17 episodes

The Sunday Letters Podcast is the weekly audio newsletter on the meaning & purpose of daily work from work and business psychologist Larry Maguire and philosopher Dmitri Belikov. We explore how human beings may break free from tiresome means-to-an-end labour and take command of their own working lives. Topics include daily work, jobs and careers, self-employment, socialism, capitalism, economics, slavery, colonialism, and society & culture. Content follows the written newsletter, which goes out to subscribers every Sunday.

sundayletters.larrygmaguire.com

Sunday Letters Sunday Letters Journal

    • Society & Culture
    • 5.0 • 3 Ratings

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The Sunday Letters Podcast is the weekly audio newsletter on the meaning & purpose of daily work from work and business psychologist Larry Maguire and philosopher Dmitri Belikov. We explore how human beings may break free from tiresome means-to-an-end labour and take command of their own working lives. Topics include daily work, jobs and careers, self-employment, socialism, capitalism, economics, slavery, colonialism, and society & culture. Content follows the written newsletter, which goes out to subscribers every Sunday.

sundayletters.larrygmaguire.com

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Requires subscription and macOS 11.4 or higher

    009 A US Air Force Pilot on The Meaning of Work

    009 A US Air Force Pilot on The Meaning of Work

    Welcome to this week’s edition of the podcast. If you like what we’re doing, consider becoming a paid subscriber. If you’d rather not, you can offer a one-off tip here, or get yourself some merch here. Many thanks for your support!
    In this episode of The Sunday Letters Podcast, I’m in conversation with former US Air Force pilot and current lecturer in digital media studies at TU Shannon, Bernie Goldbach. We talk about the contrast in Bernie’s work from the high intensity of flying missions in the Pacific region and the Middle East to the perhaps less demanding work of lecturing third-level students in Clonmel. Here’s a summary of some of the main points in the conversation.
    * Hauling radioactive waste on Enewetak in the Pacific
    * Identity and intrinsic motivation of Air Force pilots
    * The challenge of work-life balance in high-intensity roles
    * The Secret Service, working at The Pentagon and one of the greatest spoofs the US played on Russia.
    * Bernie’s take on Ukraine, the intrinsic motivation of Ukrainian soldiers
    * Why did the 1988 Ramstein Air Show disaster happen? What Bernie witnessed that day and, crucially, the night before.
    * Leaving the Air Force and moving to Ireland and translating his skills into teaching.
    * The heightened attention, perception, memory and motor skills of high-performers
    * Creative design and digital media in education
    * The negative impact of technology on young people’s development. Passive entertainment Vs practical interaction.
    * Finding fulfilment and engagement in work and the power of symbols of success.
    * The work in the post-Social Media world and the power of stories.
    * What would you do if money was no object?
    * The future of work and the impact of technology on work and jobs.
    Links
    clonmeldigital.micro.blog
    insideview.ie
    Bernie Goldbach LinkedIn
    Technological University of The Shannon
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    • 1 hr 1 min
    008 Money Part 2: The Morality of Money

    008 Money Part 2: The Morality of Money

    Welcome to this week’s edition of the podcast. If you like what we’re doing, consider becoming a paid subscriber. If you’d rather not, you can offer a one-off tip here, or get yourself some merch here. Many thanks for your support!
    In our latest episode of The Sunday Letters Journal podcast, and I delved into the complex topic of the morality of money. This discussion is not just about the practicalities of economics but rather about the more profound moral questions that underpin our financial systems, our relationship with one another, and our sense of humanity and everyday existence.
    The discussion begins by reflecting on the importance of money in our society. It’s impossible to talk about work without mentioning money because we’ve collectively decided that money is essential to our way of life. We dedicate a significant portion of our lives to work, often at the expense of truly living. The question arises then: why do we work? What is the purpose of work? Can we survive without effectively working as waged slaves for the best part of our lives? This leads us to the fundamental question of what it means to be moral in the context of making and spending money.
    We both have been reading David Graeber’s “Debt: The First 5,000 Years”, which provides a substantial historical backdrop to our conversation. One of the core ideas we discussed is the concept of morality itself. Dmitri explained that morality involves a set of rules or principles that govern behaviour, and these principles can be understood through different philosophical lenses, such as deontology and utilitarianism. Deontology, as championed by Immanuel Kant, posits that there are universal moral laws that apply to everyone, regardless of the consequences. In contrast, utilitarianism, or consequentialism, suggests that the morality of an action is determined by its outcomes, specifically whether it maximises happiness or utility for the greatest number of people.
    As we delved deeper, we touched on the historical perspectives of morality and money, drawing on the ideas of ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. Plato condemned the pursuit of money, believing it corrupted the soul by allowing desires to override reason. While also critical of the excessive pursuit of wealth, Aristotle introduced the concepts of use value and exchange value. He argued that goods should be produced primarily for their use value – to meet genuine needs – rather than for exchange value – merely to generate profit. This distinction remains relevant today as we grapple with the implications of producing goods and services primarily for profit and the satisfaction of base-level desires.
    Our conversation then shifted to the role of religion in shaping moral views on money. In medieval Europe, the early church maintained a stance against commerce, just as perhaps Aristotle did, viewing profit as inherently deceitful and corrupting. However, as time progressed, the church’s position softened, recognising the necessity of trade for societal functioning. This transition highlights the evolving nature of moral perspectives on money, influenced by changing economic realities. Or it was perhaps due to the church’s increasing ties to wealth and political systems.
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    References


