A More Human Economy: The Jobless Future and the Medium Chill

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    It seems like there’s a tension between a couple of the concepts here, though. An economy where everyone’s a free-lancer with multiple gigs and part-time, irregular jobs doesn’t seem like heaven to me at all. I, and I think a lot of people, place value on the stability and predictability of the wage labor model. I don’t yearn to start my own business or seek out creative work to demonstrate to the world my awesomeness.

    Frankly, I think people pursuing the medium chill are likely to be the least happy in a world of constantly shifting quasi-jobs as a means of support, no matter how good the safety net.

    Or it could be I’m misunderstanding something. Looking forward to reading more!Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Well I think the idea is to have the sort of redistribution and safety net needed to allow people to work a lot less. So you could freelance or work part time and not be destitute.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        I’m not sure I understand this. This system would redistribute more wealth than we already redistribute in order to provide everyone with the basic needs necessary to work much less if they choose so? What happens when those who’ve worked to become successful rebel at the idea of their wealth being used to support those who choose to work only part time? What will prevent them from using the political route to stop the redistribution, or does the system depend on the majority of the people supporting this level of redistribution because the majority will likely prefer to work less? In this case, the majority can be counted on to keep the wealthy producing so that there’s enough wealth to subsidize the majority’s lifestyle — is that it? Or does this system depend on nationalization of major industries which can become mostly automated, and the government can compete in the global market selling products and using the revenue to support society which is working less? I don’t understand how all this works. What about labor intensive industries? Who would work at difficult jobs if they can get by without doing such work?Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        Welfare systems can’t really work if they allow people to work significantly less, after all the money for the welfare system has to come from somewhere.

        What somethign like a minimum income can do is allow for lumpier workflow patterns, if you can’t find any work for a month or two, that’s a less of a problem if you have a cheque form the government to tide you over.

        It’s about risk, rather than average income.Report

        • Avatar Jim P. says:

          If net output stays the same though, it’s not really a problem. You could have people making other sorts of contributions that the market doesn’t currently acknowledge or even assign a quantity to. All sorts of community engagement, outreach, and creative pursuits that stimulate growth, community vitality, civic participation and innovation that aren’t necessarily conducive to the traditional, transaction-based market framework.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer says:

            “All sorts of community engagement, outreach, and creative pursuits that stimulate growth, community vitality, civic participation and innovation that aren’t necessarily conducive to the traditional, transaction-based market framework.”

            Like what?Report

  2. Avatar dhex says:

    unfortunately, rushkoff tends to swing between very insightful and sadly absurd.Report

  3. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    This from Yglesias yesterday, and now this from you today. When did “If we have a generous welfare state, people who can work but don’t feel like it will be able to choose not to” become a talking point for proponents of the welfare state?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I would love to hammer out an answer to the question “what are people entitled to?”

      Heck, the *WHY* wouldn’t be half as much fun as the *WHAT*.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      It’s a central quandary of modern times and of futurism

      People are miserable if they get up every morning and go somewhere to be told what to do for 8 or so hours a day.

      But people are downright sociopathic if they’re *not* getting up out of bed every morning and going somewhere and told what to do for 8 or so hours a day.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Like I said, I’m still fiddling with this. I’ll have something more coherent up soon.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        I’m fiddling with some ideas too, like subsidized golf communities, so that old white men can retire from the economy and from politics, leaving young Leftist intellectuals to create a socially just nation. All I need is a patio home, enough red meat to maintain my health, proper golfing attire, a gold cart with free lifetime maintenance, free golf and a set of Yonex clubs. I will gladly sign an agreement to not vote or dissent or interfere in any way.Report

  4. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    “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.”

    Umm, Yeah. From a dude who’s taken advantage of it twice. If I didn’t have kids to support, healthcare probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal (I’m a stupid and reckless young man. I have no intentions of listening to anything the doctor says.).

