The difference between “bad outsourcing” (“bad” from the labor/leftist perspective) and this case of outsourcing should be obvious. “Bad outsourcing” is done on the company’s terms–that is, in a situation where the worker has no say in the matter, and where the company boss outsources a job and pockets the difference between cheap foreign labor and American labor. Outsourcing by the workers, on the other hand, is just that: outsourcing done on terms dictated by the worker, where the worker outsources her own job and pockets the difference.
Now, extend this observation to automation. As it stands, there is a whole lot of concern (particularly, it seems, from economists) that the increasing rate of automation, roboticization, and cybernation is creating a secular decline in employment, leaving an increasing number of millions structurally unemployed, and severely limited in their ability to access the theoretical benefits of mass automation. But just as with outsourcing, the underlying reason why workers are losing out is because they hold little to no power in the process of implementing automation. Labor does not control the means of (automated) production; capital does.
Kurukshetra tables the discussion about whether someone making six figures a year is still part of the working class, which is understanable under the circumstance. But they also bypass the question of whether outsouring your job to someone else makes you into a capitalist, but in the case of automation, this no longer matters.
Food for thought going into the weekend, from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang:
The problem with the “do what you love” mantra is in how we follow it, which is with a single-mindedness that carries unnecessary risk. We interpret “do what you love” to mean “Do only what you love and nothing else,” and the implication of that is that if you don’t practice this kind of creative monogamy, you’re being untrue to yourself. A corollary encourages, “Don’t worry about the details and practicalities.” The universe will reward your passion and belief in yourself. It also means assuming all the financial risk of a risky career move. The reality is that creative work is terribly funded, and the odds of making a steady living from it are very very small. Being fully exposed to that kind of instability can make you less creative, not more so.
See also: Quit Your Passion and Take a Boring Job
Full Story: Susie Cagle: The Case Against Sharing
I’ve been calling the “sharing economy” the Urchin Economy, as in street urchin, named for the street kids that are always hanging around in fiction set during the Victorian period, ready to accept a schilling or two to do some chore for a protagonist. They have no job security, no safety net, they’re treated as if they’re utterly disposable. Of course today, there’s always some high-tech middleman looking to take a cut of these transactions.
I also tried to explore some of these ideas in my short story “The Faraday Bag“:
A bunch of my friends found work through this app where young guys–and it was always guys––could have people come over and clean their dishes, do their laundry, that sort of thing. I did that a couple times. Then a guy complained that he wanted “an American” to do his chores for him. I told him I was born in the U.S. and that my family had lived here for two generations. He gave me a one-star review, and I haven’t been able to find work through the app since.
Salon is running a great new interview with David Graeber by Thomas Frank. Here are some highlights (Graeber’s words):
Well, radical elements in the labor movement began embracing such visions from quite early on. After the successful campaigns for the eight-hour day in the 1880s, people immediately started thinking, can we move this to seven, six, or less. Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law, and author of “The Right to Be Lazy,” was already calling for something along those lines in 1883. I have a Wobbly T-shirt with a turn-of-the-century style design that says “join the IWW for a new dawn,” it has a sun rising over the rooftops, and on the sun is written, “four-day week, four-hour day.” […]
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one of the great divisions between anarcho-syndicalist unions, and socialist unions, was that the latter were always asking for higher wages, and the anarchists were asking for less hours. That’s why the anarchists were so entangled in struggles for the eight-hour day. It’s as if the socialists were essentially buying into the notion that work is a virtue, and consumerism is good, but it should all be managed democratically, while the anarchists were saying, no, the whole deal—that we work more and more for more and more stuff—is rotten from the get-go. […]
Call it the revolt of the caring classes. Because, after all, the working classes have always been the caring classes really. I say this as a person of working class background myself. Not only are almost all actual caregivers (not to mention caretakers!) working class, but people of such backgrounds always tend to see themselves as the sort of people who actively care about their neighbors and communities, and value such social commitments far beyond material advantage. It’s just our obsession with certain very specific forms of rather macho male labor—factory workers, truck-drivers, that sort of thing—which then becomes the paradigm of all labor in our imaginations; that blinds us to the fact that the bulk of working class people have always been engaged in caring labor of one sort or another. So I think we need to start by redefining labor itself, maybe, start with classic “women’s work,” nurturing children, looking after things, as the paradigm for labor itself and then it will be much harder to be confused about what’s really valuable and what isn’t.
