Being Employed by the Future
Reframing the Immediate Challenge of Sustainable Community
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Contribution to a Wholly on "Engagement in the 21st Century" (University of Buffalo, 24-26 October 1996). Co-sponsored by the Center for Integrative Studies and the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS)
It is unnecessary to argue that present and foreseeable economic policies
cannot significantly reduce unemployment as it is presently understood.
This is increasingly accepted as a reality by economists and politicians
themselves. But such people have yet to fully take into account the probable
social consequences. These are already proving dramatic for the young (unable
to obtain a first job), for the elderly (threatened with erosion of social
security commitments), and for those employed in tasks experienced as increasingly
meaningless. Current discussion of these issues seems to be trapped in
an outmoded pattern of thinking from which it would be foolish to expect
any significant breakthroughs.
In exploring new ways of thinking about this fundamental challenge for
sustainable community, it is useful to recognize how intrinsically boring
are the remedies currently under discussion. They are the products of bureaucratic
environments unrenowned for either creativity, sensitivity to individual
needs, or the long-term viability of their politically-constrained initiatives.
Boredom is not to be taken lightly. Aside from a desperate pursuit of recreation
by those with the necessary resources, it is driving many to a level of
anti-social activity, violence and substance abuse that are themselves
destructive of community. Boring policies contribute directly to voter
apathy. Currently advocated remedies are expressed solely in terms of "providing
jobs" to sustain consumer purchasing power, however personally unfulfilling
are the consequences.
It is also useful to recognize how the present pattern of thinking prevents
discussion of any options that do not conform to the dogma sustaining the
current pattern of both unemployment and mal-employment. The question to
ask is what forms of employment and unemployment are currently excluded
from any discussion of meaningful options. The answer is any forms which
do not directly sustain the present economic system --although this is
recognized as increasingly inefficient in sustaining meaningful community.
Sustainable lifestyles and meaningful employment
The sustainability of lifestyles may be evaluated as differently by
individuals as it is by plant or animal species variously adapted to the
extremes of arid or tropical ecosystems. The most unusual and seemingly
boring, or risky, forms of employment may be considered satisfactory, or
even desirable, to some. Others may find even the most carefully designed
jobs to be meaningless. Many are content to find meaning only in their
leisure activity and have no expectation that it should be associated with
their remunerated employment. Increasing numbers, however, have neither
the possibility of jobs nor of meaningful leisure. Many turn to substance
abuse as their only source of meaning.
Meaningfulness, whether in leisure or in employment, may itself be considered
a luxury -- possibly even defined as one to be earned. This attitude could
prove to be dangerous, given that any process of human development is associated
with the pursuit of meaning. This can only be successfully repressed in
Whether employment or leisure, the challenge lies in the interface between
the individual and the community, however that is experienced or understood.
Extremes to be borne in mind include:
a recluse or hermit
a physically or mentally challenged person in need of constant care
an eccentric inventor or artist
a daredevil in search of adventure
a follower, whether as disciple or groupie
a zealot, including a suicide bomber
a volunteer, carer, or aid provider
a "sleeping" secret service mole
a political activist
Is it not a mistake to endeavour to design job opportunities only for the
staid, conforming to bureaucratic understanding of regular jobs? Is it
any surprise that young people are dubious about a future conditioned by
such unimaginative and unchallenging constraints? To take extreme cases,
how do people in love consider the employment of their time, or people
with collecting obsessions or other absorbing hobbies, or mystics and those
engaged in a life of prayer, or activists concerned with some societal
Is it completely certain, to anybody other than economists, that the
only relevant forms of employment in a sustainable community are those
which are remunerated at some economic rate? The debate about the economic
value of housework has made a nonsense of this perspective.
Missing from the debate about the future of employment are issues relating
to individual and community identity. What forms of activity reinforce
identity and enable some form of development in a sense of identity and
self-esteem? Perhaps a distinction should be made between identity-building
activity and forms of activity which do not build identity and may in fact
severely erode it. The emphasis on developing a system that provides jobs
at any cost, overlooks the fact that the jobs provided may destroy any
sense of identity or self-worth. Pursuit of economic worth may detract
from personal or communal worth.
