A More Human Economy: The Jobless Future and the Medium Chill
I’m not sure if this is just serendipity at work, but just after I wrote my piece on the ‘human economy’ I stumbled on a couple other pieces that tie into what I’m trying to say really absurdly well. As a reminder, here’s what I was driving at:
Jobs are great, but welfare should be used to thwart the inherent economic uncertainty of a capitalistic, global society. People should not lose their insurance just because they’ve lost their job. Universal healthcare would go a long way toward allowing people to be more independent, more entrepreneurial, and less risk-averse in their private ambitions. I think that in the emerging service economy – with more and more people working outside of the normal constraints of office and industry jobs, as freelancers and contractors – this will become even more important. Far from discouraging work, the right kind of welfare can do just the opposite.
I’ll call it the Human Economy for lack of a better term, but I envision a world where the old status quo relationship between boss and worker is largely a thing of the past, where free markets and smart welfare programs and a green infrastructure combined with personal technology and peer-to-peer interactions create a truly vibrant, innovative economic future.
So I want to say a lot more about the next two pieces, but I need to collect my thoughts a bit more first. Briefly, though, Douglas Rushkoff has an interesting piece over at CNN on the jobless economy. He asks:
The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with “career” be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?
Alex Knapp does a good job bringing Rushkoff down to earth a bit, noting that the piece “suffers a little too much from what I think of as “information class myopia”, in which writers about technology, who spend most of their days involved with gadgets and electronic media while creating intellectual property for a living confuse their own experiences with universal ones.”
For a more grounded take on the concept of full-employment without focusing on creating new jobs, I recommend this piece by Peter Frase. In a response to Will Wilkinson, who is arguing for a move away from wage labor toward a more casual, deregulated market, Frase writes:
I’m not necessarily against deregulating the labor market. But deregulation would have to be paired with a far more robust social democratic safety net in order to ensure that a life outside the control of the boss is possible for everybody, and not just for a small labor aristocracy of people like Will Wilkinson (and me). That’s why my essay talked about national health care, more generous unemployment, efforts to reduce the work week, and ultimately some kind of guaranteed income that allows people to survive outside of the labor market. (As for where the money for this should come from, please see John Quiggin.) Those are the things that make exiting the labor market a real option for the non-rich. And just as importantly, they reduce the risk and uncertainty that’s associated with not having regular, full time employment. As it stands, the downside risk of losing your job is much greater if you’re less educated, less healthy, or have more dependents than Wilkinson does.
I view all of this as an alternative strategy for getting back to full employment that doesn’t rely entirely on job-creation programs. I want to clarify this point, because it wasn’t made well in my original essay, which was constructed to be as brief and inflammatory as I could make it in order to attract as much attention to the argument as possible. I’ve noticed that some people conflated my rant against jobs with an opposition to full employment.
I think this is another piece in the puzzle I was stumbling through earlier this week in my post on market socialism. Like I said, for now this is just food for thought. I intend to put something together that is at once more coherent, and draws on more sources, in the near future. I do find these arguments compelling. Moving away from the wage labor model toward something ultimately more human strikes me as a good long-term project. Working toward what David Roberts termed the ‘medium chill’ seems like a very human thing.
And I think you really can pursue this sort of economy without sacrificing growth. They’ve already done this pretty well in Europe. We could do it even better in the USA because we’re number one (remember?).
It is striking, however, that we are still at nearly 10% unemployment. This seems very good for employers, and very bad for workers who are more at the mercy of bosses than American workers have been in a very long time. As more and more public sector jobs are slashed, this only becomes more painfully apparent. It’s troubling, and it should be troubling, and in the near-term I’m not sure there’s much we can do politically to change things.