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Why we all still work 8 hours a day

Why we all still work 8 hours a day
By Tom Littler • Issue #64 • View online
Thanks to everyone who’s joined this week. Whether you’ve come from my productivity/Notion YouTube world or Crypto Twitter, there are now over 9000 united in whatever this thing is.
This is the second part of my exploration of Bullshit work. In the first part, we explored what bullshit work is, the movement towards it, and how we can, on an individual level, spend less time on bullshit. 
This article will focus more on societal changes to rid the world of bullshit jobs. 
Bullshit Work
First, a reminder, what is bullshit work?
“A form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.” While these jobs can offer good compensation and ample free time, Graeber holds that the pointlessness of the work grates at their humanity and creates a “profound psychological violence”
Extract from ‘Bullshit Work’ by David Graeber 
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been plunged into the rabbit hole of Bullshit work. It’s deeply fascinating on a tonne of levels. Why do we willingly volunteer to spend so much of our time working on complete bullshit? Why has the system not changed? Can the system ever change? Questions. Questions that need answers. Let’s explore some potential ways to rid the world of this complete nonsense. 
Types of Labour
In order to understand the societal effects of bullshit work, we need to understand the different types of labour. This will help us identify the kinds of work that are more likely to be bullshit. 
Pure Labour
I’d classify ‘Pure Labour’ as any work where the output is a direct result of physical input. Some examples include factory workers, builders, taxi drivers and cleaners. For the most part, pure labour is not bullshit work. If a hospital doesn’t get cleaned, people notice. If factory hands stopped working, output would stop. While these in many cases may be boring, mundane or poorly paid they are inherently useful to society. 
Pure labour will eventually be automated away. 
Factory hands → Machines, that only require a supervisor to monitor them → Supervisor replaced with a drone, and a single watchful eye overseeing 5 drones at 5 different factories. 
You could argue the end game of technology and capitalism is to remove the need for pure labour. 
In a sense, this is where capitalism functions well. Where technology can do a more efficient job than human labour, it is generally utilised to good effect to bring the costs of goods down. From another point of view, capitalism also fails miserably. 
Theoretically, the automation of pure work should free up time for humans to work on more fulfilling stuff — but rarely is this the case. Blue-collar workers end up getting made redundant, creating an underbelly class of individuals who are not retrained and told they have no purpose in society. Unsurprisingly these individuals are deeply unhappy. 
Pure labour then, is probably not something you’d choose to go down. Sure the work may be worthwhile. You’re not going to get that existential depression from devoting your life to complete nonsense, but, on an individual level — you’re going to suffer. Your work will one day be automated away, society will tell you you are useless, and you’ll have to put up with all the bullshitters around you earning $250k / year from selling worthless financial products. Not ideal. 
Creative Labour 
Creative labour is, in a sense, pure labour that likely cannot be automated away. Creative labour leverages the human mind, not the human body. Writers, designers, software developers, entrepreneurs and actors are all examples of creative labour. It’s unclear whether creative labour can be replaced with technology. Some would argue that if we ever reach the ‘singularity’ the point in time where we create artificial general intelligence (where computers are indistinguishable from humans) creative labour would also become redundant. If a computer can write a work as original and moving as ‘The Sun also Rises’ even the Hemmingways of the world would have no productive use in society. 
I’m sceptical of humanity ever creating general artificial intelligence (GAI), but even if we could, the technology is probably centuries away, we’ve experienced practically 0 progress in the pursuit of GAI since research began nearly 100 years ago, despite what the technophiles would have you believe. 
Creative labour, for the most part, is not bullshit work and is probably quite defensible from technology.
Caring Labour 
Caring labour is perhaps the least bullshit of all work. Caring labour is the sharing of your humanity and your empathy with other humans, to improve their lives. 
Teachers, nurses, customer support agents, waiters, policemen and therapists are examples of caring labour. Regardless of the advances made in technology, there will always be a need for caring labour.
Technologists make the mistake of taking a reductionist view of caring labour. They’d argue if the nurses’ job could be broken down into the diagnosis of illness, the administration of drugs and the movement of a patient’s body you could, through a combination of technological software (code) and hardware (robots) automate away the work. 
