The issue of Dignified Work has two primary components:
(1) what is a just division of tasks for each person; and
(2) what division of tasks do we need to adopt in order to have our work foster self-management?
A just division of tasks requires that each person should have a fair share of good and bad quality of life attributes in their workday or, if they don't, that they be remunerated accordingly. That is, why should one person have nice work conditions and another person horrible ones, unless the latter person is given extra pay to offset this burden?
But conveniently this element of Just Work is already accomplished in our unfolding vision because remunerating according to effort and sacrifice, as per our earlier commentaries, automatically offsets any disparity in quality of life attributes. That is, if we remunerate according to effort and sacrifice, whenever Betty works at a less fulfilling and more demanding job than Salim, Betty will also exert more effort and sacrifice at work and will therefore get higher pay. So we already have Just Work due to our prior agreements about Just Rewards. But is that all there is to Dignified Work?
Equally Empowering Work
We also want our economic actors to influence outcomes in proportion as they are affected by them, in accord with self management. Suppose Betty spends all day cleaning floors and Salim spends all day doing empowering financial and social tasks that increase his decision-making related skills and knowledge. Even if Betty and Salim have the same workplace voting rights and even if they are remunerated justly, after months of working at these differently empowering jobs, Betty will have neither the energy, knowledge, confidence, nor skills to play a role comparable to Salims in influencing decisions.
Workplace council meetings involve discussions, presentations, debates, and votes. If Salim comes to meetings with extensive knowledge, social skills, confidence, and energy due to his empowering job and Betty comes to the same meetings with obliterated knowledge, social skills, confidence, and energy due to her dis-empowering job--Salim is going to have way more impact at the meetings than Betty, In fact, the relatively few workers with highly empowering jobs will by virtue of their on-the-job situations dominate discussions. Even a fair vote will regularly select among proposals that the empowered few offer and settle on proposals that they favor. Betty will at best ratify the will of the empowered, informed, energetic few. At worst she and everyone else who has a dis-empowering job will be completely excluded.
It follows that attaining Self-Management requires not only the formal right to participate in decisions, but also that everyone enjoys conditions that prepare and promote their effective participation. If an economy is class divided so that those with empowering jobs make decisions others obey and those with disempowering jobs merely obey decisions others make, there will no be self management, clearly. This is why we highlight Dignified Work as a theme unto itself. If workers are to participate equally in economic decision-making, their diverse jobs must affect their decision-making inclinations and competence comparably. The old slogan that you are what you eat may or may not be economically meaningful. But the new slogan that you become what you do, is surely economically pivotal.
Balanced Job Complexes
Our third thematic goal (after Just Rewards and Self-Management) is therefore about what we call Dignified Work and Balanced Job Complexes.
In any economy, each job combines many tasks which, taken in combination, have an overall "empowerment index." This index is higher if the sum total of tasks in the job are more empowering, and lower if they are less empowering. Jobs in typical corporations combine quite similar tasks into such jobs as secretary, mail boy, janitor, CEO, finance officer, assembly line operator, manager, and so on. Most people in these corporations do jobs that have a low empowerment index. A very few do jobs that have a very high index.
To attain Balanced Job Complexes, we instead advocate apportioning tasks to jobs so that each job in the economy has an average overall index. In other words, we allot to each job not a homogenous batch of tasks at only one empowerment level, but a combination of tasks with varied empowerment qualities whose total empowerment effect is the average for society. Instead of Judy being a secretary, John being a Comptroller, and Jerry cleaning bathrooms, Judy, John, and Jerry all have a variety of tasks in their designated job with various levels of rote and empowering implications. The overall empowerment effect on Judy of her combination of tasks and on John of his and on Jerry of his, are, as best we can manage it, the same.
In other words, with balanced job complexes we of course each have a job in which we enjoy our own particular and perhaps even unique conditions of work. However, despite differences in specific content from what others do, our job and all other jobs are comparably empowering.
As a result of balancing job complexes there is no longer a fixed management with uniquely informative and uplifting tasks. There is no longer a set of rote jobs whose conditions are only deadening. Indeed, there is no hierarchy of jobs vis-à-vis empowerment effects. We define all this away by combining tasks into jobs in this new way, balancing tasks for empowerment effects. Thus, each person working in the economy does a combination of tasks sensibly accommodated to the needs of particular work situations, of course, but also designed to balance empowerment impacts rather than to monopolize the most empowering circumstances for a few folks at the top of a workplace hierarchy of power.
Okay, it is clear that by its very definition balancing job complexes accomplishes both being fair and also laying a proper foundation for self-management. It avoids dividing the workforce into a highly-empowered "coordinator class" and a subordinate, disenfranchised working class, instead giving all workers comparable empowerment in their economic lives. But are there offsetting problems with the approach? For example, can it get the work done, and can it get it done well?
Folks at largely rote jobs will generally like the idea of balanced job complexes, because their lives would improve as they get their share of empowering tasks of one sort or another. They will see the switch from unbalanced to balanced jobs as justly redressing a demeaning and unfair situation they have long suffered.
On the other hand, folks who occupy or aspire to cushier and more empowered jobs such as managers, doctors, lawyers, empowered intellectuals, etc., will often see this proposal as threatening because after job complexes are balanced, their old jobs would no longer exist in the same form. A person in an economy with balanced job complexes may of course do some managing (of a sort), doctoring, lawyering, conducting, researching, designing, composing, etc., but this person would also have to do a fair share of less empowering tasks to attain an overall balance like everyone elses. Thus, peoples jobs who are now in relatively commanding positions will lose some empowering tasks and incorporate their share of less empowering, rote, or even deadening labor.
