(This essay is the ninth part of the series ‘How Jobs Destroyed Work’)
There is this commonly-held belief that there are people who ‘don’t want to work’. I find it hard to believe that any such person really exists: that there could be anyone who would wish to avoid productive activity that is meaningful, enhances one’s talents and improves quality of life. But, of course, when people say of others that ‘they don’t want to work’, what they always mean is that some people would rather not submit to paid employment unless forced to. If employers strive to reduce or eliminate the very qualities work needs to become a calling, though, is it any wonder if people turn their noses up at such labour? Who would willingly submit to a job that has had engagement designed out of it and is performed primarily for the enrichment of strangers?
At this point, it may be worth uncovering an important way in which ‘human nature’ differs from ‘nature’. Nature is in no way influenced by our theories regarding its workings. For example, it does not matter how many people believe nuclear fusion powers the Sun, nor how fervently this belief is held. Nature either does power stars using fusion, or it does not. What we believe has got nothing to do with it.
But human nature can be influenced by our theories of human nature. How? If we believe certain things about people, and society is designed in such a way as to amplify those traits, people may well be influenced to turn out that way. If we then take how people happened to turn out in the society we created as proof that our theories of human nature are correct, that may further persuade us to build societies around such beliefs. We have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Take the belief that people don’t want to work and that only wages motivate us. As we saw in part one, Adam Smith believed this was the case. Now, suppose that this Smith chap is influential enough to have his beliefs adopted by others. Business owners, fearing the disastrous consequences of laziness and inattention, set about designing systems to manage people based on such beliefs. Industrialists, believing workers are only motivated by pay, construct assembly lines that reduce work into essentially meaningless units.
What is happening, then, is that workplaces are being designed to focus on efficiency only, counting on the pay to compensate. If we put people into environments such as these, it would hardly be surprising if they acted in stereotypical ways predicted by their superiors’ theories of human nature: Finding no meaning in the labour they are performing and having no reason to do such a job apart from needing the wages. And now that feedback loop of self-fulfilling prophecy really kicks in. Discretion, autonomy, and creativity have been designed out of work, making it hard to find meaning and engagement in what one is doing. Therefore, people feel less satisfaction and chances are that if they feel a lack of satisfaction they will not perform very well unless pressured to. As they work less well absent coercion from superiors, this reinforces the belief about human nature, and so the system is reconfigured to impose even tighter controls and take away even more autonomy. As Barry Schwartz wrote in ‘Why We Work’:
“The concept of ideology, and the self-fulfilling feedback loops that ideology can give rise to, helps explain, I think, why it is that most workplaces have come to be dominated by excessive reliance on close supervision, routinized work, and [monetary] incentives”.
If there is more than one reason to tempt those with power to design workplaces along certain lines, that obviously increases the likelihood of such practices being adopted. In the case of reducing or eliminating the qualities of work that make it a calling, the advantage (to owners, at least) is that workers need less training, less skill, and are therefore more expendable. That enables owners to squeeze more value out of labour, as the reduced bargaining power that results means the working classes are more likely to ‘agree’ to longer hours and fewer benefits, knowing full-well how much easier it is for their superiors to replace them and throw them on the scrapheap of unemployment. During the rise of the lean-and-mean model, a time when lack of commitment to employees was regarded as something business should boast about and aspire to, and when the benefits of prosperity were largely monopolised by those at the executive level and professional investors, workers at lower scales of the hierarchy increasingly adopted similar attitudes to those of their superiors, as self-protection, cynicism, and preoccupation with short-term material rewards proliferated. As Frazer put it:
“A new breed of careerists began to multiply, a group that felt as little attachment to their jobs or employers as the era’s day-trading investors had for the stocks and shares they bought and sold at a rapid-fire rate”.
Why wouldn’t they feel that way? After all, the workplace had commodified their labour power to the extent that hiring and firing was proceeding at a similarly frenetic pace, and not for their benefit but rather to increase the paper-profits of executives who were not beholden to the same merciless standards. People, looking around for missing meaning, received plenty of advice on where it might be found: Through the consumption of material wealth. Advertisements and other forms of propaganda were insistent that satisfaction and happiness could be bought on credit.
But there is more to this sorry tale than just individuals seeking meaning by maxing out their credit cards. We are encouraged to believe that if individuals get deeply into debt it is all down to their own reckless behaviour. But the fact is we are all in debt regardless of how prudent we may have been. This is because we are now in a situation in which entire countries are mired in debt and when their governments bail out banks that are too big to fail by engaging in massive deficit spending, what this amounts to is the stealing of future generations’ prosperity. Also, according to David Graeber, when it comes to personal debt:
“Very little of this debt was accrued by those determined to find money to bet on the horses or toss away on friperies. Insofar as it was borrowed for what economists like to call discretionary spending, it was mainly…to be able to build and maintain relations with other human beings based on something other than sheer material calculation…most ordinary Americans- including Black and Latino Americans, recent immigrants, and others who were formerly excluded from credit- have responded with a stubborn insistence on continuing to love one another. They continue to acquire houses for their families…insist on continuing to hold weddings and funerals, regardless of whether this is likely to send them skirting default or bankruptcy…Granted, the role of discretionary spending itself should not be exaggerated. The chief cause of bankruptcy in America is catastrophic illness; most borrowing is simply a matter of survival (if one does not have a car, one cannot work); and for most, simply being able to go to college now means debt peonage for at least half of one’s subsequent working life”.
Graber summarised the plight of the blue and white collar worker:
“One must go into debt to achieve a life that goes in any way beyond sheer survival”.
When he says ‘one must’ he is not referring to any law of nature but rather a consequence of how we have allowed our economy to develop. The role money plays in destroying work will be our next topic.

