Three Big Ideas for a Future of Less Work and a Three-Dimensional Alternative

Source: Cynthia Estlund, Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 82 no. 3, 2019

….At the same time, each of those three big ideas holds within it an essential component of a sound three dimensional response to the uncertain but real prospect of job losses. In lieu of UBI [universal basic income], we should expand universal social benefits—starting with health care and higher education—and income support for the working and non-working poor. In lieu of a federal job guarantee, we should ramp up public investments in infrastructure, social and community services, and early education, all of which would address unmet societal needs while creating decent jobs. And in lieu of (or at least before) reducing weekly hours of work across the board, we should expand access to paid leaves, holidays, and vacations, as well as voluntary part-time work and retirement security; we could thereby spread work and meet varied individual needs and preferences through days, weeks, months, and years of time off.

In combination, these three interventions—expanded universal social benefits and income support, public investments in physical and social infrastructure and the job creation those will entail, and wider access to paid leaves and respites from work—would advance core objectives of each of the three big ideas while muting their disadvantages. Together they would both cushion and offset automation-related job losses, while spreading the work that remains and maintaining or boosting incomes. This trio of policies could and should also be funded in a way that helps to redistribute income from the top to the bottom of an egregiously and increasingly lopsided income distribution.

…..In what follows, I will fill in the outlines of this argument. Part II will briefly set out some normative priors about the multiple ends we should be pursuing as we face a future of less work. A long Part III will take up each of the Three Big Ideas, briefly tracing their genealogy and identifying some strengths and weaknesses of each. Part IV will return to the core aspirations of the Three Big Ideas, and sketch a combination of the three – a three-dimensional strategy – that can preserve much of the good while avoiding much that is problematic in the more single-minded Three Big Ideas. ….