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This book is not yet ready to submit to a publisher for consideration. Some of the ideas presented are not as well developed and documented as I want them to be and the writing needs additional work. Some sections are more carefully and concisely written than others. The book has only been read through once for typos and grammar errors. These shortcomings will be addressed over time. For now, the line of argument is complete and I think certain readers will find value in the book as it is. The thesis is timely and some of the ideas presented may suggest research topics worth considering or stimulate thoughtful discussions.
Conditions of work in most of the world economy have been changing in the last several decades, and mostly not in a good direction. The question taken up in this book is what to expect of the future of work. The answer proposed came from an analysis of prospects for the totality of economic activity that includes both humans and nature – the Inclusive World Economy. This concept and the analytic methods used were inspired by the world-systems perspective on societal change.
A question that a few economists raised in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis is whether this time is different. Considerable evidence suggests that it is and the consequences for the future of work are enormous. In the human part of the Inclusive World Economy, we are transitioning from an era of rapid global economic growth to an era in which the rate of economic growth is falling toward zero. This slowdown is rooted in an historical loss of the natural environment conditions and the human institutional conditions that facilitated a rapid rate of market growth. These natural environment and institutional conditions cannot be restored, so the downward trend in the rate of global economic growth is not reversible.
The economic growth slowdown has produced a global wealth allocation crisis that will take decades to resolve. There is not sufficient wealth production to simultaneously support the exorbitant affluence of the rich, provide for the very comfortable lives of a large global middle class, meet the very basic needs of the remaining billions of non-affluent people, and maintain an inhabitable earth. This is a crisis of the entire Inclusive World Economy that can only be resolved by reducing the human use of total wealth to a level that is institutionally and environmentally sustainable.
Part of the resolution to this crisis must be changes in the global conditions of work that will contribute substantially to reducing human use of total wealth in the Inclusive World Economy. Several, large scale and difficult changes in the world of work (the global work system) will have to take place to accommodate emerging institutional and environmental limits to wealth use by humans. These changes include: decisively shifting industries toward maintaining existing human and natural wealth, revising the highly prized conditions that characterize high end work in affluent nations to lower the impact of high end work on global wealth allocation, and making human energy a large part of the solar energy mix that powers the world’s workplaces.
A process of reducing wealth use in the world of work is already underway, but it is a much more an authoritarian than a democratic process. The highly unequal distribution of power in the world economy is facilitating the efforts of a powerful minority to impose most of the difficult changes in the work world on middle and lower income people. This authoritarian approach is creating a future in which work is dominated by low rates of compensation, erratic work lives, harsh working conditions, authoritarian management practices, and tolerance of a substantial amount of forced work. It is also generating a global political crisis involving populist backlashes in many places and greater tensions among nations. Things can be expected to go from bad to worse unless a more democratic process of global change is created and institutionalized.
The process of change can become more democratic, but such a process cannot restore global economic growth. The large scale changes to the global work system named above must still be done by the participants in a global and democratic process, so trying to prevent those changes cannot be a purpose for shifting to a more democratic process of societal change. The purposes must be to implement necessary changes to the global work system fairly and peacefully and to invent a new world of work that is consistent with the new historical constraints on human wealth use and yet provides culturally affirmed work satisfactions.
If a democratic process of change is desirable, it is also possible. Certain conditions are favorable, but a shift away from the authoritarian path now being taken will require a global mobilization of hundreds of millions of people who understand and accept the limits to human prosperity and many courageous leaders who can create a political strategy for simultaneously challenging the global distribution of power and experimenting with ways to organize work under new historical conditions.
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