New Work FAQ

New Work FAQ

This document is in progress. You’ll get a more comprehensive introduction to New Work by listening to and watching the interviews with Frithjof Bergmann.

What is “New Work?”

New work is work that you want to do. That energizes you instead of drains you.

So is New Work about helping people finding better jobs?

Sometimes. But chances are, the work that would really make your life feel meaningful is not going to be offered as a job. New Work is about decoupling the idea of work from the idea of a job. We all need work like we all need food. But jobs are like canned food: processed, bland, ultimately not good for us.

How can I support myself without a job?

We’re not suggesting that you do not have a job, but that you work a job for fewer hours per week. This will leave you with less money, of course, but one goal of New Work is to establish institutions and practices that will enable you to earn additional income in other ways:

1. By providing for many of your needs (and in the process creating goods you can exchange) using Community Production.

2. By pursuing a calling: work that you really, seriously want to do, that could make money but will also give you more energy, more meaning, and more life.

What if I don’t have a “calling?”

Then you’re like most people. Figuring out what you really, really want to do is hard. It requires not only introspection, but trying things out, and guidance. One of the goals of a New Work center is to help people with this.

Isn’t pursuing work that I really, really want selfish?

We have found that the vast majority of people, when they have the time and space to figure out what they really, seriously want, want to do something meaningful, something that helps other people, something that makes the world better in some way.

How can New Work help the unemployed?

Most immediately and centrally through the development of Community Production, which can provide both meaningful activity and material goods to the now unemployed.

What is Community Production?

This is the idea that some of the most recently invented technologies can now be used to make for yourself products that you need.

Possibly the most revolutionary accomplishment of our age is the development of technologies that enable people to make advanced products in “small rooms.” These include electricity, building, household appliances, and even phones and electric cars.

However, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to do much of this on your own. You need other people to show you what to do, share infrastructure costs, and otherwise cooperate to make this kind of production possible.

How can I make things for myself?

The Internet provides a good example of how you can do many things for yourself that used to require a professional to help you (like publishing an essay).

What the Internet did for information, new technologies are doing for manufacturing. What used to require a warehouse full of different machines and an assembly line can now be done with a much smaller number of very versatile machines in one small room. A goal of New Work is to research, enable, and disseminate such technologies.

Can I really do this now?

Not in full. You can do some of it now, depending on where you live. Many places now have community gardens (like this network in Detroit), where you can put in a few hours per week and receive produce in return. Associations like the Dane County Time Bank allow you to put in hours of work in exchange for hours of work from other members. These are established strategies that can allow you to provide for some of your needs with fewer wages from a job.

A goal of New Work is to help build the infrastructure that will enable you to take care of more of your needs in this way. There are pilot projects and facilities like Incite Focus in Detroit, which is a digital fabrication lab that is open to the public that provides training on the use of equipment to create goods from furniture to bicycles to solar panels to electronics. Some of their upcoming and in-progress projects include building energy-efficient houses, cars, and most impressively, building copies of the very machines used in the current lab.

Isn’t cutting-edge technology way too expensive to use it to alleviate poverty?

First, many of the technologies that New Work is promoting are very inexpensive now. We look for technologies such as new kinds of bricks, water filters, and energy generators that can be used with minimum overhead by impoverished communities.

Digital fabrication equipment like that used by Incite Focus currently requires a good amount of capital (e.g. through a grant) to get started. (In their case, they were able to pay back all funds used to start the facility by selling the products created there; the facility is now entirely self-supporting.) There are (mostly less elaborate) fab labs and maker spaces in a growing number of communities with a well established ethic of sharing designs and techniques. There are already freely available designs for using a 3D printer to make a 3D printer, and we have every reason to think that the cost of such tools will become less and less prohibitive.

Can objects manufactured in these maker spaces really be cheaper than something I could buy at Wal-Mart?

