I watched my husband swath the alfalfa last Saturday. It’s a hot, noisy, dusty…well, really crappy job. There is nothing idyllic about it although he did comment that he saw a crow catch a mouse, something he had never seen before. Thought crows ate bugs. So there you go; a first.
But swathing does have a certain sense of power. Swathers are big bad machines that can slice up critters hiding in the grass and ruin your hearing. So when you’ve been out in the heat and the dirt; driving around and around in circles or up and down, row after row, cutting and hacking, you have every right to take the rest of the day off. Which is what my husband did. He went to town for some beers.
That got me thinking again about work and leisure. It is not a new topic but it needs to be discussed in serious ways amongst us. It would be a good topic for a non partisan group of neighbors. What is work and what is a job? Why do we need “careers”? Careers are sometimes defined as “lifelong work”. Now isn’t that dandy. Sentenced to life….long….work. Whoo! Hoo! I’ve got a career. It is also defined as a “permanent calling”. Oh, that sounds very hoity toity; a calling. But the permanent part sounds grim. And it is soooo anti- freedom loving American.
I asked my husband for his off-the-top-of-his-head definition of career and he said, “Well, I’d say with a career you can get an upgrade. Some people can’t upgrade, so that’s a job.” Ah, ha! The word career then could turn any job into something more desirable. “I am entering a career in waitering and hope to advance to head waiter or move up the ladder to private butler at the Rockin’ Buckaroo Dude Ranch.” (Yes, there is a dude ranch that has luxury camping tents with king size beds and your own personal butler. )
But what if having a “career” is also a sneaky way to make us spend money on college and so to confer on us some sort of status? Instead of working your way up from a boiler room on Long Island up to hedge fund trader, you can get a degree in selling ice to Eskimos at a very prestigious college. Much more fun and half the work. And very hoity-toity sounding.
What is this obsession with work that Americans have anyway? This week I ran into a sewing materials store to buy some thread and I started chatting with a couple from Australia visiting Montana. They were here for six weeks! They officially have four weeks per year off and took an extra two in order to really see America including Hawaii on the way home. They were shocked to hear that here in the greatest country in the world most people in companies might get two weeks off and work their way up to three. But most people don’t get any paid vacation at all.
“What?!” they exclaimed.
“Yes,” I said, “we live in a very primitive country here. We aren’t really free. We have been brainwashed into thinking freedom is something to do with choices in cereals and having a lot of weapons to kill other people just in case they have the cheekiness to not like us very much. Meanwhile we have few holidays or vacations where we explore other countries like people in developed countries do. Add to that expensive healthcare, pitiful pensions, exorbitant education costs, and lousy trains, and you’ve got a pretty primitive kind of society for such a big fat empire like the U.S. of A.”
“You are nothing without work.” You hear that all the time. What a crock. I’ve discovered Michael D. Yates when I was reading everything I could about why the Wisconsin uprising ended up in a mush. He wrote a piece in March called “Whoopee! We’re All Gonna Die”. He expounds on the ludicrous way we sheeple buy into the notion that we all want the dignity and fun of working until we drop.
In his piece he relates a disturbing story from The Guardian and comments on it. Sounds like something written by Terry Gilliam.
A friend of mine referred me to an article in the February 16, 2012 issue of the Guardian (United Kingdom), in which it is reported that: “Some long-term sick and disabled people face being forced to work unpaid for an unlimited amount of time or have their benefits cut under plans being drawn up by the Department for Work and Pensions.” Those ancient Wal-Mart greeters will have to work in those wheelchairs just to get social security. And if they need kidney dialysis, the machines can be hooked up to the chairs while they smile at the customers. Perhaps there will be a nonagenarian so disabled that all he can do is blink his eyes. Then some bright young technological wizard will be tasked to find a way to turn those blinks into labor.
Time to have a talk with your neighbors. Get what needs to get done, done. Make what needs to be consumed but stop with making all the bric a brac and the knick knacks. Michael Yates is right; we need more security not less and a lot more leisure not a life of joyless toil. So cut some rows, fix some fence, and head to town for a brewski. And start to look for alternatives like the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) idea to provide for the basic needs of everybody on the planet. Hey the banks stole around 800 trillion in the latest LIBOR scandal. That should work to fund our mad scene of a life filled with time for family and friends and thought. Now that’s a career I could get behind.
UPDATE: Last night after I published this I woke up and followed a link from Naked Capitalism to a item in the Financial Times called “Enough is Enough of the Age of Consumption” This article by Robert and Edward Skideisky references the John Maynard Keynes essay I was going to look up on a recommendation by a NC commenter. Keynes wrote “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” in 1930 and “predicted that by now we would only need to work 15 hours a week… The rest would be leisure time.”
The Skideiskys point out that conventional wisdom in economics said that there were three stages of economic development; the age of capital in which people save their income; the age of consumption where they consumed their income; and the age of abundance where they would say “enough is enough” already. Let’s work less.
What went wrong?
Well, producing more than we really need seems to be the culprit along with kicking small farmers off the land and into factories. Large land owners don’t seem to be a good idea. Saying that, of course around here, will make me few friends. Montana is home to Ted Turner who owns a good chunk of the state and has his buffalo a roaming and his restaurant “Ted’s” to eat bison burgers. The idea of large chunks of land with cows and other critters roaming isn’t a bad one. If we could have some shares in it rather than have just a few wealthy lords makes more sense. But that’s another whole essay.
Working with our present system, looks like we should have that Basic Income Guarantee. For people who don’t mind tedious jobs in factories or driving a tractor up and down, we make sure that they have plenty of leisure time. We could also make sure aka subsidize that artists, musicians, and other performers could create. Scientists seem to never want to stop working so give them what they need to invent things and cure diseases.
This morning I heard that the LIBOR scandal number was $350 Trillion. Less than the $800 Trillion I read from Taibbi who got it from the WSJ, but still enough to finance a more balanced world where people have time for themselves and their own ideas of leisure.