Time for a Rethink on the Worth of Work

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Most economists are greatly underestimating the economic challenges posed by the Covid19 pandemic. Without a correct understanding of those challenges, the aggressive monetary and fiscal measures many government are now pursuing will fall well short of their goals. They will go down in history as economic Marginot Linesscaled up versions of tools designed to fight past crises.

The pandemic poses new and unique economic challenges. It compromises our ability to engage in productive and commercial activities requiring close contact between groups of peoplethat includes most of the things sustaining a modern economy. Epidemiologists tell us this is needed for several months. Responding in a way that minimises the loss of life and safeguards our long-term productive capacities requires two things: Temporarily shutting down large swaths of the economy, and focusing societys productive resources on the kinds of work needed to fight the pandemic.

Most economists have not yet understood this partly because the scale and scope of what is needed pushes beyond the boundaries conventional economic thinking, and beyond what they generally consider to be legitimate economic questions.

The pandemic requires an unprecedented mobilisation of what feminist economists call care labour: work to care for ourselves, our families, and our communities. Over the next few weeks or months most people need to be focused on a vital job: caring for our collective health and helping save thousands or even millions of lives by staying at home. Many families will have to do this while simultaneously caring for millions of children now out of school, for other loved ones who cannot fully care for themselves, and for those who fall ill but do not require hospitalisation.

We need to allocate resources to enable people to perform this work.Read More »

The Sacrificial Generations of Capitalism

Screenshot 2020-02-11 at 09.28.58In this article I remind readers about the existence of “sacrificial generations” within global capitalist history. By sacrificial generation I mean a group of people at a point in time that experiences suffering with the immanent or intentional effect of changing economic, political or social conditions, which are in turn disproportionately enjoyed by another group of people at a later period in time. I identify four areas in which there systematically exists sacrificial generations:  three stages of capitalist development (state formation, capitalist property rights transition and early industrialization) and a cyclical aspect of capitalism (Polanyian-Marxian cycles). It could also be argued that the future generations which would disproportionately experience the environmental costs of past and present generations’ consumption are “climatic sacrificial generations”, but this will not be explored. Read More »

Premature Deindustrialization and the Defeminization of Labor

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In two previous posts on this blog, I’ve discussed the issue of premature deindustrialization and some of its possible consequences. In a recent paper, I, along with co-author Bret Anderson of Southern Oregon University, explored the potential consequences of premature deindustrialization further by examining the possible connections between premature deindustrialization and the defeminization of industrial employment. Premature deindustrialization is a situation in which the shares of manufacturing value added and employment begin to shrink at per-capita income levels much lower than those of the early industrializers, along with manufacturing employment peaking at lower levels. The scarce manufacturing jobs that do remain, however, are likely to be relatively high paying jobs that countries and workers compete for. In our work, we assessed whether premature deindustrialization is a feminizing or defeminizing force in industrial employment. By examining 62 countries from 1990 to 2013, we find that premature deindustrialization is likely to amplify the male bias of industrial upgrading.Read More »

Consequences of Deindustrialization in Brazil and South Africa, and Potential Remedies

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In a previous post, I wrote about the global trend of premature deindustrialization; the trend towards lower levels of industrial employment, and a shift away from industrial employment at lower levels of per capita income, and how the effects on human well-being of these trends are not yet clearly understood. An important question in understanding the impact of these changing structural patterns on individuals’ well-being is to whether either a lifting of the living standards of those not in formal employment, or the generation of employment to replace the manufacturing employment, is taking place.

In a recent working paper, I illustrated how combining a household level indicator of well-being with decomposition of change analysis can shed light on these questions by focusing on two specific episodes of growth; South Africa from 1996 to 2007 and Brazil from 1991 to 2010. Using Census data from IPUMS, I created indices of well-being on a scale of 0-100, using indicators such as child survival rate, access to clean water and electricity, and educations levels, culled from census data. Next, each household was assigned to a “type” based on sectoral employment of the household head and urban/rural location, and average household scores were calculated for each type. A decomposition of change analysis was then used to assign improvement in well-being to improvement within the types and shifts in population between these types.Read More »

Premature Deindustrialization and its Consequences for Human Welfare

Seagate_Wuxi_China_Factory_Tour.jpegRecent research suggests that late industrializers have not been following previously observed patterns in terms of sectoral change and employment, but the effect of these changing structural patterns on well-being and the distribution of gains from growth has not yet been systematically examined. There is a global shift towards both lower employment in industry at all levels of income per capita and de-industrialization, the shift from manufacturing to service employment, taking place at significantly lower levels of income (See work by Timmer, de Vries, and de Vries; Subramanian; and Rodrik here, here, here and here).

Deindustrialization, Employment Generation, and the “Precarization” of Global Labor
There are many reasons why these new patterns may have negative effects on inclusive development; some recent research emphasizes the important role that periods of high levels of manufacturing employment have played in now wealthy countries, and the dearth of wealthy countries that have skipped such a phase; there are concerns about the effects of lower levels of manufacturing output on both growth and employment generation ( See again Timmer, de Vries, and de Vries and Rodrik).Read More »