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(This essay is part eight of the series ‘How Jobs Destroyed Work’) 
Some observers, among them Noam Chomsky and Jaques Fresco, have noted how corporations tend to have the same organizational structure as fascist dictatorships. In other words, there is a strict hierarchy that demands tight control at the top and obedience at every level. Granted, there may be a measure of give-and-take, but the line of authority is usually clear. Others, perhaps most notably Michel Foucault, have argued that prisons and factories came in at more or less the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed each other’s’ control techniques. 
For example, in the late 18th Century, social theorist Jeremy Bentham designed the ‘panopticon’. ‘Pan’ means ‘inmates’ and ‘opticon’ means ‘observed’ and so the panopticon was a prison designed in such a way that all inmates could be kept under surveillance by a single watchman. True, it was impossible for a single observer to keep an eye on all inmates at once, but the panopticon was designed in such a way as to make it impossible for any inmate to know if he was being watched or not. The inmates only knew that it was possible that they could currently be under surveillance. Bentham’s belief was that, under such conditions, inmates would effectively mind their own behaviour.
So what became of the panopticon? They are everywhere, only we now tend to refer to them as ‘offices’. Many a white-collar employee (those below the executive level, at least) spend their in-office hours in a cubicle, most likely of a one-size-fits-all, institutional-gray design that can be set up, reconfigured, and moved at the whim of those higher up the line of authority: A constant reminder of the employee’s own lack of security and importance to the corporation. Moreover, cubicles are (in the words of one employee) “mechanisms of constant surveillance”, lacking doors and usually arranged so that managers can spy on whoever they like at any time. The employees are usually made to work facing a wall, so cannot know if they are being watched unless they look over their shoulder. The message such an environment sends out is clear: We can see what you are-or are not- doing. So work harder or we’ll replace you.
With IT technology, bosses have access to surveillance possibilities that Bentham can hardly have imagined. There is, for example, the ‘Investigator’ program. This software can be installed, without the employee’s knowledge, on the company’s PCs. It records everything the employee does- every mouse-click, every keystroke, every command. Through appropriate programing of their internal computer networks and security systems, businesses have the power to impose constant surveillance on their employees, tracking precisely when they start, when they finish, how often and for how long they take a toilet break, and so on. If they so choose, bosses can adjust the ‘Investigator’ program so that any time an employee types an ‘alert’ word (‘union’, say) the document in which it appeared will be automatically emailed to the appropriate supervisor. Given all that, is it any wonder that Bob Black was moved to write:
“There is more freedom in any moderately de-Stalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace…The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do, and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom…He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors”. 
By creating environments that constantly monitor worker behaviour and reduce, so far as is possible, reliance on employee skillsets, businesses increase the commodification of labour power, creating a just-in-time workforce that can be increased or decreased with all the impersonal efficiency with which a business may manage its inventory. As might be expected, this has lead to an increase in the number of temporary employees. In the mid 1980s, there were around 800,000 temps employed daily across the US. By the late 1990s, that number had increased fourfold.
In labour terms, temporary employees are often indistinguishable from their full-time counterparts. The job functions they perform are the same, and they frequently put in the same 50, 60, 70 hour schedules expected of noncontingency staff throughout the high-tech sector. What really sets them apart from the full-timer are the benefits to which they are- or rather are not- entitled. While agency fees mean temps are more costly than full-time staff in terms of their salaries, they can save up to 33% of an employee’s paycheck, thanks to those skipped benefits. The benefits they are not eligible for are often discounted-stock-options or corporate retirement plans. As one Microsoft temp put it:
“People who started at the same time as I did are cashing in their options and paying for their houses in cash…I’m still paying $200 a month for healthcare”.
The advantages to business in hiring temps over full-time staff does not just consist in saving costs through denial of benefits. A workplace heavy on contingent workers has the added bonus of creating an environment of fear. We saw earlier how office floorplans that rely on quickly reconfigurable cubicles underscore the precarious, temporary nature of employment within the lean-and-mean model, and this is only enhanced as more job categories get converted to contingent status. The underlying tension created by workplaces such as these means full-timers are less likely to make demands upon management and more likely to submit to more labour for fewer rewards. 
Here, too, technology helps business while negatively affecting workers. Blue-collar workers have long known the monotony of working on production lines that micromanage every aspect of the working day but they were at least able to walk away from such dehumanizing environments at the end of their shift. The white-collar worker in the modern IT sweatshop is not so fortunate. Because white-collar employees can be issued with web-enabled company phones, laptops and other such devices (perhaps loaded with software that can surreptitiously spy on them) businesses now have the ability, in effect, to set up portable assembly lines wherever they please, be it in former recreational places or private homes. This results in what Jill Andresky Fraser called ‘Job Spill’- the phenomenon of one’s job demands growing and taking over more and more of one’s ‘out-of-office’ existence. So, not only can smart and spy technologies enable employers to create efficient workplaces that can cut down on the quality and quantity of staff they employ, there is also the opportunity to squeeze more labour out of the remaining staff (‘voluntarily’, of course, if you ignore the coercive pressure imposed by harsh corporate and financial conditions). As Fraser put it:
“The balanced and secure 9-5 work lives of their parents’ generation belongs to a utopian past…they struggle to fulfil job demands that require them to work after dinner and during lunch hours…on Saturdays and Sundays…during summer or winter vacations…while waiting in line at movie theatres”.
As technology and management techniques reduce or eliminate the judgement, flexibility, and challenge work needs to become a calling, we can perhaps explain why many employees feel they have ‘bullshit jobs’- that is to say, labour that seems to perform no beneficial function, either for the person doing it or society. ‘The Economist’ explained how the complexity of today’s economy has compelled businesses to impose production-line techniques at ever higher-levels of the professional ladder. In the case of much white-collar labour:
“You end up with the clerical equivalent of repeatedly affixing tab A to frame B: Shuffling papers, management of the minutiae of the supply chain and so on. Disaggregation may make it look meaningless, since many workers end up doing things incredibly far-removed from the endpoints of the process”.
