torsdag 10 april 2014

The future of work

At the end of last week I handed in a draft report about "The future of work". The report is part of the research project Scenarios & Impacts of the Information Society (official info) at CESC. I've written about the project before, but last time I did so was nine months ago. Well, I also wrote a blog post that is related to this project, "Science Fiction research workshop" (only) five months ago. Still, time flies.

So, what's new? Well, I'm one of a dozen persons who each has been tasked with taking responsibility for a "building block" and my building block was "work", or perhaps "work patterns". This building block is part of the "Household" package and two of my colleagues are responsible for writing about (households') "Consumption of goods and services" and for "Time use and activity patterns". Do note that these two colleagues of mine are not colleagues at my department (Media Technology and Interaction Design) but rather come from the Division of Environmental Strategies Research.

I believe that we plan on writing a book based on the research project and that each "building block" (including my report about the future of work) later will be (re-)shaped into a book chapter.

I have prepared for writing the report rigorously - primarily by researching, buying and reading more than a dozen books about work during the autumn (see these blog posts about the books I have read; #1, #2, #3, #4, #5). I have literally read thousands of pages since last summer about the history and genesis of (modern) work and about work-this and work-that. Since I regularly publish blog posts about the books I've read here on the blog, and, since I'm almost half a year behind in writing them up, several blog posts as of late have treated these work-related books (see this, this and this blog post). My intention was originally to finish the report back in December, but that didn't happen and so I had to bring (send) all these books with me to the US. The report isn't finished either, what I just handed in is the first 20-page instalment...

The brunt of my report consists of 11 different trends that I have identified and that I write about. The 11 trends I have chosen to emphasise are:

1) Rationalization
2) Outsourcing
3) Qualified niche high-paid jobs
4) Service jobs
Analytical intermission - on globalization and the reverse lottery economy
5) Migration
6) Precarious jobs
7) "Astronomic" youth unemployment
8) Workfare
9) Empty labour
10) Implications for (higher) education
11) Inner change
Analytical intermission - on the middle class funnel

I've chosen to publish the two analytical intermissions below. Do get in touch with me if you want to read the whole draft report. If you want to read it, you have to promise to get back to me with comments and feedback though!

Intermission - on globalization and the reverse lottery economy

It is fair to say that during the course of no more than a decade, from the mid-1980’s to the mid-1990’s, processes of globalization increased in both speed and scope. The situation on the labor market in affluent, industrialized countries since then can basically be compared to a “reverse lottery economy”. Affluent Western consumers have on the one hand benefited from globalization to the extent that the fruits of global capitalism have been increasingly within the reach of a consumer culture shifting gears into “overdrive”. Never before has it been so easy to buy so much for so little (in terms of exchanging your working hours against material objects). On the other hand, that has only been true until the very moment when your unlucky number comes up and your occupational job niche is outsourced to elsewhere. For each iteration in this process, an overwhelming majority of workers benefits from the ongoing changes, while a small minority of workers are laid off and suffer an oftentimes permanent erosion of living standards, job security and future prospects:

In short, we have entered what might be called a "reverse-lottery economy." The broad majority of American workers continue to do well; yet in any given year—even in boom times—a few workers hit the negative jackpot and must accept lengthy or even permanent reductions in living standards. Increasingly, these unfortunates hail from a variety of educational backgrounds and occupations. (One recent study found that U.S. financial-service firms are planning to move more than 500,000 jobs—or eight percent of the total work force in that sector—offshore within the next five years. These relocations will include higher-status, higher-income jobs than such transfers have typically included in the past; jobs in financial analysis, research, accounting, and graphic design are among those expected to be moved offshore.) In a society where many people buy on credit, counting on ever expanding good fortune, the decline in income from job displacement is especially hard to bear financially. It is hard to bear psychologically as well."
The Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2004

Due to a steady pace of technological developments as well as progressively lowered barriers towards moving capital and production facilities, there has been a steady attrition as “traditional” occupational niches have been “ejected” from the labor markets of wealthy countries. Until recently, not only have most workers (those who have been able to keep their jobs) benefitted, most of the middle class have been protected against these changes. That is however not true any longer due to a pincer movement; also middle-class, qualified, white-collar jobs have been and are being automated or outsourced (see above) and while many middle-aged, middle-class whilte collar workers are (relatively) safe from ongoing changes, their (university-educated) children have a much harder time to find jobs that will allow them to retain the same living standards as their parents (generation).

