We Are the Obstacles to the Passion Economy

“I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous.”

In Praise of Idleness, Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell echoes one of my deepest belief. What is keeping us from the passion economy is ourselves. It’s the fact that we still see work as the only socially acceptable way to achieve human dignity. It’s the fact that we vote for jobs rather than for meaning or happiness.

Our technological ingenuity, which allows us to automate more and more tasks every day, is only matched by our ingenuity in job creation. We find countless creative ways to invent jobs where we don’t need them.

Most people don’t think needless jobs* are even possible. At least not in the private sector. In their opinion, the free market should get rid of such jobs. But this is placing beliefs above facts.

Needless jobs are everywhere. We vote for jobs and therefore we deploy all our ingenuity to create them. Not directly, but through mechanisms that encourage job creation.

For example, a private company employing many people becomes a privileged interlocutor of governments. That privileged relationship can be converted into value for the corporation in countless ways. Some of these are obvious and are at the root of big scandals. But most of the corporate value created through privileged governmental relationships is essentially invisible. A lot of that invisible value falls under what one could call “downside protection”, a superpower that reduces the risk that the company will suffer catastrophic events in the future.

Thanks to these countless indirect value generation mechanisms, a company can reach a point where it becomes strategic to keep a given employee even if that person’s work generate a fraction of their salary. A “fractional needless job” if you will.

That’s only one of the ways in which useless jobs are created in the private sector. Read David Graeber* if you want more.

But again, I’m not trying to argue that such jobs are possible in the current system, simply that we will keep inventing them as long as we consider them as the only way to achieve human dignity.

Like Bertrand Russell’s, our opinions need a revolution.

* I chose “needless jobs” over David Graeber’s more provocative “bullshit jobs”.