From the Zweber Farm

Those jobs

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There is a lot of time to listen to music, podcasts and audiobooks while doing fieldwork and running skid loaders to take care of the cows. 

I recently read a great book, “The Dawn of Everything” by David Graeber and David Wengrow. In the book, the authors explored present and past social and financial inequality, agriculture vs. hunter gatherer societies, and a number of other topics related to how our society ended up the way it is, or could be different if we chose.

I enjoyed the book enough that when my cousin suggested another of Graeber’s books, I immediately borrowed it from the library. I figured the topic of the book wouldn’t be too far from what interested me in his previous book. I wasn’t disappointed.

According to Graeber, our world is full of completely useless jobs with people carrying them out every day at varying degrees of peace with that fact.

The author had written an opinion piece about worthless jobs which resulted in him receiving many stories from people about their experiences working jobs they felt had no value whatsoever.

This would have been a completely unbelievable concept to me when I was growing up as everyone I interacted with had a job that at minimum, was a positive contribution to society even if they maybe didn’t enjoy doing it that much. Being surrounded by people in agriculture, the trades and education, it never occurred to me that there are literally jobs where you just show up and do busywork so a manager has someone to manage, thus justifying their own job.

Around the end of high school, and definitely in college, I started to run into people whose employment’s impacts on society, positive or negative, were nebulous at best. You know who you are, and good for you on scoring a minimal responsibility gig. If someone is willing to pay you to sit around and learn how to crochet or whatever, then you my friend have won the occupational lottery. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get paid the most I can for the least amount of effort for years and have yet to succeed even moderately.

A question brought up at the beginning of the book is that with all of our technological improvements making tasks super-efficient, why aren’t we all working something like 15 hours a week and spending the rest of our time on leisure activities?

A famous economist, John Maynard Keynes, suggested in 1930 that the 15-hour work week could be a reality by 2030. Society as a whole is far from that mark, and in agriculture, we’re not even in the same zip code.

It seems instead of settling for less stuff and more leisure time, people increased their desire for more possessions and also created whole lines of so-called work to do which does not actually provide much value to society.

I have heard lots of people in agriculture, including myself, brag about how many hours they work as if that’s something to be commended on. Working hard and getting an important job done in the amount of time it takes — even if that’s well past Keynes’ three or most people’s eight hours — is commendable, but working more than 16 hours in a day for the glory of working 16 hours seems silly. Perhaps some of those hours are spent on jobs that, if you assigned them to someone else, would be seen as breeding stock excrement.

Until next time, keep living the dream, and remember that the most precious resource any of us has besides our health is time. It’s impossible to know how much you have, so place a high value on it and spend it on people and things worthy of the investment.

Tim Zweber farms with his wife, Emily, their three children and his parents, Jon and Lisa, near Elko, Minnesota.

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