Creating the Jobs We Want

So you say there are no good jobs out there. You’ve determined your genius: The place where your gift (what you’re really good at) intersects your passion (what you love doing) — areas 2 & 3 in the above diagram — but no one will pay you to do it, and you can’t afford to do it for free. So you’re doing stuff in area 5 instead — a job you’re good at, that someone will pay for, but which leaves you cold, angry, unfulfilled, hating to get up in the morning, a part of the problem instead of a part of the solution. There is a need for your gift, and what you are offering is generous, and of use, so why is this supposedly ‘free market’ economy not recognizing its value by paying you to do it?


It all starts with the education system. That system is designed to make us dependent on the economic system that finances and controls it. We are brainwashed to fear failure, the ultimate punishment the system doles out: As artist Andrew Campbell puts it so eloquently: “In order not to fail most people are willing to believe anything and not to care whether what they are told is true or false.” In order not to fail we ‘learn’ to toe the line, to believe and to do what we are told, and not to question the four great myths of modern civilization culture:

  • The myth of progress: That humans are the culmination of evolution, the crown of creation, and that life is better now than it has ever been, and getting more so;
  • The myth of growth: That all things grow or die — there is no stasis, no steady state — bigger is better, you must eat or be eaten, produce and consume more and more or perish;
  • The myth of competition and scarcity: That society inevitably has a few winners and a lot of losers, and if you’re smart and work hard you will win the never-ending ‘survival of the fittest’ war against scarcity, and achieve ‘competitive advantage’;
  • The myth of the ‘free’ market and ‘free’ trade: That the economy, the ‘market’, is fair and free from distortion, and open to all — anyone can succeed in it, the supply of goods and services is a precise reflection of what people genuinely want and need, and left to its own devices untrammeled ‘free’ markets and ‘free’ trade are possible, real, and optimally efficient and effective at distributing resources.

These are all, of course, lies, designed to keep us all from realizing the truth: That life was simpler, richer, happier and more resilient in ‘prehistoric’ gatherer-hunter times and has, with some major ups and downs, been getting worse for most ever since; that unconstrained growth is unsustainable and threatens all life on Earth, and as a consequence the sixth great extinction of life on our planet is already well underway; that collaboration, not competition, is the rule that has always governed healthy and diverse life on our planet, and that hierarchy and inequality are, in nature, abhorrent aberrations; and that the economy is grossly and deliberately distorted to perpetuate a continuous and massive redistribution of wealth and power from the poor and disenfranchised to the already obscenely rich and powerful.

The education system teaches you relentlessly to accept the four civilization myths, not to believe in yourself, to be ashamed of being ‘wrong’, to conform to be like everybody else, to fear failure and hence shun risk, and therefore to be obedient and do what those in ‘authority’ tell you to do. It deliberately does not teach you any of the critical skills shown in the mindmap above, because these skills would make you dangerous, independent, self-sufficient, and out of control — and that cannot be permitted.

Here’s some terrifying data that shows what this utter dependence and lack of critical skills have produced in our modern economy, thanks to Paul Craig Roberts, former US Assistant Secretary to the Treasury (it’s US data but the picture in the rest of the affluent nations is not much better):

  • In the past five years manufacturing lost 2.9 million jobs, almost 17% of the manufacturing work force. The wipeout is across the board. Not a single manufacturing payroll classification created a single new job.
  • Communications equipment lost 43% of its workforce. Semiconductors and electronic components lost 37% of its workforce. The workforce in computers and electronic products declined 30%. Electrical equipment and appliances lost 25% of its employees. The workforce in motor vehicles and parts declined 12%. Furniture and related products lost 17% of its jobs. Apparel manufacturers lost almost half of their work force. Employment in textile mills declined 43%. Paper and paper products lost one-fifth of its jobs. The work force in plastics and rubber products declined by 15%.
  • The knowledge jobs that were supposed to take the place of lost manufacturing jobs in the globalized ìnew economyî never appeared. The information sector lost 17% of its jobs, with the telecommunications work force declining by 25%. Even wholesale and retail trade lost jobs. Despite massive new accounting burdens imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley, accounting and bookkeeping employment shrank by 4%. Computer systems design and related lost 9% of its jobs. Today there are 209,000 fewer managerial and supervisory jobs than 5 years ago. There are no jobs for graduates. There are several hundred thousand American engineers who are unemployed and have been for years. Offshore outsourcing and offshore production have left the US awash with unemployment among the highly educated.
  • The total number of private sector jobs created over the last five year period is less than one eighth the net immigration during that period. 

So now most of us are caught: On the one hand, we have no ‘marketable’ skills; on the other hand, the economy no longer needs us — we are too expensive, too demanding. We have become, like the angry, dispossessed destitute masses in the struggling nations already bankrupted by local corruption and complicit global corporatist theft, Disposable Citizens.

We have become, to use Jerry Michalski’s grim image, gullets whose only purpose is to consume products and crap cash, and when we run out of cash we are expected to keep borrowing and get deeper into debt so we can consume even more, or else get out of the way as billions of obedient new gullets are waiting, willing to take our place.