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    • 58 min
    007 Money Part 1

    007 Money Part 1

    Welcome to this week’s edition of the podcast. If you like what we’re doing, consider becoming a paid subscriber. If you’d rather not, you can offer a one-off tip here, or get yourself some merch here. Many thanks for your support!
    Welcome to Sunday Letters. I’m Larry Maguire, your host, and with me today is my friend and philosopher, Dimitri Belkov. In this episode, we’ll be discussing the role of money in our lives. We’ll look at where money comes from, different theories about its value, and how debt affects individuals and society. We’ll also touch on the history of money and some of the moral questions around financial obligations.
    We don’t get to discuss John Maynard Keynes in this episode, but we should have, and maybe we’ll dedicate a future episode to the man who prophesied the three-day week in 1936. I think he was right insofar as that’s where technology was going. Still, work seems to hold a certain moral imperative, so much so that our sense of personal worth is so deeply entwined with working prescribed hours for the best part of our lives that we can’t see the obvious sense in what Keynes predicted.
    So here we are.
    The Origins of Money
    One predominant theory that has circulated for centuries is the metalist theory of money. This theory posits that money originated as a medium of exchange with intrinsic value, often in precious metals like gold and silver. In his seminal work “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith suggested that before the advent of money, people engaged in barter trade, exchanging commodities directly. However, according to David Graeber, the barter myth does not hold up under scrutiny. He suggests that no documented society has relied primarily on barter as a method of exchange. Instead, anthropologists have found that gift economies and credit systems were more common in pre-monetary societies.
    Contrary to classic economic theory, Graeber argued that the creation of money was more closely related to the needs of the state than to the inefficiencies of barter. States and rulers created standardised currency units to facilitate taxation and control of their economies.
    Early forms of money included metal coins minted by kings to reflect their wealth. These coins, however, did not always have a value directly correlated with their metal content. Anthropological evidence shows that people often debased coinage; their actual metal content was less than their face value, leading to practices such as coin shaving. One of the most notorious episodes of monetary manipulation in English history was that of Henry VIII in the 1540s.
    The Role of the State and Fiat Money
    Contrary to the metalist view, another theory suggests that money’s value comes from its acceptance by the state as a means of payment for taxes and debts. This perspective is captured in the concept of fiat money, which holds value not because of its intrinsic worth but because of the government’s decree. This theory posits that the state played a crucial role in creating markets and stimulating production by issuing money.
    The transition to fiat money marked a significant shift. Money became a promise by the government to accept it for tax payments, thus ensuring its widespread acceptance. This system allowed states to control the money supply and influence economic activity without relying on physical commodities like gold.
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    • 53 min
    006 The Pullman Strike of 1894

    006 The Pullman Strike of 1894

    Welcome to this week’s edition of the podcast. If you like what we’re doing, consider becoming a paid subscriber. If you’d rather not, you can offer a one-off tip here, or get yourself some merch here. Many thanks for your support!
    Mark Twain referred to it as the Gilded Age. Given his wit and occasional cynicism, I’m not sure that was entirely in celebration of the growth and expansion of industrialisation in America at the time. It was a gilded age for some, such as the industrialists and capitalists, but not so much for the common worker. With the new “opportunities” that opened up for the people of the New World after the Louisianna Purchase of 1803, the next one hundred years would witness dramatic change and a conflict between the capitalists and the workers.
    The Pullman Strike of 1894 is one of the most significant events in American labour history. It reflected the intense struggles between labour and management during this century of economic growth. This strike not only highlighted the harsh working conditions and economic disparities workers faced but also marked a pivotal moment in the development of labour unions and federal intervention in labour disputes.
    George Pullman was a carpenter by trade from New York, who, in the 1850s, headed west to seek his fortune. He made his reputation raising houses and other buildings to the newly required street level. Later, he turned his hand to manufacturing luxury railroad sleeping cars that allowed wealthy passengers to travel in luxury from East to West. Pullman envisioned a utopian community for his workers, establishing the company town of Pullman, Illinois. This town included housing, shops, churches, and schools, all owned by the company. Pullman believed this controlled environment would foster loyalty and productivity among his workers.
    Read the full article; https://sundayletters.larrygmaguire.com/p/the-pullman-strike-of-1894
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    • 58 min
    005 Universal Basic Income & The End of Work

