Is Occupy Homeoffice coming to Occupy Wall Street? A call in London to anthropologist and capitalism critic David Graeber - who hopes that our working life and our economic system will never be the same as before the Corona crisis.
ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Graeber, suddenly home office is possible and supermarket cashiers are systemically relevant. Is the Corona crisis turning our working world upside down forever?
David Graeber: Here in Great Britain, the government has compiled a list of the systemically relevant professions - those who work in them can continue to send their children to school, where they are looked after. The list captivates with the amazing absence of management consultants and hedge fund managers! Those who earn the most don't show up there. The basic rule is: the more useful a job, the worse it is paid. An exception are, of course, doctors. But even there you could argue: As far as health is concerned, the cleaning staff in hospitals contributes just as much as the doctors, and much of the progress in the past 150 years has come from better hygiene.
ZEIT ONLINE: In France, the supermarket employees who are particularly challenged now receive a bonus payment - at the urging of the government. The market does not regulate this on its own.
David Graeber: Because the market is not so much based on supply and demand as we are always told - who makes how much is a question of political power. The current crisis makes it even clearer that my wages do not depend on how much my profession is actually used.
"Some people now contact me and say: I always suspected that I could do my job two hours a week, but now I actually know it is." David Graeber
ZEIT ONLINE: This is the issue in your current book Bullshit Jobs : Many socially indispensable jobs are poorly paid - while well-paid employees often doubt whether their office work makes any sense at all or whether they are only doing a "bullshit job".
Graeber: What is important to me: I would never contradict people who feel that they are making an important contribution with their work. For my book, however, I have collected voices from people who do not have exactly this feeling: They are sometimes deeply frustrated because they want to contribute to the good of all of us. But to make enough money for their families, they have to do the jobs that don't work for anyone. People said to me: I worked as a kindergarten teacher, it was great and fulfilling and important work, but I couldn't pay my bills anymore. And now I'm working for some subcontractor that provides health insurance with information. I tag some forms all day, no one reads my reports, but I earn twenty times as much.
ZEIT ONLINE: What happens to these office workers who are now doing their bullshit jobs because of the corona virus from their home office?
Graeber: Some people now contact me and say: I always suspected that I could do my job two hours a week, but now I actually know that it is. Because as soon as you do this from home, for example, the meetings that don't do anything are often dropped.
ZEIT ONLINE: After the financial crisis in 2008, you were involved in the Occupy Wall Street protest movement, including activists occupying a park near the New York Stock Exchange. Could the corona crisis produce a similar left movement? An occupy home office?
Graeber: If so, the motto is rather: Occupy the apartment you live in and no longer pay rent. There is a lot of talk about renting strikes right now because people can no longer pay their rent because of the corona crisis. And then the real point is to support the systemically important workers who are not provided with the equipment they need to do their job. It is in all of our interests that medical personnel and delivery drivers have protective equipment.
ZEIT ONLINE: At the same time, in this crisis we learn very clearly how central work is for our society: No matter how many places people are no longer allowed to visit, they should often continue to work.
Graeber: You can see that with restrictions in public transport: if you close it, then first at the weekend. You can no longer go to the park. But God forbid that you can no longer go to work! Although we have long since noticed that a large part of the work does not have to be done in the office at all.
"It is important that we do not suppress what we finally admit to ourselves in times of crisis - for example, which jobs are systemically important and which are not."
ZEIT ONLINE: That would actually be an insight from the current situation, right?
Graeber: Yes. The only question is: when the crisis is over, will people pretend that it was just a dream? Similar things could be observed after the financial crisis in 2008: For a few weeks everyone said: "Oh, everything we thought was true is not true!" Fundamental questions have finally been asked: What is money? What are debts? But at some point you suddenly decided: "Stop, we're going to leave it now. Let's pretend that nothing has ever happened! Let's do it all again before!" And neoliberal politics and the financial industry just kept going. That is why it is so important that we do not suppress what we finally admit to ourselves in times of crisis - for example, which jobs are systemically important and which are not.