If we want meaningful work we are going to have to collaborate with the rest of the world’s Disposable Citizens to create it. We are going to have to build a wholly new economy, one that will undermine and then replace (and be fiercely opposed by the beneficiaries of) the existing dysfunctional ‘market’ economy. Are we — are you — ready to do this? Perhaps not yet — there are several downsides to keep us frightened to do so:

  • There is a high likelihood of failure, at least at first — brave or foolhardy early pioneers often perish to pave the way for those who come after and learn from their mistakes.
  • It will take a huge amount of work and sacrifice — creating something from scratch, with no foundation, can require lifetimes of effort, mostly thankless, mostly arduous.
  • You cannot straddle the new economy and the old one — once you walk away from the old economy and its gross practices and addictions, there is no going back — you’ll be Living on the Edge for the rest of your life.
  • It will take enormous patience and willingness to weather setbacks, before the seeds of this new economy can be expected to finally take root.

The perpetrators of the existing ‘market’ economy are counting on us not having the courage to do this, and the odds are in their favour. Fear of failure is deeply ingrained in us, and its effect is paralyzing.


We keep hoping that something will happen within the existing economy, to allow us to find meaningful work and become ‘undisposable’ within the system. We move back and forth between the edges of the existing society and economy (the outer circle of the diagram above) and the richer, more comfortable inner circles, gratefully taking and constantly scrounging for the scraps tossed out by the elite. We are addicted to consumption and debt, and will do almost anything, demean ourselves nearly without limit, to feed our addictions.

When I talk on this blog about making a living writing, or in innovation consulting or environmental work, I am inundated with e-mails asking me: How do I get a job doing this? They don’t want to hear my answer — that the existing economy doesn’t value this work, and that they need to do the nearly impossible work necessary to create a role for such meaningful work in an entirely new economy.

So I ask again: Are you ready to do this? If so, here is what we need to do, each of us, pioneers of what could be the most rapid and astonishing change in human culture since civilization began:

  1. Discover your gift: Find the intersection of your genius (what you’re uniquely good at) and your passion (what you love doing). If you dont know how to start, read Dick Richards’ book. Don’t worry if there’s no commercial market for it — the new economy we’re creating will accommodate it.
  2. Assess how your gift can be of service: Who needs your gift now? even if they cannot ‘afford’ it. If your gift is selfish, instead of generous, then it’s not a gift — keep looking. But if it is generous, don’t belittle it even if it is not ‘valued’ in the current economy. As long as its intention is to be of use, then it’s what you should be doing, and in the Generosity Economy it has value.
  3. Find the people you want to make a living with: This is the hardest part: There is no mechanism at present to find such people, and for now you’re largely limited to those people who are, like you, Living on the Edge, people who are ready to create the Generosity Economy, and who know what their gift is.
  4. Design your offering: This is an iterative process: You need to imagine how the combined gifts of the people you are making a living with — the partners of your Natural Enterprise — can be of value and service to others. The genius of you and your partners (what each of you is uniquely good at) must be mutually exclusive (no heavy overlaps) and collectively exhaustive (no serious gaps). That means you may need to ‘drop’ enterprise partners (tearfully) and find others to fill critical gaps in your offering. These need to be people you love, who deeply share your vision and principles. And collectively what you offer must fill an unmet need — whether or not the people who have that need can ‘afford’ it.
  5. Network with other Natural Enterprises: Networks are the foundation and glue of any economy. In a Generosity Economy you need to network with other Natural Enterprises whose partners recognize the value of your offerings, and who are therefore willing to ‘generously’ exchange and combine your offerings with theirs. That means that all offerings in the network are ascribed the same value: There is no pricing based on ‘cost’ or ‘scarcity’ — everyone’s gift is equal, and no money need be exchanged in the acts of generosity. This is entirely consistent with existing Generosity Economy offerings: Open source, free libraries, scientific exchange, peer production, social exchanges, the Internet (especially blogs & wikis), philanthropy and file sharing. These exchanges can be woven into your networks. The fabric for such networks istrust and generosity.
  6. Form Natural Enterprises into Local Community Economies: While much exchange can be virtual, there is a natural place for local economic networks and exchanges, especially for goods that consist of atoms, not bits. What drives Local Community Economy formation is the compilation of a set of offerings that collectively meet all local community members’ needs, and hence make the local community self-sufficient, resilient and fully independent of the old ‘market’ economy. Together you can then Live on the Edge (the outer circle of the diagram above), comfortably and joyfully without the need or temptation to fall back into reliance on the old economy. Each Local Community can then offer its surpluses to other Local Communities in return for their surpluses. By this means, the few needs that cannot be absolutely met locally can be met by trade that is absolutely voluntary and not subject to extortion by the ‘haves’ from the ‘have nots’. This is a reflection that the Generosity Economy is an economy of inherent abundance, not artificially created scarcity like the ‘market’ economy. As such, these exchanges reinforce egalitarianism, and are a force for sustainability and peace.

This is not easy to imagine, and will be exceedingly difficult to do, but it is entirely natural, modeled on the ‘economy’ that prevails in nature and which prevailed in ‘prehistoric’ gatherer-hunter cultures.

