Work Futures Daily | Dominating Nature

Stowe Boyd
Dec 17, 2019 · 6 min read

| Vox Cuts Freelancers | College-Educated Women in Manufacturing | Human-Machine Pairing | Deindustrialization | Working Past 65 | Bad Candidate Experiences |

Photo by Joël de Vriend on Unsplash

Beacon NY | 2019–12–17 |

Quote of the Day

As long as hierarchy persists, as long as dominations organises humanity around a system of elites, the projects of dominating nature will continue to exist and inevitably lead our planet to ecological extinction.

Murray Bookchin, Toward an Ecological Society (1980)


On Monday, Vox Media announced that it would eliminate the 200 freelance positions at its sports outlet, SB Nation, to comply with the legislation.

The affected writers are frequent contributors to the 25 SB Nation blogs focused on California teams. The team-centric sites include Golden State of Mind, for the N.B.A.’s Warriors; Conquest Chronicles, for the University of Southern California sports; and True Blue LA, which covers baseball’s Dodgers. Many of the SB Nation writers contributed dozens of posts to the sites each year for little pay, according to filings in a related lawsuit.

The law, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, “makes it impossible for us to continue with our current California team site structure,” John Ness, executive director at SB Nation, said in a post on Monday, “because it restricts contractors from producing more than 35 written content ‘submissions’ per year.”

My sense is that the law — drafted to deal with the problems related to gig economy workers who are being nickeled-and-dimed to death by Uber and Postmates — should be amended to explicitly create an income cap, so that freelancers who are not being exploited would get a pass, like the doctors and other professionals who are excluded. So a freelance writer making more than two times a living wage in California, let’s say, could opt-out, and then could provide more than 35 pieces a year for any client.

See Kim Kavin’s thoughts on this.


American Factories Demand White-Collar Education for Blue-Collar Work | Austen Hufford shares findings from a WSJ analysis:

Within the next three years, American manufacturers are, for the first time, on track to employ more college graduates than workers with a high-school education or less, part of a shift toward automation that has increased factory output, opened the door to more women and reduced prospects for lower-skilled workers.

You used to do stuff by hand,” said Erik Hurst, an economics professor at the University of Chicago. “Now, we need workers who can manage the machines.”

U.S. manufacturers have added more than a million jobs since the recession, with the growth going to men and women with degrees, the Journal analysis found. Over the same time, manufacturers employed fewer people with at most a high-school diploma.

Employment in manufacturing jobs that require the most complex problem-solving skills, such as industrial engineers, grew 10% between 2012 and 2018; jobs requiring the least declined 3%, the Journal analysis found.

College-educated women in manufacturing jobs. Welcome to the future of manufacturing.


The automation of jobs and the future of government work | David Parent of Deloitte offers up a deeply useful guide to rethinking work, which includes a model for human-machine pairing that transcends government work.

The report has examples for each sort, like this digital research assistant that I would like to have as a Guide:

Digital research assistant. A researcher can set up a custom assistant that not only knows what current research a person is doing (based on their writing and speaking on their technology) but can also crawl the web for old and new research relevant to the topic that the researcher might not be aware of. This allows researchers to conduct literature reviews and stay up to date on the most recent advances much more quickly, accelerating their learning.

The methods throughout this report are generally applicable, so I would just strike ‘government’ from the title.


Automation and the Future of Work — 1 and Automation and the Future of Work — 2 | Aaron Benanav provides a summary of his magisterial ambitions in this two-part series in the New Left Review (paywall for the second article):

In Part One of this essay, I identified a new automation discourse, propounded by liberal, right-wing and left analysts alike. These automation theorists claim that mass technological unemployment will need to be managed by the provision of universal basic income (UBI), since large sections of the population will lose access to wage labour. I argued that the resurgence of this feverish discourse is a response to a real trend unfolding across the world: a chronic under-demand for labour. However, the explanation the automation theorists offer — runaway technological change destroying jobs — is false. The real cause of the persistently low demand for labour is the progressive slowdown of economic growth since the 1970s, as industrial overcapacity spread around the world, and no alternative growth engine materialized — a development originally analysed by Robert Brenner, and belatedly and obliquely recognized by mainstream economists under the name of ‘secular stagnation’ or ‘Japanification’. As economic growth decelerates, job creation slows, and it is this, not technology-induced job destruction, which is depressing the global demand for labour.

In Part Two, I demonstrate that employment outcomes have differed in important respects from the automation theorists’ predictions. I analyse the contemporary dynamics of the global labour market and consider the solutions automation theorists have proposed, notably UBI, before going on to consider, as a thought experiment, an alternative approach to achieving a post-scarcity future. First, however, I will argue that it is crucial that we reconceive of the present situation as marked not by the imminent arrival of mass unemployment, as automation theorists suggest, but by continuously rising under-employment. A survey of worldwide vistas of insecure work shows that this new reality has already been accepted by wealthy elites. Turning the tide towards a more humane future will therefore depend on masses of working people refusing to accept a persistent decline in the demand for their labour, and the rising economic inequality it entails. Struggles against these outcomes are already unfolding across the globe. If they fail, maybe the best we will get is a slightly higher social wage in the form of UBI. However, we should not be fighting for this goal, but rather to inaugurate a post-scarcity planet.

So the problem isn’t being driven by automation, but by global deindustrialization caused by decline in demand and industrial overcapacity, which in turn sparked greater degrees of precarity. However, Benanay grudgingly concedes that even though the automation theorists are ‘wrong’ about what has led us here, increased automation in the face of deindustrialization and output decline can still now lead to enormously increased joblessness.

The only hope?

Major shifts in the forms of government intervention in the economy are adopted only under massive social pressure, such as, in the course of the 20th century, the threat of communism or of civilizational collapse. Today, policy reforms could emerge in response to pressure coming from a new mass movement, aiming to change the basic makeup of the social order.

And soon.


5 people on why they keep working past age 65 | Rachel Hartman profiles some people over 65 who are still working, all for different reasons.


Bad candidate experiences chase away nearly half of job seekers | Staggering number.

Work Futures

Exploring critical themes of the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future

Stowe Boyd

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Work Futures

Exploring critical themes of the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future

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