Since the GFC and subsequent stagnation obliterated the established orthodoxies, we’ve seen a re-emergence of radicals on both the left and right worldwide. From Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump, Syriza to Golden Dawn and Jean-Luc Melechon to Marine Le Pen, the Overton Window has been blown out by charismatic firebrands on both sides of centre. If we are to build a better society, we need these folks for their ability to think outside the square and imagine alternatives to the status quo. Australia has the re-invigorated Pauline Hanson, onion-infused Tony Abbott and pure reactionary Cory Bernardi providing right wing alternatives, but where is our left?
What do you do?
To this common icebreaker, one is expected to respond with their job title. But I write, I think, I analyse, I research, I design, I create, I photograph and I develop, there is much more to my abilities than just ‘Mechanical Services Engineer’ or ‘Software Developer’. The intellectual poverty of late stage Taylorism has driven us into tiny little silos with exceedingly specific skills, debasing our general abilites and as a result we are losing the ability to consider things holistically or systemically.
Our society isn’t working out well for regular people right now. Every politician wants to appear a saviour, a fount of fresh ideas which will solve those problems. Yet this rebellion against the establishment seems to be repeatedly turning towards figures from the top of that existing order. How did these figures manage to dichotomously be both integral to the establishment and seen as fresh opposition to it?
I posit that the structures of our society act to alienate ourselves from our very human spirit, our essence as human beings. From the dawn of humanity, our core spirit has driven us to craft, to create, to physical exertion, to commune with both nature and our fellows, to find security and seek a higher purpose. The society which we have built has driven us away from all these values, to become a pure Homo economicus which goes against our human spirit and nature. In pursuit of efficiency, we have lost our souls.
Superheroes are enjoying an extended renaissance in popular culture. Five of the top 20 grossing films of all time have been superhero movies released within the past five years. At the same time, populist politicians have garnered their own fandoms with promises of strong action and simple solutions. Donald Trump is the God Emperor. Jeremy Corbyn is The Absolute Boy. I posit that these two trends are linked as a societal cry for someone who can fix the world by their power alone.
Climate change is indeed the defining issue of our times. But the Rudd government could not pass an emissions trading scheme, leaving its biggest environmental achievements the establishment of a paltry Renewable Energy Target and some meager R&D funding. Carbon emissions continue to grow despite the effects being felt. Rhetoric is plentiful, but actual action on climate change has been terribly limited. We know the problem, but our response as a species seems to be to just hope it goes away. The typical consensus is that the power of fossil fuel interests, intergovernmental squabbling and short-termism are driving this inaction. Ockham’s razor suggests this is the most likely cause. However, I’d like to examine an alternative hypothesis – what if the rich and powerful see climate change as real, but as a positive for their own economic interests?
I’ve always been keen to do work that I find intellectually challenging and worthwhile. If you have to spend half your waking life working, you should make the best use of that time and do something which will be worthwhile, both in terms of a useful outcome rather than a bullshit job and in terms of personal growth. Or at worst, one of the two. But it seems like I’m in a substantial minority on this, judging from the incredulous reactions I get to the idea of intellectual stagnation in a career. I’ll address that point once I get around to writing my treatise on intellectual stagnation and our society. But for now, I’m interested in looking at whether enough additional money can be sufficient to make up for a job which is unfulfilling.
I’m pulling together some research for a longer post, but I came across a paper which merited a separate look by itself. Blanchflower and Oswald’s 2005 paper looked at reported satisfaction of folks in a range of countries, as a counterpart to the Human Development Index (HDI). Although Australia ranks highly on the HDI (now 2nd per the most recent data), they found that Australia performs poorly on a range of happiness indicators, particularly job satisfaction. Are we flipping the old stereotypes and becoming whinging Aussies, or are there other effects at play?
Empirical studies have shown for decades that General Mental Ability (GMA) is the best predictor of job performance suitable for common use. Unlike other high performing measures, GMA can be readily established through standard testing. Certain personality effects such as conscientiousness also have substantial correlations with job performance and can provide useful additional information to recruiters evaluating candidates. Instead, there is a stubborn reliance on intuitive methods such as unstructured interviews which have much poorer accuracy. In fact, new research shows that including unstructured interviews can actually drive overconfidence in recruiters while impeding accuracy if used in combination with more precise methods such as GMA testing.
There are many scenarios in our business or personal lives in which we need to evaluate the competence of another person. This might be an investor evaluating a financial advisor, a recruiter interviewing a candidate, a voter choosing a politician, a consumer judging a salesperson or one of any number of other scenarios. In these cases, the evaluator will lack detailed knowledge of the particular subject area, which would mean that they, (like President Trump) do not have the ability to distinguish competence. Without being able to distinguish competence, studies have shown that evaluators of advice will fall back on confidence which is only loosely correlated with actual ability. So until such time as informaton about the accuracy of the advisor is made clear, confidence will rein over competence for the layperson’s thinking.