The thing people love most about economic growth is that it creates jobs, and prevents existing jobs from being cut. Similarly, the worst thing about recession is that people lose their jobs. This is totally reasonable, seeing as in this world we need a paying job to get by, not to mention the fact that many people work because they want to – regardless of the pay.
Because we’re used to growth providing jobs, there seems to be a lot of fear and doubt surrounding post-growth economics because people are scared that a non-growing economy will mean widespread unemployment. Happily, this is a total myth.
In the must-read book Enough is Enough, Dietz and O’Neill outline two great policies that would go a long way towards securing full employment with meaningful and constructive jobs. They credit ecological economists Martin Pullinger and Blake Alcott with coming up with these ideas.
1. Work-Time Reduction
The idea here is that worker productivity per hour has been gradually increasing for several decades now, due to technological progress, refining techniques and better organization. This leaves two options: either produce the same amount of goods or services in less time, or spend the same time producing more. Living in a growth-focused economy as we do, it’s been a no-brainer to choose the second. However, in a steady state economy, it’d make perfect sense to choose the first. This would mean employees would get the same salary, but would gradually reduce their working hours. This would eventually leave us with a 4 day work week.
Sharing the available work would mean everyone works a little less and fewer people are out of a job.
2. Guaranteed Jobs
Governments go crazy trying to squeeze more and more growth out of our economies, in the effort to avoid unemployment. As this isn’t 100% effective, they also have to fork out cash for unemployment benefits. The indirect costs of unemployment are also significant, as some people turn to crime if they can’t earn a living within the law. The Guaranteed Jobs policy ”appoints the state as the employer of last resort” (Enough is Enough, p.134). This means that the state would employ people to complete useful public works such as gardening, cleaning, caring and building for minimum wage. This would reduce unemployment directly. The cost of wages would be offset by the gains from the reduced unemployment.
A combination of these policies would be very progressive and would achieve almost full employment . Within a steady state economy, the goal would be that everyone within the working age with good health (apart from those caring for young children) would have a secure and meaningful job.
I’ve always found it gobsmacking that there is an unemployment issue at all in a world with so much work to be done! But part of the issue is that lots of important work – such as habitat restoration and local food production – simply doesn’t offer many paying jobs. So many jobs that are so important and offer such great job satisfaction are only voluntary based, because there isn’t enough money to pay workers! This has got to change! We need to re-arrange the business world, so that doing good is profitable – or at least financially viable in a not-for-profit model. In a steady state economy, useful work will be paid with a decent living wage.
Along the same vein, many people today have very dull and essentially pointless jobs that do not offer a feeling of being truly useful to society. Everyone knows someone who loathes their job and dreads Mondays. In an economy where maximising production and consumption is turned on its head, and throughput of resources is limited, these soulless jobs will not exist. But full employment – or very close – is still possible through implementation of the two policies above, within a holistic framework of other steady state policies.