Economics and Work for People and Planet

In 1997 I wrote my Master’s thesis for the Centre for Human Ecology at Edinburgh University and entitled it Why Work?. Monitoring the news of the current situations in Greece, Portugal, Spain and other countries, I was reminded of my thesis. It was born out of a sense that there must be a better way of matching the potential of amazing human beings with real needs in the world while nurturing the ecology of our planet. The thesis was published as the 2nd Occasional Paper by the Centre for Human Ecology. Below I am sharing two sections of the thesis where I explore a deeper paradigm around work and economics, and then solutions at local and global levels. It feels relevant to what is happening at the moment in the world, as people gather in many countries motivated by a deep sense that something is wrong with the current system and that there must be a better way. Please do share where relevant. With thanks and love, Peter

Table of contents

Being And Working
Who Is In Control?
The Economics of Expropriation
Shadow Work
The People in Power
The Power in People
Why Work?
New Economics
Eco-tax Reform
A Basic Citizen’s Income
Future Work
Redistributing Work
Appropriate Work
The Parallel Economy
Theory into Practice
The Immediate Future

Being And Working

“Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself. Being true to anyone else or anything else is not only impossible, but the mark of a fake messiah.” (Bach 1992 , 47)


“The only question which matters is, ‘Am I living in a way which is deeply satisfying to me, and which truly expresses me?’” (Rogers, 1961, 119)

These are questions that reach down to the heart of what it is to be human. Spiritual leaders, psychologists, philosophers, artists, all grapple with the existential issues of life. One thing so many of their reflections seem to have in common is the desire for a kind of unity within ourselves – a unity where our actions reflect our thoughts which reflect our deep human emotions – a desire for the ability to find who we really are, and then to act in accord with those discoveries (Sri Chinmoy 1974, The Bible, Hesse 1974, Dostoïevski 1950, Schumacher 1978).

What concerns me specifically here, is to what extent the present system of employment encourages “living” as opposed to “being lived”. Do most people spend their lives in “the pernicious devotion of habit” which “paralyses our attention, drugs those handmaidens of perception whose co-operation is not absolutely essential” (Beckett 1931)? To what extent do we need to be “virtually bludgeoned into detachment from our daily lives, our habits and mental laziness, which conceal from us the strangeness of the world” (Ionesco 1962)?

Who Is In Control?

The attempt to discover who we really are is often described as a journey, and involves the individual taking some control over their own destiny.

The evolution of man is the evolution of his consciousness. And consciousness cannot evolve unconsciously. The evolution of man is the evolution of his ‘will’, and ‘will’ cannot evolve involuntarily. The evolution of man is the evolution of his power of doing, and ‘doing’ cannot be the result of things which happen. (Ouspensky 1957, 58)

This evolution requires an active engagement with the process of life, where we are conscious of our actions and of their consequences. Yet how many of us can say that we really are in control of ourselves? Is it not more often that we can identify ourselves with St. Paul, who writes in his letter to the Romans (Rom. VII, 14ff):

My own behaviour baffles me. For I find myself not doing what I really want to do but doing what I really loathe. Yet surely if I do things that I really don’t want to do, it cannot be said that “I” am doing them at all – it must be sin that has made its home in my nature.

Who could argue, under this definition, with the Christian doctrine that we are all “sinners” in need of redemption?

Close observation discloses that most of us, most of the time, behave and act mechanically, like a machine. The specifically human power of self-awareness is asleep, and the human being, like an animal, acts – more or less intelligently – solely in response to outside influences. Only when a man makes use of his power of self-awareness does he attain to the level of a person, to the level of freedom. At that moment he is living, not being lived. (Schumacher 1978, 39-40)

Ouspensky is openly pessimistic:

There is no progress whatever. Everything is just the same as it was thousands and tens of thousands of years ago. The outward form changes. The essence does not change. Man remains just the same. ‘Civilized’ and ‘cultured’ people live with exactly the same interests as the most ignorant savages. Modern civilization is based on violence and slavery and fine words. […]

People are machines, … unconscious. ‘Progress’ and ‘civilization’, in the real meaning of these words, can appear only as the result of conscious efforts. … The unconscious activity of a million machines must necessarily result in destruction and extermination. It is precisely in unconscious involuntary manifestations that all evil lies. (Ouspensky 1957, 52)

The Economics of Expropriation

What role, we must therefore ask, do the present structures of work play in relation to this seemingly apocryphal scenario?

Society is increasingly geared towards the economy. Governments measure their success in primarily economic terms, e.g. Gross National Product. A successful nation is seen to be one with high productivity rates. Today, conflicts between the Treasury and social spending departments are increasingly common and intense, as the demands of a successful economy lead to cuts in government spending and the “streamlining” of business and industry, often resulting in the “downsizing” of the workforce (see above). Economic theory has become an unquestionable faith, detached from the realities of people’s everyday lives. Cobb and Daly see at the heart of this what they call the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” (Cobb & Daly 1989).

These structures did not, of course, come from nowhere, and the history of “scientific”, “rationalist” thought that built the foundations of the present paradigm can be traced back to the ancient Greeks (McIntosh 1996). The Industrial Revolution was a major turning point in the institutionalisation of the paradigm that has led us to where we are today (Hill 1972; Thompson 1980). The structures of work and employment make up the core of the present system, reflecting the needs of the capitalist free-market economy. It is therefore essential to understand what lies behind the system, in order to see why people’s lives are being shaped the way they are, and what values are being promoted, especially in relation to our fundamental needs as human beings, as partly outlined above.

Father Zossima, in Fyodor Dostoïevski’s classic work The Brothers Karamazov, gives a penetrating analysis of society under the influence of “science”, an analysis which rings remarkably true today:

In science there is nothing but what is subject to the senses. The spiritual world, however, the higher half of man’s being, is utterly rejected, dismissed with a sort of triumph, even with hatred. The world has proclaimed freedom, … but what do we see in this freedom of theirs? Nothing but slavery and self-destruction. For the world says: ’You have needs, and therefore satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the most rich and most noble. Do not be afraid of satisfying them, but multiply them even.’ That is the modern doctrine of the world. In that they see freedom. And what is the outcome of this right of multiplication of needs? Among the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide, and among the poor envy and murder, for they have been given the rights, but have not been shown the means of satisfying their needs. (Dostoïevski 1950, 369)

Dostoïevski’s point is crucial. Central to human needs is something far deeper than the material. With our society being structured around a firmly materialist doctrine, it is hardly surprising that we as human beings are suffering, and that this human-scale, personal suffering is expressing itself in violence towards other people and our physical environment. If we are being forced to do work that relates to some distant economic objective, rather than to our individual and social requirements as human beings, discontent is inevitable.

The principle horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need … is that it robs our work of its erotic value, its erotic power and life-appeal and fulfilment.[2] (Lorde 1984, 55)


We cannot be empowered by work that destroys the environment around us, or creates systems of inequality. No matter how our work is organised, it cannot fully empower us unless we believe in its purpose. (Capra 1982, 217)

The question of empowerment is central. It is about people feeling that they have some control over their lives, and are therefore responsible for the decisions that they make – a crucial element for personal development.

