“Super-Welfare” Guaranteed Income For All Isn’t a Solution–It’s Just the New Serfdom

Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote that Hell is other people. While this is undoubtedly true in cocktail party and workplace settings, in socioeconomic terms,Hell is a scarcity of positive social roles–the sources of positive identity, pride, purpose, community and meaning.

Since meaningful work is the source of positive social roles, Hell is a lack of meaningful work.

Unfortunately for us, the Keynesian Cargo Cult economists that dominate our world have zero grasp of humanity’s need for positive social roles and meaningful work. In the myopic view of the Keynesians, humans are nothing but consumer-bots, heartless beings who chew through the Earth’s resources in their limitless quest for more of everything–what the Keynesian Cargo Cult worships as “demand.”

Tragically, this blindness to humanity’s need for meaning and the elevation of spiritually empty consumerism to a Secular Religion leaves the Keynesians incapable of understanding this timeless truth: the only possible result of robbing people of their livelihood is despair.

Chief Keynesian Cargo Cultist Paul Krugman seems sincerely mystified that more state welfare isn’t eliminating this despair, when lack of positive social roles and dependence on the state is the source of this despair.

Why Middle-Aged White Americans Are Dying of Despair is obvious: their opportunities to secure positive social roles are diminishing.

Once meaningful work vanishes, so do positive social roles.

This is why “super welfare” guaranteed work for all is just a new version of Socioeconomic Hell. Being paid to do nothing does not provide meaningful work or positive social roles, which are the sources of positive identity, pride, purpose, community and meaning.

The petit-bourgeois fantasy of every individual flowering as an artist, musician and creator once freed of work is an abstraction, one born of the expansion of academic enclaves and private wealth-funded dilettantes fluttering from one salon to the next. (Ever notice how many trust-funders have therapists? Would they all need therapists if being freed from work automatically generated happiness and fulfillment?)

The irony of this particular abstraction is especially rich: the more beholden we become to central states for our incomes and wealth, the more heroic the artistic expressions of rebellion against these same centralized authorities.

But even these artistic rebellions are abstractions. Rather than generate meaning in a system stripped of meaning, these self-referential expressions of faux resistance and newness for the sake of something new to consume are parodies of rebellion and revolution. Artistic expression becomes an inside joke shared by self-referential elites–the very acme of inauthenticity.

Self-expression and consumerism are simply two aspects of the same empty abstraction. Once the emptiness of these abstractions is realized, all that’s left is the individual’s quest for solace in a world that strips away the very qualities needed for fulfillment, purpose, and meaning.

Humans draw meaning from producing, not consuming, and from belonging to a group that provides a larger goal than self-indulgence, which is the ultimate objective of spiritually impoverished consumerism.

These are precisely what super-welfare guaranteed income for all doesn’t provide. To the degree that serfdom is political powerlessness and near-zero access to the processes of accumulating productive capital, super-welfare guaranteed income for all is simply serfdom institutionalized into a Hell devoid of purpose, pride, meaning, community and positive social roles.

This is why I say The Future Belongs to Work That Is Meaningful.

This entry is drawn from my new book A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology and Creating Jobs for All: The Future Belongs to Work That Is MeaningfulGet a 25% discount on my new book this week only–The Kindle edition is $7.45 this week, a 25% discount from its list price of $9.95.

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  • Oh, my. It looks like you have showed us your libertarian hand. It’s a shame, because some of the things that you were saying, in past articles, had some truth to them. Unfortunately, I do not believe that “meaningful work,” or whatever you want to call it, is the only way for humans to be out of despair. Oh, well…I might have actually bought your book, as well, so I suppose that I should thank you for showing me your hand so that I know not to buy it, now.

    • I have a curious question for you. Where in the whole world does your collectivist paradise exist, and two examples would be perfect and preferable!

      • Hmmm…I don’t recall saying anything about a “collectivist paradise.” I wonder if we can get you to acknowledge that you have misrepresented me, by implication, by asking me a question about my “collectivist paradise,” and where a “collectivist paradise” exists in this world when I made no mention of such a thing.

        • Okay, where is your statist paradise exsist?

          • Son, if you honestly believe that I said anything about ANY “paradise” in my original comment, then you have something wrong with you. I’m done with this conversation.

        • mulga mumblebrain

          For the Rightist the Supreme Freedom is the Freedom to Hate. ‘Collectivism’ is a term that implies respect, even love, for others, and that sends the Rightist mad. Or madder, if you prefer.

    • jamesofthecommons

      I do believe you are correct Mark. Work in any shape or form, is not in my mind, an aspect of life which provides the living with any special meaning, or motivation to continue on living. Many people in our western work orientated culture do indeed draw meaning from their work, but this is not because we humans are programmed by nature or spirit to be beholden to work, or else fall into dispair. Chief amongst the reasons that many people find their life’s meaning in their work, often even when that work is little more than drudgery, is the fact that they have been taught and conditioned by our culture that work has intrinsic value, and more importantly, that people who work, have value while people who do not work, or work less, have little or no value. The meaning and purpose then, in reality, to the person whom claims, and or feels, that their work is their top priority in life, is in most cases not the work, but the social acceptance. Social acceptance of course, leads to a greater likelihood of meaningful social and interpersonal interactions. It is no accident that the types of work that most people report as being the most meaningful, are in fact the jobs/ work which entail a great deal of social interaction.
      The future nor the here and now, belongs to any one aspect of life, but if it did, an ecsessive overvaluation of the importance of work, even the most meaningful of work, will only lead to more of what we have now, millions upon millions of confused and empty people struggling to make sense of the confusion and fill the void by a myrad of means, many of those means being harmful to themselves, others and our environment.
      As of right now, the future in fact, belongs to the corporate elite, not you or I, nor any great and enlightend world of meaningful work oppourtunities.

  • November 9th, 2015 We Have Never Seen Global Trade Collapse This Dramatically Outside Of A Major Recession

    If you have been watching for the next major global economic downturn, you can now stop waiting, because it has officially arrived. Never before in history has global trade collapsed this dramatically outside of a major worldwide recession.


  • slorter

    “The Future Belongs to Work That Is Meaningful.” How can you not disagree with that! However we are not anywhere close to that. People are not treated as having meaning they are a cost and like all costs we have to get them as cheap as possible. The problem we have is we never really had a meaningful social democracy that gives people worth and does not treat them like costs or consumables. We commodify humans, we dehumanise them. The disastrous economic and political experiment that attempted to organize human behavior around the direction of the global marketplace has failed. We need to learn what socialism is and what it means to live in a social democracy that gives worth and meaning to everyone. Social democracies as Chris hedges states “do not sacrifice the weak and the vulnerable, especially children, on the altars of profit. And the measure of a successful society for a socialist is not the GDP or the highs of the stock market but the right of everyone, especially children, never go to bed hungry, to live in safety and security, to be nurtured and educated, and to grow up fulfill his or her potential. Work is not only about a wage, it is about dignity and a sense of self-worth.”

  • “Chief Keynesian Cargo Cultist Paul Krugman seems sincerely mystified that more state welfare isn’t eliminating this despair”

    Another thing…I think that this statement is a misrepresentation of the Krugman article. In the actual Krugman article, Krugman does, clearly, imply that state welfare is helping to make less despair. Krugman asserts that there is less despair in areas of The United States that have more state welfare, and Krugman also claims that countries that have higher state welfare than The United States also have less despair. Parts of the Krugman article, however, such as those that I pointed out do not seem to be of much concern to the author of this main post.

  • jadan

    Don’t understand why GW posts so much of what Smith writes. He’s not original. He’s a moralizing prig. I won’t bother to read his essays after this one. Had enough!

  • animalogic

    There are things to like in this article ie :
    “Humans draw meaning from producing, not consuming, and from belonging to a group that provides a larger goal than self-indulgence, which is the ultimate objective of spiritually impoverished consumerism.”
    Not too much here to argue with….unfortunately, much of the rest is a series of strawmen and false dicotomies.
    For instance: assume (however fantastic) that a guaranted income is realised….why should such employment be any more or less meaningless than work today ? The author seems to either never heard of, or rejects the concept of the alienation of (capitalist) labor.
    If this “work” was on environmental or urban renewal i’d say chances are it could be more meaningful.
    Oh and the “Keynsian cargo cult”….the obsesive need some economic writers have to blame all ills on keynes ! As if we haven’t suffered 40 odd years of neoliberal criminal conspiracy masquarading as an economy…

  • wunsacon

    If “Super Welfare” is the new serfdom, the .1% — who live off the work of others and computers — are already there.

    Many capitalists are looking backwards and issuing prescriptions for the future based on how human “civilization” has functioned for 10,000 years. They haven’t yet grappled with the upcoming changes. CHS might sing this song today. But, in no more than 30 years his future self will sing another.

    People like CHS and Mish (despite him once programming for a living and for a large part “getting” that a lot of jobs are going away) don’t seem to understand that what’s being automated is the fundamental process of *learning*. There will be no economic benefit to one human asking another *human* to do anything for him/her given that digital intelligence will surpass analog intelligence and do everything more cheaply. Everything, including write prescriptions in their blogs about how we should live in the 20th century.

    See you in the future, CHS.