Category traps and excluded options
The above points have been made in the past in many ways and often with
great eloquence. And yet the debate about employment, even at the highest
level, is conducted in the most simplistic terms -- and, beneath the hype,
with little hope. Are there better ways to think about how people employ
themselves within community, or are effectively employed by the community
-- avoiding the knee-jerk responses of economists? Like it or not, those
on the dole (or without such support) "employ" themselves in some way,
as do those with a level of personal resources that obviates any need to
work. And how will the future evaluate the contribution of various forms
of past employment to the well-being of its communities? What activities
will be judged as having been minimally productive or a waste of resources?
A useful question is whether it is actually possible to be "unemployed"
--other than in terms of the categories imposed by economists and those
persuaded of their arguments. What shift in paradigm is required to see
that even a long-term comatose patient is "employed" within the community,
as is an infant, a homeless beggar, or the resident of a home for the elderly
or the otherwise challenged? The challenge is to improve the quality and
dignity of that employment, or lifestyle, whether or not monetary issues
are instrumental to that end in practice. If economists are incapable of
providing the design for a community that can ensure life-enhancing employment
in concrete situations, then what other approach is appropriate?
Bearing in mind Geoffrey Vickers adage: "A trap is a function of the
nature of the trapped", what will the future see as the characteristic
constraint on our thinking that inhibited any emergence of more fruitful
responses to this issue?
There may always have been efforts to explore alternative approaches
to employment and community organization. There have been many experiments
in intentional community. But despite current government interest in sustainable
community, there has been no effort to recognize such social experiments
as meriting investigation as options in their own right -- to whatever
degree they succeeded or failed. Indeed it has been found convenient to
associate all such experiments with questionable belief systems that are
readily condemned as cultist and associated, at least potentially, with
suicidal disasters -- as though disaster was not potentially associated
with the best of modern technology. This marginalization has been accomplished
with the support of established religions, despite the many interesting
experiments in sustainable community by a number of religions in the form
of monasteries, ashrams, or retreat centres, for example.
Experiments such as the collective farms of communism are condemned
outright as a product of an inappropriate ideology. This which would seem
to be inconsistent with earlier willingness to benefit -- in the interests
of national security -- from the technical expertise of the Nazi regime
in rocketry, chemical engineering and dubious medical practices, for example.
The "science" of sustainable community is not recognized as independent
of the ideology which sustains the community. Ironically it is only the
Chinese government which has recently established a major program of social
experiments in sustainable community -- building upon its collective farm
Is there nothing of relevance to sustainable community to be learnt
from many centuries of monastic experience, for example -- to say nothing
of present day intentional communities, whatever their belief system? In
any form of research (and development), the failure of a particular experiment
is not usually considered as a failure of the experimental method, nor
is it usually considered a definitive indicator that further experiments
cannot be successful -- following a change of parameters whose appropriateness
is to be determined.
Given the recognized limitations in the capacity of government and other
institutions to "create jobs", what would it take to create meaningful
living environments for young people in which "employment" and "unemployment"
might be experienced and defined in other ways?
Similarly, given the recognized future limitations in the capacity of
governments and other institutions to provide "social security" for the
elderly, or for the physically or mentally challenged, what would it take
to create meaningful living environments for such people in which again
"employment" and "unemployment" might be experienced and defined in new
And, given the progressive de-skilling of many jobs, what would it take
to provide a meaningful environment for those currently employed in increasingly
meaningless tasks -- ensuring once again that "employment" and "unemployment"
might be experienced and defined in new ways?
In each case it is clear that current policy-making is in a gridlock
situation, bound by regulations and obligations which powerful interests
continue to reinforce. This system will continue to flourish in favour
of those who are "in", and at the expense of those who are "out", until
it collapses through a major social crisis -- of which several are considered
imminent. The question is what can be explored with, or without, governmental
support, without infringing such regulations.
Enabling community through social experiment
It would appear to be a mistake to focus on the particularities of possible
social experiments, thus prejudging their results and the future ingenuity
of those who may choose to undertake them. It is also a mistake to assume
that results deemed unsatisfactory by one group would not be considered
highly satisfactory by another. The sustainability of community may be
evaluated as differently by individuals as it is by plant or animal species
variously adapted to arid or temperate ecosystems. The range of monastic
communities or kibbutzim illustrate the point.