It is the only sustainable economic model, the only economy that can allow each of us to do exactly what we love, what we’re uniquely good at, in service for others — what we were meant to do. If we do it together, it need not be quite so scary. We can create thejobs we want, and, in the process, set ourselves and our world free.

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8 Responses to Creating the Jobs We Want

  1. Mike says:

    I did this, Dave. Back in 1995, I started a business which had the main purpose of keeping me alive. I started with no savings, and lived on the edge for some months. But I had confidence in myself, and employable skills I could fall back on if need be. I also had no kids or family to support. I work less, live at a lower standard of living, but it’s been worth it in the great reduction of stress that I feel.I like what you say here, but also think much of it is based on faith, and perhaps a too generous view of nature. An essay such as this needs real examples. The book you mentioned has numerous critics on amazon and thus doesn’t support your argument as much as you would seem to like.

  2. Jon Husband says:

    Have you seen this yet ? i don’t know if I sent it to you, but there’s a wealth of information about economic and social models, as well as a call to do things differently.

  3. medaille says:

    For as good and as important of a post as this was, there sure aren’t a lot of comments. I like watching this segment of your posts coalesce and become better defined and more focused towards practical advice/usage. I would guess that most of your readers read it and rejected it because its not what they wanted to hear. While in my mind I “know” that the end result is a different style economy, I still have trouble imagining the transition and I still like to avoid having to think of all I would have to do to take both feet fully out of the capitalism pool.I know that necessities are the fundamental material focus, and taking back our power is the fundamental priority overall. I know that building people back up to what they were meant to be (teaching them to have and utilize their own power) is a key step in the process. I know that despite sacrifice, there are still things (such as computers) that should still be made that really need to be made in a non-cottage-industry manner.I think its clear that the new society will try to fulfill Maslows higher needs in a more social and less materialistic manner as materialism is quite bad at fulfilling them. Small intentional communities also offer up the opportunity to cut down on the sheer bulk of stuff we need.”Find the people you want to make a living with.” Creating a tool that would do this wouldn’t be that difficult and it would still be useful in the meantime. I imagine that it wouldn’t be that hard to write a functional computer program that would do this if one had programming knowledge. I’m pretty sure I could rough most of it up for them. The vast majority of the skills that needed to be traded are simple ones, like how to build a deck, or design a wind turbine. That said, I think most individualistic skill needs can be broken down into their fundamental knowledge parts which could be searched more easily.

  4. Dr. Lenny says:

    dave – i have been working on a learning system called REDILE – research directed learning environments. my thoughts are that if we take a 10-12 year old youth and foster their interests with science and math on a ‘learn it as you use it’ type curricula, that we wouldn’t get the disrespect for intelligence that is bred in the schools. i like your target – if you can use YC.C for teaching wisdom, then hold events where you can teach the hands on knowledge in a short period and then let the students go to spend their time applying their knowledge, – then you would be training the observers and data collectors to watch the events out of interest rather than watching the telly out of boredom.i know what medaille means with his first sentence, but people have trouble reading long posts. the people we will have to reach do not even know what a post is, prefering to think of it as something that holds up a fence. in a way, they are right, y’no.

  5. Sandy says:

    Like your other commenters, I am surprised that this blog post hasn’t received more comments, and I would love to read stories about people who are living on the edge that you call us toward. As I wrote on my blog, responding to your call seems like work worth doing. I am privileged, of course, in my academic perch, to be able to live in the old consumption-based world, and critique it, without having to give up the comfortable income that my university provides. That makes my critique selective, so far. (While I’m not tenured, and although I’m still working toward that goal, it remains to be seen whether I will want to remain a member of the academic club that might invite me to pay lifelong dues.)Natural enterprises — have you heard of the Great Lakes Brewing Company? Would it meet your criteria? They’re big supporters of our region’s Entrepreneurs for Sustainability, though I don’t think that they are yet offering surpluses to other local communities. What about something like French Creek Fiber Arts, a small local enterprise? Is that too much entwined with the old consumption model, or is a knitting and weaving store fundamentally about filling an unmet need, rather than about feeding an addiction to acquiring stuff?I like the vision. I’d like to read more stories about how it is becoming a reality.

  6. I’ve been wondering what the alternative is to a growth-based, hierarchical economy. Your vision is quite compelling, though daunting.

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Thank you all for the comments and amplifications — I’m privileged to have such wise readers. I think the reason for the lack of comments is as Sandy implies — it’s too far ahead for most people to get their head around, and there aren’t yet enough stories available of people who are doing this even on a micro scale.

  8. Positive self-talk means purposely giving yourself positive reinforcement, motivation, and recognition- just as you would do for a friend. Congratulate yourself when you do well, and remind yourself of your abilities, accomplishments, strengths and skills. Keep a to-do list, check off accomplishments, and review your progress periodically. Make self-talk work for you. When you habitually say to yourself has a very profound impact on your self-image, your self-esteem, and your performance as well as eventual success. Remember that your subconscious triggers physiological responses to match the pictures and thoughts that you have of yourself to make them happens. Make this work for you by keeping your self-talk positive. For example say to yourself either

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