I’ve had a lot of surprises in my life, some weren’t welcomed and others were. Perhaps this most recent surprise was a mix of both? David Graeber has an account on Linked In and has written on the site as well! I couldn’t imagine anything more immediately ironic and funny. I could care less about “hypocrisy” charges, that’s the not the point. It’s just the last place I’d expect to see Graeber’s name and let alone see him in a writing capacity.
Now, be honest with me, did you even know you could publish articles on Linked In before I mentioned it? I sure as heck didn’t! Granted, Graeber has, to the best of my knowledge, only written one article (back in 2018) and it’s the one we’ll be looking over today.
The article in question explores the correlation between how valuable your job is and how much you get paid can be disproportionate or even directly inverse to how you’d think they’d be. For example, there’s the long-standing complaint about how much teachers make (I’d love to make around 58K a year, but also I’m poor) or how much nurses make despite the amount of social value they provide for society. They’re literally instilling people’s lives with lessons on one hand and the other profession is working to save lives and yet they are paid less than doctors.
That’s the common perception anyways, but the basic fact though is that we think less of the people who pick our garbage every day less than celebrities even though:
As Rutger Bergman likes to point out, in 1970 there was a six-month bank strike in Ireland; rather than the economy grinding to a halt as the organizers had anticipated, most people simply continued to write checks, which began to circulate as a form of currency, but otherwise carried on much as they had before. Two years before, when garbage collectors had gone on strike for a mere ten days in New York, the city caved in to their demands because it had become uninhabitable.
Imagine a group of retail workers getting their demands met in 10 days. I can’t think back to a time where I heard about a workers strike getting their demands in such a small window. It’s probably out there (and if you know, feel free to comment!) but it’s sure not talked about.
What’s also interesting for my own personal experience is that even though I’m much more directly caring for people than I was before (I take care of pets) I’m making the same amount of money that I made at my last retail job. Even though my job is inarguably better for society, I mean, I sold cigarettes and alcohol as well as who knows how much sugar and unhealthy food to customers on a daily basis for a period of over two years. I’ve added more direct benefits to society in one day than I did on average in my 10 years of retail.
By the way, that’s not a dig on retail workers at all! I was one for around 10 years of my life and I know it’s not their fault that retail is such a largely useless profession. You spend most of your time organizing things other people made messes of, getting yelling at/lectured by your bosses and harassed by customers (especially if you’re a woman!). It’s just not a good industry and I’m not blaming the workers for that, maybe if they had control of the means of production I would.
But that’s a long way away.
If we all woke up one morning and discovered that not only nurses, garbage collectors, and mechanics, but for that matter, bus drivers, grocery store workers, firefighters, or short-order chefs had been whisked away into another dimension, the results would be equally catastrophic.
If elementary school teachers were to vanish, most schoolchildren would likely celebrate for a day or two, but the long-term effects would be if anything even more devastating.
I largely agree with this, if we didn’t have nurses so many lives would be lost because doctors would be overrun. If we lost the garbage collectors then, well, see above. And firefighters actually respond to credible threats instead of hosing anyone in sight. There’s also a great need for bus drivers due to how expensive a car is and how much easier it makes navigating a city.
I could keep going, but the main thing I don’t like (or puzzles me) is that Graeber is an anarchist and still thinks that elementary school teachers are a largely good thing for society. I’m surprised at this! What about the pledge of allegiance? What about the warped sense of history that comes from gross displays and lessons of patriotism and nationalism? What about those teachers who help bullies bully by saying “boys will be boys” or the teachers who reinforce the naturally authoritarian ways in which the schooling system works?
I’m not saying there’s no good teachers (#notallteachers?), I had a few myself throughout high school and middle school for example. But the government schools are such a cesspool of learning at this point that I think kids would be better without it. Homeschooling and unschooling are great alternatives and it could also open the door for education cooperatives. But these things can also be used by abusive parents, religious parents who can’t keep their beliefs balanced to respect others and overly controlling parents. I’m not saying it’d be a slam dunk for society, but damn, I’d be mostly happy for kids, not worrying about the state-run school system.
It’ll just get bailed out later anyways.
The same cannot be said of hedge fund managers, political consultants, marketing gurus, lobbyists, corporate lawyers, or people whose job it is to apologize for the fact that the carpenter didn’t come.
In fact I’ve talked about this before (finally, I can link a previous work on this version of the site!) about the people who keep these noxious industries around far past when they should be. Despite how overpaid and undeserved other communities and jobs are, these industries get to make it by quite well on their paychecks. And even if you ignore studies that Graeber cites in his article because this stuff is hard to measure (as he admits) most of us feel, heck many of them feel or even know they aren’t contributing a lot to society. Graeber has talked about this as well.
I have very little experience in these professions (and hope to never gain it either!) so I can’t personally comment on how much people think their jobs suck. But then again, it’s a pretty well-known fact within our society that work generally sucks and we’re all either grossly underpaid or grossly overpaid. Think about all of the complaints regarding the Kardashians and how folks feel about them, unfortunately not extending nearly enough of the same criticism towards Bezos.
Though, to be fair, it’s getting better on that front.
In any case, you can read this great article by Graeber if you’re interested in the studies. I’d never heard of them before and they seem interesting. I’m sure there are some methodological issues because the topic of pay and value is a rather taboo one in our culture. But that just shows that more research needs to be done and better methods discovered. There’s a reason the rich don’t want us talking about paychecks, especially if you’re among, as Graeber says, “the caring class”.
May we all revolt and show them just how much we care.
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