At the same time as many jobs and occupational niches have disappeared over the last 20 to 30 years, new jobs have been created, but, these have bifurcated in two directions; hyper-qualified jobs bringing ample economic rewards to job-holders, and, less-qualified (service) jobs that have brought decreased economic rewards and decreased occupational security (compared to earlier conditions on the labor market, see further below). The reverse lottery that was outlined above does not currently seem to have reached its logical conclusion (where all jobs that can be outsourced have been outsourced), and it might even be the case that this “game” currently, with ongoing developments in computing (see above) is speeding up. It becomes increasingly difficult to discern who the winners might be on a mid-term basis as the number of jobs that are “protected” decrease at the same pace that the capabilities of computer technologies increase. One clear winner is naturally the professions that are involved in bringing about these ongoing transformations of work, as well as every other (highly) qualified occupational job niche that for one reason or another can not be automated or outsourced. As apart from this “reverse lottery economy” continuing to play out its course, it also seems logical that we will continue to move towards a “winner-takes-it-all” society where, say, lawyers might or might not be paid well, but where the very best lawyers (doctors, experts etc.) can charge astronomical fees. These discussion also harken back to the 1980’s discussions about the formation of a “two-thirds society” (in German: “Zweidrittelgesellschaft”, in Swedish: “Tvåtredjedelssamhället”) where a two thirds of the population continue to prosper while one third “fall behind” into a precarious existence of temporary jobs, unemployment and poverty.

Analytical intermission - on the middle class funnel

I have outlined a number of trends that together spell out the end of the middle class in western societies, or if not the end, then at least the “slimming” and the erection of obstacles in the middle class membership admissions process. It might be that the rewards for admission are becoming higher than ever and that the stakes in terms of the difference between admission and non-admission are diverging, e.g. venturing (even) further towards a winner-takes-it-all society. To repeat, while the middle class in Western countries might be shrinking in absolute numbers, the obstacles and the rewards for admission become higher than ever before and the penalties for non-admission also become higher than ever before. The US always being a decade or two ahead of Europe, this would for example explain the heated debate about Asian “Tiger mothers” (Chua 2011) relentlessly drilling their children to succeed in the American educational system as well as the underlying anxiousness and competition for admission to Ivy League (e.g. top) universities as well as admission to top high schools, top middle schools, top elementary schools and even top pre-kindergarten (day care).

At the same time, the global middle class has expanded especially in China and India during the last decade. My question, or rather Immanuel Wallerstein’s question (1974, 1980, 1989, 2011) is if these developments in some way are connected to each other? If the proper unit of analysis is the modern (capitalistic) world-system rather than individual nations, developments in one part of the world (Asia) can (or will invariably) have repercussions in other parts of the world (Europe, the US). Wallerstein’s hypothesis is that

The more effective way to lower costs of production is to lower the costs of labour - by further mechanization, by changing law or custom causing lower real wages, or by geographical displacement of production to zones of lower labour costs. [...] However, these tactics contradict the other mode of increasing profits [...] which is that of increasing effective demand.
How can these two needs be reconciled? Historically, there has been only one way - by geographical disjuncture. Whenever, in more favoured regions of the world-system, political steps are taken to raise in some way effective demand (increases in wage levels, and in the social wage or state-controlled redistribution), steps have been taken in other parts of the world-system to increase the number of producers at low wage levels” (Wallerstein 1983. Historical capitalism, p.146.).
In world-system theory, there always exists unequal exchange between the wealthy countries in the core and the poor countries in the periphery of the world-system . Moreover, under the 500 years old historical and current capitalist world-system, there will alway exist a core and periphery (and a semi-periphery in between), although specific countries over time can move from the periphery towards the semi-periphery and the core (e.g. China, Brasil) or from the core towards the (semi-)periphery (e.g. Greece, Tajikstan and the other five former Soviet Union Cental Asian “stans”). Although increasing absolute (material) affluence could be evenly distributed, the standard outcome is instead that it is exceedingly unequally distributed between the core, the semi-periphery and the periphery. There is thus a distinct zero-sum character that contradicts the more dominant discourse of “development” (with the idea that underdeveloped/developing countries can leapfrog technological developments and “catch up” with developed (core) countries).

The capitalist world-system is continuously finetuning the very most efficient global production machine possible, including moving production to countries with the cheapest resources (both material resources and labour). But, as per the quote above, there also needs to exist a market for consuming the goods produced as well as for supervising the global production process. The task of supervision as well as consumption is primarily the task of “cadres” or managers, or more generally of the global middle class:

The cadres of the world-system [...] an in-between group of people who have leadership or supervisory roles in various institutions. [...] This in-between group may be larger or smaller according to the county’s location in the world-system and the local political situation. The stronger the country's economic position, the larger the group” (Wallerstein 2004, p.40).

