Towards the Garfield Left (Away from Basic Income)
Mike Konczal
33519

Reducing workweek, though it sounds nice, seems to be exactly the opposite of where things are headed. My understanding is that workweek for the upper income strata has been getting longer, so to speak, in addition to their income growing larger. For all sorts of market barriers, people who are working cannot be substituted for by people who are not working. Skills are one factor, but not necessarily the only one — research has been showing (I can’t come up with cites at the moment) that the screening process for job applicants has been steadily getting longer in general, especially for the higher end positions. The cost of finding and adding new workers to the system is such that firms find it worth the while to get more out of the existing workforce than tap into new one, which further distorts the labor market (are these new costs justified? There is new econ research suggesting that they are not, so I’m told. But the costs are real and they do distort the market.)

I agree that UBI is far too problematic as a simple fix — people need a sense of dignity, and, rightly or wrongly, dignity is tied to having a job. Give people income without jobs, and we may well see a lot of social ills cropping up. But history of labor movement does not look favorably upon a sort of universal empowerment of the workers either: the AFL-CIO divide in the late 19th century reflected exactly the divide I’m describing: AFL was the organization of the skilled workers, the workers who already had jobs, so to speak; CIO was the organization of the unskilled, the potential workforce who either had only precarious claim to work or didn’t have jobs already, even. AFL did not look kindly upon CIO. It’s the modern equivalent of CIO that stands on the precipace.

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