Cheaper to make? Probably not. Cheaper for you? Well, even if something takes only pennies to make in the factory, it still has to get shipped to you, and advertised at you, and everyone from the parent corporation to the distributor to the retailer takes a cut, so yes, we expect that given appropriate Community Production infrastructure, many goods (though definitely not all!) can be acquired more cheaply in this way than through acquiring them from a retail outlet.

What about the cost of materials?

The goal is to enable as much use as possible of recycled and scrap material, e.g. in Detroit, there is a lot of wood from abandoned and often destroyed houses. Buildings can be made out of old buildings. Some 3D printing can use recycled plastic.

Also keep in mind that if you’re the one creating a product, you can make sure that the materials you use are environmentally friendly, locally produced, etc. You can also tailor it in a way that Wal-mart can’t: you can customize clothing to fit you, add your logo or other design elements, and really use your imagination to create things that will be exciting and personal to you.

Won’t these changes only help those with technical skills? Do I really need to become a technician or farmer?

No. While people willing and able to jump into these fields will gain the most immediate benefits from these technologies (and a key goal of many New-Work-friendly groups like Incite Focus is to train people to use them), we’re not proposing that the division of labor disappear. As with timebanking, there are plenty of ways to exchange your efforts for help from others outside of the traditional job system.

Does “Community Production” mean I have to join a commune?

No. New Work does not require a community adopt a family-like model of organization, where goods are simply shared. However, we do recommend and facilitate shared ownership arrangements, and stress that this is the only way that a community garden, maker space, or other shared facilities can be made available to most people.

A facility might be run by a non-profit organization, a governmental entity, or a for-profit company. Think about how people in an apartment building share washing machines and maybe a pool. Think about the YMCA, about credit unions, about public libraries, copy centers, and the various ways that we fund and organize educational institutions. New Work is in favor of whatever kinds of organizations actually function effectively, with no ideological bias for or against any particular kind.

We’re interested in a scale-able blueprint for new economic arrangements, not some idyllic arrangement requiring that we all join hands and sing.

Who pays for New Work?

See above. Particular New Work projects can be funded by the participants involved, through grants, by entrepreneurs or businesses (especially B Corps), and/or by the government. As New Work technologies become cheaper, this question will become less important.

So why not just let these new, disruptive technologies do their work? Why would we need a New Work political movement at all?

Yes, the job system is changing on its own already; we would characterize this as a collapse. We predict that new technologies will reduce the need for workers, leading to higher and higher unemployment, and a greater gap between the rich and the poor.

The present official strategy of trying ever harder to drum up economic growth is not likely to succeed, so we need a new approach. We need to embrace the freedom that greater technology now allows us and figure out how we as a society will live in this new world.

New technologies can be squashed or monopolized by existing corporations, or (as with the Internet), we should take steps to ensure that these stay widely available, and actively educate our citizens to be able to take advantage of them.

What about health insurance? What about saving for retirement? Or for my kids’ college tuition? There are lots of fixed expenses that it doesn’t sound like Community Production will be able to address.

Devising and explaining strategies to handle these fixed expenses is another key component of New Work, and we will be posting more specific details regarding each of these areas to this website.

In broad strokes, what is needed is not just the use of new technologies, but new, community-based ways of structuring our efforts: a new culture of increased cooperation (not a commune!), where people have the time to, for example, care for the elderly, teach each other, and take care of each other.

Such efforts, again, will not replace the need for job income that pays for such goods in the traditional ways, but we think that surprisingly substantial inroads on these costs are achievable.

Can these “new structures” and Community Production technologies really provide the lifestyle I enjoy today?

No. Part of the awakening involved in New Work is figuring out what it is you really need to live a satisfying life, not what consumer culture says you need. If you’re a well-to-do westerner, chances are your lifestyle involves a lot of excess that you really don’t need, and that if you’re able to choose between working a life-sapping full time job with this excess or truly meaningful activity without it, you’ll choose the latter. But this evaluation is for you and you alone to make, of course.