The structures of society today do not foster empowerment. In relation to work, the question of “knowledge” is an important example. Who has access to knowledge? To what extent are we all encouraged to know and understand the forces which drive and influence our lives? André Gorz sees a major problem in the specialisation and compartmentalisation of knowledge:

Knowledge … no longer contains enough cultural resources to enable individuals to find a direction in the world, to give meaning to what they do, or to understand the meaning of the enterprise to which their efforts contribute. […] The system invades and marginalizes the life-world, the world accessible to intuitive understanding, to practical and sensory assimilation. (Gorz 1993, 58)

Knowledge has been “expropriated” by the “experts”. We are encouraged to trust those with the knowledge, and lead our lives blindly following their advice. Thus we become alienated from the mechanisms and meaning of life, isolated from other people, from the natural world and from our potential for personal psychospiritual fulfilment. Erich Fromm summarises the dire consequences of such a development:

Man regresses to a receptive and marketing orientation and ceases to be productive; he loses his sense of self, becomes dependent on approval, hence tends to conform and yet feel insecure; he is dissatisfied, bored, and anxious, and spends most of his time in the attempt to compensate for or just to cover up this anxiety [in the form of “wasted leisure” and consumerism]. … In view of his technical powers he is seriously endangering the existence of civilisation, and even of the human race. (Fromm 1994, 89)

Starhawk (1990) defines the problem in terms of power. The expropriating power which Gorz describes, and which Fromm sees the results of, Starhawk views as coming out of a system of “power-over”.

Power-over shapes every institution of our society. This power is wielded in the workplace, in the schools, in the courts, in the doctor’s office. It may rule with weapons that are physical or by controlling the resources we need to live: money, food, medical care; or by controlling more subtle resources: information, approval, love. (9)

The structures of oppression and suffocation reach down into all aspects of our lives, colonising what Gorz refers to as our “life-space”. They are inherent in the patterns we experience throughout society, and therefore naturally play a major part in shaping the way we view ourselves and the world around us. “The patterns in our minds reflect the patterns of power in our culture” (Starhawk 1990, 96). It is fairly clear how the workplace (the type of work, the methods of working etc.) play such a major part, but what is often overlooked is the flip-side of the “work” coin.

In order to produce, we have to consume. This may seem a strange way of putting it, yet this is the logic of infinite economic growth. Jobs do not exist in a vacuum, but are created by finding something for someone to consume, so that someone else can produce it, and thus be “gainfully” employed. The influence of the structures of work and employment thus extend far beyond the workplace, into the field of consumption, and the time people spend outside of the workplace. Much work goes on in society unpaid and unrecognised as employment, e.g. bringing up a family, housework, caring for friends and relatives etc., and indeed without this work, society would stop functioning. This is an area of work which Ivan Illich has called “shadow work”, and is crucial as support for continued industrial economic growth. It is therefore far from exempt from the influence of the structures and values of economics and employment. An analysis of this sector will illustrate the extent to which economic priorities of profit and productivity have reached down into virtually all areas of our lives, expropriating our vernacular knowledge and ways of living, and denying us the control over and connection to our lives which is so essential to human fulfilment.

Shadow Work


Illich’s comparison of paid and unpaid work can be summarised as follows:

Paid                           Unpaid                                            

Production            Reproduction and consumption

Heavy                           Light

Special qualifications      No qualifications required

High social prestige        Relegated to ‘private’ matters 


Both, he emphasises, “are equally fundamental in the industrial mode of production” (Illich 1981, 22). Within the unpaid sector itself, there are again two opposite types of activity, divided by the spread of wage labour. One is what he calls “shadow work”, “the unpaid complement of industrial labor and services … industrial serfdom in the service of commodity-intensive economics” (Illich 1981, 13). Activities in this area are essential as consumers of the products which keep the economy growing. The example Illich uses is the way housework has been moulded to the needs of a capitalist consumer society, with the huge consumption of increasingly “improved” products designed to make work around the house more time and energy efficient – so you can spend the time and energy saved consuming other products. Activities in this field – another example is the bringing up of children – are being professionally managed to bolster the system:

Shadow work … feeds the formal economy. … Its unpaid performance is the condition for wages to be paid. […]

While for wage labour you apply and qualify, to shadow work you are born or are diagnosed for. For wage labour you are selected; into shadow work you are put. The time, toil and loss of dignity are exacted without pay. Yet increasingly the unpaid self-discipline of shadow work becomes more important than wage labour for further economic growth. (ibid., 100)

The second area of unpaid work is “subsistence-orientated work lying outside the industrial system” (ibid., 13). These activities are becoming increasingly rare, as we are encouraged to tie ourselves into the consumer society and become dependent on distant experts and the latest technology for our basic needs. “Growth-oriented work inevitably leads to the standardisation and management of activities, be they paid or unpaid” (ibid., 14). Activities which meet our own needs, or those of our close community, without engaging in the external economy, contribute nothing directly to the economic growth of the nation, unless they are services which would otherwise be provided by the state at a cost. The job of those promoting the growth of the national economy must therefore be to encourage the efficient provision of social services as much as possible by people in the unpaid sector, whilst at the same time managing those activities to ensure they are actively feeding the economy as well. This is bound to lead to an increasing manipulation of people’s “free-time”. Time devoted previously to subsistence, vernacular activities therefore diminishes. Once more, our capacity for independent coping and the potential to exercise control over our own lives is reduced.

Wherever wage labor expands, its shadow, industrial serfdom, also grows. Wage labor, as the dominant form of production, and housework, as the ideal type of its unpaid complement, are both forms of activity without precedent in history or anthropology. They thrive only where the absolute and, later, the industrial state destroyed the social conditions for subsistence living. They spread, as small-scale, diversified, vernacular communities have been made sociologically and legally impossible – into a world where individuals, throughout their lives, live only through dependence on education, health services, transportation and other packages provided through the multiple mechanical feeders of industrial institutions. (Illich 1981, 21)

The expansion of wage labour which Illich refers to does not necessarily mean an increase in the amount of paid employment. It refers to the ideology which keeps economic growth and full employment as its goals. This is what he foresaw as leading, in the 1980s, to “the management of disciplined people motivated by non-monetary rewards” opening up as the latest form of “development”(ibid., 24). As pressure for economic growth increases, so will the manipulation of shadow work and the deterioration of subsistence activities. Indeed, with less people finding full-time paid employment, the shadow work sector is rapidly expanding.

One other important side to these developments is the value of the family and the effect on gender roles. Traditional roles have provided the ideal balance for industrial society – the producer and wage-earner, usually the man, and the consumer and shadow-worker, usually the woman.

Nowhere in history is the family, nuclear or extended, the instrument for linking two complementary but mutually exclusive species of work, one assigned primarily to the male, the other to the female. … We now see that it is the inevitable result of the pursuit of development and full-employment. And since such kinds of work did not exist, sex roles could not be defined with such finality, distinct natures could not be attributed to male and female, families could not be transformed into a solder to weld the two together. (ibid., 23)

The family unit is clearly an essential part of the economy, and it comes as no surprise to hear the UK government extolling the virtues of the family, and doing all they can to discourage single-parent families. There is more to the calls for “family values” than the social or moral concerns so often voiced.

The pervasive nature of the present economic paradigm is becoming very clear. Its prescriptive manipulation of people’s lives is playing a central role in detaching us as individuals from our own potential to discover some meaning in life, and to develop the deeper part of our psychospirituality. Power-over blinds the power-within.

