Degrowth and unemployment:
Second International Degrowth Conference,
Barcelona, 26-29 March, 2010,
by Blake Alcott
PhD candidate, School of Earth and Environment,
University of Leeds
best of times, worst of times
The Great Depression 1930s (unwanted degrowth):
1776 – 2008 economic BOOM:
MASSIVE RISE in population and jobs
“Last year, as the banking crisis rapidly turned into a severe recession,
the great worry was about how many millions would lose their jobs.”
Guardian 18 March 2010 p 32
“After Obama’s health care victory,
his focus will be on the economy, on jobs.” Channel 4 News, 22 March 2010
“Upbeat chancellor promises a budget for growth and jobs.”
Guardian 24 March 2010 p 1
Shrinkage causes unemployment.
FALSE x Distribution of work is political.
Yes, jobs temporarily disappear during recession,
But ultimately: Society, not the economy,
determines how many people are out of work.
We could guarantee jobs just as we guarantee
primary schooling, garbage collection and non-starvation.
To what problem are guaranteed jobs a
NOT poverty……………………………… CONFLATION #1: INCOME & JOB
Joblessness and low purchasing power are different.
Against poverty we have the dole;
or the guaranteed income.
NOT ‘good’ neglected public jobs like caring for people
and public space…………………. CONFLATION #2: JOB & PUBLIC WORKS
(But these goals might be compatible.)
Joblessness means psychological and social ill-being;
it is a distinct problem on its own.
A Human Right?
Article 23.1 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948:
“Everyone has the right to work,
to free choice of employment,
to just and favourable conditions of work
and to protection against unemployment.”
Millenium Goal #1 “End Poverty and Hunger” 2005:
“full and productive employment and decent work for all.”
NOTICE THE CONFLATIONS: ‘favourable’, ‘decent’
• ‘communist’ bloc
– East Germany, China Again:
– today in North Korea wage level, material wealth,
is a separate issue.
The issue is only alleviation
– Employment Guarantee Scheme 1965
of the pain of not having a
• Argentina since 2002 ‘job’.
– work market (‘part-wage’)
– subsidized private sector jobs: as a right
One argument : It’s cheaper than welfare.
indirect paths direct paths
economic growth stop-gap programs
deficit spending loans or subsidies
to become self-employed
to 35 (France)
RIGHT to a job
or 21 hours (nef)
falling wages (laissez-faire) These are the economic approach.
education, training These are the political approach.
The political approach
society; debate in
political rules 19th
the ‘economy’ man vs.
(of a given size) machine;
jobs Say &
a just distribution of jobs
Rival policy: Guaranteed income
• purchasing power guaranteed
• no requirement to do productive work
• de facto already the case in some rich countries
fact is, joblessness is for many very painful at my
• empty days Greenpeace
• no sense of achievement
• loss of prestige
• guilt for mooching about our jobs?”
In ‘socially marketing’ itself, Degrowth needs the Guaranteed Job.
Rival (no) policy: FREEFALL
• Wages down, # jobs up
• No barriers to self-employment
• No guaranteed income
– neither for everybody (system Friedman)
– nor for the ‘poor’ only
• After unemployment insurance payments run
out, it’s everybody for himself
degrowth®: equilibrium at lower-income but full-employment level
Rival policy: shorter ‘working life’
• nef (New Economics Foundation) report Feb. 2010
– “the ill-being associated with unemployment”
– advocates however a minimum wage, which increases
• France under Jospin 35-hour week
– What was the empirical result? (70,000 new ‘jobs’ in its
first 5 years?) What happened to pay?
– Corine Maier’s book? In 2005 CBS said unemployment was
‘undented’, remaining above 10%.
• perhaps this is the wrong approach
– Limits on overtime must accompany this.
– Pressure to produce more per hour.
Why such indirect approaches when Guaranteed Job
Rival policy: ‘welfare-to-work’
• the alliterative British ‘welfare-to-work’
scheme; privatised, e.g. to Working Links, a
private company SocietyGuardian 3 March 2010 p. 5
• subsidises job-seeking; companies get £1,500
per successfully-place jobseeker.
• in 10 years, 13,000 jobseekers/year were
gotten jobs; profits: £1.6m, 33% of which
went to an ‘in-house charity’
neo-liberal: the joblessness of some is a business opportunity
• A good idea even in the best of times.
• A good idea if we want support
for wanted degrowth.
• Treat full employment as a political issue,
not an economic one.
• Decouple jobs from growth.
Recession is actually good –
if there is income fairness and no loss of jobs .
Thank you for listening. Questions and objections.
• Alcott, Blake, 2009. At www.degrowth.ch > gerecht (in German)
• Echeverri-Gent, John, 1988. Guaranteed employment in an Indian state:
The Maharastra experience. Asian Survey Vol. VIII (12): 1294-1310.
• Jochimsen, Maren, & Ursula Knoblauch, 1997. Making the hidden visible:
The importance of caring activities and their principles for any economy.
Ecological Economics 20 (2): 107-112.
• Mellor, Mary, 1997. Women, nature and the social construction of
‘economic man’. Ecological Economics 20 (2): 129-140.
• Mitchell, William F., 1998. The Buffer Stock Employment model and the
NAIRU: The path to full employment. Journal of Economic Issues 32 (2):
• nef (New Economics Foundation), 2010. 21 Hours.
• Sawyer, Malcolm, 2003. Employer of last resort: Could it deliver full
employment and price stability? Journal of Economic Issues 37 (4): 881-
• Steensland, Brian, 2008. The Failed Welfare Revolution: America’s Struggle
over Guaranteed Income Policy. Princeton U. Press, Princeton.
• Wray, L. Randall, 2007. The Employer of Last Resort programme: Could it
work for developing countries? International Labour Office (ILO) Working
Paper 2007/5, Geneva. http://www.cfeps.org/elm07-5.pdf
EGS Maharashtra/all of India
• 1984-85: 178,000,000 work days
– = 10 days for each worker in ‘rural’ work force
– = 300 days for 3.4% of ‘rural’ work force
– 600,000 workers (= 4,000 Rupees each)
• for ‘public works’
• 2.3 billion Rupees =
• 7 departments involved; expanded India-wide 2005
• “Employment becomes a political as well as an
economic issue, and the articulation of political
demands becomes a means of securing a livelihood.”
(Echeverri-Gent 1988 p 1304)
also: Argentinian programme
Are jobs good?
• We are lazy, work is almost by definition
irksome, a matter of peine.
• So why on earth should we guarantee jobs?
• Good question.
– marital break-up
– drinking alcohol
• In any case: Many want a ‘job’.