At the same time, New Work is definitely not about ascetic self-denial. On the contrary, we think that our current, job-oriented attitude does not efficiently provide people with what they really need, and that restructuring the cultural and economic backdrop in which we make our consumer choices would in the vast majority of cases improve our quality of life without sacrificing anything of significance.

What is “New Culture?”

We believe that the effect of people doing work that they really really want to do will be astounding. Think of the increases in art, in intellectual life, in invention, in creation, and in service that would occur if we were unleashed from the necessity to “make a living” and aggressively encouraged to make the most of our potential, to find activities that are truly meaningful to us. This new culture is what we’re looking for, and why we think New Work is worth fighting for.

At the same time, many elements of the New Work vision require cultural support to be effective. Right now, the idea of co-owning the tools of Community Production might seem strange; we very much want to main-stream this sort of activity, and make it no more strange than public libraries or joining a non-profit, facility-sharing entity like the YMCA.

More immediately, it’s the purpose of this website and our organization generally to make a case for certain changes in our common attitudes, such as toward consumer goods, as described above. Even the ideas that work can be energizing, that we all have the capacity to develop a passionate relationship with work we choose, and that this should actually motivate not just our individual choices but our political activities… for these ideas to become commonplace will require cultural change.

What changes in education would this New Culture entail?

Current primary education for the most part fails to prepare people to support themselves (through Community Production) and to figure out what work they might passionately pursue. A curriculum designed with New Work in mind would look quite different, with more hands-on exploration of different activities, and more individuated instruction so that the many students who do not take well to the sit-and-listen approach to teaching will not simply drop out of the system and consequently the society. Some schools approximating this philosophy, unaffiliated with New Work, already exist, and charter schools provide opportunities to pursue this vision.

We find that in many cases, the work that people say that they really, really want to do is teaching, so in the New Culture, we would expect many more (part-time) teachers to be available to help students develop as individuals.

The whole system of overpriced colleges is unsustainable, serving largely to provide status in the competition for jobs. In the new age of MOOCs and other technological advancements, there’s no reason that we can’t make brilliant lectures and texts available to a really large number of people and supplement that with personalized instruction and testing by lower-cost teachers (including the influx of New Work-liberated, passionate teachers), to deliver a high-quality education at a low price. Many are already working on how to appropriately credential these new teaching methods.

So New Work is saying that part of the answer to “how can I pay for college?” is that we need to change our expectations: we can’t and shouldn’t pay for college as it is now. Is this same kind of change in attitude needed regarding health care?

Yes. The strategy in paying for these fixed costs is always two-fold: look for ways to help people pay for what is available now, but also try to reform the system so that it’s no longer necessary to pay so much.

Fortunately, reduction of health care costs, both for individuals and for society as a whole, is a front-and-center policy concern, and measures like the Affordable Care Act definitely help achieve what will be necessary for New Work in lowering the cost of health insurance and decoupling it from having a full-time job. Within the health care system itself, we need to encourage the use of cost-saving technology and organizational methods.

But the wider spending problem is a disparity in our culture, where people with a lot of money gobble up more and more of this precious resource to try to add a few more feeble years to their old age. Just as we need to have a national conversation about what kinds of spending on goods and education really makes sense, we need to reflect on what quality of life is really worth pursuing and at what cost.

We also need to increase the supply of medical workers, especially given projected physician and nursing shortages. As with teaching, healing is a highly meaningful profession, and we need to reduce the barriers (e.g. high tuition/student loans and long hours/low pay for students and residents) that currently prevent many talented people from this field. In addition, we need to structure doctoring so that it functions more like a calling: so that doctors are not burned out dealing with too many patients too quickly, but are working at least some of the time in situations where they are truly needed. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders already provide some solutions to this challenge.

What changes in law is New Work recommending?