In any event, whoever enunciates it, opposition to job balancing most often employs one of two rationales:
1. Balancing would impinge my freedom to do what I want which would be immoral.
2. Balancing would consign even the most talented to rote tasks and thereby reduce the social product to everyone's disadvantage.
Lets consider each complaint in turn, to close out our case on behalf of Dignified Work.
It is true that allowing only balanced job complexes would by definition preclude anyone having an unbalanced job complex and would thus also preclude complainant 1 above from doing only empowering tasks as her job. However, this is true in the same sense that reshaping an economy to have no slave-holding options precludes anyone from owning slaves. That is, owning a slave means the slave-owner freely expresses his slave-owning aspiration, but it also means that someone else is owned. If we rule out that anyone should be owned, we simultaneously rule out that slave-owning aspirations should be honored. Similarly, having a job complex that is more empowering than average is only possible at the expense of someone else having a job complex that is less empowering than average. If we rule out that anyone should be saddled with a less than an average complex, yes, we must also rule out that anyone can have a more than average complex.
But freedom to act on ones aspirations is a valid and wonderful thing only so long as it is contingent on everyone else having the same freedom. Some aspirations -- owning slaves, killing a neighbor, employing wage slaves, having an unbalanced job complex intrinsically impinge on others rights to similar advantages. In other words, it is no more immoral to impose job balancing on society to eliminate a class hierarchy of those who order and those who obey, than it is to impose abolition of slavery on society in order to eliminate a class hierarchy of those who own others and those who are owned by others. All peoples rights to never be a slave trump Mr. Plantation's right to own slaves. Similarly, all peoples rights to enjoy conditions prerequisite to self-management trump Ms. Manager's right to monopolize empowering job circumstances.
But how about output? Seeking to avoid a class division between order givers and order takers, are we also reducing society's overall productivity by under-utilizing some folks capacities? If so, is the loss in output so great that it makes balancing job complexes unwise?
I should first clarify that even if job balancing would in fact sacrifice some output, it wouldnt cause me to renounce Dignified Work as a goal since I see self-management and classlessness as far more worthy aspirations than attaining maximum output. In fact, however, it turns out that we can make our cake with dignity and still eat plenty of it too.
First, normal human beings generally dont work endless hours at empowering and also more productive tasks. Rather, folks with a relative monopoly on empowering tasks often do them some limited amount of time each week, spending a lot of other time chatting, loafing, meeting, bossing other people around, or playing golf. Realignment of their responsibilities so they are balanced can often be done without much incursion on their most productive capabilities. We instead replace their excessive time off or their bossing by more rote responsibilities.
But second, suppose that I am wrong. Suppose that every hour that someone now doing highly empowering tasks is asked to do more rote tasks is an hour subtracted from time going to their most talented focuses. As complainant 2 fears, that would certainly entail a loss in output from that person. For example, if a surgeon who now works all day long on surgery (no desk work, no loafing, no golf, etc.) suddenly has to do her share of less empowering work such as cleaning bed pans, then to make room she must of course do less surgery, and she will in total therefore generate less valuable output.
But what about the other side of the coin? What about the nurse who in this new context is better trained and able to more fully use her talents? Indeed, how about all the people previously "dumbed-down" by schooling and then by on-the-job boredom and who have been previously constrained to do only rote tasks but now have Dignified Work to do? What about the creativity, talent, and skills that would be newly-tapped for society due to about 70% to 80% of the population now being prepared to fulfill their capabilities rather than channeled as before into rote obedience and subservience? Does anyone really believe that the sum total of creative talents and energies available for production would be reduced by opting for an economic arrangement that enjoins every actor to become as able and productive as they can and that provides the means for them to do it, but that then also requires each to do a fair share of non-empowering work as well as a fair share of what their talents are best suited to?
If current class-divided societies were perfect meritocracies in the sense of welcoming every person to become as productive as possible, and then rewarding with better work conditions and more empowering circumstances only those who produce more so that any effort to balance circumstances among workers would reduce output, we should still overwhelmingly favor balanced job complexes. Our guiding value should not not be the size of output of an economy but instead equitably meeting needs and developing capacities while furthering values we aspire to such as self-management, solidarity, equity, and diversity. But of course, in reality societies with hierarchical distributions of tasks don't even remotely approach being perfect meritocracies. Instead, in such societies an educated and credentialed elite monopolizes empowering and knowledge-enhancing tasks partly due to their talents, but overwhelmingly due to their circumstantial advantages and their willingness to trample those below. Without job balancing, most members of an economy are propelled into relative subservience not by a lack of potential, but by socialization, schooling, and on-the-job circumstances. They could certainly partake in decision-making and creative work given the opportunity to enjoy a balanced job complex, and the gains would be enormous.
The second complainant also fails to notice the amount of time, energy, and talent that goes into maintaining the exploitative exclusion of most actors from empowering work and into coercing their obedience to instructions that they are alienated from. If we account for the difference between class-divided workplaces and dignified workplaces regarding time given to oversight and enforcement, time lost due to outright struggle and strife, and the new pools of talent salvaged by utilizing previously squelched potentials, not only does the switch to balanced job complexes emerge as preferable on moral grounds and on grounds of laying a basis for real self-management, but also on grounds of economic output.
the only debit for balancing job complexes, at least viewed from the angle of
those now enjoying a relative monopoly on empowering work, is that it removes
their relative advantages. But that is precisely the purpose of job balancing,
at least when viewed from below -- and that's where our eyes ought to be seeing