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Metaworkers - the real problem with unemployment

  1. Mar 17, 2011 #1

    The basic problem is that too few of our modern workforce is actually doing real work any more. Instead, they're doing "metawork," that is, work above the real work, such as management. However, the Peter Principle is alive and well, and instead of working smarter, instead of harder people find a minimally acceptable solution and stick with that.

    Case in point: At my last duty station, I was working in an office of eight people, mostly doing mission building, support, and post-mission analysis. It was one person's job to pull information from up to twelve different databases and update a single source document from which we could provide specific printouts of information on various theater airfields. Over a period of a couple of weeks (I had another job) I timed the folks responsible for doing this and discovered it took them between 4 and 6 hours a day to do this.

    The main reason it was taking them so long is that they kept the information in Word document! In addition to the airfield data, they were hand-typing mission-specific information for each and every mission into several additional documents.

    I said "enough!" and built a database into which mission-specific information was loaded only once, updated only when it changed, and in which the airfield-specific information was pulled and updated only as required.

    New time: less than 1 hour. That's working smarter, not harder.

    Unfortunately, as the article mentioned, we still have people e-mailing spreadsheets left and right, and one of the major reasons databases aren't developed instead is because every time a new boss in any of the three higher levels in the chain of command comes online (about once every 8 months for us), they "managed" primarily by mandating how the spreadsheet should look or what information it should contain.

    Multiply this times every unit and function throughout the military, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what a collossal waste of time this can be. And even if my database is the heat, other units won't use it, as they have different commanders who demand different information requirements.

    Somewhere along the line, someone got smart and pitched the idea of a single, global database which could be used to enter and track both mission information as well as look up centrally-updated airfield information. Is it used? Yep - right alongside the spreadsheets and databases like the one I created (slaps forehead). Why? Same reason: Commanders keep changing the information they want to see and mandate that their support staff use spreadsheets, rather than the centralized database. HOWEVER, major commands mandate the use of the centralized database, so both are used. Duplicity of effort. And really, when you add on all the ancilliary functions, such as training, it winds up being three times the effort.

    Metaworkers. The military services are full of them. Our government is full of them. Even competitive industries have their fair share, although being competitive, they do their best to trim this fat.

    So how is this a problem with unemployment? First, most metawork is largely unnecessary, sucking up a body to do busy work instead of that person being free to do real work. "Now wait a minute," you might ask. "Wouldn't that result in greater unemployment if we got rid of the waste?" If we did it all at once, yes. However, if we did it years ago, or if we do it gradually, then no. What it would do is free up a body to do real work!

    Like farm. We're still paying subsidies to farmers to let their fields lie fallow, while we're also subsidizing hunger relief efforts around the world. I argue we remove both subsidies and simply pay cost for the farmer to grow the food and ship it where it needs to go. The markets would probably figure out a way to spin that into raising food prices even higher, though. Ugh!

    In the last 100 years, farm production has become either so efficient or so mechanized the percent of U.S. people required to work agriculture has dropped from 90% to 2%.

    QUESTION: Given that massive shift, as well as similar shifts in construction and manufacturing, are we in danger of no longer having any "real work" left for most of the population? If so, does it make sense to start moving towards a 100% tax base by not paying people at all, but simply allowing them the benefits of society (food, clothing, and shelter) provided they work eight hours a day doing SOMETHING useful? And if that's now feasible, would there be any additional stipend or privalages based upon the complexity and quality of work one does for a living?
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 17, 2011 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    There are many many jobs that involve what you would call "real work". Just because one sits at a computer all day doesn't mean they are doing useless work. The fact that they are employed to do this means that the work is wanted. And trust me, I'm in the Air Force. I feel your pain about commanders and such changing things. =)
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