Some people, such as research scientists, engineers, farmers, Hollywood block-buster movie producers, teachers and Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling may be considered very lucky, because much, if not all, of the output of their jobs is the input for the next round. Why “lucky”?
Well, when the output of one round of production becomes the input for the next, a very rewarding and stable closed, or nearly closed, production-consumption cycle is created.
- A U.S. hog farmer, convinced that GMOs are toxic, decides to grow his own organic corn and soybeans, to feed not only to his herd, but to his family, in the interest of family and animal health, as well as to tap into the growing anti-GMO market. Culling some of the herd as well as the crops for personal and family use, he transforms some of his output into literal input for the family and hog stomachs.
- A team of surgeons devises an alternative suture-stitching technique that improves surgical outcomes, publish a research paper, which generates a critical professional review-literature that prompts them to modify and enhance their initial technique. Here, their research output, mediated by peer reviews, serves as input for the procedural refinements that culminate in yet another research paper and abstract, thereby completing and renewing the research-paper production-consumption cycle.
- A Boeing engineer designs a new fuel injection system. That output gets incorporated into the design of the next generation of airliner, which, in turn, serves as the engineering design input for his next efforts, thereby completing and renewing the job production-consumption cycle.
- A university history professor presents her reinterpretation of the fall of the Roman Empire. Convinced she’s right, she incorporates it into her lectures on the causes and consequences of the Dark Ages that followed. Dedicated to creating fresh perspectives on history, this is her hallmark approach to teaching: Innovate, incorporate, repeat (only the cycle).
- George Lucas and Hollywood money men, delighted with the smash success of “Star Wars”, produce sequel after sequel, each made creatively and financially possible by the input of the plot lines and revenues from the one(s) before. Another case of “nice work, if you can get it” and of the closed production-consumption cycle. For “Star Wars”, you can substitute “Star Trek” or most A-list star-studded action series, e.g., the “Rambo”, “Spiderman”, “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Batman” industries.
- Ditto for J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series.
The Perfection That Was Mozart’s Job
A job like that, viewed from various perspectives, is “the perfect job”—especially ever since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, which created jobs and workforces that produced more goods, more efficiently, but mostly for other people, e.g., luxury automobiles for the wealthy, who, of course, would never be on any of the assembly lines that produced the cars.
Closed-loop, production-consumption cycle jobs of the kinds listed above afford great engagement, immediate justification for themselves (because their output is consumed by the producer as input for the next round), immediate and direct testing and validation of the quality of what has been produced and a heightened sense of control and autonomy—if not actual self-sufficiency.
In this cycle, there is room for multiple levels of input-output dynamics: For example, even though George Lucas is primarily utilizing the output of his team’s ideas incorporated into any given “Star Wars” movie for the purpose or with the consequence of creating another sequel, when he relaxes at home to view it, he is consuming the film in yet a second way, as pure home entertainment, on top of any role the film may serve as input to trigger ideas for his next film, “Star Wars” or not.
We can imagine Mozart did the same thing: took his musical output commissioned and paid for by others and then listened to it for not only more ideas, but for the sheer pleasure of it.
This second “Mozart effect” may characterize the best among all closed-cycle jobs: getting paid by others to consume what you yourself delight in producing (or, as a bare minimum, getting paid by others to produce what you delight in producing, even if it’s also or primarily for the consumption of others, minus the special benefits of the ideal of complete autonomy.)
Alienation from Labor and Output
At the other end of the job spectrum, the “alienation from labor” aspect of the Industrial Revolution’s assembly lines was a provocative theme provocatively hammered and sickled into the minds of workers and intellectuals by the likes of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Marx and Engels would argue that the wearying, monotonous, unsatisfying task of making gaudy key chains in a 3rd-world sweat shop when you own nothing to lock represents the extreme antithesis of a Mozart job.
That kind of severance of consumption from production—the much-trumpeted “alienation of man from the fruits of his own labor”—was and remains in stark contrast to life in pre-industrial, including hunting, gathering and agrarian societies.
A hunter made an arrowhead and spear—for himself or his clan; a farmer grew crops and raised animals, for himself, his family, his close-knit community—but not for complete strangers who contributed nothing to the production process.
The valid point grouchy Marx and Engels harped on was that once our labor is expended for exchange rather than for consumption, we are at risk of experiencing emotional, existential and cultural disconnection from it.
The Dearth and Death of Making
Compounding this kind of on-the-job alienation from our paid labor is the modern, dismaying trend away from making anything at all, whether as vocation or avocation. Unless pushing PlayStation buttons and iPhone keys counts, as making worn surfaces, most of us, apart from DIY types, survivalists and moms who bake, rarely, if ever, make anything at all, much less anything we’d also consume.
This “alienation from effort” (“effort” as a label that includes non-job labor) can be as insidious as alienation from labor proper. At all stages of modern life, incentives for and satisfactions of at least making something, not to mention also consuming (even if only as art hung in the living room or parked on a mantle) are disappearing where they haven’t already vanished.
To retrieve the pleasures and other benefits of the closed production-consumption cycle, we must start with the young, to at least revive and restore the value and values of making—of living as “homo faber” (“man the creator and maker”).
So, if you have kids, send them outside to play and to do what countless generations of kids in the past did.
Make mud pies or lemonade…
…while making sure that they don’t confuse drinking the lemonade with throwing the mud pies, and end up consuming the wrong output.