The People in Power

Michel Foucault’s analysis of the power structures in society is very relevant here (Foucault 1984). Under “scientific classification” (“the modes of inquiry which try to give themselves the status of sciences” (8)), he picks out work as being “the objectivizing of the productive subject … in the analysis of wealth and economics (9).” This is part of what he calls “individualization”, the objectification of subjects, where people are divided down into different groups within society, enabling them to be identified, defined and thus acted upon as a group, through the exercise and application of knowledge of that group into laws and social action through government

Having defined groups (e.g. “long-term unemployed”) through individualization, the state then uses what Foucault calls “totalization procedures” to extend its influence into all those different areas. He traces this intention back to sixteenth century treatises on “the art of government”, which “is concerned with … how to introduce economy, that is the correct manner of managing individuals, goods and wealth within the family, … how to introduce this meticulous attention of the father towards his family, into the management of the state” (15). (It is also interesting to note the historical implications for gender relations). This has been achieved, according to Foucault and echoing Illich, largely through the expropriation of knowledge. He regards this as coming from the seventeenth century development of statistics, “the science of the state, … a detailed knowledge of the disposability of the things available” (e.g. people, natural resources etc.). This led to a new regime of power, still with us today, which he calls “bio-power”, which “brought life and its mechanisms into the realm of explicit calculations and made knowledge-power an agent of the transformation of human life. … Modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question” (17).

The development of this psychospiritual repression and manipulation was mirrored by a similar process on a physical level. This was carried out through the introduction of what Foucault refers to as “disciplinary technology” which aimed to create a “docile body that may be subjected, used, transformed and improved.”

This is done in several related ways: through drills and training of the body, through standardization of actions over time, and through the control of space. Discipline proceeds from an organisation of individuals in space, and it requires a specific enclosure of space. Once established, this grid permits the sure distribution of the individuals who are to be disciplined and supervised. In a factory, the procedure facilitates productivity; in a school, it assures orderly behaviour; in a town, it reduces the risk of dangerous crowds, wandering vagabonds, or epidemic diseases. (17)

Christopher Hill and E.P. Thompson have both given illuminating descriptions of this process of disappropriation and manipulation during the industrial revolution in England (Hill 1972; Thompson 1980).

An excellent summary of the new paradigm of progress is provided by Illich:

Fundamentally, the concept implies the replacement of widespread, unquestioned competence at subsistence activities by the use and consumption of commodities; the monopoly of wage labor over all other kinds of work; redefinition of needs in terms of goods and services mass-produced according to expert design; finally, the rearrangement of the environment in such a fashion that space, time, materials and design favor production and consumption while they degrade or paralyze use-value oriented activities that satisfy needs directly. (Illich 1981, 15)

Thus, rather than being encouraged and empowered to do things ourselves, we are, to a greater or lesser extent, enabled to buy it. With production being driven by the profit-factor, goods are valued in purely economic terms, rather than primarily in their use-value to society. Ecologically, this is proving disastrous, with the planet’s natural resources being exploited and the commons being polluted at a rate unsustainable for the future habitation of the human species. With the cost of labour being relatively high compared to energy, people are rapidly being replaced by machines and higher per capita energy use. Socially, it leads to division and conflict, with those who have least access to the market also having least access to the utilisation value of the commons. Individually, it leads to the alienation and denial of Self outlined above. To round off this wider overview of the web within which work makes up the primary strands, I return to Ivan Illich for a powerful, penetrating critique of the prevailing paradigm, exposed in all its barbarity and senselessness when exported wholesale to newly developing countries:

Development based on high per capita energy quanta and intense professional care is the most pernicious of the West’s missionary efforts – a project guided by an ecologically unfeasible conception of human control over nature, and by an anthropologically vicious attempt to replace the nests and snakepits of culture by sterile wards for professional service. The hospitals that spew out the newborn and reabsorb the dying, the schools run to busy the unemployed before, between and after jobs, the apartment towers where people are stored between trips to the supermarket, the highways connecting garages from a pattern tattooed into the landscape during the short development spree. These institutions, designed for life-long bottle babies wheeled from medical centre to school to office to stadium begin now to look as anomalous as cathedrals, albeit unredeemed by any aesthetic charm. (ibid., 20)

The Power in People

It is important now to bring these concepts back to the personal level, as ultimately that is what concerns me – how can people be helped to live happy and deeply fulfilling lives?[3]

What makes work alienating is the hierarchical structure in which our efforts, our pace, our needs, our sense of timing, our connection with our own bodies’ rhythms and with our friends and co-workers, are all shaped to serve somebody else’s ends. When we are valued only as objects, for the most mechanical of our abilities, when our work serves the ends that seem meaningless or even harmful to us, we are alienated. (Starhawk 1982, 145)

Words such as these of Starhawk’s seem to be logical and pure common sense, yet they touch on an area that many people are uncomfortable with. There is an assumption that something exists within us as human beings which goes beyond the physical – what I have referred to as the psychospiritual – and that ultimately this is the area we need to be appealing to if we are to address effectively the human issues that are mirrored in our society. The mirror is two-way: just as the psychospiritual condition of the individuals who make up our societies is bound to be intrinsically connected to their actions within and therefore shaping of the society, so also the structures of those societies are bound to make a deep impact on the individuals living within them.

There are emerging two levels: the personal level, in terms of our psychospiritual condition, and the structural level of society. These can be extended to the question of action: how we as individuals can act to appeal to our deeper selves, and how the structures can be changed to encourage that positive personal development. These different areas of action are reflected in the section below on action for change. Before moving on to the question of alternatives, however, it is important to delve a bit deeper into the human psychospiritual aspect, in order to be clear about what it is that any alternatives will ultimately be trying to achieve.

Hammerskjöld’s question is such a precise one when he asks ‘Do you create or do you destroy?’, for it implies that the human species is made of such stuff that there is no halfway point between destruction and creativity. Creativity … is so powerful and so overwhelming in us that we simply cannot keep it down. If we are not consciously bent on employing it for life’s sake, it will emerge on its own for the sake of destruction. (Fox 1983, 182)

The potential is there in people for creativity or destruction, good or evil. Erich Fromm sees two distinct possibilities for people faced with the “unbearable isolation” they increasingly find themselves in today: either to escape into “new dependencies and submission, or to advance to the full realization of positive freedom which is based upon the uniqueness and individuality of man” (Fromm, 1942). The former is already being realised in the form of some of the more extreme cults, but more worryingly is also beginning to emerge in the shape of more authoritarian ideologies of mainstream government. What is clear, is that we must be doing all we can to encourage Fromm’s latter scenario.

somewhere deep down in the interior, even in our day, there flows the powerful ancient stream of true knowledge of being.

To break through to this stream, to find it – this is the task and the aim of the search; for, having found it, a man can entrust himself boldly to the way by which he intends to go, then there only remains ‘to know’ in order ‘to be’ and ‘to do’. (Gurdjieff 1989, 57)


So how to break through to this stream? What is hiding it from us?

I am dead, because I lack desire;

I lack desire, because I think I possess;

I think I possess, because I do not try to give.

In trying to give, you see that you have nothing;

Seeing you have nothing, you try to give of yourself;

Trying to give of yourself, you see that you are nothing;

Seeing that you are nothing, you desire to become;

In desiring to become, you begin to live.

