Tag Archives: Economics

Jobs Expanding to fit the Pointlessness

If you’ve wondered what the point of some jobs are — and if, in fact, there seem to be more jobs out there trying to “maximize innovative enterprise solutions” or just “realize value,” you’re not alone.

What’s worse is realizing you might be in one of those positions and then pondering what you can possibly do within the confines of that meaninglessness. (Though I suppose some people long for that.)

Why, you could put things on top of other things!

Over at the Washington Post, Jena McGregor talks with anthropologist David Graeber about his work exploring the societal and economic consequences of pointless jobs.

Besides the “Brazilian” fascination with the topic, I’ve been doing project and program management for about 20 years — a prime suspect for pointless work. As I explain to people from time to time, the level of meaning and satisfaction from my jobs varies greatly on the work culture and management where I work.

The contract where I updated a spreadsheet three times a day and had meetings about it was neither fulfilling nor, I would argue, very useful to anyone. It’s not like anyone got insight from the minutely updated spreadsheet or any bonuses from attending meetings. My management was unconvinced and, frankly, rather hostile to any process improvements.

Contrast that with a job where the manager said the first day, “No process is sacred, including our own.” And true to form, we updated one central business process no less than three times in three years — all to get people more engaged and meetings more consequential. I’ve also been in positions to happily eliminate thousands of hours’ worth of meetings from peoples schedules every year and set up intranet sites that (gasp) answer people’s questions without them ever needing to contact me about some previously inscrutable topic.

Reducing net headaches for hundreds of people — including those you’ll never meet — is immensely satisfying. But as Sam Lowry would attest, the bureaucracy resists simplification or clarity. So channel your inner Tuttle and watch out for Jack Lint.

Recommended Reading: Universal Basic Income as a Way to Grow the Economy

Between Labor Day and chatting with some very bright people about the future of finance at Escape Velocity this weekend, it felt like a good time to post something about the future and universal basic income (UBI).

One of the things I like about Dylan Matthew’s article in Vox about the Roosevelt Institute’s recent study on the potential effects of implementing UBI is that he explores the premises behind both the study and the critics of said study.

I’ll update with related articles on the study if I come across them.

Automation and American Growth: Robert Gordon Edition

I’ve been reading and commenting a decent amount about automation this year, enough to make it seem inevitable. A popular topic with journalists and feature writers has been the impending automation of transportation which I noted back in May. Just recently, Vox ran another article about self-driving trucks and pending unemployment.

As the topic appears to be developing into a “future trend trope,” I was very intrigued to learn about the work of Robert Gordon, which Vox also did a piece on. Of course, I first learned about Robert Gordon when I got caught up listening to the Freakanomics podcast as they did an episode about American economic growth this Spring which prominently featured Robert Gordon. There’s also a transcript of a similar segment on Marketplace from 2012.

It certainly makes me consider what the economy might and can transform into.

FiveThirtyEight Follow-up on Basic Income

A couple weeks ago, FiveThirtyEight did an in-depth look on universal basic income and I talked about it briefly here. This is a great group to look at it because they are so wonkily numbers-driven.

They’re back with a quick video recap, but the whole thing makes me feel I should be writing more about it here on the blog. As we humans face more and more automation, it seems like we need to find an elegant and effective solution for a populace that may not be able to be employed at the same levels it is even now. It’s weird: when I read Frederik Pohl’s classic short story, “The Midas Plague,” its vision of required consumption seemed so fanciful, but now it seems less so.

Recommended Reading: A FiveThirtyEight Look at Basic Income

I’ve been reading a lot about basic income over the past year or so, from activist like Scott Santens as well as actual studies that have been and are being done.

So I was very pleased to see that the data-driven news site FiveThirtyEight decided to do a feature length article about it. If you want to get an idea about what basic income is all about — and what we really know about what it can do at this point, this thorough article by Andrew Flowers is a good introduction.