The capitalist system thus both "needs" a relatively affluent middle class that can buy all the goods being produced and that can control the teeming masses not privy to their “fair share” of the material wealth being produced. According to Wallerstein, the global middle class can only “bear” ten to fifteen percent of the total global population. This model would thus imply that just as there can only be one "king of the hill", only, say, 15% of the global population can belong to the “global middle class” and if production and economic opportunities shifts towards Asia, they will also shift away from the absolute dominance of the older centers of wealth creation and affluence (Europe and the US).

This XXX (model?) would explain many of the trends above by linking developments in western labour markets during the last decades (increased unemployment and uncertainty, downward mobility, decreased life prospects for the younger generation) to the rise of a global, non-Western middle class. New entrants to the global middle class (China, India, Brasil etc.) thus exert pressure on individual wanna-be Western members of the global middle class) who do not have the same almost self-evident access to this privileged position that their parents’ generation had (Henley 2013).

6 kommentarer:

  1. Det var ett ganska standardmässigt socialistiskt narrativ med en lite ovanligare peakar-idé inslängd på slutet. Ingen av utgångspunkterna har särskilt mycket stöd för sig, tvärtom. Bland annat växer medelklassen globalt och det finns varken tecken på eller orsaker till att detta skulle avstanna. Dessutom krymper global GINI, vilket direkt motsäger påståendet om "exceedingly unequally distributed between the core, the semi-periphery and the periphery".

  2. Det kan hända att medelklassen växer globalt, men min poäng är att den tillväxten sker "på bekostnad av" att en stor andel av (t.ex.) Sveriges befolkning tidigare har tillhört "medelklassen" i Sverige samt den globala medelklassen (semesterresor till Thailand) men inte längre kan räkna med att per automatik göra det i framtiden (den uppväxande generationen).

    Dessutom och även om medelklassen växer globalt så kan den inte bli hur stor som helst i proportion till jordens befolkning (som för övrigt också växer, vilket skulle kunna tolkas som att det skapas ett utökat utrymme för att tillhöra den globala medelklassen i absoluta termer - men att utrymmet fortfarande är begränsat i relativa termer, e.g. någon måste göra "skitjobben" både inom länder och på det globala planet).

    Att global GINI krymper motsäger allt jag har läst, har du siffror/referenser på det? Jag är genuint nyfiken för jag har inte letat efter *siffror* på utvecklingen. Jag hörde nyligen att boken som alla ekonomer tar med sig till stranden i sommar är den till engelska precis översatta "Capital in the twenty-first century" av Picketty (utkom i mars, se nedan). Han pekar på att det kapitalistiska "normalfallet" är extremt ekonomiskt ojämlika samhällen och att den post-WWII-period med växande ekonomisk jämlikhet som dagens ledande ekonomer har växt upp i (och tagit för given) är undantaget snarare än regeln. Igen undrar jag alltså vilket stöd du har för ditt påstående om att GINI krymper globalt?

    Jag hörde nyligen Alf Hornborg påpeka att timlönen i ett av de fattigaste afrikanska länderna (kommer tyvärr inte ihåg vilket) var 0.3 % av den genomsnittliga timlönen i USA. Jag har svårt att tänka mig att skillnaderna kan har varit så stora någonsin tidigare och detta tolkar jag alltså som ett tecken (dock bara en "data point" på att skillnaderna (GINI) är monumentala idag och att inga tecken tyder på att de är på väg att minska. Snarare tvärtom så jag inte ser få skäl som "trycker upp" fattiga afrikaners eller asiaters löner i förhållande till våra.

    Från Amazons beskrivning av Pikettys bok:
    "What are the grand dynamics that drive the accumulation and distribution of capital? Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard to find for lack of adequate data and clear guiding theories. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. His findings will transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality."

  3. När det gäller inkomster globalt så är det fortfarande illustrativt att se Hans Roslings gamla TED talk, gärna hela, men framförallt 6:20 - 8:20. Där är det tydligt hur inkomstfördelningen globalt både rör sig mot högre inkomster och jämnas ut. För GINI och fattigdom finns bra grafer här:

    och en mer officiell länk här (se graf 3):

    Jag skulle vilja hävda att den svenska medelklassen är större och rikare än någonsin, och har bättre möjligheter att åka utomlands på semester än någonsin. Givetvis kan i princip alla i världen tillhöra medelklassen, även om någon måste "göra skitjobbet". Kollar man i Sverige, hos SCB, så har yrkena med lägst månadslön från 20,000 kr i månaden i genomsnitt, och det duger lätt till en medelklasstillvaro och solresor:

    Visst finns det många fattiga kvar i Afrika, men det tuffar på rätt bra där man inte har inbördeskrig och framförallt där man gör marknadsinriktade reformer. När det gäller Pikettys bok har recensionerna börjat komma ut, och vi får väl se var det landar om några månader när boken väl är synad i sömmarna. Kanske blir det lika platt fall som för jämlikhetsanden?