Setting aside the question of why there is so much resistance to social
experiments, it is useful here to draw attention to the opportunities for
"community enabling". This is understood here to be any action which enables
groups of people to experiment with new forms of community and mutual support
-- to safeguard and enhance the quality of their lives. The opportunities
for community enabling can perhaps best be understood in terms of the disciplines,
professions and vested interests which have been less than helpful in supporting
such initiatives -- but from whom valuable support might nevertheless be
obtained in the future.
(a) Government: As implied above, government legislation has
rarely been helpful in facilitating modern community experiments. Seen
in a different light however, governments of some countries have traditionally
been supportive of such initiatives where they have been undertaken by
established religions. This has been the case with respect to Christian
monasteries and convents. In countries such as India, for example, there
has been little opposition to ashrams. Indeed India went further in providing
enabling legislation in support of a major social experiment at Auroville
(near Pondicherry), which has received significant international recognition
from Unesco. At best governments have tolerated such experiments where
they could be framed within existing legislation regarding cooperatives
or mutual societies, or as with the Amish and Huttite communities in the
USA. But governments have also quashed social experiments, as in the case
of the widespread community credit system in Wörgl (Austria) -- which
reduced the unemployment system by 25 percent in a single year (1932-33)
-- but proved too attractive to other local authorities in the eyes of
As indicated above, government has however used its powers to impose
social experiments such as collective farms under the various communist
regimes. In Israel critical support has been given to the kibbutz movement
which at various stages pioneered opening of new agricultural lands and
was vital to border security. Through its current "settlement policy",
some questionable limitations of such initiatives are highlighted.
Less controversially, government has been supportive of cooperative
movements and mutual societies and has provided enabling legislation. The
importance of such initiatives has been recognized internationally through
the International Labour Organization, and more recently through the European
But whilst governments have recognized the vital role of investment
in technological research and development, no corresponding efforts have
been made with respect to social research and development in living community
experiments. Irrespective of whether public funds could be made available
to improve the chances of success of such experiments, no enabling legislation
has been developed to facilitate the undertaking of such experiments. Where
they are undertaken, it is despite the obstacles provided by government
rather than with any form of government encouragement -- whether non-financial
(b) Labour unions:
Community creation ombudsman: Immediate possibilities include the
creation of an office to provide advice on circumventing possible hurdles
within the existing legislative framework -- hurdles which it may otherwise
take much effort to discover and avoid. In relation to intergovernmental
organizations (of which governments are members) there is a case for associating
social research initiatives. Patronage, rather than funding would be the
basis for the relationship -- somewhat as Unesco has related to Auroville.
This could build on the pattern of relationship between intergovernmental
bodies and NGOs, extending it into actual experiments in community at the
- Free zones: Governments have over the past decades experimented
with "free zones" as a means of boosting manufacturing and trade, whilst
avoiding the inhibiting effects of taxation, import/export duties and bureaucratic
form-filling. There has been a clear economic argument in favour of this
initiative. There is a strong case for equivalent free zones in which social
experiments can take place, free of the various constraints which normally
inhibit them and render it impossible to create exceptions. The viability
of such zones merits a feasibility study in the light of the possible social
advantages to society. Traditionally monastic enclosures, university campuses
and diplomatic compounds have had some qualities of such a free zone. Walled
suburbs are not a reactive variant. Ironically, in the absence of such
proactive initiatives, dysfunctional free zones are already being created
in urban environments in the form of "no go" zones where gang power prevails
and in red light districts, and similar, areas where police "turn a blind
- Exemptions and privileges: Governments have long taken special measures
to enable initiatives viewed as vital to the national interest. These include
tax exemptions, creative approaches to social security, and provision of
a variety of other exception clauses. This is most clearly seen in the
case of the diplomatic corps (for which there are a number of intergovernmental
treaty provisions), the international civil service including work in the
United Nations and similar bodies (for which treaty provisions have again
been made), and military service. In each case, special provision is made
for personal taxation, social security and pensions, education of children,
and tax-free acquisition of goods, for example. The argument for such privileges
is that they are necessary to attract the highest qualified personnel and
to compensate them for any damage such exceptional activity may cause to
their career opportunities. An equivalent case could be made for those
who engage in long-term social experiments.
One possibility is for governments to use fiscal incentives to actively
encourage corporate enterprises and universities to engage in social experiments
through tax incentives. This could be justified as research into ways of
redefining the social safety net and extending employment possibilities.
Organized labour has struggled valiantly to improve
working conditions and to safeguard social security provisions that have
been acquired with much difficulty. Faced with the globalization of trade,
and the movement of work to countries with less restrictive labour conditions,
labour unions are increasingly on the defensive. They are obliged to protect
the jobs of the already employed against the increasing numbers of those
seeking employment -- to a degree implying a need for a new kind of labour
union to advance the interests of those seeking employment (or endeavouring
to create jobs).
Labour unions maintain a resistant, uncreative attitude to contemporary
social challenges. Currently discussed is their opposition to wage scales
which would permit employers to take on people seeking jobs. For similar
reasons they are against prisoners being engaged in gainful employment
which would deprive legitimate workers of jobs. And in the same way, they
constitute one of the forces opposed to people experimenting with new kinds
of social contract based on remuneration below union norms --whether or
not they deprive regular workers of jobs.
There would appear to be a case for challenging labour unions to design
and implement different kinds of social experiment that could prove attractive
to people seeking new forms of employment. This challenge could increasingly
be framed in terms of: "more money and less quality of life" vs.
"less money and more quality of life". The challenge is to dissociate
money from quality of life, recognizing that increases in income are no
longer associated necessarily with commensurate increases in quality of
life that people have been led to expect. Development processes are progressively
eroding the possibility of a life of quality.
(c) Professions and disciplines
- Accountants: Business enterprises owe some of their success to their
use of "creative accounting" as a means of demonstrating corporate success
in ways which continue to invite the confidence of shareholders and investors.
This creativity is notably used in relation to legal loopholes and the
exploitation of features of existing regulations to minimize any tax burden
which would otherwise encumber the enterprise.
Again there is a case for challenging the accounting profession to devise
financial systems capable of rendering new kinds of community economically
viable and credible in an increasingly hostile financial environment.
- Lawyers and law theoreticians: Business enterprises have become
increasingly dependent on lawyers in navigating their way through complex
regulations and deriving advantage from them with the collaboration of
accounting disciplines. Lawyers have proved extremely creative with respect
to contract law in enabling new kinds of enterprise and partnership arrangements
to emerge, as well as in devising new kinds of contracts for the personnel
employed in them. Those academically concerned with the theory of law have
continued to reinforce the current system, which places groups lacking
financial resources at considerable disadvantage in any legal process.
Again there is a case for challenging the legal profession to devise
new forms of constitutions and contracts which could provide a basis for
new kinds of social organizations, partnerships and communities -- and
especially contracts covering the participation of individuals in them.
- Social sciences: Despite the considerable resources invested in
the social sciences over past decades, it is debatable whether this has
led to any social innovations permitting the creation of new kinds of community
or forms of employment. The major social impact of such research has been
associated with marketing, opinion formation, motivation, and propaganda,
which were the early justifications for investment in the behavioral sciences.
Whilst these skills have been used by governments for the destabilization
of foreign regimes, they do not appear to have been used to create new
forms of social organization more appropriate to the emerging challenges
of the future.
Again it is appropriate to challenge the social sciences to design new
social experiments and to treat their implementation as worthwhile field
experiments whose improvement and viability is their responsibility. This
would complement their proven ability to investigate social experiments
designed by others without the benefit of their skills and insights. It
is ironic that whilst funds can be found for such experiments as Biosphere2,
and plans can be seriously put forward for L5 O'Neil habitats in space,
no experiments are undertaken with respect to the social viability of such
environments --even by the International Space University network. There
is a place for "Sociosphere2" experiments, especially with the increasing
tendency to create walled suburbs, compounds and enclaves for security
There is a case for orienting some university
research into concrete field experiments in community creation -- building
on the plethora of studies on the development of pre-existing communities.
Students and researchers, for example, could explore the experience of
living together under refugee camp conditions ("Be a refugee for a year")
in order to harness their creativity in improving the quality of life there,
in the absence of any possibility of improving material resources. Such
experiences could increasingly be offered as an aspect of education of
significance in a period of social complexity and vulnerability.
