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Between euphoria and despair

Updated: May 22, 2021

At long last, I got some things fixed on my website. I must confess that I haven't paid as much attention to the website as I should, being an independent professional. For us, a website is a visiting card and essential marketing tool.

We, independent professionals, are a growing part of working life, and a very particular one. Passion is often a driving force for those of us who have voluntarily chosen this form of work. But it comes at a price. It is a price that artists have had to pay for aeons. I'm so impressed by the artists' work. You need multiple skills to turn your vision into a piece of art. A crucial question is, are these skills given the credit they deserve and are artists compensated for their work?

For somebody like me, who uses words to pursue my passion, it could be much easier. But it isn't necessarily so. A significant challenge for many independent professionals, under whatever legal category we work, is that we lack the infrastructure and complementary know-how that somebody has access to when being part of a work collective.

Take my website that I'm still trying to fix. For an IT professional it would be a piece of cake, for somebody in any other field than IT, it can feel like mounting Mont Everest.

Thus, the heading of this blog – oscillating between euphoria and despair.

Over 30 years, I've been advocating for a changed perception of work. The reason for this is that labour legislation is based on full-time and long-term employment; otherwise it's called atypical. So, however typical deviations from the 'standard' are these days; be they short-term or part-time employment, 0-hour contracts, work thought a hiring agency or a platform or whatever 'innovations' there are to the legislative standard they are 'atypical'. To varying degrees, people are thereby deprived of the protection labour legislation is intended to provide, making an increasing part of working people a member of the precariat.

Under all these years, I've only once stumbled upon one thinker with the same agenda, James Robertson. I did so in the 2010s although he had published his book Future work. Jobs, self-employment and leisure after the industrial age in 1985. He points to how work has become individualised, and he coined the term 'ownwork', which he sees as the future mode of work. He questions the idea of full employment, a concern that he later reiterates with focus on money in his book Future Money, Breakdown or Breakthrough?, (2012). "Does it make sense to manage the money system to drive as many of us as possible into paid jobs working for other people and organisations richer and more powerful than ourselves?" he asks. "Might it not make better sense if the money system were managed to allow and enable more of us who wish to work, paid or unpaid, for ourselves and one another, on useful and valuable 'ownwork', to do so?"

I'm not the only one who has had to wait 30 years to have support for an alternative way of approaching work. I'm here in the excellent company of Marylin Waring, feminist economist and professor of economic policy. In a Ted Talk, she tells how she had to wait for 30 years to get economists' confirmation of her view about how to remedy the misconceived way in which the gross domestic product, GDP, measures wealth.

Her longstanding advocacy that account should be taken of the activities people are engaged in was confirmed by the economic Nobel Prize Laureates, Josef Stiglitz and Amartya Sen together with the economic professor Jean-Paul Fitoussi in 2009. After the financial meltdown of 2008, these economists were commissioned by the French President Sarkozy to inquire alternative means of measuring economic performance and social progress. In the Ted talk, Waring said she was pleased to see that the Nobel prize laureates had arrived at the same conclusions as she had done 30 years ago!

As opposed to GDP that measures market transactions, time use is here the decisive form of measurement. And gradually we get measurements that reveal the magnitude of unpaid work that in GDP terms is seen as unproductive activities! As Marilyn Waring observes in her Ted Talk, a woman going into hard labour when giving birth is in GDP terms unproductive!

Also, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, is now recommending time use as a means of measuring societal value. Here some random pricks of recent calculations of the value of unpaid work from Daniel Susskind's book A World Without Work (2020).

Most caregiving is unpaid.

- In the US, about 40 million family caregivers provide $500 billion of unpaid care to adults every year.

- In the UK, around 6.5 million caregivers provide unpaid care worth up to £100 billion.

Most housework is unpaid.

- In the UK, the combined value of household routines is estimated to count for £800 billion—more than four times the size of the manufacturing sector (my emphasis).

And it should be noted that most of this work is done by women.

To the 'atypical' categories of work should further be added the expanding number of people performing ghost work behind the digital devices we use. This is a significant chapter of its own, to which I will return to in due course, guided by Mary L Gray and Siddharth Suri through their book Ghost work: how to stop Silicon Valley from building a new global underclass (2019).

In my research, I have come to the conclusion that a global universal basic income would be a remedy and at least a partial compensation for the work done outside labour legislation's narrow and penalising premises.

With a changed perception of work, we would hardly have any unemployment.

With a basic income, we would have money circulating where it's most needed.

The question is, how shall we reach the critical mass to make this happen?


James Robertson

- Future Work: Jobs, self-employment and leisure after the industrial age, Temple Smith/Gower 1985

- Future Money: Breakdown or Breakthrough? Green Books, Totnes, 2012

Joseph E. Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, Jean-Paul Fitoussi, Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, Paris, January 2009

Daniel Susskind A World Without Work, Penguin (2020)

Marilyn Waring, The unpaid work that GDP ignores, Ted Talk

Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri, Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass, 2019

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