Posts Tagged ‘labor’

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According to mainstream economists, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Sure there is, I teach my students: just abolish monopolies and oligopolies, and the economy can increase production (technically, the economy can move from inside to the production possibilities frontier without any new resources or technology, just by eliminating imperfect competition).

There’s also another free lunch—and, for that matter, breakfast and supper: a universal basis income.

The idea of “just giving people money” seems to have returned as a real topic of discussion. And it’s about time, as inequality (already obscene) continues to grow, workers (already embattled) have less and less security on the job (whether because of outsourcing, automation, or just plain corporate reorganization and cost-cutting), and the ranks of the working poor (already enormous) have swelled.

Andrew Flowers summarizes the main points in the current debate—although strangely there’s not a single mention of the work of Philippe Van Parijs, who has offered the most comprehensive case for a universal basic income.

The modern debate actually began in 1848—no, not in the Communist Manifesto, but in a book by Fourierist Joseph CharlierSolution du problème social ou constitution humanitaire, basée sur la loi naturelle, et précédée de l’exposé de motifs, in which he proposed a scheme with a basic income paid unconditionally to every member of society, regardless of need or ability to work. (There’s a lot more in the work of the utopian socialists—Charles Fourier, Robert Owen, Henri de Saint-Simon, and others—we would do well to take up today.)

But, to my mind, Van Parijs (in a variety of columns, articles, and books, dating back to the early 2000s) has developed the most interesting and incisive elaboration and defense of the idea of a universal basic income and a critique of the alternatives (such as a negative income-tax system and lump-sum payments). Here he is responding to some of the major objections:

Suppose everything I have said thus far is persuasive: that the UBI, if it could be instituted, would be a natural and attractive way of ensuring a fair distribution of real freedom, fighting unemployment without increasing poverty, and promoting the central goals of both the feminist and the green movements. What are the objections?

Perhaps the most common is that a UBI would cost too much. . .

But these calculations are misleading. A wide range of existing benefits can be abolished or reduced once a UBI is in place. And for most people of working age, the basic income and the increased taxes (most likely in the form of an abolition of exemptions and of low tax rates for the lowest income brackets) required to pay for it will largely offset each other. In a country such as the United States, which has developed a reasonably effective revenue collection system, what matters is not the gross cost but its distributive impact–which could easily work out the same for a UBI or an NIT. . .

A second frequent objection is that a UBI would have perverse labor supply effects. (In fact, some American income maintenance experiments in the 1970s showed such effects.) The first response should be: “So what?” Boosting the labor supply is no aim in itself. No one can reasonably want an overworked, hyperactive society. Give people of all classes the opportunity to reduce their working time or even take a complete break from work in order to look after their children or elderly relatives. You will not only save on prisons and hospitals. You will also improve the human capital of the next generation. A modest UBI is a simple and effective instrument in the service of keeping a socially and economically sound balance between the supply of paid labor and the rest of our lives. . .

A third objection is moral rather than simply pragmatic. A UBI, it is often said, gives the undeserving poor something for nothing. According to one version of this objection, a UBI conflicts with the fundamental principle of reciprocity: the idea that people who receive benefits should respond in kind by making contributions. Precisely because it is unconditional, it assigns benefits even to those who make no social contribution–who spend their mornings bickering with their partner, surf off Malibu in the afternoon, and smoke pot all night. . .

True, a UBI is undeserved good news for the idle surfer. But this good news is ethically indistinguishable from the undeserved luck that massively affects the present distribution of wealth, income, and leisure. Our race, gender, and citizenship, how educated and wealthy we are, how gifted in math and how fluent in English, how handsome and even how ambitious, are overwhelmingly a function of who our parents happened to be and of other equally arbitrary contingencies. Not even the most narcissistic self-made man could think that he fixed the parental dice in advance of entering this world. Such gifts of luck are unavoidable and, if they are fairly distributed, unobjectionable. A minimum condition for a fair distribution is that everyone should be guaranteed a modest share of these undeserved gifts.

Such a moral argument will not be sufficient in reshaping the politically possible. But it may well prove crucial. Without needing to deny the importance of work and the role of personal responsibility, it will save us from being over-impressed by a fashionable political rhetoric that justifies bending the least advantaged more firmly under the yoke. It will make us even more confident about the rightness of a universal basic income than about the rightness of universal suffrage. It will make us even more comfortable about everyone being entitled to an income, even the lazy, than about everyone being entitled to a vote, even the incompetent.

As I say, it’s about time we take up the issue of a free lunch—and breakfast and dinner—for everyone, especially for those who are every day forced to have the freedom to be bent “more firmly under the yoke.”


Posted: 22 April 2016 in Uncategorized
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Everybody knows that Americans are increasingly overworked [ht: sm].

Half a century ago, overtime pay was the norm, with more than 60 percent of salaried employees qualifying. These are largely the sorts of office- and service-sector workers who never enjoyed the protection of union membership. But over the last 40 years the threshold has been allowed to steadily erode, so that only about 8 percent qualify today. If you feel as if you’re working longer hours for less money than your parents did, it’s probably because you are.

Today, if you’re salaried and earn more than $23,600 dollars a year, you don’t automatically qualify for overtime: That means every extra hour you work, you work free. . .

A 2014 Gallup poll found that salaried Americans now report working an average of 47 hours a week — not the supposedly standard 40 — while 18 percent report working more than 60 hours. And yet overtime pay has become such a rarity that many Americans don’t even realize that a majority of salaried workers were once eligible.

In a cruel twist, the longer and harder we work for the same wage, the fewer jobs there are for others, the higher unemployment goes and the more we weaken our own bargaining power. That helps explain why over the last 30 years, corporate profits have doubled from about 6 percent of gross domestic product to about 12 percent, while wages have fallen by almost exactly the same amount. The erosion of overtime and other labor protections is one of the main factors leading to worsening inequality.

This is also called absolute surplus-value.

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For more than a week, vast nocturnal protest gatherings that are rising in number—from parents with babies to students, workers, artists, and pensioners—have spread across France [ht: jf] in a citizen-led movement that has rattled the government.

Called Nuit debout, which loosely means “rise up at night”, the protest movement is increasingly being likened to the Occupy initiative that mobilised hundreds of thousands of people in 2011 or Spain’s Indignados.

Despite France’s long history of youth protest movements – from May 1968 to vast rallies against pension changes – Nuit debout, which has spread to cities such as Toulouse, Lyon and Nantes and even over the border to Brussels, is seen as a new phenomenon.

It began on 31 March with a night-time sit-in in Paris after the latest street demonstrations by students and unions critical of President François Hollande’s proposed changes to labour laws. But the movement and its radical nocturnal action had been dreamed up months earlier at a Paris meeting of leftwing activists. . .

The idea emerged among activists linked to a leftwing revue and the team behind the hit documentary film Merci Patron!, which depicts a couple taking on France’s richest man, billionaire Bernard Arnault. But the movement gained its own momentum – not just because of the labour protests or in solidarity with theFrench Goodyear tyre plant workers who kidnapped their bosses in 2014. It has expanded to address a host of different grievances, including the state of emergency and security crackdown in response to last year’s terrorist attacks.


Who made it?

Posted: 11 January 2016 in Uncategorized
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source [ht: sm]

Yes, the -isms determine who gets paid—and, of course, who gets to appropriate the surplus.


Special mention

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Special mention

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