This conversation is closed.

Does employment = Good for society?

I hear this argument over and over again "It produces jobs, so it's good for people".

But surely there must be jobs that aren't good for society and therefore not really good for people in the long run.

Working in a factory that produces bombs is one example I often bring up. You get a salary, pay taxes and are able to provide for your family. BUT you make bombs, tools for killing.
I believe that the same argument can be made for: Narcotics trade, Human trafficking, Elite sports, Patent trolls and so on.

What's your take on this? Are all jobs good because they are jobs? Shouldn't we always look at what the result of those jobs are before making the argument that jobs are good?
Do you have any examples of jobs that are normally perceived as good that you really think are bad for society?

  • thumb
    Jun 19 2013: That is the problem with a society that values money more than the dignity of the human being. The fact that something brings money does not make it good or right for the society. Societal values and the sanctity of human life must be considered.
    • Jun 22 2013: "Societal values and the sanctity of human life must be considered."

      Well, if we got rid of money, they would be.
  • thumb
    Jun 17 2013: Not necessarily, the idea of someone being employed brings up the idea of people being able to create sufficient means to sustain their lives, but employment is not the only way this can be done. Today people are being scared into minimal paying jobs because of a fear of debt, and if the society was completely made out of jobs for people who are afraid of going into debt and the jobs themselves are not even enjoyable then theres no point in employment. There needs to be a creation of a resource based economy where people can be provided for without having to worry about losing their basic necessities. and the labor jobs that nobody wants to have can be taken over by technology while the jobs that require human thought can be taken by people but those jobs would not create an inequality and would be taken by few people but that system would mean more people are cared for and can spend time doing the things that they enjoy to do.
    • thumb
      Jun 17 2013: Hi Jacob,

      That's precisely how I feel.
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: Im glad! its nice to see people really thinking about the world issues from a truly unbiased perspective and I seriously commend you for that. For a long time ive been arguing that the idea of full employed, which was brought up by economist Milton Friedman, should not be the goal of society anymore, that work for profit is not a necessity of life. Its wrong to create low paying labor jobs for the purpose of keeping the economy in circulation. If our economy was focused on protecting human life, preserving nature, and minimizing inequality, there would be a lot less worry about "employment" and a lot more focus on work for the sake of human progress which are the jobs that we really need.
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: btw, i noticed that it says you live in Sweden. lucky! I've always wanted to live in Sweden! (well any of the Nordic Countries really)
        • thumb
          Jun 18 2013: Yeah I'm lucky that way. Have to put in a lot of work to keep it good though and it's not going to well over here with our system..
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: Oh really? did Sweden get hit hard by the EU's recession? and anyway at least your don't have to live in the US...
        • thumb
          Jun 18 2013: We got out of the recession better then most, but our right-wing government sold basically every state owned thing there was (well not everything but very much) to balance out the books, so now we have to rent our schools and hospitals back from private companies... Also there's nationalism (read racism) on the rise and they made it to parliament last election.

          But we'll fix it!
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: oh man that really sucks, I hope you come out of it ok, the nords always seem to come out ok :)
  • thumb
    Jun 18 2013: The war on drugs is arguably a cause of many issues not only in US, but Mexico, and South America. If the war was ended (i.e. drugs made legal, following the path of alcohol), all the related jobs would be eliminated. I fear one of the reasons the war on drugs will never be ended is BECAUSE of all the jobs which would be affected. This is indirectly answering your question.
    • Jun 20 2013: Drew,
      when Obama visited Southern American leaders not long ago, they mentioned
      that the War on Drugs had been lost.

      But after our county Sheriff's busted 20 Mexican guys in a Panga Boat full of marijuana
      on the sea shore 200 miles south of San Francisco, I disagree with their assessment.
      I heard only 19 were taken to the jail. Must have been a miscount, ya think? I never heard
      whether or not any monies were found, nor what happened to the inventory. Our media
      lacks a bit in the inquisitive area.