Now, ‘meaning’ and ‘boredom’ are subjective states of mind. Following Sartre, we might say that the individual is always free to find meaning in what they are doing. I think there’s a lot of truth in that, but I also think it’s fair to say that, for most people, finding meaning while doing their job happens in spite of- not because of- what they are doing. This is because so many of us end up employed in jobs that have had autonomy and creativity designed out of them in the interests of reducing the bargaining power of employees so the executive classes can take advantage of economic coercion and grab a larger slice of the pie. 
Coming up in part nine, false beliefs regarding human nature and work.

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Work combined with technology can make for a wonderful union. Described by W. Brian Arthur as ‘a reprogramming of nature’, technology provides us with new tools and capabilities that can improve our lives and broaden our horizons. It was technological advance and the rise in productivity it enabled that lead to the likes of Keynes to predict a marked reduction in labour along with a rise in living standards as the 20th century marched toward the millennium.
But technology is a double-edged sword. Depending on how it is used, it can be a source of ill as well as good. When it comes to jobs, technology can be used to cause the deterioration of work. 
To understand why anyone would want to do such a thing, one must understand why businesses exist in the first place. Their only real purpose is to generate wealth for their owners. They do not exist in order to provide work for anybody, nor do they exist to produce anything for anybody other than the owners. Rather, both of those things are what businesses have traditionally had to do in order to achieve their one and only true purpose. 
Because their one and only purpose is to enrich their owners, businesses are motivated to increase sales and lower costs. One of the commodities that count among a business’s costs is labour power. Work that achieves that highest of aspirational standards- the ‘calling’- more than likely requires judgement, flexibility, challenge, and autonomy for employees who occupy such positions. The problem is, employees who possess the skillsets such work requires tend to be in a better bargaining position and can therefore negotiate greater benefits compared to less autonomous and creative labourers. Since employers would prefer to pay their workers less so that they can gain more, they strive to reduce the amount of judgement, flexibility and challenge required of their employees, thereby allowing them to hire cheaper labour. 
In “The Electronic Sweatshop”, Barbara Garson explained the techniques which achieve that objective. “A combination of 20th century technology and 19th century scientific management [turn] the office of the future into the factory of the past”. In other words, employers seek out technologies and management techniques that will enable production to be arranged in such a way so that minimum skill is required to do the job. The goal is to make the workplace smarter so that employees will not need to be as autonomous, flexible and creative as they otherwise would need to be. Put another way, bosses are motivated to move control away from the managed and toward the managers. In ‘What Do Bosses Do?’, Stephen Marglin wrote about how the assembly-line division of labour gives control to whoever constructs the assembly line while simultaneously removing it from whoever actually works on it.
The more employers rely on production-line techniques, the more employment resembles the factories of the past. Take service-based jobs for example. Employers in call centres are micromanaged, provided with such detailed scripts they don’t really need to know anything about the product or service they are talking about. Airlines have standardized reservation. American Airlines, for example, divided a two-minute reservation conversation into segments of ‘opening’, ‘sales pitch’, ‘probe’ and ‘close’. A set of interchangeable modules was provided for each segment. As Garson explained, “an acceptable conversation could now be put together like a mix and match outfit for a Chinese dinner- one from column A, two from column B”. This standardization of the reservation conversation meant that the airline needed less dependency on the agents’ own experience and judgement. That made them more easily replaceable, which lowered their bargaining power, which meant their labour could be hired at lower cost. It would not surprise me, in fact, if such employers were replaced by artificial intelligence by now, something which is always a possibility if work is dumbed down enough and AI becomes smart enough.
The reader is reminded that while techniques to reduce judgement, flexibility and challenge in work saves money for the owner classes by lowering the cost of labour, it also reduces engagement and meaning and so prevents such work from being a ‘calling’. Consider this extract from an application letter written by an aspiring teacher:
“I want to manage a classroom where children experience the thrill of wonder, the joy of creativity, and the rewards of working hard. My objective is to convey to children in their formative years the sheer pleasure in learning”.
Well, that certainly sounds like the kind of employment that offers the chance to exercise one’s creativity and gain tremendous satisfaction from work, doesn’t it? Alas, the actual job was rather different. School administrators had broken teaching down into several dozen observable behaviours and then set about micromanaging teachers. For example, another teacher was required to use a script that was twice as long as the book she was reading to her Kindergarten class. She was not at liberty to invent lessons for teaching, say, the letter ‘B’ to her pupils; instead she had to follow a script which laid out, in excruciating detail, every step of the lesson from where she should have the class sit (“assemble students on the rug”) to what she should say to them (“Say, ‘listen very carefully as I read the story’”). 
In every case, the overall objective is the same. If the system can be made smarter, that reduces the skills employees need. That makes them cheaper to train, less special, easier to replace and therefore more expendable. The more technology and management techniques can decrease the importance of human judgement, discretion, creativity, autonomy and flexibility in any process, the more owners are able to capture a share of their company’s income. 
In part eight we will continue our investigation into how technology and management techniques can deteriorate working conditions.

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From one perspective, what happened during the global financial crisis could be seen as either the failure of free market capitalism, or what invariably happens when it’s replaced with something more corrupt. After all, this is supposedly the system that creates a rising tide that lifts all boats, or at least all boats captained by honest folk who work hard. The fact that so many have found their lives involve increasing pressures coupled with decreasing rewards, regardless of whether or not they did everything like they were lead to believe they should, could be taken as evidence that something went wrong with the free-market ideal.
But others have a different perspective regarding free market capitalism. This perspective denies that the freedom implied in the term ‘free market’ refers to uncoerced, voluntary exchange resulting in appropriate, mutual gain for all participants regardless of where they may be positioned on the economic ladder. Rather, it is argued that the ‘freedom’ is the freedom to use whatever means possible in order to compete against each other, take what we can, and generally dominate, suppress and beat other businesses via whatever methods you can get away with.