    005 Universal Basic Income & The End of Work

    Welcome to this week’s edition of the podcast. If you like what we’re doing, consider becoming a paid subscriber. If you’d rather not, you can offer a one-off tip here, or get yourself some merch here. Many thanks for your support!
    With the progression of artificial intelligence, many voices are heralding the end of work as we know it. It is not just one trade or profession that will be impacted, they say. There will be many, from data analysts to legal professionals, those in the arts and media, truck, bus and rail drivers, food delivery, security, teaching—you name it. There is no domain of work that will not be affected. Over the next twenty to thirty years, vast swathes of people will have no job. So what are we going to do? How will we earn a living (as if we should have to work to earn the right to live and be comfortable in the first place)? Universal Basic Income (UBI) may be the solution. In this week’s episode, Dmitri and I discuss this idea and the results of recent trials of UBI in various countries around the world.
    Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a financial policy model that involves regular, unconditional payments made by the government to every citizen, regardless of their income level or employment status. The core idea behind UBI is to provide all citizens with a living wage that can support basic needs, thereby reducing poverty and its associated negative health outcomes and increasing equality within society. This concept has gathered both acclaim and criticism over the years and is backed by various philosophical, economic, and practical arguments.
    The idea of a universal basic income isn't new. One of the earliest proponents of a form of UBI was Thomas Paine, an 18th-century political activist, who proposed a capital grant for all individuals upon reaching adulthood in his work "Agrarian Justice" (1797). In the 20th century, economists like Milton Friedman introduced the concept of a "negative income tax”. Although not strictly a UBI policy, it parallels the ideas of UBI in providing a financial safety net to the less affluent. These early ideas laid foundational thoughts that challenged traditional welfare systems, proposing instead a simpler and potentially more effective means of redistributing income to support economic and social welfare.
    In recent years, several pilot programs and studies have been launched to test the feasibility and effects of UBI. One notable example is the 2017 to 2018 Universal Basic Income experiment in Finland, where 2,000 unemployed people were given €560 per month without any conditions from January 2017 to December 2018. The findings, published by Kela, the Finnish social security agency, suggested that while the UBI did not significantly improve employment outcomes, it did increase the beneficiaries' well-being, giving them a sense of better financial security and mental health.
    Another significant case study from the United States was conducted in the city of Stockton, California. It was conducted involving 125 residents who received $500 monthly and operated for two years. The preliminary results indicated improvements in employment and stability, debunking myths that financial aids discourage work. These contemporary experiments provide crucial data points and insights into how UBI could be structured and implemented effectively in different socio-economic contexts.
    The future of UBI is a subject of vibrant debate among economists, policymakers, and the public. Proponents argue that UBI could be essential in addressing the challenges posed by automation and the precarious nature of modern work environments. It's seen as a tool for promoting consumer spending and economic stability. Critics, however, caution against its high costs and potential to dissuade individuals from seeking employment. Although, these arguments seem to be based on personal moral values rather than solid research findings. For example, a trial in Namibia from 2008 to 2009 found t

    • 57 min
    004 On B******t Jobs: David Graeber's Theory of Work

    004 On B******t Jobs: David Graeber's Theory of Work

    Welcome to this week’s edition of the podcast. If you like what we’re doing, consider becoming a paid subscriber. If you’d rather not, you can offer a one-off tip here, or get yourself some merch here. Many thanks for your support!
    In this week’s episode, we’re discussing David Graeber, anthropologist and activist, who introduced the concept of "bullshit jobs" in a 2013 article in Strike Magazine titled “On The Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”. He hit a nerve and later expanded into a full book titled Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, published in 2018. Graeber defines a "bullshit job" as a form of employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence. At the same time, they feel obliged to pretend that this is not the case. He argues that these jobs have proliferated due to societal and economic factors that prioritise employment for its own sake, rather than for the productive contributions it may offer people and society. He also discusses second-order bullshit jobs; the ones that are created to support the higher-order b******t jobs. Think about the cleaners, security staff, electricians and plumbers needed to maintain a building filled with people administering speculative investments.
    There are five categories of b******t jobs according to Graeber;
    Graeber argues that meaningless, soulless jobs not only cause severe psychological distress but also represent a misallocation of economic resources and human potential. His theory has implications for understanding organisational inefficiencies, worker dissatisfaction, and the societal value placed on work.
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    • 55 min

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