To avoid getting too long in one post – I will break this into two parts – first, some comments about balanced job complexes – and then another post re your other concerns.
So, about balanced job complexes you write: “I would much rather specialize in just one task,” and feel that this would interfere with your enjoying, or society having, balanced job complexes.
First, I think that with only a few grotesque exceptions, there is no such thing as a job that has only one task that is completely obedient. On a really harsh assembly line and in other such situations this exists. A person does literally just one thing, all day, every day, over and over. I find it hard to imagine any human would prefer that to greater diversity of actions.
I suspect you would agree. So I think you have in mind jobs that are more diverse than that, but still fall short of the level of diversity that would be involved in having balanced job complexes. (a) I am not sure they are short of it. That is, if you have a reasonably diverse job, just how much of an imposition, even on someone who says they want to focus, would arise from including tasks that balance, rather than tasks that do not. What we are really talking about, then, is, you might say, three kinds of diversification of jobs. Someone has virtually one task – the horrible case noted above. So, balancing means adding more – and doing less of that one. I doubt you are concerned about this. Second type, we have done that for everyone so that no one is doing one thing over and over, etc. Now, someone has a mix that is, however, overwhelmingly disempowering. So that person changes some tasks – some disempowering out, some empowering in. Alternatively, someone has almost completely empowering tasks in their diverse job. Again, we balance by having some empowering out, some disempowering in. I suspect, honestly, that your concern isn’t a real one, in practice. In a rich workplace, with lots of tasks, much less throughout all of society, a balanced job complex you would opt for would be one where you are doing things that you find amenable or really like – otherwise you would opt for some other job – in which your time for things that are more complex and demanding is ample for being good at those tasks (otherwise your work is not socially valuable), and thus, all is well.
But (b) suppose for someone, perhaps you, this isn’t the case. You select a balanced job complex suited to you, but you report that you would rather jettison some of the tasks, moving toward or heavily into unbalanced, and will be happier that way. Now what? I admit, I don’t think it is a real situation. With ample training, freedom etc. etc., my guess is everyone will prefer a suitable balanced job, understanding that the reason is to preserve classlessness, certainly to one that is less empowering… But, if not, my answer is no, it is not an option to have a largely disempowering job, Councils simply don’t create them. Because writ large to allow such jobs is a recipe for disaster. If there are any gains for some subset of individuals – such as yourself – and we are not talking about people with ailments who have no alternative – they would be swamped by the negative implications of class division.
You are also concerned that “Furthermore, I question whether one could ever fairly rank tasks according to their degree of empowerment (or lack thereof).” Nothing is perfect in any social assessment. But within a range of acceptable error, this is actually quite possible. In a workplace it is achieved when folks agree on how to combine tasks into jobs. Once that is done – then basically it is a bit like now. You apply for a job, as defined. At the end of each year, say – who knows precisely how different workplaces will decide to operate – they get tweaked. Why? Well, in a workers assembly there is agreement that because of innovations, or mistakes in past assessment, some jobs are significantly unbalanced and need some correction. But it is a social process. A negotiation. This is all a social process – a matter of some discussion and settling on a decision. It isn’t some kind of engineering calculation.
When you worry that “the nature of how people perceive work just seems too subjective for that,” I think there is a misunderstanding. The issue isn’t how do I feel about my job. The issue is, overall, what does the workers’ council decide vis a vis apportioning tasks into jobs. Not everyone agrees that a decision is perfect, some will even dislike a decision. So?
You say, “A surgeon, for instance, may find the notion of having peoples’ lives in his or her hands each day psychologically trying, whereas – to use Chomsky’s old example – an ice cream vendor may find his job quite fulfilling.” I find this example weird. It looks at a hypothetical situation, now, and extrapolates to a criticism of a possible future type of economy, but pays zero attention to the actual reasons for choices. I would suspect that any ice cream vendor who is subject to strict oversight, who operates on a schedule, and who does the same things over and over, is far less fulfilled than is claimed, here, to say the least. Ask such a person whether he or she would like his or her child to grow up to be an ice cream vendor, or a doctor. On the other hqnd, have the person providing ice cream in a workers councils responsible for all aspects, and him or herself doing a mix of activities, and things change, dramatically. But, in any event, the issue is not a particular person liking or not liking a job complex – those who like x will do x, those who don’t, won’t. And in a parecon, people are not in classes that lack such options.
In a parecon, in other words, the reason people do job x instead of job y is they will be happier at x than y. Of course. The social issue isn’t how much does the person doing the job like it. The issue is, how does society assess it. And it isn’t, in any event, liking or not, it is empowering or not.
You write also: “Consequently, determining onerousness seems rather complicated. And even if society democratically decided on the matter, some people would always feel cheated.”
It isn’t all of society deciding on every workplace’s apportionment of tasks into jobs, it is overwhelmingly the workers council of a workplace. You are also mixing onerousness and empowerment. Suppose, we have set up balanced job complexes and agree they are good vis a vis empowerment. Now, are any of the jobs unduly onerous? Some could be, though I suspect most of the time such differences will be small and not worth attention. But suppose one job is really significantly more onerous – meaning what? Well, the workers council agrees on that, before anyone settles on what job they will do. So, it is agreed there should be somewhat extra income for doing that onerous job. Now suppose you really like that job, so you apply for it and get it, and you get some extra income too, because the workforce agrees the job is unduly onerous. So now you are doing very well – you have a job you like, and you are getting some above average income. Okay, fine. Or, if you feel like you are getting more than you should, you can pass on the extra income.
One of the problems of thinking about balanced job complexes and really every part of parecon is thinking that it is some kind of perfect, crystalline, system in which everything is always perfectly tuned, and everyone is getting perfectly equalized benefits, and so on. If it diverges from that, it is flawed. No. Nothing is that perfect. But the complaints people have about parecon, which almost always come down to a hypothetical person who will be uncomfortable in some way – bear not even a tiny resemblance to the pain and suffering of markets, much less capital, imposed almost universally – if the parecon complaints would exist at all.
You don’t like a job, fine, do a different one. What you have to argue is that there is no balanced job that would suit you – and that that debit is so great, cumulatively, and solving it wouldn’t impose still more pain on others, and the debit outweighs attaining classlessness and all the fruits that flow from that.
You write: “What society can do objectively, however, is examine trades wherein the very lives of the workers are a stake and compensate the individuals involved in those dangerous professions accordingly. We can also prioritize our investments in automation with that information.” Actually, whether society can do that or not depends on its institutions. In a parecon it can – and it automatically does. The self managing councils plus participatory planning identify where individuals should get more or less income, and the planning process identifies where it is desirable to invest for the purpose of making jobs more fulfilling, or products, or cleaning the environment, and so on. But with corporate divisions of labor, markets, etc., society cannot, and does not do these things. The institutions not only don’t provide the information that would be needed, they propel contrary choices, viciously contrary. The gap between the approaches is enormous.