(Heilpern 1989, 160)

At the heart of this wisdom, is the need to start trying to give. “Each man carries within himself the germs of all human qualities” (Tolstoy, quoted in ibid., 62), therefore the task must be to encourage the growth of the “giving” qualities. The present paradigm encourages the opposite – competition, profit and greed. The new paradigm should foster co-operation and mutual support. This will then provide the possibility for us to connect our everyday lives with our deeper human values. “Power-with” and “power-from-within” must replace “power-over”:

Power-from-within and power-with are grounded in another source, akin not to violence but to spirit. Because power-over works by creating false divisions, we have been trained to see spirit as something severed from the material world of real political and economic struggle. The split between spirit and matter, which locates God and the sacred outside the world of form and earth and flesh, allows exploitation and destruction of human beings and the earth’s resources. (Starhawk 1990, 16)

“Enthusiasm” comes from the Greek meaning “filled with God”. Work should inspire enthusiasm. You do not have to be religious or spiritual to come to similar conclusions:

For Marx himself, Communism had never meant less than the means for freeing human creativity in all persons to the fullest: he believed that the release of that very creativity would ensure that no revolution turned in on itself, stagnated, and froze; that in ‘revolution in permanence’, ‘new passions and new forces’ would repeatedly arise as the creative currents of each and all found voice.  (Rich 1993, 46)

Gurdjieff expands his more abstract definition of what work should be – “the working together of the three centres – moving, emotional and thinking” – into more concrete terms (his use of the term “man” refers to the fulfilled, whole ideal being):

Working like a man means that a man feels what he is doing and thinks why and for what he does it, how he is doing it now, how it had to be done yesterday, and how today, how he would have to do it tomorrow, and how it is generally best to get it done – whether there is a better way. (Gurdjieff 1989, 104)


The task seems therefore to be how we can connect our psychospiritual needs with those of our everyday lives, how to build a “bridge that brings into the world of the everyday a sense of the sacred”. In this way, “the everyday changes, deepens, until the sacred, like an underground stream, wears away control from below” (Starhawk 1990, 98).

The next step is to create the vision, for “it is an old magical secret that the way we define reality shapes reality. Name a thing and you invoke it” (ibid., 8):

To practice magic is to bear the responsibility for having a vision, for we work magic by envisioning what we want to create, clearing the obstacles in our way, and then directing energy through that vision. Magic works through the concrete; our ideals, our visions, are meaningless until they are in some way enacted. So, if our work is to evoke power-from-within, we must clearly envision the conditions that would allow that power to come forth, we must identify what blocks it, and create the conditions that foster empowerment. (Starhawk1990, 8)

Economic and social problems have been identified, the psycho-spiritual aspect explored. Now it is time  to start building the vision, before finally moving on to looking at tools for enactment.

[2] Lorde uses the term “erotic” to refer to “a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognised feeling. […] it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing. […] an assertion … of that creative energy empowered.” (Lorde 1984, 53-55)

[3]the only qualification needing to be “within the limits of our natural environment”.  I find these two goals complementary.

Why Work?


A large part of the world’s population has lost the means and ability to provide for itself and has become dependent on a single, highly unstable economic system that has no use for a growing proportion of it. … For the next few years, unless there is a trade war, politicians are unlikely to be willing or able to protect their citizens from being damaged by this system, even though it is now actually running backwards and making life worse throughout the world. (Douthwaite 1996, 31)

On August 15th 1971, President Nixon disconnected the US from the Gold Standard, thus breaking the last concrete link between money and commodities. From now on, money existed as a concept in its own right, creating what Helmut Schmidt, then Chancellor of Germany, described as a “floating non-system” (ibid., 15). The gap between the monetarism of “free trade” and people’s everyday life has not stopped growing since. Human labour is the life-blood of that economic system, and therefore to question the goals of the system, we must question the goals of work and employment.

We should no longer be struggling to establish our right to a job but demanding access to the necessities of life as of a right. … Production has become an end in itself, unrelated to needs. … What counts for [working people] is that they have a job which provides them with the money to buy food, shelter and a few frills. … We are still thinking in terms of living to work when science and technology have made it more than possible to think in terms of working to live. … In a free society there can be no unwanted surpluses because production will be geared to needs – no unemployed because the more of us there are in the world the lighter will be our task of providing for the needs of everybody. (Freedom, 15.11.1958, in Why Work?, 1983, 157/8).

Today’s concepts of work, job and employment are not universal, and neither have they actually existed for that long. As Illich (1981, 101) points out, the terms are still untranslatable from European languages into many others. Most languages never had one word to designate all activities that are considered useful. According to UN figures, “today, the majority of the world’s active population is not receiving a salary (2.8 billion people out of a total population of some 5.3 billion)”, meaning that “the European model of a salary-earning society is the exception that proves the rule” (Europe99, 1995). The work done by those 2.8 billion people is, however, not assigned any monetary value by World Bank economists.

Not earning a salary is seen as being unproductive. Yet, as Illich (ibid.) notes, “For the most toiling unemployed in Mexico, ‘desempleado’ still means the unoccupied loafer on a well-paid job, not the unemployed whom the economist means by the term.” He sees that in order to decide “whether unemployment, that is the effective liberty to work free from wages and/or salary, shall be viewed as sad and a curse, or as useful and a right”, we have to choose “for or against the notion of man as a growth addict.” To do this, it is essential to distinguish between “industrially structured work, paid or unpaid, from the creation of a livelihood beyond the confines of employment and professional tutors” (Illich 1981, 13). The latter forms one of the aspects of what Illich refers to as “subsistence” or “vernacular” work.

We are free to choose between hierarchically managed standardised work that may be paid or unpaid, self-selected or imposed on the one hand, and, on the other, we can protect our freedom to choose ever newly invented forms of simple, integrated subsistence actions which have an outcome that is unpredictable to the bureaucrat, unmanageable by hierarchies and oriented to the values shared within a specific community. (ibid., 24)


In the latter system, all useful work would be valued and encouraged. Looking after a household and family, for example would be a “basic and vital contribution to a subsistence economy” rather than “unpaid conscription into the reproduction of industrial labour” (ibid., 109).

This new system would fit the needs and desires of people, as outlined above, in encouraging independence and self-expression. It should liberate the many sides of the human being, fostering the growth of the person as a whole.

Man is a unit; his thinking, feeling and his practice of life are inseparably connected. He cannot be free emotionally if he is dependent and unfree in his practice of life, in his economic and social relations. (Fromm 1994, 90)

In industrial society, people follow rules. In the new vision, people become rule-makers – rules appropriate to them, their immediate community and the planet on which they live. So what does this vision look like so far?

New Economics


Two fundamental rights are identified by Healy and Reynolds (1993) that can be taken as the basis for shaping a new concept of work for the future:

  • the right to meaningful work, which they describe as “anything one does that contributes to the development of one’s self, one’s community, or the wider society” (70);
  • the right to sufficient income to cover basic needs.

To enable those rights to be respected, there are three main pillars in new economic thinking:

  • eco-tax reform;
  • a basic citizen’s income;
  • creation of meaningful work.

I will describe the thinking behind the first two, and then go on to look at the third, including a study of parallel economies.

Eco-tax Reform

At present it is more economically efficient for a producer to intensify energy use and cut back on human labour, due to the relative expense of the two. The present taxation system encourages the use of scarce natural resources and discourages the use of abundant human labour. Eco-tax reform aims to reverse that situation. It involves:

  • the phasing out of taxes on incomes, profits and value added;
  • taxing energy at source;
  • taxing the unimproved site value of land;
  • taxing the use of other common resources (e.g. oceans).

James Robertson (1994) has been a major proponent of this tax reform. What it does fundamentally is remove taxation on the “goods”, i.e. that which we create (e.g. employment, incomes and profits), and putting taxation on the “bads”, i.e. that which we destroy (e.g. natural resources). The result would be increased employment and decreased destruction of the environment. A survey by London consultants Sedgwick Noble Lowndes (1996) showed the extra costs that employers are being asked to pay across Europe. In the UK, they pay over 20% additional costs on full-time male average earnings. In Italy, the figure is more than 50%.

