Monday, January 7, 2013

Amateurs and Professionals

Charles Eisenstein in his riveting tome Sacred Economics discusses jobs in a way few have. I remember having a discussion about this same issue with Senator Carl Levin in his office almost a decade ago when I tried to have him distinguish that building more Hummers was a negative for the commonwealth, whereas building more Prius' was a step in the better direction. Here's Eisenstein's riff from pp. 273-74.

The goal of the compassionate economy, therefore, is not to provide "jobs," as most liberal politicians seem to think. Once work has become mechanical, it is in a sense too late -- inhuman work might as well be done by machines. I cannot help but remark on the inanity of economic programs that seek to make more "jobs," as if we needed more goods and services. Why do we want to create more jobs? It is so people have money to live. For that purpose they might as well dig holes in the ground and then fill them up again as Keynes famously quipped. present economic policies attempt just that: witness the current efforts to reignite the housing construction at a time when there are 9 million vacant housing units in the United States. Wouldn't it be better to pay people to do nothing at all, and free up their creative energy to meet the urgent needs of the world?

Clearly, we possess the means and face the necessity to grow less, to work less, and to turn our energies toward other things. It is time to redeem the age-old promise of industry: that technology will allow a dramatic reduction in the workweek and usher in an age of "leisure." Unfortunately, the word leisure carries connotations of frivolity and dissipation that are inconsistent with the urgent needs of the planet and its people as the age turns. There is a vast amount of important work to be done, work that is consistent with degrowth because it won't necessarily produce salable product. There are forests to replant, sick people to care for, an entire planet to be healed. I think we are going to be very busy. We are going to work hard doing deeply meaningful things that no longer must fight upstream against the flow of money, the imperative of growth. Yet I also believe we will have more true leisure -- the experience of the abundance of time -- than we do today. The scarcity of time is one reason we overconsume, attempting to compensate for the loss of this most primal of all wealth. Time is life To be truly rich is to have sovereignty over our own time.

Eisenstein has a lot more to say about work and jobs, but he's one of the first to challenge the concepts that all jobs are equal. Reminds me of a talk I heard once from Daniel Boorstin, historian and former Librarian of Congress who made the distinction between and amateur and a professional. A professional, he said is one who does something for the money. Whereas an amateur (from the Latin amo amare -'to love') does it for the love. Perhaps we need a lot more amateurs and few less professionals.