    I was planning on going here sooner or later with my posts on unemployment. Perhaps I’ll have a long response to you at some point this coming week after you’ve fleshed out this idea a bit more (although I owe Tod Kelly a more-than-somewhat-related response first).

    For now, I’ll just say that – despite the bullshit we get fed in elementary school – America is unreasonably hostile to entrepreneurs (and just about anything that doesn’t fit the preferred molds, whether this is non-standard career paths, a lack of official credentials, failure to file the proper paperwork, etc.) while at the same time vehemently opposing any basic services that are not provided along with corporate employment.

    Being a contractor or a freelancer is tough here! Much tougher than it needs to be, and a lot tougher than is good for society and for the economy, especially when masterless samurai don’t get health insurance.

    Except we do in Massachusetts! So I can freelance here while I’m taking classes and still looking for a job that’s a good match and that I’m not going to suddenly abandon once something better comes along. Otherwise, I’d have to take some job in data entry or insurance sales paying twelve dollars an hour just so my kid catching a cold or breaking a leg doesn’t put us massively into debt.

    It’s not that I’m unwilling to do that or I think I’m above that (I’m currently busing tables three or four nights a week) so much as that is a waste of time and effort for me and for the economy. Having the safety net holding me up allows me to better invest my time for the long-run.Report

  5. Avatar James K says:

    I like vision you have ED, though I’m not sure universal health care is quite the right instrument. I need to think it over a bit more.Report

  6. Avatar Roger says:

    Bold thoughts E.D.

    Restricting the allowable workweek, guaranteeing medical care and ensuring a minimal living allowance to allow or encourage people not to enter the job market (or experiment around it) is an interesting and noble idea.

    I would guess some Americans would reject it. But that is OK, as you and Mr. Frase can always enlist the voluntary efforts of similar-minded progressives to chip in and pay the difference. But is this what you are suggesting?

    You envision a world based upon your commendable values; but I am still not exactly sure who you expect to pay for it. So my questions:

    Are you willing to bring about this vision funded voluntarily exclusively by yourself and like minded charitable individuals? Or…

    Are you expecting to coercively force others to fund your vision?

    It seems the details of you vision differ greatly depending upon the path you plan on taking. Please clarify for us.Report

  7. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Universal healthcare would go a long way toward allowing people to be more independent, more entrepreneurial, and less risk-averse in their private ambitions.

    Is there any evidence for this? Seems to me that there’s plenty of data available for a natural experiment.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

      My father has stayed a bus driver with a very affluent school district for over 15 years because my brother is diabetic (Type I since age 5) and the health benefits made leaving that job completely impractical.

      That’s only anecdotal evidence. But I see a slice of the working class who would take a couple months to find more suitable work or even more productive work, if given the wiggle room to explore those opportunities.

      If anything, tying things like pensions and health coverage to employers is highly burdensome in the amount of friction it adds to the market.

      A mobile workforce, and one that can afford a couple months to find an employer more suited to their goals and needs, would actually be superior from an efficient-allocation-of-resources point of view.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        The problem is, this doesn’t even rise to the level of anecdotal evidence, because you don’t know for sure what your father would have done under different circumstances. Maybe he would have quit his job and gone on to do something great, but nothing kills good intentions like opportunity. It’s not even clear from your story why he couldn’t get some other job that offered health insurance.

        Now, I’m sure that there is actual anecdotal evidence out there. But there are two countervailing effects. One is the one that you mention. The other is that a lot of people, given a chance to take it easy, will do just that. Even with the best of intentions, it can be hard to find and keep a good full-time job without the financial and social pressure to do so.

        There’s no rational basis on which to assert a priori that one particular effect dominates the other.Report

  8. “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 the goal here is good but I would structure it a bit differently. I would simplify health coverage so the average person doesn’t need an HR department to translate for them. I would then separate health insurance from employment for portability and to prevent loss of coverage when moving between jobs. Finally i would have the fed provide gap subsidies for the unemployed so they can keep their plans.Report