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Job relief, part 3

One of the entries of my old blog contemplated the prospect of automation taking away work that people actually enjoy, inspired by systems intended to take the places of actors and teachers. I speculated that people who enjoy such work could continue to do it as a hobby, just as my mediaeval-recreating friends do when they make their own costumes, brew their own beer, and so on, despite modern technology being able to produce these things much more efficiently. Yet I had misgivings in that this might leave us spending the best part of our time doing something we didn’t like.

The previous two entries of this blog, and a few other conversations I happened to be involved in around the same time, suggest one way of addressing my misgivings: put aside all that advice about finding a career that is a source of passion and inspiration, and simply see paid work as something that has to be done in order to enable the society that we live in. From this point of view, paid work is just a chore that we need through in order to get on with what we really want to do.

Soldiering on through boring but necessary work might be easy to say for someone who the economy has paid to do largely interesting and enjoyable work, such that spending even forty hours a week at it is not so onerous. But this view does frame paid work as something we’d want to minimise rather than something we’d want to be creating more of, or in which we are supposed to find satisfaction and meaning even while plenty of it is anything but.

Clearly there isn’t a neat division between work that needs to be done (and should therefore be paid for) and work that’s enjoyable and satisfying to do (and might therefore be done even if it wasn’t paid). Paying for work, even of the enjoyable and satisfying kind, serves a purpose insofar as it directs that work to something that meets a need. If I enjoy writing computer software, for example, the money available for maintaining banking systems, say, might encourage me to spend my passion on keeping necessary systems going rather than writing the kind of technically-interesting but unsellable software that programmers tend to make for themselves.

Perhaps there are other ways that necessary work could be assigned to workers available to do it; whether or not they might be better than paying for it I’ll leave for another day. Nor would I want the paid-work-as-a-chore view to be an excuse for unpleasant or degrading work; the point is that we want to get through it as easily as we can. But making tedious but necessary work appealing is a topic for another blog.

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