Sarah Kendzior writes:
Jenina dropped out of nursing school after her mother lost her job, because she needed the tuition money to pay bills. Her income from McDonald’s, where she started working as a high school senior, helps support her mother and younger sister. Patrick’s Chipotle income helps support his mother, a makeup artist who has struggled to find steady work since the recession. Krystal’s Taco Bell income helps support her son; her sister, who lives with her and works at Jack in the Box; and now, her newborn daughter.
Every worker I interview is supporting someone: an unemployed parent, a child, a sibling, a friend. Most of their friends and family members work in fast food or other service industries. Everyone is in their twenties or older. All but one is African-American.
They dream of different jobs. The women want to be nurses, the men want to work in the automotive or culinary industries. But no one can pay for training when they cannot save for day to day, much less for the future.
As a result, fast food workers are turning to activism: not out of ideological motives, but because overturning the economic system seems more feasible than purchasing the credentials for a new career.
Full Story: Medium: The Minimum Wage Worker Strikes Back
Kevin Drum writes:
The decline of union power is irreversible. Private-sector unions are all but dead, and public-sector unions are barely hanging on by their fingernails. That doesn’t mean liberals should give up on labor, or that labor should give up on organizing new industries. Of course they shouldn’t. It just means that as a broad-based force that provides a countervailing force against the power of the business community, labor’s day is over. Like it or not, liberals have to figure out something else to play that role.
Drum doesn’t have any suggestions as to what that might be.
Two thoughts on this:
1) We need to disentangle the idea of labor from the idea of labor unions. Saying “unions are dead” shouldn’t mean the same thing as saying “labor is dead.”
2) One possible path forward is through professional organizations, as opposed to unions. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has had some traction in this regard. The difference between a labor union and a professional organization may seem semantic at first blush, but there is a difference. Unions engage in both lobbying and collective bargaining in the work place. Professional organizations skip the collective bargaining, and stick with advocating policy. It can be easier, and more anonymous, to join a professional group. In the near future that could be an advantage.
Vice Mother Board reports on a report robotics job ads by Wanted Analytics:
So even if it seems more intuitive that robots should be taking over brick masonry, it also shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that robotics would also be in demand for health care. The first job of the robots is maintaining people, poetically enough. Still, the fact that Wanted found that 65 percent of robotics jobs were going toward health care is pretty surprising.
The robotics specialists are up to interesting things though. Physicians offices are looking for people to “design, develop, and analyze devices for the expansion of the image guided robotics program for minimally invasive procedures and surgery,” and assist in the use of those programs.
Susan Farrell wrote a report based on a survey of nearly 1,000 user experience designers, including what they actually do, and their backgrounds and educations. It’s worth a look if you’ve ever thought about a career in usability.
From the summary:
When asked what characterizes good user experience professionals, one of our respondents said, “If you are a ‘lifelong learner’, in other words, if you are paying attention, you will be able to take previous experiences and apply lessons learned from them to your new situation. That is more important to me than specific skills you might learn in school.”
While most knowledge workers probably benefit from being lifelong learners, the point that this is more importantthan a specific education is rare and one of the defining characteristics of the user experience field.
Even though continual on-the-job learning is the most important, 90% of respondents had obtained a university degree. There’s no single degree to define the field: design, psychology, and communication were the most common major areas, sharply pursued by English and computer science. All of these fields make some sense as a partial educational background for UX professionals, but together those five disciplines accounted for only 45% of bachelor’s degrees. The majority of UX professionals hold degrees from an immense range of other disciplines, from history to chemistry, most of which don’t have a direct bearing on UX work.