It may seem that this is happening. McDonald’s has replaced servers with screens, and a number of startups exist to provide cheap therapy through algorithmic chatbots. I’d argue that this isn’t the automation of caring labour, it’s the transmutation of caring labour into automated pure labour. Humans will still seek out the experience of caring labour if cost is not an object, as evidenced by the fact that all my favourite restaurants still employ waiters, not one of them has adopted a self-serve style system. 
Leveraged Labour
This is where things start to move into the bullshit category of work. In leveraged labour, you aren’t doing the work yourself, you are leveraging the labour of someone else to achieve your outputs. Line managers, Product Managers (my role), Project Managers, Civil Servants, Producers and more all will involve elements of work that fall into this category. 
These roles are usually a combination of bullshit and non-bullshit work. Taking my own experience of my role as a Product Manager, sometimes I work on genuinely important work. I am writing feature specifications based on competitor research, feedback from customers, and a broad understanding of the market. These specifications are necessary to determine what the engineers should work on, otherwise, they would completely lack direction. 
But a large part of the work is also bullshit. Developing plans for 6-month roadmaps that will never be delivered, purely to appease the company board. Making up numbers of the length of time to build a feature for the purpose of budgeting, and documenting customer interviews so my colleagues can read them (they never do) — all examples of bullshit work. 
Leveraged labour can be complete bullshit or barely any bullshit, it really depends on the job.
Capital Allocation 
Capital allocation is a form of labour where instead of ordering around people, you are ordering around money. Investment bankers, hedgefund managers, traders and venture capitalists, wealth managers, are all examples of capital allocators. I’d argue that not only is the role of the capital allocator mostly bullshit, the entire industry is.
Index funds, on balance, outperform the vast majority of hedgefunds. Yep, you can literally put cash into an algorithm that distributes cash according to the size of a company, and be better off — oh and you’ll also pay a tiny fee, no ‘expert’ fund managers to pay. 
Traders are no better. Ask a trader what good they do for society and you’ll get two answers. The honest ones will admit they do no good, that they are just playing a game, to beat other traders — that they love the money, and they love the competition. Nothing wrong with this I guess. Dishonest traders will spin some yarn about ‘providing liquidity to the markets’, you’d have more luck transcribing the rosetta stone than getting any deeper into the answer than this.
The main problem of capital allocation is that it doesn’t directly create any new value. It simply exists to find ways to profit off value being created in other places.
It’s not just the individual allocator though. If the entire capital allocation industry is bullshit, then by proxy so is every job in it. For each investment bank, there might be 5% of the workforce that is actually responsible for capital allocation. The rest of the company performs ancillary activities — moving the money according to an order, dealing with complaints in the HR department, the wineing and dining recruiters, the anodyne lawyers, or any other activity which contributes to the ‘smooth running’ of the company. All this activity means that trillions of value every year is sunk into the hands of capital allocators. 
The private sector is not the only capital allocator in an economy. The biggest allocators work on the national level. Government. An entire army of civil servants and politicians exists to distribute cash from taxes. Of course in this distribution vast swathes of cash are lost to bureaucracy, inefficient spending, corruption and the like, cash lost again for an activity that doesn’t inherently produce any value. 
Is there anything we can do?
Ideally, we’d live in a world where capital flowed, as if by magic, to where it was needed. The problem is that the job of the capital allocator is to make things purposefully opaque. This means it’s almost impossible for the average person to get a grip on. I don’t have the answers to how we solve the problem of capital allocation taking up such a huge proportion of global wealth. But let’s imagine for a minute, a world where this did exist, where capital allocators were redundant, where value was sent to where it should be sent, value-producing activities
On Transparency 
Nassim Taleb would hate me using one of his tweets in this article. Especially as I’m about to divert the conversation towards the blockchain. He’s made his view on crypto very clear — he hates it. He thinks it’s a big old Ponzi and offers no utility to the world. FYI I love Taleb he’s a genius. Incomparably smarter than me, I just think he’s wrong about crypto. 