In other words, while capitalism has helped improve life in some ways, it remains a fundamentally bigoted and elitist system that favours one group over another. This favouritism has little to do with the belief held by free-market zealots, that rewards always go to the manifestly worthy. Rather, they are directed toward the group who gamed the system for structural advantage. Unlike in previous cases of elitism and bigotry, classes such as gender, race, or religion have little to do with favouritism within the free market system. It is to do, instead, (as the Zeitgeist movement put it) “with a kind of forceful expedience and competitive mentality that pushes itself to the top of the class hierarchy, at the inevitable expense of others”.
An important question is whether the free market went wrong and was allowed to be corrupted by those who betrayed its principles, or whether the corruption is just what you get by following the logic of market competition and the commodification of everything including debt and state power. This could be seen as analogous to the question of whether Stalin was an accident or the inevitable consequence of running the communist experiment. A detailed investigation may be beyond the scope of this essay, but regardless of whether the free market became corrupted or whether it just evolved in predictable ways given its premises, we can see in the beliefs mentioned above why the worsening conditions brought about by the lean-and-mean model were tolerated as much as they were.
Firstly, there is that belief, mentioned earlier, that money always flows toward the manifestly worthy. The implication of such beliefs is that, in order to have gained the most in free-market competition, your contribution to society must have been just as high. In other words, if a few are enjoying skyrocketing wage increases and bonuses, becoming billionaires in the process even as the rest of us experience deteriorating conditions, those few must have done something both important and helpful for society, making their wealth a just reward.
Such beliefs arguably do not coincide with the logic of the capitalist system. Recall that this is an inherently class-based system that divides us up into two groups: Workers who do most of the labour (both physical and mental) and who may remove their labour but have no right to a job; and the Owners, who choose who is employed, gain most from production but are not obliged to participate in production itself.
Under such a system, everything that really makes a positive difference to our lives- all the services, the problem-solving, the creative innovation- happens almost exclusively within the lower echelons of the corporate complex. It is those at the lower and middle runs of the economic ladder- blue- and white-collar workers- who actually produce wealth, only to see the fruits of their labour capitalized upon by those who exploit the mechanisms of the market. That’s why we call this system ‘capitalism’. This is not to deny that those who hold vast wealth worked hard, or are clever; it is just acknowledging that the hard work they engage in really has little to do with generating real wealth by solving society’s problems (such work being undertaken by those lower down on the economic ladder.) Instead, it involves manipulating and restructuring the market so that rewards are directed toward those who rigged the game, not to those who actually do the bulk of the problem-solving, engineering, and creative innovation.
Secondly, those employees who accepted increasingly harsh and unfair working conditions had a mind-set nurtured by three decades of management practices within the paternalistic model (see part four of this series if you want to know more about Paternalism.) They were prepared to do what was necessary to help their employer overcome current challenges, because they still believed there was such a thing as mutual loyalty. By the time it became obvious that the system was now one in which their class was exploited by the executives in the corporate hierarchy, many of those white-collar workers were trapped in economic conditions that restricted their ability to choose alternatives.
This brings us to another way in which jobs are not like work. Where work is concerned, provided you are working well and appropriately, your living conditions will improve. Appropriate work done well is always rewarded. But when it comes to jobs, you can do everything you have been lead to believe is right and yet experience deteriorating conditions because the system favours a class or group other than your own. 
The reality of the lean-and-mean model is that it allows the executives in the corporate hierarchy to receive a disproportionate share of the wealth while also forcing employees below the executive level to bare most of the costs of economic recovery. Over the period in which the lean-and-mean model rose to dominance, chief executives gained a 490% increase in annual compensation (ie salary, bonuses, stock grants and options.) This, remember, was during a period in which other workers had wage increases that barely kept up with inflation, or even found themselves financially worse off as they spent their retirement savings, accepted lower-paid jobs and other such measures, in order to meet household obligations.
During the 80s and 90s, the feeding frenzy of mergers and acquisitions meant that related ‘downsizing’ happened during periods of prosperity as well as downturns. One in every five white-collar employees spent less than 24 months in their job before getting fired, and their termination did not necessarily have anything to do with the quality of their work ethic. They were, instead, victims of a system that used layoffs as a blunt instrument of first rather than last resort, wielded by an executive class prepared to blame anyone other than themselves for inadequate results. 
Destroying viable businesses and sacking good workers might sound like bad practice, but only if you cling to the belief that the free-market is a rising tide that lifts all competently-piloted boats. But, if you see it in terms of a system of competitive exploitation favouring one class at the expense of another, it actually makes sense. A business world in which there is little job security creates an environment of fear. The less secure your job is, the less bargaining power you have. Therefore, the more you can be pressured into taking on more labour for fewer rewards. By cutting wages, slashing benefits, and imposing longer working hours, a business is effectively saving money that could go toward the sort of things that boost stock prices, like bottom-line results or growth-orientated activities. The lean-and-mean model just doesn’t believe in wasting corporate earnings on employees, not if they can be coerced into working harder for less.
Is there coercion? That depends on what you believe. There are those who believe that there cannot be coercion in free-market economics because everybody is in a position to voluntarily accept or reject whatever terms of employment are offered to them. Of course they are free- it’s the ‘free market’! By this logic, the Dear Leader of North Korea must have been one of the most genuinely beloved rulers ever to have lived. He was, after all, the ‘Dear Leader!’. Maybe I am being unfair and forgetting that the free market ideal became corrupted by meddling governments. But I suspect it is more a case of those who strongly favour libertarianism acknowledging coercion when spoken of in the context of state power while being unable or unwilling to acknowledge the reality of economic coercion. But if the system has corrupted or evolved toward one akin to a game that’s rigged to favour one small group of players at everybody else’s expense, if one’s perception of the market is that of a highly insecure environment in which tenure in a job may be removed at any time, casting you with all the probable financial stresses that are part and parcel of a world of booms and busts back among the unemployed (hardly a group in a strong negotiating position in a world in which jobs are perceived to be scarce) then all these factors are very likely going to influence your decisions and offer an advantage to companies seeking to keep working hours high and employee rewards low. According to this perspective, general relative poverty is not really a tragedy to be overcome, but rather a positive condition for the owner classes, since it ensures economic coercion resulting in cheaper labour. Among those who lost jobs during the years 1995 to 1997, one in every four were paid at least 20% less when re-employed.
