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pointing in the right direction

August 21, 2013

In David Graeber’s latest piece, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs,” I think he makes an important point/argument in the way he reframes the conversation away from the problem facing capitalism being the underutilization of labour (i.e., we need more jobs/to work more hours) — which is how it appears from the standpoint of capital and its need to increase the production of surplus value — and towards the existence of unproductive, ‘bullshit’ jobs, reasserting the need for “allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas” rather than creating even more superfluous jobs and/or increasing work hours. Where I’m not sure I entirely agree with Graeber, however, is when it comes to the absence of an “objective measure of social value,” particularly from the wage-labourer’s point of view; and I think Jehu via his blog The Real Movement makes a valid counterpoint that:

Even if we ignore the question of economic value, the social (moral) value of labor can only be the value it has for the very physical existence of the worker. If labor were not tied in any way to the physical existence of the worker who performed it, then and only then can the individual properly assess the value she puts on her activity. In other words, the determination of the social value of labor to the individual is only possible with the complete abolition of wage labor. The ‘profound psychological violence here’ is not that one feels the labor one performs is superfluous, but that despite the obvious unproductiveness of almost all labor at present one must perform it to survive.

That said, I completely agree with Jehu that “Graeber opens up the most important argument that can be held by activists at this time and I hope his piece is just the beginning of the discussion that is long overdue.”

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