      Just prior to this happening, my nearby town hired a whole lot of New Cops, and a New Chief.
      Seems Panga Boats were being found up and down our coast. Few Busts, and a lot of empty
      Panga Boats.

      We do need the job market stimulated. But the Washington DC money machine thinks it can
      churn out jobs by prepayment. Not so. There is only one way. Businesses need customers.
      That takes innovation, research and development, and sharing of ideas. New heavy handed
      patent laws for the internet bunch won't help much.

      NASA used to turn out new gizmo's from time to time, but that expensive well is dry.

      The only activity on the horizon is Arms. The costs of research and development has been
      so high that while the US can make and sell ten times the Arms of any other nation, there has
      been little increase in demand. Arms businesses need customers too. So Washington DC
      has to Arm Rebels and make War whenever it can. Catch-22 Those Wars have to be paid for.
      And the bill has come due. A really bad idea that creeps into mind, is the making of a War on
      our own shores. With that, you get a feeding frenzy of citizens making tanks. Ugh... It will
      build the economy, but the cost in lives is really really high.

      After the 2007 Bank profit-taking (bailout) and their consolidations, the Treasury looked like
      a race horse stall that needed to be mucked out. No money for WPA type Infrastructure jobs.

      I suppose we could give Bush a try again..
    • thumb
      Jun 20 2013: Precisely! A wonderful example for which to make your point and I agree with you 100%.
  • Jun 22 2013: Good topic:),being a teacher at school I have thought of the question for a long time:what should I do to help students growing,not deprive them in healthy growing?
    Obviously we are doing the most meaningful job in the world,but if we don't improve,keep thinking,keep reflecting,what we are teaching,doing not promote young people but hurt them badly,some of teachers' fault damage young people life a lot.all of that will be caused damaged result in the society.

    So every job there are two sides results:the most important we humanbeing should keep improving,learning,being conscious...are always necessary.
  • thumb
    Jun 18 2013: The Luddites were destructive in defense of jobs; however, the new technologies brought on more jobs in the long run. Yes, many existing jobs and skill sets were made obsolete in the process, but the end result was better for more people.
  • Jun 18 2013: Not all jobs are good jobs.
    Like you said making weapons, drugs, alcohol, human trafficking, they're all jobs but they do more harm than good. Any job that has nothing to do with the betterment of the people is a bad job to me.
    Why do we need jobs? For paper right? Because we're always hearing about all the horrible things about money and shortages, while there are stacks of paper and ink sitting in every staples. The federal reserve is a private company that keeps everyone all over the world working for it. Some harder then others, some more corrupt than others. So working for them is my example of a job perceived good but bad.
    • Jun 22 2013: No, we don't need jobs for paper.
      We need jobs because of needs, wants, desires, dreams and so on.
      Every human need is a job and every job is a human need. It has to be done.
      We need jobs for resources. That's what we work for, what we need to live and we foolishly believe money is the only way to get them.
      I am not for ending human trafficking because it is a job for someone.
      But get rid of money and the job disappears.
      Of course, we must make sure everyone's needs are freely met along with that.
      We already do the work for all of it but because of money, many go without and a new job is created by sheer survival, like trafficking.
      The biggest human traffickers are those who head financial institutions, banks, the Fed Reserve, lenders and so on.
      They keep us running all over the place and all over one another for simple survival and it isn't necessary at all
      Nothing costs money. Everything costs people.
      Things don't.............."get done"............because of money.
      Things.............,,,,,"don't get done"........because of money.
  • Jun 18 2013: Good point People always give reasons whether they are true or not. You can get people to do things with just the magic word in your sentencce .......because....
  • thumb
    Jun 18 2013: I would say that before any legal job is undertaken, a great deal of checking and rechecking is undertaken. For example, before a factory produces bombs, a great deal of thought is given, legislators decide how much money to devote to defense, researchers research how much defense is necessary, the people get to vote and presumably vote intelligently, and so on. So a legal job is a good job. If it turns out to be a bad job, the next year they adjust the budget, and perhaps those people are out of a job.