Not surprisingly, given that employee earnings were barely keeping up with inflation or actually deteriorating, many found that the only way in which they might share in their company’s rewards was through stock market. This only increased the financial sector’s power to prioritise the bottom line at the expense of everybody below the executive level. As ‘Marty’, an art designer at one of America’s largest publishing companies remarked:
“We’re all devouring ourselves. We all own stocks, and as shareholders, all we care about is profits. So we’re the ones who are encouraging the conditions that make our lives so awful”.
Under the lean-and-mean model, businesses use vestiture as a carrot-and-stick to both tempt and beat employees into working harder. Recall that this model really doesn’t want to reward those below the executive level in the corporate hierarchy if it can possibly get away with it. In the case of becoming invested, the lean-and-mean model provides a strong incentive for companies to set investing requirements high, since that invariably increases the likelihood that employees will be ‘downsized’ before they meet those requirements, enabling those funds to be recaptured. Limited, for example, pegged tenure at seven years. The rate of forfeitures was around 35%.
Many white-collar employees put up with unbelievably harsh job demands in order to participate in stock-option plans that permitted employees to buy stocks and shares at discounted rates, but only if they remained employed long enough to gain ‘vested’ ownership of the options. A few people did indeed gain fortunes, becoming ‘Microsoft Millionaires’ or its equivalent in high-tech and financial sectors. But the working conditions were so intense that many more just burned out before that reached that goal. Furthermore, it was a goal that often receded away from them, like a rainbow supposedly locating a pot of gold. “I know it’s ridiculous”, confided one software expert in ‘White-Collar Sweatshop’, “but I haven’t looked for another job because my boss keeps telling me he’s going to give me options sometime soon. It’s very hard to leave because you feel so close…even though stock options themselves are no guarantee that you’ll make money, and the promise of stock options is even less certain than that”.
The dream people like him were sold was that if every employee worked to the utmost of their abilities, every single moment of every single day, they would surely be rewarded enough to compensate for participating under such difficult and demanding conditions. But this was a naive belief because they were devoting time and energy to uphold a system that commodified their labour power and rerouted rewards to executives who, quite simply, were not held to the same inflexibly high standards. The rule that, in times of both recession and prosperity, employees should tighten their belts and accept reduced benefits for the good of the bottom-line does not apply at the executive level, although it’s hard to say why not. At least, it is difficult to justify but not explain if you realise that, in a plutocracy, there is a revolving door between corporate executives and the political/financial systems that determine CEO pay rates and bonuses.
According to Chrystia Freeland, author of ‘Plutocrats: The Rise of The New Global Superrich and the Fall of Everyone Else’:
“You don’t do this in a kind of chortling, smoking your cigar, conspiratorial thinking way. You do it by persuading yourself that what is in your personal interest is in the interest of everybody else….And what I really worry about is, there is so much money and power at the very top, and the gap between those people at the very top and everybody else is so great, that we are going to see social mobility choked off”.
That yawning gap consisted not just of the vast differences in earnings between those at the top of the corporate hierarchy and everybody else, but also in terms of the standards one must meet in order to gain reward in the lean-and-mean model. The familiar spin put on stratospheric executive pay is that it is just reward for those who shoulder the responsibility for steering such mighty corporate ships toward higher profits. But this is a lie, because these people seem to be richly rewarded regardless of how well the company does under their leadership. Sometimes, fiddling the books is undertaken so executives continue to be lavishly rewarded. For example, a fair number of companies simply repriced their stock options to lower levels in the event of declining shareholder value, enabling their executives to earn equity-related profits whether the company was doing well or not.
Warnaco’s Linda J. Wachner received a total of $73. 4 million during a period in which the company lost $32 million after taxes. At&T’s return on equity dropped by nearly 25% from 1995-1997, but CEO Robert E. Allen still took home nearly $21 million in all. That must have pleased workers whose lives worsened under management dictates like ‘there’s no free ride’.
Jack Stack, Chief Executive, Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation, was scathing in his criticism of executive behaviour within the lean-and-mean model:
“I have no patience with CEOs who make excuses for layoffs, who say they’re cutting jobs only to make the company more competitive in the market, to protect the interests of shareholders…When downsizing is the only choice, it’s a sign of how badly management has failed, and the people who get hurt are invariably those who had nothing to do with creating the problems in the first place”.
Those who get hurt are those who had nothing to do with causing the problems. Work is not supposed to be like that. Penalties are supposed to go to those who do bad work; rewards to those who do good. This rule often does not apply in the world of paid employment, a world in which ‘boss bears’ have rigged the system in order to favour their class at the expense of everybody else. For the most part, employees do not go to work at all, at least not to ‘work’ as I have defined it. They are instead forced, by economic coercion and social conditioning, to submit to labour within a post-modern slavery system that’s held in place by a value orientation of ‘competitive freedom’ susceptible to oppression, structural advantage, and abuse.
In the last three parts of this essay, we have seen how the Paternalistic Model nurtured a generation of employees who believed- justifiably so, at the time- that the largest corporations cared about them above and beyond their commodification as labour power; how declining economic conditions in the 80s lead to an attitude that these were dinosaur companies bloated with bureaucracy and complacent workers, and how the lean-and-mean model aggressively upped the pressures imposed on white-collar staff who believed- until it was too late to change- that the business world still operated under conditions of mutual loyalty. This has been a macroscale look at the world of employment can betray the promise of work: That reward comes to those who work well and hard in productive effort. Next, we shall investigate how technology is used to devalue labour within the hierarchically fascist dictatorships that are modern businesses. 

