Three fantasy policies around jobs

20.37, Thursday 30 Sep 2021

If I were leader of a political party, there are a few things I would do specifically around jobs. This is not an exhaustive list. These are three off the top of my head.

Btw I would talk about the climate crisis the whole time, and use that to shape policy. It’s the big existential thing for the next decade (and more) so everything has to be seen in light of that.

A big question is: what is the dividend of technology? Like, the internet is this crazy powerful means of coordination, and that’s new in the last 50 years, so what is it for? The point of progress is to improve human lives. But that doesn’t happen automatically.

So pick something basic: let’s set an ambition that everyone gets to work a 4 day week. The dividend of technology should be to raise wages (i.e. productivity but where the surplus doesn’t go entirely to shareholders) and create a welfare safety net such that we all have more leisure time.

(Note that I am not a believer in Universal Basic Income. I believe that the right to contribute to the world we share - via “work,” which is the name we give to useful activity - is every bit as important as the right to share in the wealth produced. At best the focus on UBI obscures the right to meaningful contribution; at worst it exists as a pay-off from inhuman corporations to turn us into disempowered, non-contributing consumer drones.)

My party would say that we won’t get to the 4 day week in 5 years or even 10, but it will be measured and reported and used as a North Star.

I would lean into the changing nature of work: primarily the gig economy.

On the gig economy, yes gig couriers and gig food delivery drivers and so on are taken advantage of. But I don’t put that down to the gig economy specifically: that’s just how companies are, and the mechanism of employment dodges the standard protections.

But talk to some of the workers, and they enjoy the flexibility, freedom, and the direct gearing between effort and income.

Embrace change. And make sure it matches our values.

So I don’t think gig economy workers should be merged into the regular employee workforce. Create a new category of worker who is not actually inside the company, has limited employee benefits, and enjoys a certain amount of freedom – but their destiny is somehow bound up with the companies they rely on for gig. (As previously discussed in, oh my gosh, 2014.)

What to do with this new category? Focus on mutualism.

  • Create a new tax for gig economy “marketplaces” that pays into the welfare state, and also an income insurance plan that substitutes for notice periods and other forms of employment protection – the point would be to make regular employees and gig workers employees substitutable from a cost perspective for the firms, and leave the choice in the individual worker’s hands.
  • Create mechanisms where the worker can participate in share option schemes. If an Uber driver’s financial destiny is intrinsically dependent on Uber, then in addition to taking on the risk (which is what happens currently) then they should also share in the upside. Every dollar earned by a driver should also give them a tiny fractional share option. (For that matter, every dollar spent by a PASSENGER should also result in that passenger being granted a tiny fractional share option. Because of network effects in marketplaces, passengers are just as responsible to Uber’s success as every other component.)

Mutualism. Neither party (worker nor firm) should be net-net taking advantage of the other, in order to allow full reign to choice. Of course our goal is to find win-wins – and each benefits from the other’s success.

Then, a distributed university for the 2nd career.

People now change jobs - often radically - multiple times over the course of their career. Sometimes by choice. Sometimes because the type of thing they do is no longer relevant (LIKE: manufacturing in the UK in the past; call centre workers in the future, as voice interfaces and expert systems really come in).

Education and training no longer comes solely in the first couple of decades of life.

So I would create a new university (academic and vocational) for people in their 40s. Everyone would get a go: there would be loans/subsidies for it.

The goal would be to open up retraining to totally different, modern careers, for everyone.

Learning from the pandemic, hybrid education is potentially something very effective. A lot of education can be delivered virtually, but there is still a benefit to having a cohort and building a network. Perhaps the way this could be delivered is via colleges in every town that function like a cross between co-working spaces, libraries, and canteens, but with really great internet connections and support staff. You would show up, be timetabled, and get guidance, but all the courses would be over video.

All of these policies cascade down to other interventions.

For example, to implement the delivery of education online, to everyone, you want to reduce friction in getting on the internet.

Which means you probably want to nationalise broadband and create a universal minimum service guarantee. This is good for the education policy but also it should be loved by businesses. Just as Amazon wouldn’t be able to run their e-commerce without roads (so that warehouse workers can get to work, and orders can be delivered) and therefore it makes sense that roads are paid from taxes, Amazon - and others - need the internet for consumers and for an educated workforce. Cascading the policy down, internet access gets thought of as national infrastructure. (A good economist should be able to show this with numbers, I’m sure.)

I’m sure there are other cascading policies, thinking about all of the above.

Nobody’s going to make me king but I would like to see some more ambition from politicians to argue for the value of the state, and what it’s good for, and to find ways to build an actually progressive society for the 2020s (instead of trying to regulate what we have now, which seems like it will waste energy). See these suggestions in that spirit.

Yeah, so.

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