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The Future of Work

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Since my last update, I wrote a piece in US News, The Man Who Would Be Caesar, arguing that Democrats need to develop an agenda to address the challenges of threatened working Americans:

  • This will hardly come from the upward income transfer policies of those on the right, including [Donald] Trump, who cynically have exploited these voters’ ennui to promote policies that actually run counter to their economic interests.… These are people our country has failed.

Of course, every time I write about Trump, I receive nasty emails from Trump supporters. This time, besides the usual vitriol, the writer complained that I didn’t really have a plan myself for how to address these problems. So, I decided I should sketch what a fuller agenda might look like – however, I quickly realized that would take more than a single piece. So, in a Labor Day article, Misdiagnosing Labor Pains, I first laid out my three-part diagnosis:

  • American consumers benefit from the lower prices of goods produced overseas; workers who used to produce those goods in the U.S. do not. This does not mean that we ought to resist trade or immigration … but it does make it incumbent upon proponents of each to consider how to help those displaced by change to transition to new jobs.
  • Another related challenge is technological advance…. [F]urther technological advances in robotics and Artificial Intelligence, among others, will render even more jobs obsolete.
  • [T]he giggification of work, the reduction of most of us from lifelong employees to day-to-day, part-time, self-employed “consultants,” has been occurring for decades, too. It will intensify.

In yesterday’s article, Our Looming Economic Future, I describe how to address the transition the transition to this new high-tech economy. I’ve got some wonky suggestions (“focus more workforce funding and attention on the often-neglected area of incumbent worker retraining … and improve the wayward ‘Trade Adjustment Assistance’ program with expanded ‘wage insurance’”), some surprising facts (it takes roughly 10 Chinese workers to match the output of one American worker), and some of my favorite ideas for the future:

  • Elite school and public colleges in some jurisdictions are slowly transitioning to a “pay it forward” system in which the education is free upfront but paid for over a lifetime commensurate with the outcome it produces; this is the future, and public institutions should lead the way in getting there sooner.
  • Tilting the playing field back toward worker organizing is one of the easiest things government can do to improve the economic prospects of many working class Americans…. [T]he ultimate answer probably will be not further pro-union legislation but the development of worker-owned, for-profit labor supply firms.

I found a further piece was necessary just to address the problems of the “gig economy.” You’ll see that next week – along with articles in two other publications on related topics: immigration in the print journal Aspenia, and trade in Aspenia Online.

As for my future work, I hosted a two-day retreat last month to discuss new models for delivering public goods that I’m working on with some other folks, and which I’ll be talking about at Harvard next week. I’m also meeting about institutionalizing the retreat – a sort of “Davos for Doing Good” – with officials at my two other alma maters, Brown and Columbia. And I’m kicking off a new series of forums this fall on the “Future of [everything from politics to conflict to economics],” in addition to my “Future of Government” course, at the University of Chicago. Further details on all these in my next update.

Latest blog by @ericschnurer 'The Future of Work' addresses challenges of threatened working Americans
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