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(This essay is part five in the series HOW JOBS DESTROYED WORK)
During the 80s, attitudes toward the paternalistic model changed. The 1970s ended in recession, and during this period two of America’s largest companies- Chrysler and Lockheed-survived only because of government bailouts. The new decade began with inflation approaching 15%, and unemployment over 8.5%. Gold prices were soaring, a trend that is often associated with investor pessimism. Indeed, there was a general mood of unease regarding the the US’s economic prospects, as the stock market went into the worst slump since the 1930s.
Amidst all this financial trouble, people began looking at those large corporations with their many benefits packages and saw not businesses to be inspired by but rather dinosaurs to be blamed for worsening conditions. Increasingly, people saw the large corporations as bloated and inefficient, handicapped by too much bureaucracy and a workforce with an over-inflated sense of entitlement. It seemed as though America was increasingly unable to compete against more nimble competitors, most notably from Japan and West Germany. The nation was importing 25% of its steel and 53% of its numerically controlled machine tools by 1981.
What really helped the rise of the lean-and-mean model in the 80s and 90s was certain federal and state regulatory changes, coupled with innovations from Wall Street. The federal and state regulatory changes brought about an environment in which corporate mergers and takeovers could flourish. For example, there had been laws protecting local companies from out-of-state suitors, but these were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Also, President Reagan appointed an attorney who had previously defended large corporations against antitrust suits to be head of the Department of Justice’s antitrust division. This all but guaranteed there would no interference from the federal government with the growing acquisitions and mergers movement.
Meanwhile, Michael Milken, of investment house Drexel Burnham, created high-yield debt instruments known as ‘junk bonds’, which allowed for much riskier and aggressive corporate raids. These, along with the state and federal regulatory changes mentioned earlier, triggered an era of hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts and corporate bustups.
It would be hard to exaggerate just how different this new business-world order was compared to the paternalistic model. Whereas before, employees were treated very well, the new breed of executive didn’t think they mattered at all, other than as commodities to be manipulated in order to improve one’s shares. For example, a former savings-and-loans banker remarked:
“When I put my hat on as an investor, all I care about is, ‘am I worth more today than I was yesterday?’. I don’t care about Coca-Cola’s employees, I care about its stock price”.
Echoing this attitude, ‘chainsaw’ Al Dunlap, former CEO of Scott Paper, commented:
“If you see an annual report with the term ‘stakeholders’, put it down and run, don’t walk away from the company. It means the company has its priorities upside down”.
As far as lean-and-mean was concerned, companies that had their priorities right side up were those where managers were preoccupied with equity rather than business. Real-world gains were deemed to be of far less importance compared to paper profits. For those at the executive level, this was an era in which their pay levels and bonuses went stratospheric, but for everybody else the only thing that significantly increased was the awfulness of conditions. Job security vanished, benefits were slashed, and working hours went from 40 or so hours per week to as high as 80 hours.
Now, the feeding frenzy of mergers and bustups during the 80s and 90s might sound to some like good old free-market competition that would ultimately result in greater economic prosperity, benefitting us all. If the largest corporations were indeed too weighed down with bureaucracy and their employees too complacent; if regulations were getting in the way of more streamlined competitors, surely it was a good thing if all that was swept away? Even if those mollycoddled employees had to man up and face the real world with all its dog-eat-dog competition, it would all be worth it if shareholder value kept rising and the wealth trickled down to the average man on the street.
The problem was, most of the corporate mergers that took place during the 80s through to the mid 1990s- between 65 and 75% in fact- were failures. For example, Quaker Oats paid $1.7 billion in 1994 for Snapple, but 3 years later it sold it for $300 million. Wordperfect was purchased by Novell in 1994 for $1.4 billion only to be sold for $200 million two years later. And it was not only poorly-performing companies that were devoured by hostile takeover bids. Perfectly viable businesses were destroyed for no reason other than the short-term gains to be had from busting them up. There were people like Saul Steinberg and Ivan Boesky, making their fortunes by launching hostile takeover bids, not because they thought they could steer the company toward greater prosperity, but rather because they wanted to be paid to go away. Investor-raiders like these terrorised executives into resorting to dubious self-defensive strategies, such as preserving their companies’ independence by buying their own stock at inflated prices, a strategy that put the long-term survival of the corporation in doubt.
All in all, the cost of failed corporate mergers during this period topped $100 billion. Jill Andresky Frazer, in her book ‘White Collar Sweatshop’ (published 2001) included the following, rather prophetic, quote from Jeffrey Garten, a former investment banker who served as under secretary of commerce for international trade in the Clinton administration:
“For all the talk of free markets, companies such as Citigroup may be too big to fail. Recall how Washington bailed out Lockeed and Chrysler. Megacompanies are almost beyond the law, too, because their deeper pockets allow them to stymie prosecutors in ways their smaller defendants cannot. Or, if they lose in court, they can pay large fines without too much damage to their operations”.
Citigroup was one of the companies that suffered massive losses during the global financial crisis of 2008, and had to be rescued with a massive stimulus package, courtesy of the taxpayer.
Coming up in part six, the corruption (or was it the near-inevitable evolution?) of free-market capitalism into crony capitalism.

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Some businesses operate what might be called a paternalistic model. Under this model, a company’s ‘stakeholders’- its owners, employees and customers- are all well taken care of. The pay is good, the hours are reasonable, many benefits are included (in 60s America, 40% of those workers who had major medical insurance were covered ‘free’, meaning that policy costs were fully paid by the company.) The thinking behind paternalism is that if all the stakeholders are well looked after, they will feel valued and will have a personal interest in ensuring the company remains viable.