  4. Den svenska medelklassen har det bra och det inbegriper mig själv. Men får våra barn det lika bra? Har våra unga eller unga vuxna det lika bra som min generation har haft det? Har min generation det lika bra om mina föräldrars (villa, Volvo, vovve)? Inte en chans. Se t.ex. min text nyligen om boken "Skitliv: Ungas villkor på en förändra arbetsmarknad ( *Vissa* (många) har det bra idag, men många, speciellt de som inte är etablerade - och de blir fler - har det inte så bra. Går du dessutom lite söderöver i Europa så blir det ännu värre (t.ex. Spanien med en ungdomsarbetslöshet på >50% och "en förlorad generation" arbetslösa, undersysselsatta eller överkvalificerade unga (examen från universitetet, jobbar i klädbutik) som dessutom sväller ytterligare för varje år.

    Just nu (Eurostat, finns det 5.6 miljoner arbetslösa ungdomar i Europa (EU) 15-24 år gamla. Det är ca 10% av alla unga och då ska man komma ihåg att närapå 60% av alla unga är "ekonomiskt inaktiva" (läser på gymnasium, högskola etc. - det finns nog för övrigt en stor dold arbetslöshet i den gruppen med unga som hellre skulle jobba om det fanns bra alternativa). Vilken blir deras framtid? Det är dem jag skriver om i min rapport, inte om Asien eller tredje världen egentligen.

    Jag vet inte hur mycket tid och kraft jag ska lägga på att svara, det här får nog bli mitt sista inlägg i debatten då jag dessutom åker på semester kommande vecka. Problemet är inte så mycket att vi har olika åsikt (som potentiellt skulle kunna "rätas ut" vid myckna diskussioner), utan av vi har olika världsbilder. Och, jag är för övrigt inte så mycket "röd" som jag är "grön". Ur ett sådant perspektiv är de trender du hänvisar till genom att hänvisa till Rosling + andra länkar (befolkningsökning så väl som ökat välstånd) inte helt oproblematiska (to say the least) eftersom mänsklighetens ekologiska fotavtryck (Wackernagel & Rees 1996, se vidare stadigt har ökat och vi nu "använder" avkastningen av 1.5 planet jorden per år (dvs. vi nöjer oss inte med den löpande avkastningen utan naggar på kapitalet = minskad avkastning i framtiden).

    Den världsbild jag har och utvecklingen av den (under 3-4 års tid) kan följas på min förra blogg, Livet efter oljan. Jag har till exempel skrivet en längre (2350 ord/5 sidor text om Rosling där ("Roslings rosiga världsbild", som Rosling trevligt nog själv gick in och besvarade.

    I de kretsar jag rör mig är det alltså (t.ex.) Rosling som har blivit synad i sömmarna och som fallit lika platt som andra världsförbättrare som i 3-5 decennier har trott att det är en enkel sak att "lyfta" tredje världen. Lösningen för en Rosling (liksom för neoliberala ekonomer) är alltid lika enkel som den är enkelspårig och den stavas (alltid) "tillväxt".

    Nu finns det ju fler och fler tecken på att vi stöter mot gränser som vi inte kan forcera. Jag ids faktiskt inte ge mig in i en sådan diskussion här utan hänvisar istället till ett av många självförklarande exempel:

    1. Håll gärna utkik här på bloggen framöver. Jag har en deadine för en artikeln den 24.e april och om vi lyckas förädigställa den kommer jag att skriva en blurb om den här. Den artikeln skulle kunna sägas vara mitt nästa inlägg i denna debatt.

    2. Visst gör socialistiska policies det betydligt svårare för ungdomar att få jobb än förr i världen. Men på det hela taget är långsiktiga prospekten alldeles utmärkta och välståndsmässigt kommer våra barn ha det långt bättre än oss.

      Att det globala fotavtrycket ligger över jordens bärkraft beror framförallt på kol-utsläppens stora genomslag i indexen. Att åtgärda kolutsläppen är ganska lätt om vi tar till kärnkraft. Det finns förstås andra sätt att ta er vårt fotavtryck utan att fördenskull sänka vårt välstånd.

      Jag ser fram emot ditt nästa inlägg i debatten, med förhoppning om mer sifferbaserade argument och mindre upprepande av vänsterdogm. Har lagt in din blogg i min RSS-läsare. Gör gärna detsamma med min. Varning dock: den monterar regelbundet ner memer och påståenden från gröna och peakare. Vill du läsa något som stryker dig medhårs bör du nog hålla dig till Piketty. Min blogg: