On the morality of different types work.
Recently I have been getting paid as a freelancer to write articles for the specialist financial press. These are on fairly arcane topics in financial markets and financial economics.
The work has its downsides - you are stuck on a phone or at a computer a lot; you spend hours talking to merchant bankers. On the other hand - I can do it by phone and email from anywhere I like; the money is very good; I don't have a boss; I am actually interested in at least some of it; I have a lot more time to devote to my own research interests.
Phil says to me that maybe all creation and circulation of information is good, or maybe at least neutral. This is worth discussing, but I tend to think the information I am producing is, on balance, definitely harmful. It is (if I am doing the job properly) aiding and abetting the smoother functioning of global capitalism. You can't say that it has any other function or even any other possible application. Only bankers have can have any interest in, or even understand, the stuff.
In my defence I have two arguments for mitigation:
1) it is freeing up time which I spend on research projects which I believe will have socially useful consequences.
2) I am learning a lot about financial markets, indeed this is probably the only way I could learn this stuff in such depth. If I can find ways to spread this knowledge so that it can be used progressively, then could counteract the harm done. In fact maybe more so: my contribution to the information flow of global capitalism will only ever be marginal; but given the level of ignorance amongst progressives about how capitalism actually works, a little knowledge might go a longer way there. As a first step, I am trying to get my ideas straight here in FinancialMarkets.
The last job I had was working as an electrician. Now one of the reasons I trained to be an electrician was just because I wanted to do socially useful labour - 'an honest trade'. (Though admittedly I also thought I'd earn decent money, get to travel with it etc.) But the two biggest contracts I worked on recently were: converting old houses into damp poky bedsits to rent to immigrants in north london; doing mostly entirely unnecessary pseudo-rewires on recently privatised council housing, wasting money ripped out of government grants and borrowed at excessive rates against future rent increases.
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