Critics have often argued that such a tax reform would hit the poorest hardest. Robertson (1996a) points out that under certain conditions that would be the case, but that there are ways of implementing the eco-tax reform that would also be progressive and redistributive. He makes three main points. Firstly, the revenue from eco-taxes could be distributed equally as a “citizen’s income” to all households. Secondly, the taxes must be imposed “upstream”, at the start of the economic process, where they will not just affect consumer spending on energy, but all incomes. Thirdly, if the taxation is imposed on other common resources, e.g. land and oceans, then the rich will again be hit hardest. The taxation is often seen as a negative policy, but it will have a very positive effect on industries and occupations relying mainly on the skills of people to deliver personal services, for example in health, education and the arts. Removing the taxation from employment will make it easier for these professions to employ more people.

An eco-tax reform is being looked at very seriously at a governmental level. The European Commission White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment (1993) came close to recommending such a reform in Chapter 10 of the preparatory work attached to the paper: “The serious economic and social problems the Community currently faces are the result of some fundamental inefficiencies: an ‘underuse’ of the quality and quantity of the labour force combined with an ‘overuse’ of natural and environmental resources” (150).

One of the risks in the coming years is that the different tax changes that make up the wider eco-tax reform programme will be implemented piecemeal by different government departments, with each individual tax being attacked for its effect on one section of the population (e.g. the carbon tax proposal in the UK). What is needed is a “small number of major taxes applied ‘upstream’, universal in their impact, clearly not targeting one section of society rather than another and systematically designed to provide incentives throughout all aspects of economic life” (Robertson 1996b). Not only should the tax reform be seen as a comprehensive package, but ideally it should accompany the introduction of a Citizen’s Income and Land Value Taxation. This would provide policy that is both progressive and effective in dealing with the fundamental social and ecological problems we are faced with today.

A Basic Citizen’s Income

The economy is going through a change of norms. The engine of growth is shifting from energy to information. In that process, people are being removed from the process of production, leading to a break in the traditional production-job-income cycle that is central to the economy. This requires radical new policies to go beyond the employment-income unemployment-benefit pairings we have today.

The Citizen’s Income (also known as a Basic Income) is, in its purist form, an income, sufficient to meet basic needs, paid unconditionally to all individuals, independent of all other income and without any requirement to work[1]. There are many reasons for implementing such a scheme. Fundamentally, it assumes that everyone needs activity to be content, but not necessarily paid work, and that everyone needs some form of income. It gives people the option of engaging in whatever activity they choose. It is likely to increase people’s participation in the economy, given the fact that many people on benefit today are dissuaded from taking up part-time work by the high “Marginal Effective Tax Rates”, which mean having benefits deducted by nearly one hundred percent of the amount earned. A Joseph Rowntree report (1996) found that around half the unemployed will turn down work if it leaves them worse off than being on benefit[2].

The debate around what form a guaranteed income should take hinges on three main qualifications. Should it be:

  1. Conditional or unconditional? i.e. should every citizen be allocated a basic income unconditionally, or should it be conditional upon engaging in some form of activity, or upon actively seeking employment?
  2. Temporary or permanent? i.e. should there be a time limit on it if you fail to find employment?
  3. Cumulative or non-cumulative? i.e. should it be completely independent of other income, or should it be reduced pro rata?

The systems that exist in Europe at present are nearly all of the most restricted variety: conditional, temporary and non-cumulative. Most supporters of a Citizen’s Income agree on the need for it to be permanent and cumulative – permanent to allow for long-term planning and security, and cumulative to avoid the poverty trap. The biggest debate is around the question of conditionality. The arguments for it to be conditional are what one might expect: How can we give people something for nothing? Surely people will just all stop working? Pierre van Parijs (1992) outlines three main objections to conditionality. Firstly, it involves intrusion into people’s private lives. Secondly, it creates social stigmatism and humiliation for claimants. Thirdly, many slip through the net, due to ignorance, intimidation and / or shame.

The ideal Citizen’s Income would be unconditional, permanent and cumulative. In more detail, it would be:

  • tax-free income paid by the state to every man, woman and child as a right of citizenship;
  • unaffected by other income, wealth, work, gender or marital status;
  • age-related (higher for adults than children, and higher for the elderly than those of “working age”);
  • a replacement for all existing benefits and pensions, but would include additional supplements for people with disabilities and for housing for low-income families.

One version limits payment to the household rather than the individual. The importance of it going to the individual is that it liberates any partner in a family or household from dependency on the bread-winner. Given that the majority of dependent partners are still women, it would be an important step in giving women more control over their lives, and more opportunity to engage in other activities of their choice outside of the household. It would also give people the flexibility to become self-employed, a route that is becoming increasingly popular and effective, especially among women (Taylor 1996). Allocating CI by household would also encourage living in separate households, in order to profit from the allocation.

As mentioned in the Introduction, the nature of the reforms, of which a Citizen’s Income is one part, is such that they need to happen in a big enough geo-political space to counter the prevailing pressures of international economic competition. Van Parijs (ibid.) has suggested a Citizen’s Income to be allocated at the European level. This would involve the introduction of a universal, cumulative, unconditional payment to every citizen of the European Union. It would initially be relatively small (he suggests FF1500 per month), but would be the same for every country and citizen. It would be directly financed by a uniform taxation on non-renewable energy sources. This would represent a net shift of resources to the poorer regions, due to their relatively lower energy consumption. It would not replace the social security benefits of each member state, but would reduce the various state contributions by the amount of the allocated EU payment. In those countries which already have some form of guaranteed minimum income, it would not completely remove the poverty trap, but would certainly make it less powerful, by providing a guaranteed non-reclaimable base. It would need to be allocated directly in the form of an “interpersonal transfer system”, rather than through grants to the different governments, and based on a minimum of uncontroversial information (e.g. does the person exist, and how old are they?), rather than complex questions such as, Is this person really involuntarily unemployed? Hence the need for unconditionality. Van Parijs sees this as being the first step in a move towards a more radical allocation. There has even been a suggestion for a global Citizen’s Income, where every country is made to pay pro rata for its Carbon Dioxide emissions, and the revenue is redistributed to the nations of the world on a per capita basis, reflecting the size of their populations! Room for dispute there, I think!

One of the areas where there is great potential for the Citizen’s Income is in Agriculture. Given the ridiculous present system, where farmers are paid to produce goods which will then be destroyed, whilst at the same time being paid to leave land “set aside”, using up massive resources through the Common Agricultural Policy, simply to keep them on an income, it is clear that an effective solution is desperately needed. If all farmers were paid a basic income, easily financeable through a fraction of the present CAP resources, they would be given back some control over their own lives and farms. Marie-Louise Duboin (1992) suggests that farmers draw up a contract with local consumers, outlets and communities to determine how they use their land. The control that the guaranteed basic income would give them, could surely lead to more useful, careful and responsible production.

The cost of the Citizen’s Income could be met from a number of ways, including the eco-tax. It will replace the current benefits system, thus removing the huge wastage involved at present. Research into costing is ongoing, and can be kept track of through the Citizen’s Income Research Group, and their Citizen’s Income Bulletin (St Philips Building, Sheffield St, London, WC2A 2EX), and the Basic Income European Network (BIEN).

One of the arguments used against a basic income is that it will discourage people from working, and the jobs that need doing simply won’t get done. For those presently in unemployment, the effect is likely to be the opposite, as explained above. The level of income would be minimal, therefore most people are still going to want to earn extra money on top. But there is a deeper question, of what people do actually desire from their lives. Gibson (1983) believes people are just as naturally producers as consumers: “remove the pressure of neurotic twentieth century civilisation from you and I, and we will have the chance of reverting to a natural human way of life which … includes as spontaneous a wish for and enjoyment of work as the way of life of any other animal species.” As Bakunin wrote, “To be is to do.” The question of why anyone should want to do the dirty work is answered by Robertson (1985) who suggests that wages for such work will probably increase (169). In a system with a basic income, no-one will be forced to do menial work for little reward, which seems only fair. As Ghandi asserted, it is work such as cleaning the toilets which is the most sacred work. If there is work to be done, that is of great value to the community and is unpleasant to carry out, then it seems logical that such work should be given a higher social and monetary value. Employees would have more say over setting the wage levels they believed they should be getting.

