there are a lot of people rich enough that, if they stopped working today, and lived in the frugal conditions we’re assuming UBI would cover, have sufficient money to be able to get by for the rest of their likely lifespan, and then some, with no problems. And yet they continue to work.

What you call forced I just call reality. Put yourself in pre-civilization for a moment, now imagine how you accomplish the tasks necessary for survival. We’d all have to get up off our asses or we’d starve, die from exposure, or eliminated by predation. Alternatively, someone else would have to get up off their asses to support us. So having to work to survive isn’t anything new to me. If you’re going to make an argument for UBI, fine, but I’m going to need a better reason to support than “we shouldn’t motivate people to work because they’re desperate to remain housed, fed, and clothed.”

That, I believe is the point. We are not in pre-civilization. Already we have a lot lower percentage of the labour pool dedicated to food production, shelter construction, and predator defence than people at that time could ever dream of. And food is a lot more available, predators are almost a non-issue unless someone goes out of their way to find one, and our most basic shelters are practically castles compared to what they had.

But people still think about work is still, “if I don’t do this, people will starve or freeze of get eaten by lions, so the only moral action I can take is do as much of it as I am able” when really most work is not even close to that consequential to society. A part-time barista skips work one day, some people have to wait a little longer for their low-fat chai lattes because the Starbucks is short staffed. And that’s it.