(e) Cooperatives: With mutual societies, these constitute a unique
initiative which has met with both government and labour union support
over many decades. Appropriate legislative, fiscal and accounting systems
have been developed for them. The formula has been widely used around the
world. The question to be asked is why the cooperative formula has proved
unable to respond to the needs of so many in unsatisfactory conditions
of employment. In many respects it can be seen as having been most successful
as a tool of classical economic policies, but incapable of adapting to
situations which did not lend themselves to "economic" remedies.
Can the cooperative movement be challenged to develop new approaches
that would provide frameworks for community arrangements that were not
dependent on financial transactions. The question might be asked in relation
to the LETS (Local Exchange and Trading System) which uses a form of local
non-monetary currency to facilitate exchange within a community. To what
extent did this innovation emerge from, or evoke support from, the cooperative
movement, and if not, why not? Has the cooperative movement been instrumental
in lobbying for legislative support for such LETS systems -- notably within
(f) Employers: Conventional employers in a business environment
are obviously primarily concerned with maintaining a viable workforce consistent
with entrepreneurial profit-making. Where there is any sensitivity to wider
social responsibilities, extending employment opportunities --notably to
the physically or otherwise challenged -- has been severely constrained
by labour unions.
However, as noted above, employers have become masters of the creative
use of contracts. Indeed the restrictions and costs of employment are now
such that new employees tend to be engaged on short-term contracts only.
There is a case for exploring a broader range of contracts to enable individuals
to be more loosely associated with enterprises. This tendency is already
evident in the emerging pattern of part-time work.
Of special interest is the possibility of creating new types of contractual
environment. As in the case of free zones (discussed above), it is
possible to envisage entrepreneurial initiatives, notably of a not-for-profit
nature, based on a range of new types of contractual agreement between
the entrepreneur (or the enterprise) and those brought into association
by those contracts. To make the point more clearly, any such contract with
an individual (or a group) could be the result of a potential "associate"
being asked the question "what sort of lifestyle do you really need and
what are you prepared to do for it?".
The response to this question could lead to the creation of "lifework"
environments in which individuals live simply, benefitting from valued
shared facilities, within an environment which is deemed self-sustaining
from an economic perspective by the entrepreneurial group which invests
to some degree in its creation. If corporations are willing to sponsor
high risk sports, why not high risk social experiments?
Entrepreneurs could thus take the initiative in setting up various forms
of lifelong work community. The most select business think tanks effectively
function like this except that they are maintained at high cost because
of the financial rewards deemed appropriate to employees -- as such they
are easily viewed as a luxury when cost cutting is called for. The approach
advocated here is to create minimum cost environments with the emphasis
on non-financial lifestyle rewards in exchange for output of value to the
external economic environment. Universities and monasteries, and even the
military (including both the Knights Templar and the Foreign Legion), traditionally
provided environments where the emphasis was on lifestyle rather than economic
productivity or financial remuneration. These have all ceased to be viable
in this sense, and are subject to severe personnel and cost reductions,
because of the demand of individuals to be rewarded economically in order
to purchase their lifestyle props outside these environments. It is appropriate
to challenge labour unions to provide entrepreneurial leadership in creating
such environments themselves, according to their own philosophies.
It is interesting to envisage situations in which major corporations
and other institutions (including religious, university and military bodies)
could develop framework agreements whereby such lifework environments could
be associated with them to the benefit of both the corporation and the
people so associated. One aspect of this possibility can be seen in initiatives
of certain corporations to set up retirement villages for their employees
-- often an extension of country-club and spa-like environments created
for the benefit of employees and their families during their working lives.
There may even be a case for exploring possibilities of transferring people
into "associate" status rather than "firing" them or "retiring" them.
Initiatives of the type envisaged could be taken by business community
bodies like Rotary and Lions clubs -- leading perhaps to a parallel network
of such environments between which people could choose to move. This parallels
the dynamics of the traditional movement of scholars, "compagnons" and
military personnel -- exemplified in the Middle Ages by the religious and
military orders which maintained viability across centuries.