This may seem disastrous for business, but Robertson has suggested that actually competitiveness would increase. Within present wages, employers have to include an amount to cover people’s basic cost of living. If this was being paid instead by the Citizen’s Income, then employers would be able to decrease wages, employ more people and increase productivity (ibid., 171).

Guy Aznar (1992, 138) presents four main arguments against a Citizen’s Income. Firstly, he believes it will lead to an immediate increase in unemployment, as managers see a good excuse to lay off workers they see as peripheral. The answer to that is that they would have been laid off anyway later, as pressure to be more efficient increased, and also the very simple point, that if there is nothing useful for them to do, then why keep them employed?! Far better for them to engage in work or activities where they feel needed and where their undoubted professional and human skills could be used to their full effect. The Citizen’s Income would allow people more freedom to create and work in these areas. Aznar’s second argument is that it will lead to a “dual society”, where some are engaged in paid employment, and others in a parallel economy which is seen as inferior. Firstly, as explained above, CI will allow more people to escape the poverty trap and engage in the world of employment, rather than be excluded from it, often on a part-time basis, which is precisely what Aznar is promoting. Secondly, the creation of a parallel economy that is based more on the direct needs of people and their communities is to be welcomed. It is directly empowering. There is also plenty of scope for it to tie in with the mainstream economy, as Community businesses and Local Exchange and Trading Schemes (LETS – see below) are proving. The question of “superiority” is entirely subjective. I happen to believe that people will come to see this form of economy as closer to their human values, and will therefore increasingly choose to work through it. Aznar’s third objection is that it is admitting defeat, and removing people’s hope of “work-sharing” in the traditional sense. In fact, it will be quite the opposite. The CI will free people up to be able to engage in the type of activities which they see to be important both for themselves and society as a whole. It redefines the concept of acceptable and valued “work”. Aznar’s final point, is that it is not ethical. He believes it will exempt people from doing the important work in society. Well, who defines what is important? Is a banker any more important than a poet or musician? There is “dirty” work that needs to be done, but as explained above that type of work will now attract its deserved value, enabling people to engage in small amounts of it, yet receive a decent income from it.

Aznar and Gorz, who take a similar stand both tend to see CI as a threat to their call for work-sharing. Yet what is clear is that the two policies can go hand in hand. There is no reason for them to be exclusive. In fact,  having a basic level of guaranteed income is more likely to encourage people to reduce the amount of paid employment they engage in. We need a plurality of solutions.

The psychospiritual effect of the introduction of a universal basic level of income could be predicted to some extent by an examination of Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” (Maslow, 1973). His hierarchy reads as follows, with each level needing to be fulfilled before people tend to progress onto the next (1 to 5):

  1. Homeostatic needs, e.g. food and water.
  2. Physical security, e.g. shelter and protection.
  3. Sense of family belonging.
  4. Wider status within the community.
  5. Self-actualisation.

A basic income would immediately meet the first two needs, removing the stress that so often destroys the third, helping people to use their skills and creativity in useful work to achieve the fourth, thus enabling the fifth. This final stage is the realisation of what he describes as “Being (B-) Values”, “the defining characteristics of the deepest, most essential, most intrinsic human nature” (134). He sees these as the “ultimate satisfiers” which most people yearn for. They reflect the psychospiritual level discussed above.

Building on Maszlow’s work is that of Richard Barrett (1998 & 2015). He expands Maszlow’s hierarchy to include more levels, particularly at the higher end. This kind of further development of Maszlow has also been rigorously researched by Ken Wilber (2000), Dr. Clare W. Graves (2002) and Dr. Don Beck (1996).

  1. Survival – Staying alive
  2. Safety – Relationships and belonging
  3. Security – Respect and recognition in your community
  4. Freedom – From deficiency needs
  5. Meaning – Purpose
  6. Making a difference – Connection
  7. Service – Contribution (Barrett, personal communication, 23 December, 2015)

Barrett also notes how these stages relate to broad bands of age:

Up to the point in time where we reach physical maturity, around 20 years-of-age; we all follow the same natural path of psychological development—surviving, conforming and differentiating. During these stages of psychological development, we learn to satisfy what Abraham Maslow referred to as our basic or “deficiency” needs: We get anxious if these needs are not met, but once they are met, we no longer pay any attention to them.

From the mid-twenties onwards, we move into the adult stages of psychological development—individuating, self-actualising, integrating and serving. During these stages of psychological development, we learn to satisfy what Abraham Maslow referred to as our “growth” needs. Once we experience the meaning and joy that mastering our growth needs brings, we want to experience them more.

Basic Income enables a number of the early needs to be met so that the later ones can develop freely.

Schemes similar to a basic income have also been proposed. One such is the “negative income tax”, outlined in Cobb and Daly (1989, 315-318).

The basic idea is that the government would send checks [sic] to those whose reported income was below a certain amount. The checks would become smaller as the income increases, but not to the full extent of the increase, so that there would always be a positive incentive to work.

The main difference is that the negative income tax is dependent on other income, whereas the Citizen’s Income is entirely independent. The negative income tax concept has recently become popular in France under the name “Second Cheque”.

The idea of a basic citizen’s income is becoming more popular. The European (4-10 July, 1996, 24) reported on a conference on employment and quoted Gerry Holtham, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, as saying “If we are unable to have growth of at least 2.5% a year, we need to change our social system and to introduce a basic citizen’s income.” Research above shows that present rates of growth are not solving the (un)employment problem, and continued growth at these or higher rates is ecologically unsustainable.

There are, however, many different forms proposed, across the political spectrum, and as the debate opens up it will be important to keep in mind the fundamental objectives of a basic income. Questions still remain as to the relationship between CI and a minimum wage, paid employment hours etc., and will always remain. What is important is that the debate starts to happen on a serious level, and the relevant research is done.

Robertson (1985) sees CI as a transitional tool to “facilitate the change of direction to a new work order in which many people will be enabled to do more work on their own account and meet a proportion of their own needs by their own efforts” (47). It is a new concept of work that lies behind the drive for a basic income.

Future Work


E.F.Schumacher saw three main aims of work:

  1. “to provide necessary and useful goods and services”;
  2. “to enable everyone of us to use and thereby perfect our gifts like good stewards”;
  3. “to do so in service, and in co-operation with, others, so as to liberate ourselves from our inborn egocentricity.” (Schumacher 1980, 3/4)

In Small is Beautiful (1973) there is the extra aim “to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption” (48). They seem to reflect the three domains of the social, psychospiritual and ecological. Fritjof Capra summarised them as follows:

What we need, therefore, is to revise the concept and practice of work in such a way that it becomes meaningful and fulfilling for the individual worker, useful for society, and part of the harmonious order of the ecosystem. To reorganise and practise our work in this way will allow us to recapture its spiritual essence. (Capra 1982, 246/7)

Kropotkin calls for us to ask the simplest of questions: “What have we to produce, and how?” (1899, vi). He also believes that people should be encouraged to use as many of their skills as possible: “Man shows his best when he is in a position to apply his usually varied capacities to several pursuits in the farm, the workshop, the factory, the study or the studio, instead of being riveted to one of these pursuits only” (ibid., vii). The division of labour may lead to greater economic efficiency and increased productivity, but at the expense of treating and engaging the worker as a whole person.

