Farewell to full employment

Full employment will never return. This, however, is not the end but the beginning of a multi-activity society.

This is the thesis presented by Mikko Heikka in his regular column in the news weekly Suomen Kuvalehti (15 September 2000). Setting the scene, Heikka points out that according to forecasts in ten years time only half of the German workforce will have a full-time, permanent job. The rest of the employees will be either unemployed or can only get irregular jobs.

Heikka writes that this trend will be seen elsewhere in Europe as well. People will be forced into a desperate competition for jobs. In future, a full-time job will be available for only very few lucky ones. The great majority will drift outside of society unless there is a change in this development.

The American “work miracle” has been much talked about, but, according to Heikka, this is a strange promise of full employment.

“In all truthfulness, it has to be said that the neo-liberal US model has created a job market where tens of millions of people have to perform many jobs simultaneously in order to survive. Misery and scarcity have been shared between more and more people and this development is also evident in low hourly wages.”

Heikka also writes about what sociologists have begun to call “the prison miracle”.

“Even now, almost two million youngsters are locked up and obviously they are not counted in the unemployment figures. If this central feature of US social security is included, US unemployment is comparable to that of Europe.”

In Finland, unemployment stays unrelentlessly high, almost 300 000. When robots do the work, humans have to do something else, Heikka says. He then turns to the work of two modern scholars who have thought about the consequences of this kind of development.

Friethjof Bergmann recommends a new division of existing work. The wealth created by the information society makes it possible in the future for every citizen to work only three days in a week. Two days will be used for personal puposes and two days in creative work in politics, arts and culture.

Ulrich Beck, according to Heikka, has taken this model even further. Beck agrees with Bergmann that the crisis of the work society can be turned into a victory for humanity. He foresees a multi-activity society where wage-labour is only one part of human life.

In the model suggested by Beck, the working hours of those in a full-time job will be limited and work shared between more people. In the second stage of this reform, the aim is to secure for everybody at least one foot in working life. In the third stage emphasis will be put on citizen’s work. This will entail domestic tasks, parenthood and work in culture and politics. For this work, people would be given money compensation, social security and a pension. In the last stage people will be given the right to shuttle between wage-labour and citizen’s work, according to everyone’s life situation. This requires a new division of labour inside families. Women have to be given a genuine choice.

Heikka says that in a multi-activity society the concept of work will change completely.

“The meaning of wage-labour will diminish and creative forms of work will gain new meaningfulness. In a post-wage-labour society everybody has the right to plan their life in a way that makes it possible individually to shuttle between family, parenthood,  culture, politics and wage-labour.

“Will anyone miss full employment if the alternative is a multi-activity cultural society?” Heikka asks in conclusion.

See also:

"Would inefficiency create more happiness?"

23 June 2000

Nordic model seen as a trump card

24 May 2000

Doubts about Blair's 'third way'

10 May 2000

Lutheran bishops in defence of the Nordic welfare State

24 February 2000

Poverty assumes modern disguises

1 February 2000

Bishops attack Anglo-American economic doctrines

March 1999

Nordic model defended by Finnish Prime Minister

January 1999

Lutheran worries about welfare state

March 1997

From Lutheranism to the crisis of modern welfare state by Torkel Jansson

March 1997


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