Andrew Kliman, author of The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession, has written an article for the New Left Project about post-work society, and why it appears to be catching on now.
He begins by posing a question to us, and outlining the views of Keynesian economist John Quiggin and Jacobin writer, Chris Maisano:
But why is post-work catching on at this particular moment, when lack of work is the immediate and intractable problem faced by tens of millions of workers in Europe and the U.S.? Quiggin tells us that the renewed interest is the result of Robert and Edward Skidelsky’s promotion of a 1930 essay in which John Maynard Keynes suggested that a 15-hour workweek would become feasible by about 2030. But the underlying goal is to give social democracy a human face—for even its proponents find it rather desiccated in its received form.
He then explains why such theories have risen again after their failure in the 70s:
The problem here is that Keynesianism and social democracy don’t work. They failed in the global economic crisis of the 1970s and they failed when Mitterrand’s government tried to implement them in France shortly thereafter. These events killed them off––for good, I thought. But since the latest global crisis can’t easily be blamed on Keynesianism and social democracy, they’ve recently risen from the dead (zombie-like, as Quiggin might say).
He then re-visits Mitterrand’s experiment:
It definitely wasn’t your standard post-war social-democracy. I was very excited about it at the time. In coalition with the Communists, Mitterrand’s Socialist Party came to power in the spring of 1981, promising rapid economic growth and reduced unemployment. The new government nationalized a lot of industry and virtually the whole of France’s financial sector became directly government controlled. New laws strengthened the power of the trade unions. The minimum wage was increased several times; by the end of 1982, it had risen by 39%. Rent controls and new taxes were imposed, including a wealth tax and a maximum 75% tax rate on income. Private healthcare was curtailed. Significant capital controls to prevent the outflow of funds from France were already in place and the new government strengthened them further.
And in order to solve the country’s serious unemployment problem, the government engaged in fiscal stimulus, the central bank pursued an easy-money policy, and (proponents of reduced work take note) measures to reduce working time, without cutting pay, were implemented. Specifically, paid holiday time was raised from four weeks a year to five, and the workweek was cut from 40 hours to 39 as the first step in a plan to reduce it to 35 hours by 1985.
He concludes that without a change in the system, the post-work vision will never become a reality.
I on the other hand think that historical experience and a bit of reflection show that the system has a “logic” of its own, so that what must be replaced is the system itself, not just the current personifications of it. Technological possibilities notwithstanding, there isn’t going to be much progress toward a post-work society, or indeed a lot of other good stuff, until we grapple seriously with the fact that capitalism operates as it does because of its autonomous logic, not because of the specific priorities of those who happen to be running the system at any particular moment. If we don’t deal with this problem head-on, the inspiring post-work vision will simply degenerate into a slogan used by wannabe personifications of capitalism to win support for their efforts to replace the current personifications.
You can read the article at its original source here.
Andrew Kliman’s book, The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession can be bought for just £16 by clicking on the cover image below.
Professor Bertell Ollman, New York University, author of Dance of the Dialectic
“Clear, rigorous and combatitive. A Failure of Capitalist Production demonstrates that the current economic crisis is a consequence of the fundamental dynamic of capitalism, unlike the vast bulk of superficial, contemporary commentary that passes for economic analysis.”
Rick Kuhn, Deutscher Prize winner, Reader in Politics at the Australian National University and long-time activist.
“Among the myriad publications on the present day crisis, this work stands out as something unusual. Kliman is an excellent theorist, and an equally excellent analyst of empirical data.”
Paresh Chattopadhyay, Université du Québec à Montréal