A trend in this direction may be signalled by the recently reported
willingness of some corporations in the USA (20 percent of those in the
Fortune 500 list) to allow employees to take "social service sabbaticals"
or to pursue other interests. This was headlined in the media under the
title: "How Employers Can Gain by Letting Go" (International Herald Tribune,
23 Sept 1996).
But although there is great merit in such bodies taking the initiative,
there is also great merit in being open to, and encouraging, such initiatives
by coalitions of individuals seeking to establish some such partnership.
Note that the emphasis is on contractual flexibility not on any particular
political, social or philosophical ideology -- as demonstrated by the range
ideologies associated with different kibbutz. Those of a given pattern
of belief could choose to use this approach, if such was their preference.
This might be preferred by Mormon, Catholic or Muslim groups, for example.
Job creation versus Job location
It is easily assumed that jobs should be found for individuals, or that
an individual should "find a job". According to this paradigm, jobs should
be created for individuals and it is primarily the task of government to
bring this about.
Whilst there is a case for this, it has its limitations. These are now
evident in the limited capacity of government, advised by economists, to
create jobs. The assumption that jobs are available if only people would
adapt to the market is reflected in the 1996 major policy innovation of
the UK Government in switching from provision of "unemployment benefits"
to a "job seekers allowance".
Especially distressing are the impediments to job creation by government
regulation. This has been distressingly illustrated by studies in developing
countries such as Peru (where in excess of a hundred forms had to be completed
by an individual wishing to start a small tailoring shop).
But even those who believe that government can eventually be made to
create enough jobs, by a change of policy or a change of government, are
increasingly forced to recognize that this will not happen over night.
And in the meantime, joblessness is taking its toll. It is questionable
whether groups holding this view can justify the luxury of being able to
wait for their view to prevail whilst many are sacrificed on the altar
of such dogmatic purity and lack of flexibility.
Why is it that so little emphasis is placed on enabling people to
create employment for themselves? Education is directed towards enabling
people to "find a job" which it is naively supposed should be available
once an appropriate qualification has been achieved. What are the skills
required to create a job? Where are those skills to be acquired? Especially
dubious is the failure to enable people, notably graduates, to use their
skills to work together to create new enterprises. In the UK, for example,
why are people not offered a "job creation allowance" rather than being
rewarded for having found one of the few jobs available -- thus depriving
others of that job?
Positive, if possibly trivial, examples of creating employment, are
to be found in the craft industries that develop in low employment areas,
especially those associated with tourism. Street musicians and performers
are another interesting case -- especially in contrast to beggars. Creation
of employment of the simplest kinds is especially noteworthy in developing
countries. It is in such an environment, in Bangladesh, that the Grameem
Bank emerged to enable the smallest of entrepreneurial initiatives to get
off the ground. This particular innovation is finally receiving support
from the World Bank. Negative approaches to the creation of employment
are to be seen in prostitution -- the "oldest profession". Crime can be
considered as even more dysfunctional. Gambling provides an example of
an activity widely engaged in legally which can be considered dysfunctional.
There is a great irony to one Freudian interpretation of the vulgar
connotations of "getting a job". It is possible that the future will come
to recognize the way in which sexual harassment was but an aspect of a
far more general "harassment of reality" practiced in contemporary society
--and exemplified by mechanistic approaches to getting a job. This may
be usefully contrasted by the richer approach to engagement in community
relationships, as traditionally preceded by attraction and courtship processes.
"Getting a job" may turn out to be a trap engendered by outmoded sexist
thinking as much as one sustained by economic rationalism. In this sense
there is merit in reflecting on what forms of expertise are "for hire"
and how these contrast with the "fidelity" and "loyalty" associated with
whatever form of consummation follows from any traditional engagement.
It is perhaps no accident that subtler articulations of the most desirable
forms of employment are described in terms such as "flow" experience and
"no thought" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Maybe there is a case for exploring
a Kama Sutra of Engagement (cf Judge, 1978).
In considering how employment is created, so-called "voluntary" initiatives
bear careful examination, as stressed by Jeremy Rifkin in The End of
Work. Again individuals can "find a job" which is voluntary. But more
interesting is how individuals, and groups, can create voluntary employment
for themselves. This may take the form of activism, assistance or care,
and a whole range of other initiatives through which the fabric of any
social community is sustained. Note that the initiative does not have to
be meaningful to others for it to be meaningful to those who engage in
it and who are bonded together in some way by such action.