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The blockchain and the entire DeFi apparatus were designed to solve a problem by pple who did not understand the problem.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
This is Russian Propaganda; exactly 100% backwards. Idiots believe this.

In 1984, there was no web; governments had total control of information.
In 2022 things are more transparent, so we see imperfections.
THE TRANSPARENCY EFFECT: the more things improve the worse they look.
In this second Tweet, Taleb makes the case that the more things improve, in terms of transparency, the worse they look. World news used to be incredibly opaque. You’d be relying on interviewing first-hand sources, piecing together dog-eared documents, grasping at information to try and make sense of the world. 
In the free world, the internet means that all information is now public. The Ukraine war has been a public war. Twitter has been filled with videos from the front-line and direct commentary from the people there. Because of this global sentiment towards Russia has been sour, to say the least. It’s very clear who is right and who is wrong. This public perception of the war made it easy for governments to introduce financial sanctions on Russia, allowing a war to be fought without the deployment of troops. 
This would not be possible if joe-public couldn’t see with his own eyes exactly what was happening in Ukraine. 
Taleb’s first Tweet is also interesting, and probably correct. Decentralised Finance (DeFi) was created by people who don’t understand the deep systemic problems behind traditional finance. They don’t know how to solve the issues of capital allocators lining their pockets while delivering no real value to humanity. But the question is, do we need to?
Blockchain as an Answer to Capital Allocation 
I think what most people misunderstand about DeFi is that they think it is the answer to the problems of traditional finance. They think that upon itself it can create a completely new global financial system, that we won’t need the governance of nation-states, or the role of the hedge fund manager or market maker, that if we just all interact financially in a decentralised, peer to peer mechanism we will rid the need of centralised finance. 
While this could be an end-game, it’s not realistic in the foreseeable future. No — I think what the blockchain does is provide transparency. A complete public ledger of all economic activity. If all transactions were visible, wouldn’t we, as the public be able to investigate for ourselves? Wouldn’t we, be able to question spending, to identify steps or transactions that are unnecessary, and then, through pressure force change? 
Imagine if your local council had all their transactions on-chain. Imagine you could see all cash spent, exactly where it was going, and therefore where it was being misallocated. Subject matter experts would be able to identify inefficient spending or just wrong uses of funds. We could work collaboratively to push cash to work for the public good. 
Likewise, imagine the financial sector had to cryptographically sign and present all its transactions. No credit default swaps. No more basketing up shite mortgages and selling them for insane returns. Everything clear and visible on-chain, so Joe public can weigh in anytime. 
Of course, there’s a clear reason why no private bank would ever do this voluntarily. It would completely undermine the illusion of the value they are providing. People are complicit in the financial sector raping the economy because they don’t understand it. They don’t know the extent to which bullshit services are being sold for trillions of dollars. Compare this to Tesla, a company that actually provides value.
They have not a single private patent. Everything they make is open-source. If you wanted to, you could go and build your own giga-factory and start producing battery cells with no legal recourse. 
If you believe in the blockchain you believe in the open-sourcing of finance. You believe bullshit work should have nowhere to hide. You believe that people and companies that add intrinsic value to society don’t need to shy away. You believe that protection with layers and layers of abstraction from the core value of an offering is not moral. The blockchain is the truth. Let’s hope it can play a part in ridding the world of bullshit. 
What I'm Reading
In an attempt to better understand TradFi I’m diving into some reading. This is a great story about one of the most powerful bankers on the planet, Jamie Dimon – CEO at JP Morgan. Dimon is portrayed to be a pretty admirable character, down to earth, an entrepreneur at heart, and rigid morals. Learned quite a lot from this and looking forward to reading more bios on bankers.
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Tom Littler

Tech, life, entrepeneurship

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