Under paternalism, a job can achieve most if not all of the definitions of true work. An employee working for such a company may feel secure in their job, feel they are rewarded for what they do and that the work has real value. Midway through the last century, the expectation was that paternalism would only grow in strength. As Jeremy Rifkin explained:
“An informal accommodation of sorts was reached which was to last, more or less intact, until the mid-1970s. Labour was to share, at least in part, in the gains in productivity- enjoying better wages and benefits- in return for the promise of labour peace and cooperation”.
But, paternalism is not the only model a business can adopt. There is also what might be called the ‘Lean and Mean’ model. According to this way of running a business, the financial bottom line is of utmost importance, and anything that eats into it must be minimised or, ideally, eliminated. As far as the lean and mean model is concerned, the company’s employees are not people to be looked after and rewarded for their loyalty. Rather, they are commodities to be exploited as ruthlessly as can be gotten away with. For example, General Electric’s chief executive, Jack Welch, compared a company’s employees to lemons, claiming there was ‘unlimited juice’ to be squeezed from them, so long as companies pursued a relentless campaign to achieve greater operating efficiencies. 
Under the lean and mean model, the owner classes do everything they can to reduce the bargaining power of the working classes, thereby putting them in the worst possible position when it comes to negotiating employment contracts. What this means is that everything you were lead to believe about employment as a child is threatened by such a model. As children, we are asked “what do you want to be when you are older?”. Becoming ‘what you want to be’ implies that you are going to find work that is a ‘calling’, Amy Wrzesniewski’s term for the most satisfying work experience. Like me, she believes we need more categories for employment than just ‘work’. She divides paid work into three kinds: Jobs, careers, and callings. A ‘job’ is employment in which people enjoy little discretion and find minimal engagement or meaning in what they do. People who have careers feel more engaged in their work, enjoy more discretion, and expect to advance, following a trajectory toward promotion, higher salary, and better work. They don’t dislike their current job but equally they are neither content to remain there, nor expect to.
Finally, we have ‘callings’. People who have found employment of this kind get the most satisfaction out of the work they are doing. They consider their occupation to be very important. They love doing it, so much so, in fact, that it becomes a vital part of their identity.
As a basic rule of thumb, I think it’s fair to say that if we find work very satisfying it’s because we are gifted at it. We all have certain special abilities, and if we can find employment that utilises those skills and helps them to flourish, then there is every opportunity to find great satisfaction in one’s working life. 
The problem is that the last thing a lean and mean business wants is skilled employees. The reason why has to do with bargaining power. If you possess valuable skills and a company needs to employ somebody with those abilities, you are in a pretty strong negotiating position. You are going to drive a bargain that is very favourable for you. A lean and mean company wouldn’t like that, because ‘more favourable for you’ means less favourable for the bottom line. Lean-and-meaners really don’t want to be in a position where they have to employ highly-skilled workers who are hard to replace, and can therefore enter negotiations from a strong position. No, they want employees who are less skilled, easier to replace at as short a notice as possible, and therefore in no good position when it comes to negotiating terms of employment.
Now, a question may have arisen in your mind at this point: Given that they sound like such unpleasant places to work, why would anybody seek employment in a lean-and-mean corporation? One reason may be because, however unpleasant they may sound to those of us who are used to the security and benefits that come from working for paternalistic companies, they provide an escape from even worse situations for others. Around the world there are places ravaged by war, affected by disastrous economic policies, ruined by corrupt leaders, and since in such places there will be people who are effectively waving signs that read ‘employ us! We will accept long hours and low wages!’, lean and mean companies are only too pleased to oblige by setting up sweatshop labour in such places. 
But what about places that do have paternalistic businesses? Surely, in a free market in which every worker may choose who they will and won’t work for, labour would flow toward businesses that care about their employees, offering job security and multiple benefits. Nobody would want to work for a company that thinks its employees are lemons to be squeezed until all their juice runs dry. So how do lean-and-mean businesses survive in a free market?
Well, firstly, lean-and-mean businesses only look bad from the perspective of employees below the executive level. But as far as major stockholders are concerned, they are far superior to paternalistic companies. After all, in places like those, company earnings that could be raising shareholder value are being wasted on high wages for the non-executives, on generous pensions, too many paid vacations, health insurance and other benefits that lean-and-meaners have reduced if not eliminated altogether. The stronger Wall Street and its financial equivalents in other countries becomes, and the more emphasis there is placed on improving the bottom line, the more paternalistic companies will feel pressurised into adopting the lean-and-mean model lest they be taken over by their more aggressive rivals.
So, intimidation from the financial sector are part of the explanation for why employees find themselves in lean-and-mean businesses. But the owner classes don’t just rely on their financial muscle to force the change; they also use technology and propaganda to redefine work in ways that suits them at everybody else’s expense.
At this point it might be worth going into a little more detail regarding the rise of paternalistic companies in the early 50s through to the seventies, and the emergence of lean-and-mean business practices in the 80s and 90s. 
If any one thing can be said to have caused the rise of paternalism, it would be the 2nd World War. During the war, the USA achieved full employment for the first time since the 1920s. When the war was over, there was a lot of concern about the possibility of a postwar recession, which the government sought to avoid through various acts and initiatives. The acts included the ‘Employment Act’ of 1946, which “committed the federal government to maintain maximum employment and with it a high level of aggregate demand”. The initiatives included the GI bill, an education initiative that helped upgrade the workforce, thereby providing a large pool of white-collar workers for the administrative and management-type roles that corporations increasingly depended upon.
As well as anxieties about recession prompting the State to push for high employment, conditions enabled by the war played a part in other ways. For one thing, industry in America was still largely intact, unlike that of Europe’s. The government invested heavily in the business sector, particularly through highway construction and defence-related expenditures. Also, wartime research had helped launch an era of technological innovation, such as IBM’s development of the first general-purpose computer. Finally, wage freezes had been put in place during the war, and this had required employers to use fringe benefits with which to attract employees. This favoured the largest corporations, who could afford to offer greater benefits than their smaller rivals.
