In our economic system, economic growth and employment are systematically linked. Growth allows the creation of jobs. In addition, the social security system, including parental benefits, is linked to work, and only working people are within. In countries with an export-led growth model, such as Germany, the economy needs more skilled people every year. By contrast, the unskilled and the long-term unemployed remain outside the labour market.
The need to restructure the economy away from its dependence on growth is both a challenge and an opportunity to build a new social system based on the equality and dignity of every human being. Policy instruments such as some forms of universal basic income (UBI) or job guarantees could be helpful in this endeavour. Accordingly, people who choose or are forced to remain outside the labour market should receive a UBI that enables them to live a dignified life and fulfil their care obligations without pressuring them to take up work. On the other hand, people who want to work should be allowed to do so. Their jobs should be guaranteed, with the state and NGOs organising a secondary labour market for people who have been out of the regular labour market for a long time. This labour market would allow them to develop their skills and eventually return to the primary labour market.
These policies – UBI and job guarantee – are associated with different economic ideas, UBI with left-libertarianism and job guarantee with the more traditional left. Yet both have their merits in designing a labour market in a post-growth economy. The work-related social security system treats people who remain outside the labour market unfairly and could be improved by a form of UBI that is paid to citizens either according to their life cycle, their caring responsibilities or irrespective of any conditions. The job guarantee is not a workfare measure – no one should be forced to work – but allows everyone who wants to work to do so, significantly reducing the social and psychological costs of unemployment in societies.
As we face the climate crisis, our economies must stop relying on growth if humanity and the planet are to survive. The labour market will have to be organised differently under these circumstances. It is high time to experiment with new social and labour policies, some of which – such as UBI or job guarantees – are already well developed.
Krathwald, Brigitte (2017), Commoning: Selbstbestimmtes Arbeiten als zukunftsweisende Praxis?, Diefenbacher, Hans; Held, Benjamin; Rodenhäuser, Dorothee (ed.), Ende des Wachstums – Arbeit ohne Ende? Arbeiten in einer Postwachstumsgesellschaft. Die Wirtschaft der Gesellschaft Jahrbuch 3. Metropolis-Verlag. Marburg 2017.
Ewa Dąbrowska, weltgewandt e.V. / Germany
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