New Work does not necessitate a specific set of policy proposals. How New Work should be implemented in a given environment is a complex matter.  However, in general, we seek to:

  • Reduce barriers to pursuing alternative working arrangements (e.g. de-couple needed benefits like health insurance from full-time employment)
  • Incentivize companies to adopt New-Work-friendly policies like flex time
  • Reduce barriers to Community Production and individual entrepreneurship
  • Make it easier for people without full-time employment to live comfortably, for example through increased public facilities and subsidies or other measures to in effect de-commodify more necessary goods, much as we’ve already done to varying degrees with water, primary education, libraries (and hence Internet access), police and fire services, and the postal service.

We recognize the enormous complexity of creating workable, practical policy proposals, much less ones that will pass in a given political environment, and choose to spend most of our time working with smaller groups to implement real changes in practice now, without waiting for or relying on governmental action.

Why not just push for a shorter work week?

Many organizations and thinkers that share New Work’s objection to the current over-reach of the job system into our lives argue that we should focus on shortening the work week. While this is one of our goals, it’s not the only one, because:

  • A shorter work week is not going to help the majority of the world, where the main problem is not too many hours but the lack of jobs altogether.
  • Shortening the work week to 30 hours in the developed world would definitely make our lives more relaxed, but that extra 10 hours would for most people likely just get absorbed in current daily routines, and would not lead to the flourishing of culture that we would expect when people really have the time and space to think about a calling.
  • Merely freeing up our time is not enough; we also need education re. how to figure out what our calling(s) might be.

Why not just push for a guaranteed minimum income?

This would likewise be a great leap forward in freeing us from the tyranny of jobs, but per the previous answer, we need not only free time, but guidance, help, structure, lest alcoholism, delinquency, and other social ills rise. People need work (not a job): they need something to do, and we need as a society to foster serious taking stock in what our needs are and how we can help each other.

Is New Work anti-capitalist/anti-business?

No. Entrepreneurial activity is central in New Work, and we have no problem taking advantage of economies of scale when these can be used to provide socially useful goods at a low cost. Community production is meant to remove the monopoly that big business has by literally putting the means of production in the hands of the people, but there will be many goods for which the old way of production simply works better, and that’s fine.

New Work is in the interest of all of us, and we want to work with companies to enable happy lives for their employees (including their over-worked executives!), reduce the costs involved with laying people off, and help the communities in which businesses thrive.

Is New Work a left-wing movement? Is it socialism?

It is in the sense that we are firmly on the side of the very poor. It is not in the sense that our key recommendation is greater self-reliance, though in our case this means providing for your own needs by working with a community, not rugged individualism.

New Work is not socialism:  We do not believe that workers who co-own a business necessarily have a better experience working at that business.

Socialism and capitalism both share the mistaken “labor theory of value,” which holds that value is primarily created by applying labor to raw materials. On the contrary, when technology is added to the picture, goods are created with much less labor needed.

Won’t encouraging Community Production destroy business?

It will provide competition for many existing businesses, yes, and those that cannot compete will go out of business, which will in turn reduce the number of jobs. But since the whole point of New Work is to envision a future where jobs take up less of our lives, but yet we can still live comfortable lives, we see this as a plus.

Won’t New Work reduce economic growth?

By encouraging Community Production and pursuit of a calling–of meaningful work (whether paid or not)–over a job, we are promoting a new type of economy, and a new way of thinking about social success.

We want to help everyone be fully employed, in the sense that they have some goal (or several!) for working purposively. Many people already do this, for instance, in caring for their children, the elderly, or the disabled. Our current system devalues such work, because it isn’t a paid job. We want people freed up from jobs to be able to pursue these and many other activities that don’t count toward the GDP.

In many cases, these “callings” will incite entrepreneurship, i.e. creation of New Work Enterprises designed to facilitate Community Production or fill gaps in this new economic landscape. Our goal is to encourage these new, truly useful businesses while using Community Production and a new attitude toward consumerism to out-compete (i.e. drive to change or close up shop) businesses that are not really producing products that are truly valuable.

