Once upon a time, most of humanity lived in a condition of scarcity.

There was a lot of work to do, and unless you were disabled, you could do it.

When a farm needs work done, it needs to be done. In hunter-gatherer societies, one can usually step away from the campfire and look for food.

There is work to be done, and you can do it.

It is not fair, reasonable, or adaptive, for someone who can work, in such societies, to not work.

This has been true for virtually all of human history, but it stopped being true some time during the industrial revolution.

We gained the ability to make more stuff than we needed AND we gained the ability to do more damage than whatever we made.

Well, strictly speaking we’ve always been able to do more damage than the work was worth, but the industrial revolution increased that potential by some orders of magnitude.

Right now, probably about a third of all the work done in the world is harmful. We would be better off if it wasn’t done–most of the carbon extraction industry, most of the airline industry…practically all of what amounts to deciding who owns what, is harmful, because it involves people using carbon to go places and do things that really don’t need to be done.

Our lives include vast amounts of environmental and human pollution. This extends far beyond where it’s obvious, and it’s obvious everywhere.

For example, there appear to be no studies which don’t show a correlation between time spent on social media and lowered happiness and mood, and yet social media is one of the flagship industries of our era.

We work like dogs at jobs that either don’t need to be done, or are harmful, and thus can’t care for our children, so we hire strangers to care for our children. We fly on jets we hate, after going through airport security that is dehumanizing, dumping huge amounts of carbon into the air.

And we build items, like the old lightbulbs, which could last almost forever, with death switches so we can sell even more of them.

And yeah, we’re destroying the biosphere, choking it with plastic, and causing runaway climate change. We know we’re doing it, and we keep doing it.

So, jobs. There’s a lot of talk about a job guarantee. And that might be great, if those jobs would be ones that added to human welfare beyond giving some people some money, but under current governments and corporations, they won’t. What we need to do is give people the food, housing, and other resources they need, and giving them a job is a roundabout way to do it.

While a guaranteed income has its own issues, at least it doesn’t create jobs that probably aren’t necessary. We already have excess capacity–more food than we can eat, more manufacturing than we use. We don’t need more. We need less, and less in ways that feel like the same: items that aren’t engineered to fail, food that isn’t unhealthy for us, jobs that involve less work, and more time with our families and friends.

One of the great problems with culture is that ethics that were once mostly adaptive, like “work or don’t eat” linger on even after they become maladaptive. (Another example is “have lots of children.”)

But we’re emotionally attached to them: We take our self worth and self-image from them, and thus we cling to them even as they harm us both individually and as a civilization.

Time to stop. The problem isn’t that we don’t have enough jobs–or even that we don’t work hard enough. The problem is that we distribute resources primarily through jobs, when too many jobs add little or negative welfare to the world (for instance virtually every job in finance, sadly).

People don’t need jobs. They need the resources jobs allow them to buy.

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