    Illegal jobs are illegal because they are destructive, bad for everybody. Such as narcotics, or human trafficking.
  • Comment deleted

    • thumb
      Jun 17 2013: There's an upside to everything, what I'm wondering is it enough that everything has an upside?

      I would say that war is generally bad, wouldn't you?
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Jun 17 2013: If it will make a difference or not can be debated, I believe that we do have the power to make a difference in this world.

          Putting that aside, do you think that war is generally good or bad?
      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          Jun 17 2013: Am I correct in understanding that you view the upsides of war to outweigh the downsides?

          LSD and cocaine surely have a greater positive-lean then war does?

          (I also wanted to deliver my own justice at a time)
  • thumb
    Jun 17 2013: The metric on this is value, does the job create value.

    The only way jobs can exist that do not create value is through the use of force.
    • thumb
      Jun 17 2013: Yes, I agree. That is a rephrasing of my question, what jobs are valuable for society as a whole is my question.

      But I'm also arguing that there's an opposite of value and that we can't only count the plus but have to take the minus into account as well.
      • thumb
        Jun 17 2013: These jobs are created by force, yes they have a negative value, you might even say the more negative the more force that will be required.
        • thumb
          Jun 18 2013: If I payed you to walk around in a circle all day (NOT using force, paying you) would you say that your job had value?
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: Yes, it has value to you.
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: Then why are you paying me?
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: I'm wise to you, you are trying to get me to go around in circles right now, where is my pay? What is minimum wage in Sweden?

        No this would have some value to you or you would not voluntarily pay for it.
        • thumb
          Jun 18 2013: We don't have a minimum wage by law, our unions negotiate our salaries every now and then (usually in a 2 year period). But a person working in an H&M store here that is identical to a store in the US and does the exact same work, well we make nearly three times as much. But then again, everything is way more expensive.

          And I'm not trying to make you go around in circles Pat, I'm merely showing that you're already doing that.

          Maybe I'm crazy or I think that it would please the Walk-God Gurgameshing (made that up).
          Now you're assuming that everybody that pays someone does so wisely and with intent of creating value, it's not necessarily so.
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: I'm not assuming, they pay because it has value to them.

        There is no way to determine what has value to someone other than they are willing to pay for the service.

        Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are giving away most of their fortune, apparently there is no exchange for this, but in reality it has value to them or they would not do it, if nothing more than they do not want to give it to the government.
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: Yes and there is an exchange
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: Nope, why do you work in government? for the Kumbaya group hug or because that is what you do? Because you see that others are part of your group and you are responsible for your own?

        Even the Rothschilds quit promoting war as a money making scheme (through goverment) as they realized that it cost them on their balance sheet.

        What are you learning me here anyway?
        • thumb
          Jun 18 2013: I don't work in government Pat, never got a dime for thousands of hours that I've put in to politics. I do it because I would have wanted someone else to have done it before me (treat others as you'd like to be treated) so that I would have it better growing up. Since that boat has sailed I now hope to provide better lives for those that are yet unborn.
          Have you read the poem "tomorrows child"?
          My group is EVERYONE, (if they'll have me) "my own" is humanity.

          I don't understand "Even the Rothschilds quit promoting war as a money making scheme (through goverment) as they realized that it cost them on their balance sheet. "

          I don't know, just trying to get to know you a bit better through these questions. You and I never seem to see eye to eye on any view on politics so I've stopped trying to teach you. It's clear that you've heard most arguments and made up your mind about these things.

          What are you learning me?
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: I thought somewhere you said you were a politician?

        The Rothchilds are at the center of every conspiracy theory, rightfully so, one of which was that they put Napolean into power so they could make money by lending money to France and Prussia to finance the war effort as they owned the bank of France and the bank of Prussia. But they realized that this was damaging their own assets as well.

        Clearly I'm not learning you anything, I was saying do you see that:

        "The metric on this is value, does the job create value.

        The only way jobs can exist that do not create value is through the use of force."?
      • Jun 18 2013: JImmy, I tried to address some of yours and Pat's misunderstanding further down, but I would like to suggest another source of your disagreement with Pat.

