Douglas Rushkoff: Why Do We Want "Jobs" Anyway?

I totally missed this bit of thinking from the other day by open source enthusiast Douglas Rushkoff. He’s living in the Singularity already, so he can say that “on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need” — and we’re just distributing it wrong, and “we don’t have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff.” So why do we all want jobs, he wants to know! Why are we all yapping about unemployment? On… a certain level, this is technically true! Even as a world-wide community, we probably have enough “things” (rice, couches, water, fabric) for everyone. Rushkoff seems a little baffled that we’re just not earning/sharing correctly. Because maybe he has never met people.

But the best part is this:

Jobs, as such, are a relatively new concept. People may have always worked, but until the advent of the corporation in the early Renaissance, most people just worked for themselves. They made shoes, plucked chickens, or created value in some way for other people, who then traded or paid for those goods and services. By the late Middle Ages, most of Europe was thriving under this arrangement.

Thriving! Most! Setting aside historical issues of “land-owning,” which still are a central organizing force in who “has” and who doesn’t have, that’s pretty cheap and easy to define your thoughts to “Europe.” Still, while there are at least 850 million people living there now, there were maybe 50 million people in all of Europe in 1450 — and that includes Russia, Sweden and all of 3 million people in the British Isles. (Current population of the British Isles: 67 million.) Systems don’t expand and contract stably to population sizes — which brings us back to land. (Ask Stalin!)

But yes, the gloried late Middle Ages! Plucking chickens! Because the Crusades had recently ended. And the Mongols had been at war from Korea to Vietnam all the way to Poland and Baghdad for 200 years. Oh and at least 1/3rd — maybe a full half — of Europe’s population had just dropped dead. That would be an amazing economic boom for our times, totally promoting class fluidity and abundance, if half the population totally died! Anyone someone should totally try that theory out for a TED Talk.

Yes, sure. The central point is sort of correct? No one wants dumb jobs. No one should have dumb jobs! But there’s just no other way to squeeze $8 an hour out of the people who hold the money and the land. (Although, ask Stalin about that too.)