Substitution for monetary employment
The progressive monetarization of employment and social relations has
been a concomitant of economic rationalism. Historically it has been imposed
forcibly wherever it was resisted by the as yet "uncivilized". Its promise
of "better times for all" has now been found to be subject to the qualification
"except for some". It is recognized that full employment within that paradigm
is at best possible for about 90 percent of the "working" population --
after official statistics have been duly massaged to give the greatest
credibility to this logic.
It has not proved possible to respond to the challenge of the widening
income gap. In this sense economic rationalism could be seen as the greatest
of pyramid selling scams that history has ever seen implemented.
Faced with limitations on material resources, there has been increasing
recognition of the need for "dematerializing the economy" -- seen as shifting
from primary to secondary and tertiary resources. As an extension of this
logic, there is a strong case for examining the possibility of demonetarizing
employment through substitution of non-monetary and non-material media
of exchange. The various LETS experiments have indicated some possibilities.
The question is whether there are others, possibly of a more radical nature,
which might prove an attractive alternative to some faced with the prospect
of long-term unemployment.
It is not to be expected that any such initiatives would be taken with
the support of governments or other institutions dependent on resources
generated within the current economic paradigm. But given that their policies
have proven incapable of delivering on promises made, or of creating meaningful
and equitable opportunities, such institutions should at least facilitate
experiments that may be seen to offer alternatives to those who choose
to engage in them.
However, even where there is active resistance to such experiments by
formal groups, there remain many possibilities for effective monetary substitution
amongst informal groups. It is even useful to consider the proliferation
of voluntary organizations in this light. They can be seen as providing
arenas for non-monetarized exchanges between individuals which compensate
for the aridity of the economic paradigm. To the extent that individuals
choose to devote more personal "energy" to such activities, at the expense
of their paid employment, such substitution can be considered as taking
place, at least partially.
The question to be explored is how this process can be developed further
and how such meaningful exchanges can coexist within a context in which
the increasingly non-meaningful exchanges of the economic paradigm continue
to be required. The methodological problem for economic rationalists, in
responding creatively to such possibilities of "psychic income", is that
they have already had major difficulties in coming to recognize the "informal
(black) economy" -- and as a consequence have therefore been responsible
for reinforcing the denial of widespread corruption. More recently they
have offered significant resistance to recognition of other forms of "work"
-- such as household work by a spouse -- as being of any economic significance,
thus reinforcing other forms of denial.
Extending this substitution process is therefore tantamount to recognizing
the existence of what might perhaps be termed a "white economy" -- which
might cluster forms of employment such as that of housework by a spouse,
the care given to a physically or otherwise challenged relative, pursuit
of hobbies, artistic creation, prayer, and the like. It might also include
physical activism in its mildest and most extreme forms. However, it is
not a question of persuading economists to recognize this category. Within
their own logic, as Hazel Henderson has pointed out, it is simply necessary
to hire them to produce justifications of its significance -- if their
assistance is indeed of value. Whether freely approved by economists or
not, it is through this white economy that many may have greater hope of
developing more satisfactory and meaningful lifestyles.
Engagement: the vital interface ?
Individuals may choose to buy into the development of the material economy
-- even in the most literal sense. But for those for whom this option is
not proving possible or fruitful, it is important to consider other options
in which they might invest their energies and from which they might derive
psychic income and increase their psychic capital. For some
religions, notably Buddhism, this has long been expressed through the notion
of increasing "merit".
The economic system, especially as a consequence of globalization, increasingly
places the individual and groups in what amounts to "padded cells" or "work
prisons" in which particular behaviours are required of them if they are
to be nourished. Society is being converted into a factory farm inhabited
and operated by wage slaves -- as envisaged by George Orwell.
There are however other transactions by which people may be nourished
--as intentional communities have endeavoured to explore. These range from
the individual's aesthetic and other responses to the surrounding world,
but include the many forms of personal interaction with others in a community.
This vital living interface merits careful attention. It can be cultivated
like a garden. As such it bears flower and fruit nourishing to the spirit
-- and basic to any sense of quality of life.
The limitations of economic rationalism, and the economic development
programme, are immediately evident in their inability to be able to manufacture
or sell "quality of life". What is offered for sale under that label is
an ersatz product from which substance abuse is often the only relief.
