economics


Conor Cradden    30 April 2018

I’ve just read the April 20th draft of the 2019 World Development Report on The Changing Nature of Work. Duncan Green of Oxfam has already given a useful overall assessment of an earlier draft that you can read here. Duncan picks up in particular on the report’s absolute neglect of questions of power and its rather magical thinking about what might be possible in terms of the creation of social safety nets. An even more critical analysis is posted here by the ITUC’s Peter Bakvis, a longtime World Bank watcher. Peter doesn’t mince his words on the topic of the report’s attitude to labour regulation, but I think he’s still being too diplomatic.

I’ve already taken issue with the Bank’s overall approach based on a look at the concept note that was released in February. Among the other questions I raised in that piece was why the bank has chosen to focus on work and employment in 2019. They know perfectly well that next year is the International Labour Organization’s 100th anniversary and that it will be producing a major report on the future of work. Given that the raison d’être of the ILO is to agree international law on labour and employment, producing a report whose main aim is to attack labour regulation adds insult to injury. What’s even more insulting is that the argument in the report is so breathtakingly bad. The World Bank has a poor record when it comes to work and employment, but this is a new low. Having produced a report that is intellectually dishonest where it is not simply incompetent, the authors have managed the extraordinary feat of rolling their tanks onto the ILO’s lawn only to fire off a series of squibs that are not so much damp as soaking wet.

It’s hard to get into the detail of what the authors do wrong without very quickly running into the thousands of words, so this sort of analysis is not well-suited to a social media format. The short version below is extremely compressed and doesn’t give examples of how the authors do what they do. This is kind of important—a lot of what I want to highlight is the inherent dishonesty of the method—so please take a look at the long version if you can.

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The World Bank has just released a ‘concept note’ for its 2019 World Development Report (WDR), which is going to be about ‘The Changing Nature of Work’. The WDR is the Bank’s flagship research and policy publication. Every year it chooses some development-related topic and produces what’s intended to be a headline-grabbing report on it. This has been going on since 1978. Topics have included everything from conflict to climate change to education to finance. Work is one of the few subjects to have been a theme of the WDR more than once. Unfortunately, it’s also the subject about which the Bank is most frequently on the wrong side of the argument.

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World Bank President Jim Kim

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pcApologies for lateness! Paul Mason’s book PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future came out in 2015. However it wasn’t until the victory of Donald Trump that I realised how important it was. Do yourself a favour: grab a copy of this book and get familiar with the mess we’re in. Come to terms with the fact we won’t be saved by Bernie Sanders, yet alone Hillary Clinton.

That said, it’s not a grim read. Quite the opposite. I remember thinking so furiously as I was reading it that my internal discussions kept drowning out the text. It was like singing along (albeit terribly) to a new favourite song. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. It didn’t really matter whether I was agreeing or disagreeing with what he saying (I was doing a bit of both); it was just bloody good fun.

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FWUMThis article proposes the creation of a new international sustainability standard certifying that wages and working conditions are set through ongoing processes of good faith collective bargaining. Businesses and unions that comply with the standard will be entitled to apply the ‘Fair Work: Union Made’ label to their products and services. The authors argue that while such a voluntary standard cannot substitute for robust collective and individual labour law, it is likely to be an effective means of promoting collective industrial relations.

If you are interested in being part of a small team to take this idea further, please contact communications@newunionism.net. (more…)


DAWPerhaps the left is not as divided as the right would have us believe.

Back in 2011 we looked at four alternatives to capitalism that had been proposed since 2000 (see http://goo.gl/GB7Qs). All of the models had one thing in common: they all called for the democratization of work. In 2008 this became one of New Unionism’s four key principles (more). Of course, the Bolivarians have been saying this for years (recently here). And Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky have since joined the chorus (here and here). Now there’s a major new voice provides a thumping bass: Richard Wolff’s “Workplace Democracy: A Cure for Capitalism” (Haymarket 2013).

In many ways, Wolff’s book is the one to start with. You might then go on to read about socialist markets, participatory economics or occupational citizenship (a la Schweickart, Albert and Standing respectively), but at least you’d have done the big-picture thinking first.

Let me try to provide an overview in one paragraph, for those who can’t afford $15 +p&p (order here).  Apologies to Prof Wolff for what follows — one must murder in order to dissect. Eighteenth century revolutions in France and the USA delivered people from monarchy and ushered in a new age of democracy. Or so the dominant narrative would have us believe. In reality, democracy was never extended into the field of economics. Rather, the revolutions delivered control of production and distribution into the hands of the emerging capitalist class. Something similar happened with the Russian revolution, although it was the State and the Party that ended up with control of economics. Wolff argues that the people who produce the goods (or services) should be the same folks who decide on what to do with the value they create. He explains his rationale quite logically (there is no trace of table-thumping in this book), and puts up a pretty convincing case for the view that this would change dynamics right at the base of society. Workplace democracy may not be a solution to the cycle of crises in itelf, but at long last it allows for solutions to emerge. Hell, we might even survive as a species. (more…)

By Richard D Wolff
(originally published here; republished with permission)
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Wolff_296036_2353151700728_1008216970_2799593_1730531602_nCapitalism has stopped “delivering the goods” for quite a while now, especially in its older bases (Europe, North America and Japan). Real wage stagnation, deepening wealth and income inequalities, unsustainable debt levels and export of jobs have been prevailing trends in those areas. The global crisis since 2007 only accelerated those trends. In response, more has happened than Keynesianism returning to challenge neoliberalism and critiques returning to challenge uncritical celebrations of capitalism. Capitalism’s development has raised a basic question again: What alternative economic system might be necessary and preferable for societies determined to do better than capitalism? That old mole, socialism, has thus returned for interrogation about its past to draw the lessons about its present and future. (more…)

In a speech given at the Global Labour Institute summer school in Manchester earlier this year, life-long trade unionist Dan Gallin stated:

The need of the hour is a serious challenge to global transnational capital and to the world order it has fashioned, but such a challenge cannot be mounted unless the movement recovers a common identity based on an alternative vision of society. (1)

Also adding:

Our movement is in a deep crisis, a two-fold crisis: a crisis of the trade union movement and a crisis of socialism, and we should be aware that these are related, so much so that it is impossible to deal with them separately.

Here I think Gallin is spot-on!  The reason organised labour cannot mount a serious challenge to global capitalism is due to a crisis of socialism which has had an inevitable weakening impact on the international trade union movement.  It therefore follows that in order to overcome the crisis in the trade union movement we first need to address the crisis of socialism.

Drawing on the work of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel I will briefly explain why I think socialism is in crisis.  I will also propose an alternative economic vision to that of socialism (informed by ‘participatory economics’ theory) as a means of overcoming this crisis.  Finally I will describe how this new economic vision could be used to inform global unionism – presented here as an alternative to the current international trade union movement – as a means of organising the desperately needed challenge to the current insane system of capitalist destruction and greed. (more…)

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