A recent advertorial, “Why You Hate Work,” by some consultants published by the New York Times (NYT) makes a number of false distinctions — just the kind NYT loves. Basically, the idea is that corporate management should implement certain policies to make employees more “engaged”, “productive”, “satisfied”, etc. Not discussed is whether employers should be forced to do these things, or whether structural changes should be implemented on a national (or international) scale that render the decisions of such managers obsolete. The authors state, “Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met . . . ” Curiously, Simon Patten, the former economics chair of the Wharton School of Finance and Economy at the University of Pennsylvania, advocated something quite similar (yet more practical) in the 19th century. “Patten recognized that rising productivity, public investment, and wage levels went together. That is what enabled well-fed, well-trained, and well-housed American labor to undersell ‘pauper labor.'” (See “Simon Patten on Public Infrastructure and Economic Rent Capture”). The NYT authors presume employee productivity as a desired objective. Undiscussed is the degree to which productivity gains flow to employees vs. employers. Patten knew better. He avoided circular normative logic that underlies the NYT op-ed (that is, employers undermine employees, then must find a way to “motivate” said employees to accept the prior undermining). The NYT piece is advocating that the capital strike that began around 2007, which today requires efforts by corporate management to convince employees that there is no alternative (TINA) and they should support and assist with the erosion of their own rights and powers that the capital strike represents. Obviously, this does require skill. How do you convince people to act against their own interests? Clearly, such a challenge requires consultants. Most likely, many consultants.
Anyway, a better point has been argued by anthropologist David Graeber. In a recent interview with Thomas Frank, Graeber expounded further on the themes in his essay, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.” The NYT op-ed authors fall into the basic pattern of worthless glad-handing of corporate executives (ahem, the client base of these consultants), which the late sociologist Pierre Bourdieu dismissed as essentially self-justifying drivel created by business for business in his excellent book The Social Structures of the Economy. Graeber goes considerably further than the consultants’ advertising/opinion in the NYT by suggesting that workers, as citizens, have the right to control what kind of social and economic circumstances they live in. The NYT authors instead focus on selling ways management can trick employees into accepting a system they have no control over. None of this should come as much of a surprise. The authors freely admit (in public!) that they partnered with The Harvard Business Review, which might be labeled a terrorist organization in a more just world (because they promote fear among “noncombatant” workers to advance a marketplace war between business entities, and by owners/management against workers).