        Some believe that a capitalistic system is the best we can do to ensure the most value for society. This belief, to my experience, comes with the underlying belief that societal value is the summation of unweighted individual value. That is to say, in math terms: S = A + B... + Z where each variable is the value each individual experiences without any consideration to how that persons exists in a society. In other terms, every bit of Bill Gates' personal value is considered just as positive for society as every bit of a homeless individual's.

        Other opinions obviously exist. People who hold these generally believe in more social programs because they believe (in math terms) that societal value is also an aggregate of individual value but that each individual's value can better be explained by a logarithmic function. That is to say, increasing the value for the homeless does more for society than does improving the very rich's quality of life by the same nominal amount (not by a similar percentage). I hope this makes sense, and contributes. The disagreement and even your overarching question, can actually be reworded: "How can societal value best be measured?"
        • thumb
          Jun 24 2013: Hi Michael,

          The sources for my and Pats disagreements are plentiful, but that does sum a lot of it up. Nice explanation.
    • Jun 17 2013: "The only way jobs can exist that do not create value is through the use of force."

      Jobs create money, not value.
      • thumb
        Jun 17 2013: Value is what someone would voluntarily pay for a service of product.

        The only time that money and value do not coincide is when force is used.
        • thumb
          Jun 18 2013: You don't need force to see the value in love for example... And you can't put a monetary price on that.
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: That is voluntary exchange one willing exchanges everything he has to help those he loves, in this case the exchange is survival of his family. The exchange to a soldier is survival of his fellow soldiers and of his country quite often at the cost of everything he has or ever will have.
        • thumb
          Jun 18 2013: I don't have to sacrifice everything to love my girlfriend... And that has great value to me and I never use force... How do you explain that?
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: Are you saying there is no exchange between you? There is or you would not be together, as there is between you and your community or you would not continue to be a politician, as there is with any pets you may have, as there is between yourself and all life.
        • thumb
          Jun 18 2013: Yep, I'm still on this though

          "The only time that money and value do not coincide is when force is used."

          By all your statements this has to be wrong!?
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: How so?
        • Jun 18 2013: My main point was that money doesn't buy happiness. I think it's important to not allow the basis of what makes a society better or worse be money. Money is a means to an end, but not valuable in itself and under all circumstances.
        • Jun 18 2013: Jimmy is trying to point out the fact that money is not involved in his relationship with his girlfriend - no money is exchanging hands really, but there is still value connected to it. He is using this as an example of a time when money and value do not coincide but where force is still not being used. Obviously, it is still a mutually beneficial exchange on some level if you believe in the purely economical human who works on some level of self interest. I tend to agree with this position when you allow yourself to account for emotional goals and well being in self-interest as well as financial well being. However, the point is money does not exchange hands, value is added, and no force is used. There is simply a different medium of exchange (mutual benefit). I would suggest that your statement, "The only time that money and value do not coincide is when force is used" works in one direction but not the other. Value can be created without the medium of exchange of money and without force (in the instance of the relationship) but I do agree with you that money would not exchange hands if value was not being created for someone. Jimmy, your example of you paying Pat to walk in circles may not benefit society in some profound way but I do agree that the fact that you would be willing to pay means that it creates value to you at some level. That value may be in the fact that you think it helps you prove a point, or if you disliked Pat (not that I believe you do) it could be the fact that it may make him look foolish as others may believe it was a waste of his time. Even altruism is done in the hope that it improves the life of others. If someone considers this their goal, than working towards it and giving away their money creates value for them on some level even if it is principle and personal value. I hope I am making sense?
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: Michael

        A paragraph every now and then would be helpful.

        This conversation is about jobs. Yes the exchange may not require money.

        "it could be the fact that it may make him look foolish as others may believe it was a waste of his time."

        Now that would be valuable to Jimmy.
        • Jun 18 2013: Yes, exactly. I say this: "the fact that you would be willing to pay means that it creates value to you at some level."