This is well illustrated by the increasing preference for low-maintenance,
plastic floral decoration in commercial environments.
The challenge for the individual is to find ways to live in community
detached from such economic rationalism. Whilst modern marketing must necessarily
seek to offer a sequence of increasingly expensive manufactured substitutes
for quality experience, this sequence can be deconstructed and reversed
in order to reduce psychological dependency upon them. How can those who
choose to do so learn to substitute qualitatively superior, low cost, experiences
for products that offer increasingly sophisticated simulations of such
But whilst it is easy for people in love to spend hours together without
requiring manufactured products or services, this is much less easy for
those who are isolated or lack group and community skills. People are educated
to dependency on purchased products. How can people learn to rely on, cultivate,
and relish, their own resources -- as so many have to do under conditions
of impoverishment, joblessness, loneliness and in refugee camps?
This does not imply an alternative to "work" -- emulating the spirit
of the "lotus eaters". It calls for an understanding of a new kind of "work"
through which people relate to each other and to the world -- as well as
engaging in work upon themselves (as emphasized in the increasingly popular
"self-help" literature). It is through this new kind of work that they
are nourished -- without the invasive intervention of an economic system
(whether globalized or not). Existing understandings of work are effectively
impoverished metaphors for this qualitatively richer form. It has been
explored in the research on "flow experience" and in the working styles
of those who are passionate about their work -- irrespective of any remuneration.
This understanding of work is based on a subtle "contract" with the
surrounding world. Just as with conventional modes of work, it involves
some form of "discipline", often of a high and subtle order -- which may
perhaps be learnt in slums more readily than in suburban luxury. Together
these give rise to a subtle pattern of exchange and a form of identity
enhancement which are directly experienced as meaningful and offering a
sense of quality of life -- an enhanced quality of engagement. This
can be seen as a kind of new psychosocial equation.
Localization vs Globalization
There is every indication that the process of globalization will continue
to create joblessness in the monetary economy with measurable efficiency.
Some may be persuaded to believe that globalization is capable of delivering
"Jobs for All", despite the failure of such programmes as "Healthfor All
by the Year 2000" (World Health Organization) or the "Elimination of Hunger
by the Year 2000" (Hunger Project). Many may literally starve whilst waiting
for such promises to be effectively and universally implemented. Do such
promises represent the "Big Lie" of the end of the 20th Century? Dependence
on the long-term success of mega-programmes based on globalization and
universalization need to be complemented by a focus on short-term programmes
offering greater guarantee of local and immediate success. The issue is
one of conceptual survival kits for those currently in distress.
The earlier argument above indicates the possibility that parallel non-monetary
"economies" may emerge and acquire much greater importance. This would
counter-balance the trend towards convertible and single currencies, or
universal media of exchange. As in early economic history, different "economies"
would then co-exist based on quite different, unrelated value systems.
Trade between them, if called for at all, could then only be based on some
form of barter.
As patterns of social relationships, such parallel "psychic economies"
could well be essentially non-territorial and interstitial, just as housework
is usually "remunerated" by non-monetary means. Examples of such parallel
economies might include: favour-granting (amongst executives and bureaucrats),
respect-according (amongst urban gangs), predatory criminality, gift economies
(as studied by anthropologists), as well as classical courtly love (as
catalyzed by troubadours).
In effect the countervailing trend to globalization and universal values
will be the engendering of multiple realities, whether at the macro or
the micro level. Religious belief systems are one example of this. At the
micro level they will manifest as "localization", possibly of quite radical
form in different patterns of community and social relationships. Whereas
globalization assumes that satisfiers will be imported as readily from
around the world, localization will focus on satisfiers deriving from the
immediate surroundings -- however these are to be understood and cultivated.
This is perhaps most crudely illustrated by rising distrust in globally
distributed meat products, with some consumers relying solely on products
from known local farmers.
How people may "employ" themselves within these realities, or are to
be employed and nourished by them, are then the questions to be explored.
The monetarized economy is not the context in which the real challenges
lie to the future sustainability of community. One approach to articulating
the range of approaches to engagement is offered as an annex: Engagement:
14 contrasting concepts of meaningful employment.
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