on Insecurity and Re-defining Work
from The Jobs Letter No.102 / 30 June 1999
"Rising unemployment can no longer be ascribed to cyclical economic crises; it is a consequence of the success of a technologically advanced capitalism. We have to change our economic language. Economic growth, for example, is no longer a valid indicator of job creation, just as job creation is no longer a valid indicator of employment and employment is no longer an indicator of income levels and secure status.
"Even the life of the affluent is becoming insecure and today's success is no guarantee against tomorrow's fall. The job miracle in the US hides the political economy of uncertainty: the US is the only advanced society in which productivity has been steadily rising over the past two decades while the income of the majority - eight out of ten - has stagnated or fallen. This has happened in no other advanced democracy. "Endemic insecurity will in future characterise the lives, and the foundations of the lives, of the majority of the population - even in the apparently affluent centre of society. If this diagnosis is basically right then we face two political options.
"First, there is the "nevertheless" policy, which enforces full employment after the end of normal full employment. This "New Labour" policy believes that only work guarantees order and the inclusive society. In this view, waged work has the monopoly of inclusiveness.
"The second option is to rethink and redefine work as we have done with respect to the family. But this also implies rethinking how we deal with the risks of fragile work ...
"Has work always had the monopoly of inclusiveness? If the ancient Greeks could listen to our debates about the anthropological need to work in order not only to be an honourable member of society but a fully valued human being, they would laugh. The value system that proclaims the centrality of work and only work in building and controlling an inclusive society is a modern invention of capitalism and the welfare state.
"We need to see that there is a life beyond the alternatives of unemployment and stress at work. We need to see that the lack of waged work can give us a new affluence of time. We need also to see that the welfare state must be rebuilt so that the risks of fragile work are socialised rather than being borne increasingly by the individual.
"I would argue for a citizen's (or basic) income. My argument is that we need a new alternative centre of inclusion -- citizen work combined with citizen income -creating a sense of compassion and cohesion through public commitment. The decoupling of income entitlements from paid work and from the labour market would, in Zygmunt Bauman's words, remove "the awesome fly of insecurity from the sweet ointment of freedom". "We must, in short, turn the new precarious forms of employment into a right to discontinuous waged work and a right to disposable time. It must be made possible for every human being autonomously to shape his or her life and create a balance between family, paid employment, leisure and political commitment. And I truly believe that this is the only way of forming a policy that will create more employment for everybody ..."
-- German sociologist Ulrich Beck, from "Goodbye To All That Wage Slavery" New Statesman 5 March 1999.