GV4D4 - week 8

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These are my notes from November 14 for GV4D4 at the London School of Economics for the 2017-2018 school year. I took this module as part of the one-year Inequalities and Social Science MSc program.

The usual disclaimer: all notes are my personal impressions and do not necessarily reflect the view of the lecturer.

The Politics of Labour


Inequality by Anthony B. Atkinson (chapters 4-5)

Chapter 4: Technological Change and Countervailing Power

He’s basically saying that as more and more jobs get automated, the traditional way we conceive of labour & labour markets needs to change (as it’s drifting farther and farther away from its original purpose of producing/distributing scarce goods), but never actually reaches what I think should be the ultimate conclusion: that we need to socialise the means of automation.

He does have a good quote on the perils of being too reliant on technology:

Experience with robots leads us off on a path where they, increasingly, over time, replace humans, the trade-off becoming increasingly favourable. But we could have taken an alternative path where the human-service element was emphasised and the skills of people were increasingly developed. We have therefore to consider the implications of today’s production decisions for where we would like to end up in the future. Here, the motives of the firm, giving priority to the specific interests of its shareholders, may not be aligned with the wider interests of society, and we need to consider the role of countervailing power, taken up later in this chapter.

On the other hand, he thinks the state needs to intervene in innovation in order to assure continued human employment. This is decidedly not a post-work take. He also has a weird take on the Baumol effect—instead of seeing it as a totally normal and acceptable thing (an obvious side effect of increasing productivity in manufacturing etc) he sees it as something to be concerned about and thus ameliorated through increasing technological investment in service sectors? I agree with his conclusion but the logic is strange. Surely that conclusion can be reached without having to mention the Baumol effect at all. But maybe he’s just trying to convince fellow economists who can’t see the value in something unless there’s a price tag attached to it.

In the second part, he talks about the countervailing forces that prevent corporations from doing the right thing, and suggests that the state take into account distributional concerns when regulating market activity. He recognises that his proposals are “flying in the face […] of the economics literature” which, I have to say, is quite an astounding thing to fathom given just how (frankly) tame his proposals are. That says something pretty worrisome about the state of economics & the world today, I suppose.

Finally, he goes into the broader ideological shift that led to the decline of the influence of unions, mostly spurred by the passing of anti-union legislation between 1980-1993.

Chapter 5: Employment and Pay in the Future

Comparative political economy and international migration (PDF) by Afonso Alexandre and Camilla Devitt

Published 2016. On the economic effects of immigration, distinguishing between LMEs and CMEs.

A Common Neoliberal Trajectory by Lucio Baccaro, Chris Howell

Published 2011. Argues that neoliberalism has transformed industrial relations, even in CMEs that are typically thought to be more resilient. Following Streeck, wants to shift focus to understanding commonalities of capitalism rather than differences on a nation-state level. Features a bunch of case studies on industrial relations within certain European countries. Some notes:

Summary: no country is fully immune to the changes wrought by neoliberalism, and the state has played some role in all of them (it’s never just a natural outcome of the free market etc). The biggest change is for greater employer discretion (what David Harvey calls “flexible accumulation” in his Brief History of Neoliberalism).