          I apologize for the lack of paragraph breaks - I was struggling to limit the response to the character limit. I believe that the disagreement here is at a deeper level. Above, I responded to another one of Jimmy's responses looking further at that, but I will summarize it here.

          There seem to be two trains of thoughts (that I have identified) for societal value. One allows for a linear and strictly summation driven method for calculating societal value. That is to say, in math terms: S = A + B... + Z where each variable is the value each individual experiences without any consideration to how that persons exists in a society. In other terms, every bit of Bill Gates' personal value is considered just as positive for society as every bit of a homeless individual's. Other opinions obviously exist which is significant because Jimmy is focused on societal value not individual value.

          The other model I have observed is this: they believe (in math terms) that societal value is also an aggregate of individual value but that each individual's value can better be explained by a logarithmic function. That is to say, increasing the value for the homeless does more for society than does improving the very rich's quality of life by the same nominal amount (not by a similar percentage) or that the addition to societal value from any one individual levels off at a certain point.

          I am not actually taking a position here. I am simply trying to provide some insight into the disagreement so the discussion between you too can get out of the circle and address (at least what I believe to be) the core point of disagreement. That is not to say that I am correct, however.

          Either way, this connects back to jobs because Jimmy is looking at societal value and this may or may not correlate exactly with individual value (which you discuss very well).
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: The basic disagreement (of which we do not agree on anything, not even agreeing to disagree) is socialism versus the free market, top down control or bottom up, individual verses the collective

        I don't see where math is relevant.

        Bill Gates is more valuable because he created more value which is why he is wealthy and the homeless man is not. The value of a person is how well he serves others. Bill Gates has served the world very well the homeless guy not so much. He gave everyone their own computer which in the days of Univac is really something.

        No need to separate societal from individual value, they are the same. As I initially stated what is the metric? The metric is value, the only time a job deviates from value is when force is used.
        • Jun 18 2013: I suppose I was trying to make the same point as you were. That you need to develop a metric before the conversation can continue. The math is relevant because I have found, on one hand, those who believe the free market does best agree with you in that there is no difference between individual and societal value. (Straight addition).

          However, others believe that societal value is not so simple - in essence that the value of adding to a homeless person's quality of life improves societal value more than improving the quality of life of someone who already enjoys a rather comfortable quality of life. This type of thinking may be better represented in a log representation. This thinking is normally more connected to politics that lean more on social programs.

          I was just trying to give some insight into what I believe the disagreement is even deeper than just free market versus capitalism. I believe this difference in definition of societal value is what causes the disagreement between socialism and free market capitalism economics. Both systems are trying to maximize societal value. They just disagree on how societal value is calculated.
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: How does socialism determine that value?

        The other overarching point is that socialism appears oblivious to the fact that this is not cooperative as they use force?
        • Jun 19 2013: Pat,

          I cannot speak with certainty about the psychology behind socialism as I do not consider myself a socialist. However, I find that those who support social programs do not believe societal value is purely the summation of all individual's value. Instead, they believe that after a certain point it does not add much to society to further improve the quality of life of some members, or at least that it is more valuable to add to the value of life of others. This suggests to me a logarithmic shape to the impact of an individual's quality of life on societal value. I believe this is their belief. It is not necessarily mine.

          This is in direct contrast to the underlying assumption of pure free market capitalism where societal value seems to be calculated as a pure addition of each individual's quality of life. You are welcome to disagree with my psychological observation only developed from talking to several people of different political leanings - but I am not here to defend either capitalism or socialism.

          I simply believe that to proper answer the question being addressed we have to agree on a metric as you previously said, as well as how it is calculated. I simply am pointing out two underlying assumptions of how such a metric could be calculated as I have observed in the political realm. What do you think Pat? Do you think I am off base on how those who have more social leanings mentally, and likely subconsciously, calculate societal value? I realize that this is not how you personally calculate it, but with the assumption that those who have social leanings can be just as logical as those who do not, do you believe that I am off base? If you do, then that explains the confusion. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks Pat.
      • thumb
        Jun 19 2013: I don't understand what you mean by logarithmic?

