The Duality of "A Job"

Currently when people talk about "a job", they might mean one or the other of these:

  1. A simple transaction, exchanging labor for cash.
  2. A source of identity and purpose (what do you want to "be" when you grow up), the only thing between your family and homelessness / starvation, something it's a moral failing not to have.

A lot of confusion and frustration in The Discourse comes from conflating these two. It's not really a motte and bailey, because they're not really subsets, and conflating them (or going back and forth) is (unusually for the Internet) mostly unintentional and/or in good faith.

These create very different policy implications. Job2s need significant protections for employees, some sort of stability, etc. Job1s should be lightly regulated so that people can get on with making win/win trades.


When someone's outraged that an Internet mob has gotten someone fired, they mean Job2 - it would not make sense to be very upset about losing a Job1. Likewise, if workers get displaced by an industry leaving a city / country / planet, whether that's bad depends on whether you're thinking of Job1 or Job2.

Driving for Uber is (best as I can tell) a great Job1 and a lousy Job2.

A straw-libertarian view of "employment can never be exploitive without physical coercion - you must think it's worth the money or you'd do something else" makes sense, sort of, with Job1. A straw-conservative view of "Job1 security is the worst thing that could happen to an economy" definitely doesn't make sense about Job2.

When I was at Big Blue in the late 90s, they were really pushing, from the top via HR, for us to think of our job as a Job1. In the dot-com bubble lots of folks did, of course. (I used to categorize this as "actively hostile" but no longer do, thanks to understanding this dichotomy). It did cause problems, though, when interacting with front-line managers who though of you as a Job2 employee.

Interesting synthesis

I read something insightful in this Ask A Manager post (#8) a while back - ideally, your boss is neither your buddy nor your adversary; you have a mutually beneficial business relationship. I think this synthesizes the two senses of job well: keep it win/win (Job1) but it's an ongoing relationship (Job2).