But those corporate benefit packages were still costly, even forty or fifty years ago. This might have discouraged their mass adoption, had it not been for militant unions during the postwar period. It made sense to the larger corporations that if they treated their employees well, that would improve emotional attachment to the company, and the threat of socialism would be avoided.
And so it came to pass that the early postwar decades enjoyed economic growth and price stability. The large corporations delivered on their promise of long-term employment prospects, meaning that anyone fortunate enough to land a job there felt secure, and expected that their own prosperity would rise along with the company’s fortunes.
But all that was to change in the 80s and 90s. 
Coming up in part five: the fall of paternalism and the rise of lean-and-mean

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Overwork is something that does not exist in nature. When wage labour is described as a form of slavery people sometimes object by pointing out that working is simply an unavoidable fact of life. Even if nobody had a boss telling them what to do, nature herself would demand that we labour to secure the necessities of life. A glance at all the activity going on with wildlife- herbivores foraging, carnivores hunting, birds building nests, bees making honey and so on and so forth- lends weight to the argument that a living has to be earned. 
But nature differs from something like capitalism or socialism in that it demands only that you do the bare minimum required to sustain your lifestyle. To illustrate what I mean, imagine that there are these bears that need to catch five salmon per day. Now, depending on how bountiful salmon are in their habitat, the bears may have to work hard to obtain their daily quota. Let’s face it, some environments are harsh and it is a challenge to make a living in such places. But let’s imagine that these lucky bears live by a river teeming with salmon, and that it takes ten or so minutes for each bear to catch its daily quota. Just ten or so minutes of work a day (perhaps less if they are really proficient at catching fish) and the bears are done. No need to ‘look busy’, nature is not concerned about about you maintaining an illusion of working once your actual work is done. The bears are free to spend the rest of their time on other pursuits.
In case this all sounds like a fairytale, I would point out a remark made by Hans Moravec:
“In a good climate and location, the hunter-gatherers’ lot can be pleasant indeed. An afternoon’s outing picking berries or catching fish- what we civilized types would recognize as a recreational weekend- provides life’s needs for several days. The rest of the time can be spent with children, socialising, or simply resting”.
Again, I am not saying that life in a state of nature is always this easy, but the point is that whether securing the bare necessities of life is easy or hard, nature requires only that you do the bare minimum needed to sustain your lifestyle. No more.
Now let’s return to those bears. Imagine that a couple of more bears arrive, announcing that the river and everything in it is no longer the common heritage of all bears but is instead the private property of just these two. Furthermore, no other bear will receive so much as a mouthful of food unless they each bring those- let’s call them ‘boss bears’- a thousand fish per day. Remember, that each bear previously needed to catch only five fish each per day in order to maintain their lifestyle. Now, thanks to the demands of these boss bears, they all have to do a hell of a lot more labouring just to survive and the vast bulk of the profit earned from this work goes not to them, but to the boss bears.
What I have just described is what can happen under hierarchical class-based systems, of which ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ are prime examples. Under such systems, people are generally divided up into two classes: Owners on one hand and workers on the other. The owner-classes (private owners under capitalism, State bureaucrats under socialism) are so called because they own the means of mass-production: The factories, banks, shopping malls and so on. They own the means of production, get most of the rewards of production, but are under no obligation to contribute to the production itself. 
This is where the working classes come in. Traditionally, they were so-named because they owned next to nothing except their own labour power. Today, thanks to the incredible advances in productivity I mentioned earlier, people who are considered poor have achieved a level of material prosperity that would count them among the well-off of previous generations. This might lead some to conclude that the working classes are much freer now than they once were, but as we shall see ‘consumerism’ can be used to entrap people, leaving them with little choice but to keep labouring, mostly for the benefit of the owner classes.
It is also commonly assumed that the working classes are free precisely because they own their labour power. But we need to understand precisely what that means under a capitalist system. It does not mean that the working classes have a right to a job; it means that they have the right to remove their labour from a job. There is no obligation on the part of any particular employer to hire any particular member of the working classes, or to keep them on the books once hired. 
‘The right to remove their labour’ is what is supposed to make the world of difference between employment and slavery. Under slavery, a person can be the private property of another person, who has the power to make them work any amount of hours, and may even kill them if they feel like it. The right to own your own labour power, and to terminate your employment, surely means the working classes are now free, right?
Well, no. Not if you factor in economic coercion, which was illustrated in a comedy routine by Steve Hughes.
Hughes (roleplaying two former slave owners): “I mean, look, we’ve got to look after these fuckers. We’ve got to clothe them, we’ve got to feed them, they get sick we’ve got to fix them, got to give them somewhere to live. I’ve worked it out: We can just give them two-fifty an hour and tell them to fuck off.
“That’s brilliant. Right! You lot are free to go. We’ll see you back here at 7:30 tomorrow morning!”.
What Hughes is getting at is that if most of the world’s resources are the private property of a relative few, they can deny others from accessing those resources unless they ‘agree’ to whatever terms and conditions they make up. The working classes are in a situation where they must perpetually hire their labour, and under certain conditions the competitive nature of the jobs market can result in a race to the bottom as the working classes outbid one another with longer hours and fewer rewards. That is not to say that such an outcome is inevitable but it is a very probable outcome in a world that sees the purpose of business as being concerned only with making profit for the owners, with the workers reduced to commodities from whom maximum productivity must be squeezed. Furthermore, in America we increasingly see businesses refusing to employ the unemployed, a tactic which coerces workers into submitting to employment even if they have saved sufficient funds to pay for an extended vacation. After all, if, when the money begins to run out you are cut off from any means to replenish your funds, you are screwed. Better keep punching in that clock card!
Coming up in part four: Paternalism and Lean-and-mean models of employment.

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