By Will Stronge

August 2019

Things move very fast in the world of politics, and equally so for the world of progressive policy. Every month there is at least one new report that adds another brick to the edifice of meaningful change, another weapon in the fight against a failing social and economic system. The jury is still out as to what to call the system that must replace  neoliberalism (or ‘rentier capitalism’): is it some form of socialism, is it ‘dividend capitalism’, is it a new form of social democracy or is it Full Automated Luxury Communism? Whatever the name, it is of course the content of this next system that most concerns us, and plenty of progress has been made in this regard.

 

At Autonomy, we are concerned with a future of work where can all have better work, and we can all have less of it. In the policy world things have come a long way in this area too, with various organisations contributing significant research that we think needs highlighting. Indeed, it is not an overstatement to say that what have become known as ‘post-work’ themes have now firmly moved from being mere chapters within books to becoming concrete policy proposals for national governments to implement. That is quite a shift.

 

In this context, I felt it would be useful to highlight exactly where we are at in terms of the emerging policy proposals relevant to post-work. By collating them in all in one place, hopefully this page can act as a useful resource for future reference. I can also update this page as the churn of decent proposals continues at pace!

Greening Post-Work

The Green New Deal is here and is being expressed in many guises by various organisations.

Below I’ve linked to Common Wealth’s set of Green New Deal interventions. Baked into their GND is the idea of less work, expanded free time and new urban spaces to accommodate this change in culture. Autonomy_Urban (our urban research strand run by Julian Siravo) collaborated with Common Wealth on their Green New Deal City concept and design.

Alongside that I have included the ‘Ten Pillars’ of The Green New Deal for Europe, which includes, crucially, a reduction of working hours.

The benefits of a shorter working week for tackling climate change are clear; it’s great to see the idea being taken seriously in the research and policy field.

Basic Income

The basic income debate has come on hugely over the past few years. From crude characterisations of it as the ‘ultimate triumph of the individual’ back in 2016, there is now a slightly more nuanced discussion going on. Hopefully we have left the idea that basic services like the NHS and transport offer the same kind of thing as an income floor behind us; some are still repeating this error, but it seems that many have cottoned onto the nuances at play here. The New Economic Foundation’s Andrew Pendleton wrote an insightful piece on this, which I recommend.

Perhaps, as advocate Stewart Lansley believes, the debate really has moved on from the question of BI’s desirability to its feasibility.

With that in mind I am linking two documents. The first is my favourite basic income report: it offers a modest basic income, but one which would still have a huge impact on poverty in the UK. It was co-written by Stewart Lansley, whose work on ‘breadline Britain’ I highly recommend. For me, this Compass report is the closest thing we have to an implementable basic income scheme – and indeed, as the authors show, it could be deployed immediately if a government so wished.

The second link is to Guy Standing’s report for Labour’s John McDonnell. In that report you can find most of the salient arguments for a basic income in the UK, plus some concrete plans for basic income pilots. We know that McDonnell is keen on starting these trials and we know from the RSA’s polling that the public are in favour of such experiments; it seems that we are all set for phase two of the UK basic income debate.

Shorter Working Weeks

Here I must, of course, link our shorter working week report from earlier this year. Co-written with some of those from the 4 Day Week Campaign, this 90 page report is, to our knowledge, the largest of its kind in existence. It has already become a useful resource for researchers, politicians and activists and we’re proud to be behind it.

Having been there very early on in the working time policy debate, NEF went conspicuously quiet over the last half decade. They are now back with full vigour, adding significant research weight behind the issue. I link some initial findings regarding the historical trajectory of working time reductions that they put out recently, showing that we are significantly off target re. the working week that we should have in the UK. We look forward to their future output on this issue.

Social / Citizen Wealth Funds

As Guy Standing writes in his book The Corruption of Capitalism, the distribution of income in our economy is broken. The wealthiest 10% of households owned 44% of aggregate total wealth in the UK between 2014 to 2016. How do we remedy this incredible inequality, allowing for a more equal sharing of prosperity? One idea, that aggregates wealth into a publicly governed fund, is the notion of ‘social’ or ‘citizen’ wealth funds. I’m here linking a report from Friends Provident Foundation, complete with critical comment from various voices that we compiled. We believe that social wealth funds could be an important mechanism by which future wealth – created by the population – can be distributed fairly amongst the population.

With a social dividend (or basic income), labour markets would change in favour of both the employed and the unemployed. Amongst other things, having a guaranteed income removes the potential destitution that disciplines the population into taking whatever job is available. Employers would have to up their game.

Automation

Here I have to link two documents from IPPR who, as part of their continuing work on automation, have produced some excellent interventions over the past two years.

Its ‘The future is ours’ report is an excellent and balanced study and proposal that makes arguments that have hitherto been the remit of radical activists and academics: the future of work, and the automation we can expect, is a gender issue. The paper, written by Carys Roberts and colleagues,  builds on Autonomy’s ‘Shorter Working Week’ paper from February but adds whole new research ballast.

Following that, it is worth posting IPPR’s previous ‘Managing Automation’ paper – which we at Autonomy have commented on before. Here we have sharp analysis, ambitious aims for the UK economy and an unflinching realism when it comes to the policy dilemmas at hand. Needless to say, one of its authors, Mat Lawrence, quickly became a collaborator (on our forthcoming Valencia project. He’s now a research affiliate).