We see consumerism as a disease of sorts: People’s time is too filled up with their jobs for them to seriously pursue anything that would really make their lives feel meaningful, and so as compensation they shop, and in most cases end up with a house full of lots of trash that they don’t really need. We want people to really think about what they want and need, and in doing so reduce consumption, and think that the process of making things will help achieve this.

On the flip side, we want to encourage businesses to automate, to become more efficient. We would rather that fast food restaurants automate and that driverless taxis eliminate more jobs, because menial jobs are not ones that many people can actually love. We do not expect automation to entirely replace even low-skilled workers, but we would like such menial labor to be more widely shared, so no one’s life gets ruined by having to do such horrifically boring stuff day in and day out all day for his or her whole life.

A New Work-friendly economist needs to consider not just the pace of economic activity, but the quality of activity, i.e. the ultimate happiness of people. Yes, we want very much for people to obtain a higher standard of living around the world, but think that our current way of prioritizing public activity puts much too much emphasis on economic growth. This is just one of several goods that needs to be balanced in considering public policy.

Doesn’t the developing world need economic growth?

This is exactly where we see economic growth on the model of the developed world’s rise to prosperity as failing. For instance, factory farmed food coming into an impoverished area means that local farmers (which made up most of the population) can’t profitably farm, and so move to slums in the cities looking for work. Countries turn themselves inside out trying to induce companies to come and create jobs, but the jobs that result are very low paying, and there aren’t nearly enough of them to handle all the unemployed people.

Community Production provides an alternate means for such people to support themselves, giving options to people, which should reduce competition for the jobs that are available and so result in higher wages and better working conditions. It should also mitigate the motivations for governments to spend so much trying to lure in companies.

Isn’t this all just theoretical? Where is New Work happening now?

New Work has many components, most of which are being practiced in some form or other, and it’s our purpose in further developing this website to provide as many examples as possible of elements of the New Work program in action, and so help those who would like to institute these practices.

Frithjof Bergmann has been working on New Work for over 30 years, and has formed partnerships and spoken to communities and businesses in numerous countries, most extensively in Germany/Austria and Detroit, but also in South Africa, India, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, the Ukraine, Morocco, and Detroit and other cities in Michigan, the San Francisco Bay area, and other places.

Moreover, many of the technologies and practices we are promoting are already in use among people who have never heard of New Work and with whom we have no organizational contact. If you’re involved in efforts to foster community growth technologies, address local poverty, reduce the work week, improve the experience of working, or make business practices more sustainable, we’d love to hear your story and see if we can work together.

Who are you (i.e. who is hosting this website)?

New Work New Culture is an organization that has grown out of Frithjof Bergmann’s work and spans multiple countries and dozens of individuals working on different project. We have filed for non-profit status in Detroit and are also developing for-profit enterprises to advance the cause of New Work by further articulating the technologies will enable people to establish economic independence.

What are your organization’s goals?

1. To increase the profile of New Work ideas in public discourse, establishing New Work as a viable and realistic social alternative.
2. To advise businesses, community groups, governments, and other organizations, as well as interested individuals about New Work practices.
3. To facilitate relationships between entities and individuals that can help make New Work projects happen.
4. To locate and promote New Work-friendly technologies.

How can I get involved?

1. Use the links on the left side of this page to subscribe to our blog, join our Facebook group, and/or contact us to tell us about your New Work-related efforts.

2. Share on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Get familiar with the ideas presented here and, if they inspire you, share them via whatever media you have access to.

3. We are looking for volunteers to help with this blog, do research, and perform other tasks. Contact us to let us know your areas of skill and interest.

4. Look around your own community for New-Work-type efforts already underway, or start one of your own. Make sure they know about us and we know about them.

5. We accept donations to help us further our goals, in what ways??

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