André Gorz calls for the establishment of a “norm of efficiency”, where the “level of effort is regulated to suit the desired level of satisfaction, and, vice-versa, the level of satisfaction sought is brought into line with the level of effort people are willing to make” (Gorz 1993, 61), i.e. creating a balance between people’s needs and desires, and the amount of work they want to do. An essential part of this thinking is the free will of people. Work should be done with commitment because people believe in the work they are doing.

Any activity which follows a spontaneous impulse is pleasant. When, on the other hand, an individual is obliged by external conditions to act in opposition to his natural tendencies, he exhausts himself in his effort of will on himself, with consequent suffering and lessened productive capacity. (Berneri 1983, 71).

Enabling people to relate once more to the work they do is part of what Gorz sees as reclaiming our “life-space”. He believes the present complex system of society alienates people from their intuition and responsibility for their actions. The new society must therefore relate to a “life-world … in which the result of activities corresponds to the intentions that gave rise to them” (Gorz 1993, 58).

Paul Ekins (1992, 46/7) uses Manfred Max-Neef’s list of nine fundamental human needs to draw up a “matrix of need and satisfiers”. Table 7 (below – From: Ekins (1992), 47) illustrates five of these, the five, in my opinion, most relevant to work. Judging by the matrix, I would say it is rare for work today to satisfy people’s needs in these areas, and that in fact the present system of employment actively works against satisfying them.

There is much interesting debate taking place in France around this subject, lead by the publication Transversales Science Culture, and the group of researchers, campaigners and citizens gravitating around it. Many of them are also involved in an organisation called Europe99[3], working on an alternative vision for Europe, together with other groups in Europe through a network called the Inter Citizens Conference. Recently another group has sprung from their ranks, called “Appel Européen pour une Citoyenneté et une Économie Plurielle” (AECEP)[4], following an article in Le Monde (28.6.95) signed by thirty-five well-known people in this field, calling for policies to, firstly, reduce working time and redistribute jobs, secondly, develop the “économie sociale et solidaire”, and thirdly, oppose any use of unemployment related benefits to increase social control, force people into work or stigmatise those already “excluded” from society.

Jacques Robin (1996) identifies three main areas of people’s needs:

  • primary needs (for survival);
  • “comfort” needs (e.g. electrical goods, car etc.)
  • “well-being” needs (e.g. culture, travel, participating in public life, family).

The fulfilment of these needs for an individual should, he suggests, lead to happiness. In fulfilling these needs, and indeed those in the matrix above, there are certain types of activity people need to be able to participate in.

Dominique Méda (1995) identifies four main types of activity:

  • individual cultural activities (e.g. education, self-development etc.);
  • individual activities to do with the family, friends, love etc.;
  • collective activity engaging with other people, i.e. the “political” in the original sense of the word, that which has to do with citizenship and society;
  • the collective activity of producing goods and services.

These four activities should be equally balanced to meet the needs identified above. However, at present the last one, commonly recognised as “work”, is clearly given priority, and occupies far too much time in our lives to allow us to engage equally in the other areas. One of the priorities for most people, if we are to create a balance, is to reduce the amount of time spent in this fourth activity. There are of course some people who do not spend any time in this sector, though not through choice – the unemployed. Those who do lead a more balanced life are often discriminated against for not working “full-time”. A balancing of this sector should involve allowing those working disproportionately long hours to work less, giving those who are excluded from this sector at present the opportunity to participate, and supporting those who are already working shorter hours in this sector with full rights to employment protection and an equal salary.

Table 7 below is a more detailed take on human needs, developed by Manfred Max-Neef. These are the needs that people want to be meeting in their lives, and given the amount of time spent officially working, that work should be significantly contributing to the needs listed below.

The next section will examine the possibilities for a redistribution of the work in this sector. There are also areas of activity which should be part of this sector and rewarded as such, but are not. The final section will look at these areas, which include the social economy and subsistence activities.


Table 7

 Modes of Experience  Being Having  Doing Interacting
Fundamental Human Needs
Affection Self-esteem, determination, generosity, receptiveness, passion, sens-uality, sense of humour,tolerance, solidarity, respect. Friendships, family partnerships, relationships with nature. Make love, caress, express emotions, share, take care of, cultivate, appreciate. Privacy, intimacy, home, spaces of togetherness.
Participation Adaptability, receptiveness,solidarity, willingness, determination,dedication, respect,passion, sense of humour. Rights, responsibilities, duties, privileges, work. Become affiliated, co-operate, propose, share, dissent, obey, interact, agree on, express opinions. Settings of participative interaction, parties,associations, churches, communities, neighbourhoods, family.
Creation Passion, determination, intuition, imagination, boldness, rationality, inventiveness, autonomy, curiosity. Abilities, skills, method, work. Work, invent, build, design, compose, interpret. Productive and feedback settings, workshops, cultural groups, audiences, spaces for expression, temporal freedom.
Identity Sense of belonging, consistency, differentiation, self-esteem, assertiveness. Symbols, language, religion, habits, customs, reference groups, sexuality, values, norms, historical memory, work. Commit oneself, integrate oneself, confront, decide on, get to know oneself, recognize oneself, actualise oneself, grow. Social rhythms, everyday settings, setting to which one belongs, maturation stages.
Freedom Autonomy, self-esteem, determination, passion, assertiveness, openminded-ness,boldness, rebelliousness, tolerance. Equal rights. Dissent, choose, be different from, run risks, develop awareness, commit oneself, disobey. Temporal / spatial plasticity.

Redistributing Work


Bertrand Russell (1932) illustrates clearly the ridiculous logic of the present system:

Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins as before. But the world does not need twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacture of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. … Half the men are idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a source of universal happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined? (27/8)

Sharing out the paid work that is available more widely would appear to be the more logical solution. A number of different methods are being proposed and implemented to achieve this. They include:

  • job-sharing;
  • shorter working week / year;
  • overtime restrictions;
  • longer holidays;
  • more part-time work;
  • V-time (trading time for income in employee / employer negotiation);
  • flexitime (employee fixes start and finish times);
  • sabbaticals;
  • mid-career training;
  • opportunities for earlier retirement. (Green Party 1988, 10; Healy & Reynolds 1993, 71)

It has been estimated that reducing the working week by 2.5% in Europe would create between 14.3 and 15.9 million jobs within a five year period, absorbing the expanding labour market and reducing unemployment by 5.3-5.9% (New Sector 22, p.19). Long hours are proving not to be the most productive. People in the Netherlands work the least number of hours per week in the EU (32 hours), and it is one of the most prosperous nations, whereas the Portuguese work the longest hours in the EU for the smallest reward. The Samsung corporation actually has a policy of making sure no-one works too hard, as they believe restricting overtime increases efficiency (Observer, 26.5.96, 8). Research in Finland is showing that due to the increased productivity of people working shorter hours, it has been possible for an employer to pay the same wages for a six hour day as previously for eight hours (Sipilianen 1995).