        You are saying that a socialist believe in a diminishing return for helping some individuals?

        I think that Socialism is based on emotional reasoning.

        The result of which is less accountability, more force being used by the government through taxation, and less motivation.

        No doubt Jimmy will chatter about this is not the case in the northern European countries. But the reality is that these countries still have a culture that is based on the previous free market in their countries which is the only reason they do not resemble the UK.

        The main thing is that if you reward innovation you get innovation if you reward being a victim you get more victims.
        • Jun 19 2013: To be brief, yes. I believe that socialists believe that there is diminishing returns for helping unique individuals and their goal is to maximize the value of the society. This explains their goal of income redistribution.

          I would suggest that this reasoning, if it is what they believe, would make their system rational. Others may disagree with it, but if they believe that diminishing returns applies in this situation than it is rational nonetheless.
  • thumb
    Jun 17 2013: Society isn't one thing but rather a collection of many people with different goals and interests. A job may be good for the person in it and the person who pays him/her while not being good for someone else. The job of "hit man" comes immediately to mind.

    Interpersonal utility comparisons when some gain and others lose are notoriously difficult.
    • thumb
      Jun 17 2013: Really difficult, that's why I'm asking TED ;-)
      • thumb
        Jun 17 2013: Stated differently, then, there is no universal, "correct" standard for ranking situations that increase the benefit for some and reduce it for others. If you could shift from a scenario in such a way as to make some people better off without making others worse off, many would call that a dominant or socially productive move. Others wouldn't necessarily, because making one better off without reducing the other increases the difference in well-being of the two in a way that some people might value negatively.

        For example, if one situation is better for Pat and another better for Jimmy and the situations are otherwise the same, there is no objective way of ascertaining which is socially superior. People could logically disagree.

        If you are interested in such questions and have a few hours a week available, you might try Michael Sandel's Justice course through edX. I think it is the second most popular course at Harvard after the intro to computer science class.

        Sandel has at least one TED Talk up.
        • thumb
          Jun 17 2013: Great tip! But I'm afraid I don't have the time at present, but I'll be sure to remember it.

          I know that there's no universal "correct" answer for this, I though we mostly debated these kinds of things here on TED, I did ask if we could ask questions that we already knew the answer to...
          There will always be people who oppose any change and/or system, that does not mean that we have to abide to their wishes... If we did that we'd still have slavery and kings and you get the idea.

          Tell me Fritzie, do you believe in democracy?
      • thumb
        Jun 17 2013: I think it is the best system.
        • thumb
          Jun 17 2013: I agree.

          The reason I asked was because of your example where you put a 1-on-1 standoff as an example. In a democratic system no one would "win" that, and I think that's good. But I find reality to be more complex and even matched votes are nearly never an example of reality.

          Pats and mine situation would never be the same, every life and situation is unique.

          And I also wanted to check because I believe that the democratic model is for the benefit of as many as possible, and I think that if you believe in democracy you'd believe this too. I may be wrong about some of my assumptions and please correct me if I am (and I know that there are many other reasons that democracy is good, I'm trying to speak in general due to character limit).

          With these assumptions I will presume that you want the well-being for as many as possible and suffering for as few as possible.

          Surely there must be things we are payed to do that does not better mankind or is leading us in the wrong direction? Or, am I really wrong about this?
      • thumb
        Jun 18 2013: As you say, I think there are situations in which one person's gain could be valued more than another person's gain and one cannot just sum up how many people gained in different scenarios and use totals to establish whether two situations are equally desirable or fair.

        To me, it is better to let the hungry person get the last chicken leg on the tray than to give it to the person who isn't hungry. I don't think this sort of idea of value conflicts with democracy.
        • thumb
          Jun 18 2013: I don't think it conflicts either...
          It seems like we agree but have some kind of misunderstanding but I can't pinpoint what it is... Maybe it's because it's getting really early here and I need to sleep. :-P