Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bill Mitchell — Work is important for human well-being

I am now in Kansas City for the next several days, so blogs might come at odd times. I am getting close to finalising the manuscript for my next book (this one with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi) which traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and started to believe that the state had withered and was powerless in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. Accordingly, social democratic politicians frequently opine that national economic policy must be acceptable to the global financial markets and compromise the well-being of their citizens as a result. 
In Part 3 of the book, which we are now completing, we aim to present a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ to guide policy design and policy choices for progressive governments. We also hope that the ‘Manifesto’ will empower community groups by demonstrating that the TINA mantra, where these alleged goals of the amorphous global financial markets are prioritised over real goals like full employment, renewable energy and revitalised manufacturing sectors is bereft and a range of policy options, now taboo in this neo-liberal world, are available. 
One proposal that seems to have captivated so-called progressive political forces is that of the need for a basic income guarantee. As regular readers will know I am a leading advocate for employment guarantees. I consider basic income proposals to represent a surrender to the neo-liberal forces – an acceptance of the inevitability of mass unemployment. In that sense, the proponents have been beguiled by the notion that the state can do nothing about the unemployment. It is curious that they think the state is thus powerful enough to redistribute income. I also consider basic income proposals demonstrate a lack of imagination of what work could become and a very narrow conception of the role of work in human well-being. 
This blog will be the first in several (probably about four) where I sketch the arguments that will be developed (but more tightly edited) in the final manuscript.…
[I added paragraphing for easier reading. tjh]

Bill Mitchell – billy blog
Work is important for human well-being
Bill Mitchell | Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), at University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

29 comments:

Gary Hart said...

Link isn't working for me.

Andrew Anderson said...

Yes, work is important but let's not conflate wage slavery with work.

Simsalablunder said...

Yes, working without a wage is the best idea ever. Just give me money and I'll work for free.

Malmo's Ghost said...

Those blabbing on about the value of work (that others need to do, btw) do the least of it themselves. They pine for a world of pencil pushers.

Andrew Anderson said...

Just give me money and I'll work for free. Simsalablunder

Works for me. With more income, I'd work even more since I could afford land and tools to work on and with.

The problem isn't usually that people don't want to work. The problem is that government subsidizes debt and wage slavery.

The Rombach Report said...

Work is more than important. It is essential for existence. However, unproductive make work like digging ditches and filling them up serves no purpose. Likewise for military production above and beyond what is necessary to defend the nation. Work must be productive in the sense that it contributes in some positive way to the world wide division of labor that produces consumer and business products and provides essential and other desirable services.

Tom Hickey said...

Link fixed.

Ralph Musgrave said...

Work is important for human well being? Oh yes? That doesn't square with the fact that there's a number of people in my neighbourhood who go to extreme lengths to fake ailments so they can live a life of leisure on invalidity benefit.

The reality is that everyone is different. Some people are workaholics. Others are very happy with leisure.

Tom Hickey said...

Three is a lot of charge around the terms "work" and "leisure." "Work" is often regarded as meaning only "hard work" and "leisure," freedom from doing hard work. Economists use this meaning in defining the labor market as the tradeoff between work and leisure based on price (wages).

This is a simplification, like most of economic assumptions.

Consider that almost all significant human culture and civilization was developed from leisure not work. The major contributors were the classes that did not work but were at leisure. Many of them used their leisure creatively. Read Josef Pieper's Leisure the Basis of Culture."

For most of the history of a surplus society, work was done by the underclass while leisure was enjoyed chiefly by the overclasses. ~ 90% of workers were involved in agriculture, and the other about 9% in the military, trades, and crafts. ~1% were at leisure and they were chiefly responsible for the creation of high culture and civilization.

Technology reduced the necessity of work/leisure and a "middle class" was born that both worked and enjoyed leisure. Moreover, more people were educated. This expanded and disseminated high culture and civilization.

As Pieper points out, a balance of work and leisure is a sine qua non of living a good life in a good society. A good society distributes work and leisure instead of concentrating them according to class and privilege making as "meritocracy."

Kaivey said...

I don't envy the underclass, I think they live sh*t lives.

Andrew Anderson said...

That doesn't square with the fact that there's a number of people in my neighbourhood who go to extreme lengths to fake ailments so they can live a life of leisure on invalidity benefit. Ralph Musgrave

If the only alternative is wage slavery I don't blame them and neither should you.

