The meaning of work.

    January 9, 2019

    “If you look at the report, 21% of sales, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals think that their job is socially useless, as opposed to 0% of librarians.”

    World Economic Forum

    This is our chance to completely redefine the meaning of work

    Alex Gray

    (Author and economist Rutger Bregman) ‘Bregman argues that the social usefulness of many jobs has been in decline since the middle of the last century. And the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is only going to exacerbate the problem.

    “In the 50s, 60s and 70s, if you were really talented in your field you would probably go into research or government,” he says.

    “But then what started to happen in the 80s in advanced economies is that it became much more financially attractive to move into financial services and the tech industry. While there is useful work being done there, we also know, especially with the financial sector, that it involves a huge amount of people getting rich at expense of others.

    He adds: “I’m not saying all banking jobs are useless, but it should be a service to help the economy operate more smoothly, not this behemoth.”

    Bregman cites the now oft-repeated quote by Jeff Hammerbacher, an early employee of Facebook who quickly became disillusioned with the company’s work, as an example: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”


    One crucial element that will drive the redefining of work, according to Bregman, is the introduction of a universal basic income (UBI).

    The idea is that governments would hand out an equal stipend to every citizen, regardless of existing income, that would be sufficient to meet basic needs like food and housing.

    The point of a UBI is that it would give us the freedom to redefine the nature of work.

    “Let’s imagine that you’re 17 or 18 years old, and you’re thinking about what you want to do. Your interests might be the arts, history or anthropology, but your parents or your relatives might urge you to focus on that later, telling you that you ought to look for a job that pays a decent salary.

    “So you go and get a well-paid job, do an MBA and 10 to 15 years later you’re depressed and in the grip of a mid-life crisis and then end up doing what you’ve always wanted to.

    “The UBI will change this. Kids can fall back on the basic income if their passion doesn’t work out. It cuts out 20 years of waste.”

    In the shorter term, he adds, the people who already have meaningful jobs will get increased bargaining power.’

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