In response to my last article, I received an e-mail from someone saying that, if education were free, then no one would have to be trapped in a job they didn’t like. While I agree that, in a good society, education should be available to all at public expense, even free education can’t eliminate undesirable labor.
Any workplace is just a set of tasks. Jobs are created by bundling certain tasks together. In currently-existing workplaces, with their corporate division of labor, tasks are bundled based on their relative empowerment and desirability. Thus, we end up with jobs like “nurse aide” -- who literally cleans up shit for a living, for about $10 an hour -- and jobs like “doctor” -- a highly prestigious position paying six figures and allowing one time to golf every Wednesday.
But in any society, there will always exist unpleasant tasks that have to be done. Yes, it’s possible that many unpleasant tasks can be automated out of existence, or minimized in other ways. But it will never be possible to completely eliminate such tasks.
For example, consider a kindly old grandfather, yours or somebody else’s, spending his declining years in a nursing home. Let’s say he’s already incontinent of stool, and now he’s contracted Clostridium difficile (commonly known as C-diff), a nosocomial infection which makes one have lots of loose stool. I mean lots of loose stool.
Someone is going to have to clean this man up. This is not a task that can be automated -- not now, and if anyone has ideas on how it can ever be, then I look forward to reading the illuminating article I know you’re going to write. But the real point is this: Even if education is totally free, the task of cleaning this man up still exists. Someone has to do it.
The point of balanced job complexes is that no one, or no group of people, is stuck performing this task all the time. In a society with balanced job complexes, everyone does her or his fair share of undesirable labor.
Imagine you were stranded on a desert island with 50 other people. You all have to work to find food and build shelter in order to survive. Now imagine that someone among you says he doesn’t want to help. He just wants to lie around and enjoy the sun and the sand all day while everyone else does his work for him.
How would you feel about that? Well, if he were very ill, then you probably wouldn’t mind. But if he were young, strong, and perfectly healthy, then your reaction would likely be one of anger.
Why does anyone expect it should be any different in a whole economy? If everyone can instantly understand the necessity and importance of everyone doing his or her fair share on a desert island, why not as well in an entire economy?
The answer is, it’s no different. Everyone should do her or his fair share. Free education doesn’t change that at all. The tasks are there. They need to be done. They should be apportioned fairly. It’s as simple as that.
Anything less is a violation of the rights of the working class.
Eric Patton lives and works in Cincinnati, Ohio. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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