In many cases, during my lectures, I use to say that waste management is like good health. You don’t appreciate it unless you miss it. This is a slogan I use to highlight both the importance of garbage collection for the quality of our urban lives and the direct linkages between health protection and waste management. Because the sad truth is that despite the fact that without proper waste management our cities will become unliveable in just a few days (see the Wall-E movie for that), still our profession is seriously underestimated and in many cases we struggle to put waste management in the local agendas as a priority issue. Well, I have another argument for decision makers, mayors and local politicians. Waste management is not a popular issue that can “boost” your political careers – but a serious waste management crisis can definitely destroy any political career in just few weeks. It works also the other way around: a serious political crisis can destroy any waste management plan – see the interconnections between politics and waste management in Lebanon for more about it.
So, as you can imagine, I was really glad when I found the article Why Garbagemen Should Earn More Than Bankers, in my favourite website Evonomics (the name is a combination of Evolution and Economic and it demonstrates the necessity of a radical evolution in economic an financial thinking). The article is written by the historian and writer Rutger Bregman. If you are not sure that you have to read it, have a taste from my notes below.
This great article compares the impacts of a strike in waste management with the strikes of other professions like e.g. Washington’s 100,000 lobbyists or Manhattan’s accountants. As the author mentions if garbage collectors go on strike, then sooner or later our cities will be declared in an emergency state. But in the case of a strike made by lobbyists, bankers or accountants “It seems unlikely the mayor would announce a state of emergency. In fact, it’s unlikely that either of these scenarios would do much damage. A strike by, say, social media consultants, telemarketers, or high-frequency traders might never even make the news at all. When it comes to garbage collectors, though, it’s different. Any way you look at it, they do a job we can’t do without. And the harsh truth is that an increasing number of people do jobs that we can do just fine without.”
The core of the article is about the dominance of actually useless professions in our world, professions that do not create wealth and provide societal values. As the author concludes “In the end, it’s not the market or technology that decides what has real value, but society. If we want this century to be one in which all of us get richer, then we’ll need to free ourselves of the dogma that all work is meaningful. And, while we’re at it, let’s also get rid of the fallacy that a higher salary is automatically a reflection of societal value”.
The article is part of the author’s essay Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-Hour Workweek. Don’t miss it.