The day, week, month or year those with "fake" ailments show they can do ANY work then it's back to working 40 hours a week of wage slavery is my bet the way the system works.

A UBI avoids that nonsense since it allows people to choose something between zero work and 40 hours/wk wage slavery.

Tom Hickey said...

I don't envy the underclass, I think they live sh*t lives.

The problem is that the underclass are not educated enough to wield power even if they seize it. So the cycle goes on.

The mediator between work and leisure is education in the broad sense, not the limited sense in which it is usually understood.

This was not really feasible in the agricultural age where technology was very limited. But technological advances make general education possible.

Bucky Fuller held that the the way to global development was increasing the general level of education in the broad sense, not just adding more classroom space, but educating people for life instead of for specific employment.

Andrew Anderson said...

The mediator between work and leisure is education in the broad sense, not the limited sense in which it is usually understood. Tom Hickey

As in the Old Testament. There, any non-emergency work is forbidden on the Sabbath whereas so-called Christian England during the Industrial Revolution had factory workers toiling 12 hours a day, 6 1/2 days per week. I suppose the 1/2 day off was so the workers could go to churches where they were told the Old Testament no longer applied, especially wrt economics and social justice.

Bob said...

You're born, you gig, and then you die.

Six said...

Work is important for human well-being. The details of who does the work and how they get compensated is where things get sticky.

Ralph, I wouldn't get to worked up over your neighbors cheating the system. There's nothing you can do about and you're just ruining your own happiness over it. The good news for you is poor people don't save any money; they spend it all. So hard-working-Ralph ends up with the money that was handed out them for pretending to be maimed and/or infirm.

TofuNFiatRGood4U said...

Good point, Six, and an indirect argument for a job guarantee--even if there is a meaningful level of waste/fraud, the JG funds will still end up with the "hard-working-Ralphs" of the world.

Tom Hickey said...

According to the law of reflux, all funds end up where they started, either as cancelled liabilities of government or lenders. It's the flow that counts. Part of the flow stops temporarily in stocks of savings, which is what the national debt represents. It is the outstanding tax credits that have not yet refluxed.

The JG payouts become part of the flow and that flow must be sufficient in each period to maintain full employment (less transitional). The JG ensures it is. Everyone benefits from an optimally functioning economy that uses available resources efficiently.

Effectiveness of use is another matter that depends on other factors.

Andrew Anderson said...

Everyone benefits from an optimally functioning economy that uses available resources efficiently. Tom Hickey

Yes, which is why make-work is to be shunned since it is NEGATIVE work which wastes time, resources, and human MORALE.

Sure let's have generous infrastructure spending but let's use bulldozers to maximize work accomplished rather than teaspoons to maximize "employment."

Andrew Anderson said...

the JG funds will still end up with the "hard-working-Ralphs" of the world. TofuNFiatRGood4U

The same argument applies to a BIG or UBI. And they end up not just with the "hard-working-Ralphs" of the world but with asset owners, whether those assets were ethically acquired or not.

Calgacus said...

Andrew Andersen: The argument against a UBI is not a moral argument, not that people need to work, that work is good, that leisure is bad.

It is mainly a factual, logical argument that it cannot work in the real world. It is parallel to the argument against a similar cult belief. Castrating yourself, ingesting phenobarbitol and tying a bag around your head will NOT lead to your reaching an alien spacecraft following a comet. In fact, there are very good arguments that those actions are usually inadvisable. A UBI will not have the consequences many idly imagine it will, but the pretty much the opposite to their idle dreams.

On wage-slavery - Frederick Douglass used to criticize the term by noting that his escape from the real thing left a vacancy. He noted that remarkably no wage-slaves left their current position to fill his old one. If the pay is good, proportional to the onerousness of the work, "wage-slavery" is what most would call a good thing - cooperation, or playing nicely with others.

Kaivey said...

Really good point.

Andrew Anderson said...

If the pay is good, proportional to the onerousness of the work, "wage-slavery" is what most would call a good thing - cooperation, or playing nicely with others. Calgacus

It's slavery when family farms and businesses, the commons, investment opportunity and other means for the poor to support themselves have been stolen by a government privileged usury cartel for the sake of the banks themselves and for the most so-called credit worthy, the rich.