The most common educational level was a master’s degree: 52% had at least one master’s degree (some had two, which seems like overkill). Only 6% of respondents were PhDs. Most of the remaining respondents with university diplomas held bachelor’s degrees and 1% had associate’s degrees.
Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture and The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties interviewed on how Silicon Valley went from counter cultural cool to mustache twirling villain. Turner talks a lot about Silicon Valley’s connection to 60s communalism, and why that outlook is shaping its modern practices:
One of the great mistakes people made in reviewing my book was to say, “Wow, it’s great. Turner finally showed us how the hippies brought us computing.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What I think I did in the book was actually show how the research world that brought us computing also brought us the counterculture. In the ‘40s, we see military industrial research in and around MIT and around a variety of other centers being incredibly collaborative and open. It’s that style that actually migrates into and shapes countercultural practices. What the counterculture does for computing is it legitimates it. It makes it culturally cool. […]
A legacy from the communalist movement that I think is pernicious is a turning away from politics, a turning toward the self as the basis of political change, of social action. I think that’s something you see all through the Valley. The information technology industry feeds off it because information technologies can so easily be aimed at satisfying individual needs. You see that rhetoric leveraged when Google and other firms say, “Don’t regulate us. We need to be creative. We need to be free to pursue our satisfaction because that’s ultimately what will provide a satisfying society.”
That’s all a way of ignoring the systems that make the world possible. One example from the ‘60s that I think is pretty telling is all the road trips. The road trips are always about the heroic actions of people like Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady and their amazing automobiles, right? Never, never did it get told that those road trips were only made possible by Eisenhower’s completion of the highway system. The highway system is never in the story. It’s boring. What’s in the story is the heroic actions of bootstrapped individuals pursuing conscious change. What we see out here now is, again, those heroic stories. And there are real heroes. But the real heroes are operating with automobiles and roads and whole systems of support without which they couldn’t be heroic.
The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman
Miya Tokumitsu writes about the myth of “Do What You Love” (DWYL):
One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.
For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the DWYL credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from the spectrum of consciousness altogether.
Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO: his food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled. Job creation goes both ways. Yet with the vast majority of workers effectively invisible to elites busy in their lovable occupations, how can it be surprising that the heavy strains faced by today’s workers (abysmal wages, massive child care costs, et cetera) barely register as political issues even among the liberal faction of the ruling class?
In ignoring most work and reclassifying the rest as love, DWYL may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around. Why should workers assemble and assert their class interests if there’s no such thing as work? […]
Ironically, DWYL reinforces exploitation even within the so-called lovable professions where off-the-clock, underpaid, or unpaid labor is the new norm: reporters required to do the work of their laid-off photographers, publicists expected to Pin and Tweet on weekends, the 46?percent of the workforce expected to check their work email on sick days. Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love.
Instead of crafting a nation of self-fulfilled, happy workers, our DWYL era has seen the rise of the adjunct professor and the unpaid intern?— people persuaded to work for cheap or free, or even for a net loss of wealth. This has certainly been the case for all those interns working for college credit or those who actually purchase ultra-desirable fashion-house internships at auction.
Full Story: Jacobin: In the Name of Love
I’ve certainly seen these shenanigans in journalism.
Fred Turner wrote about this blurring of lines between labor and recreation at Google in his Burning Man at Google essay(PDF):
by granting them limited powers of choice over their activities, it simultaneously engages their individual creative interests and encourages them to reimagine their workspace as a congenial, high-trust environment. It also blurs the line between workers’ social and professional worlds in ways that are highly advantageous to the firm. Within their ‘20% time’ at least, the subsidy suggests that engineers should stop thinking of working for Google as just a job and reimagine it as a way to pursue individual growth.
Previously: Overtime kills productivity