But you guys will never admit that government privileges for private credit creation are an atrocity against the poor. And we're supposed to think you have the poor at heart with your so-called solutions?

Andrew Anderson said...

As for a UBI, at what point does it cause trouble? Does allowing people to eat, be clothed and have shelter disincentivize people to work or does it ALLOW them to work?

Price inflation risk? Then remove privileges from depository institutions. This would:

1) Be massively deflationary by itself as government provided deposit insurance was abolished.
2) Force the most so-called creditworthy, the rich, to borrow from the least so-called creditworthy, the poor, since legally stealing their purchasing power and investment opportunity would no longer be an option. That or share equity with the poor. In either case, wealth would be much more justly shared than it is at present.

Andrew Anderson said...

Elaborating on 2): Honest borrowing is far less inflationary than government subsidized private credit creation since purchasing power is transferred, not created. But if more price price inflation is desired then simply increase deficit spending by the monetary sovereign, including by raising the UBI.

Ralph Musgrave said...

Hi folks,

I'm flattered to be referred to as "hard-working Ralph". Hate to have to admit it, but actually I'm pretty idle: I've never worked desperately long hours.

Andrew A: I agree, as usual. Put another way, where a private bank creates / prints money and lends it out, that's essentially a form of counterfeiting. I.e. the bank (and person loaned to) get real goods and services in exchange for bits of paper. Nice work if you can get it.

David Hume writing 250 years ago referred to that activity as counterfeiting, as did the French Nobel laureate economist Maurice Allais. However the exact extent and way in which counterfeiting takes place there is complicated and elusive, which is why private banks get away with it (assisted of course by bribes - I mean "contributions to election expenses" - paid to politicians). Plus the fact that politicians know sweet nothing about banks and money systems helps private banks pull wool over politicians eyes.

Neil Wilson said...

Work is simply leisure you get paid to do.

Leisure is work you pay to do.

All very straightforward when you stop seeing work less as punishment but as something to look forward to - which has always been the goal of job enrichment.

And that's the key point. Individuals on Basic Income can't afford any leisure. It is those further up the income chain that benefit and why the proposal is supported by those people. They want the extra income for themselves and the fact that 'the poor' are paid off is seen as moral justification for it. All very fair trade coffee.





Andrew Anderson said...

Work is simply leisure you get paid to do. Neil Wilson

Quit conflating wage slavery with work, please.

Give people enough resources, including a UBI, and they'll do the work THEY find meaningful - it's just TOO BAD if you don't agree with their choices since justice* isn't optional.

*Your beloved privileges for private credit creation have allowed the banks and the most so-called creditworthy, the rich, to steal from and disemploy the poor so justice is called for - not making the victims work for restitution.

Tom Hickey said...

Work is simply leisure you get paid to do.

Leisure is work you pay to do.


A lot of "work" is disguised leisure." For example, many pursuits require not only others but also environments that an individual or even small group cannot assemble. This is the case with R&D in science, medicine, etc. It is also the case with professors, who require access to publications that are beyond their own ability to afford. The list goes on. Previous to the industrial age, a lot of tis "work" was funded by patronage and a lot of it is still funded by philanthropy.

There is not fine line between work and leisure as tradeoffs in the labor market as economists assume (imagine) in their models.

Calgacus said...

Andrew Anderson: As for a UBI, at what point does it cause trouble?

Does allowing people to eat, be clothed and have shelter disincentivize people to work or does it ALLOW them to work?


The problem is that the Big Lie called the BIG or the UBI don't do these Good Things. It does the opposite. Just the same way that poisoning and asphyxiating yourself doesn't lead to a happy life on an alien spacecraft. But the opposite.

If your questions to others presuppose that they agree with you on matters they clearly don't, it is hard to get anywhere.

The inflationary effect of bank lending is trivial in comparison to that of a real UBI, so getting rid of it would do nothing to make a UBI more feasible. Or just.

Yet again, the deepest problem with proposals like yours with a Basic Income without a Job Guarantee is their injustice. A Job Guarantee is necessary for justice, for self-determination and freedom, even in a fairy tale world with a UBI that works. On the other hand, Basic Income is intrinsically authoritarian and tyrannical. Basic Income is more of a return to a world of slavery from the capitalist world that embodied genuine progress from slavery, while the Job Guarantee is genuine progress from the capitalist world. Yes, many get such things completely backwards. So did I until I read & thought more.