One of the main reasons for the fall in full-time and increase in part-time employment is the amount of work now being contracted out by companies. This increase in flexibility of the workforce is being seen primarily as negative by social commentators, but could be positive if a few guarantees were in place. Flexibility of hiring can give people the option to take what work they want and give them more control over their working time. However, under the present system, contract workers do not have the same rights as other full-time employees. The rights of contract workers will have to be secured, along with benefits of a decent level to reflect the greater vulnerability to periods of insufficient work. A basic income would provide that security

The Henley Centre produce a regularly updated “Time Use Survey” (1996) which showed in September that men working full-time do an average 12.69 hours of household work per week, compared with 25.33 hours done by a full-time working woman. Patricia Hewitt (1993) notes how women have moved far more into the workplace, but at the same time, men have not increased their work in the home at the same rate, leading to what she calls women’s “double burden” of paid employment and work in the home. She concludes that “if we are to resolve the conflict between family and work, and to equalise opportunities in the workplace, then we will have to redistribute time between men and women, as well as between the workplace and the home” (4). She finds people very open to the idea of shortening the time they work, but varying in when they would like to take their extra time, depending on their personal and family situation. What is needed is a flexible system that allows people to choose between less hours per day, a shorter working week, longer holidays (to match school holidays) or sabbaticals. An emphasis on tasks rather than time would be one way of introducing positive flexibility, or a set number of hours per year.

Whichever system is chosen to introduce the desired flexibility, reducing the overall number of working hours seems essential. As Hewitt reports, even the “House of Commons Select Committee on Employment [in 1990] has concluded that the distinction between part-time and full-time work is no longer useful. We should aim to move beyond the part-time / full-time divide and ensure instead that as many jobs as possible offer a range of possible working hours” (99/100). Reducing the average number of working hours will enable men to spend more time in the home and community, and with their family, and help women achieve a greater balance between paid work and work in the household. Doubts about whether a reduction in working time would create more jobs seem to have been confounded by the German experience, where 80% of employees now have a working week of below 40 hours. Hewitt quotes research which suggests that this has led to the creation of between 200,000 and 280,000 extra full-time and 57,000 – 76,000 part-time jobs (ibid., 91).

As a general overview, Guy Aznar (1992) sees five main areas of concern where a reduction would be welcome and effective. He believes lost earnings could be reimbursed by 50% from the State due to the relative economic bonus of taking people off unemployment benefits. Thus someone reducing their time by half would receive 50% of their original income from their employer, plus an extra 50% of the lost earnings as a subsidy from the state. He calls this subsidy the “work-sharing indemnity” (“Indemnité du Partage du Travail”).

  1. Pleasure – 10-20% of people in France would be willing to work half-time, take an equivalent cut in salary, but have half the loss made up by the indemnity;
  2. Anguish – For example, instead of laying off one hundred people, have two hundred people working half-time, with the indemnity;
  3. Social – Maternity or paternity leave could include two years on half-time, with the indemnity. There could also be a pre-retirement period on part-time, as in Sweden;
  4. Economic – in order for companies to make more efficient use of  their machinery, reduce the overall time of the present workforce and employ a second team;
  5. Youth – include 3 to 4 years of students working and studying half-time, before seeking full-time employment.

The details of these schemes are far more complex than it may initially appear, and some of the problems are explored below.

The debate on the redistribution of work has been raging in the pages of Transversales Science Culture. André Gorz (1994) points out that in theory, if a firm can achieve the same or greater productivity with less working time, then the employees could all shorten their hours and still be paid the same salary. It should therefore be possible to reduce working time without reducing salaries. However, because of a failure in policy over the last twenty years to address this issue, there are now a number of people without any paid employment, who must be given that opportunity. Therefore, the work will have to be more widely distributed, “retroactively”, and a small drop in salaries is inevitable – unless substantially more recognised “work” can be created elsewhere (see below). Gorz proposes legislation to enforce reduced working time, eventually coming down to 32 hours per week. It is estimated that this would create between 1.5 – 2.0 million jobs in France. Michel Rocard (1996), however, former Socialist prime minister, does not believe that a reduction enforced by the state would work, and cites previous examples and the problems that arose as a result.

Rocard proposes using the French equivalent of National Insurance contributions to encourage employers to reduce working times. He would reduce the amount of contributions payable by seven Francs an hour for every hour worked below 32 hours, and increase the amount payable by 32 Francs per hour for every hour worked above 32 hours. His hope is that the substantial increase in the cost of employing people more than 32 hours a week would encourage employers to lower working times, and take on more employees. Even if they found that they could reduce their working times purely by their productivity levels and without taking on other people, this implies slack which would have been tightened in the future anyway, in the form of redundancies, so it is actually preventing future unemployment. He points out that in this situation, as in Gorz’s proposal, although the number of hours would be reduced, the salaries could stay the same. This is, however, dependent on the employer accepting that their employees receive a large pay rise (in per hour terms), as opposed to that extra money being allocated to the profits of the firm. Serious negotiations would need to take place, but even then there are some commentators who doubt the employees would have the muscle to be able to ensure no drop in salary at all (Behar, ibid.).

Gorz sees employees’ salaries being topped up by a “second cheque” where necessary, an alternative to the Basic Income, but dependent on employment (see above). Firms who had to employ more people, but didn’t have the resources to cover the extra salaries, could be subsidised by the State. This subsidy would be substantially less than the State payments that person would otherwise be receiving when unemployed, and would therefore benefit all parties.

If the project was successful, it would, however, result in less money from National Insurance contributions to pay for social security benefits. On the other hand, there would be less demand for them with reduced unemployment. Government income would also be greater from income tax, VAT and corporate tax revenues, due to the greater number of people in paid employment. One problem could be companies who manage to reduce their working hours without taking on extra labour, thus leading to a net drop in income for the Treasury. Rocard however also points out that productivity gains would be made by companies using their machinery more efficiently to achieve the reductions in working time, thus giving them the potential to employ more people.

Liepitz (1993) describes the proposal of “L’Entente des Ecologistes”: an immediate reduction to 35 hours per week with no reduction in salary for those earning up to 1.8 times the minimum wage, with an average reduction, on a sliding scale, of 3% for those earning over that amount. Those working less that 30 hours would be backed up by the “second cheque”. Liepitz points to a “common consensus” among economists that employers could afford a 70% compensation of salaries when working time is reduced, due to efficiency savings in both plant resources and labour, with evidence showing that people generally work more efficiently if they work shorter hours. Also, with the reduced demand on benefits will come a reduction in the contributions employers will be asked to pay. “L’Entente des Ecologistes” would also like to see a shift in taxation off labour and onto resource consumption, thus making employment cheaper in general, and particularly benefiting those industries with large workforces, allowing them to absorb the costs of the net increase in wages from shorter working times.

Philippe van Parijs points out three main problems with reducing time in paid employment. Firstly, if no differentiation is made in terms of parallel decreases in salaries between high and low earners, then the lowest-paid are going to drop to unacceptable levels. On the other hand, if the lower salaries are subsidised by the higher salaries, then the cost of less skilled work will be relatively high, leading to greater pressure on employers to replace those jobs with technology. The choice for the less skilled is pretty stark – low pay or no job!

Secondly, we need to take into account that unemployment is unequally distributed across regions and by qualification. If the reduction is made uniform across the board, it will lead to a failure in supplying the necessary demand in certain professions and regions, and huge costs in terms of retraining and relocation. The suggestion that the reduction should only be applied to areas where there is demand for work would lead to unacceptable inequalities: surgeons able to work 60 hours per week, and builders only ten!

Thirdly, he questions how to deal with self-employment. Are the self-employed to be regulated too? If so, how will their hours be controlled? If not, employers will surely find scams which have people working officially as “self-employed” to allow them to work long hours! There is no easy solution, but what this debate brings out is the need for a plurality of solutions. No one solution applied on its own will solve the problems.

Job-sharing is an option which could be made far more use of. At present only 0.1% of full-time and 2.4% of part-time workers in the UK job share (Social Trends 25, Crown 1995, 71). Most employers consider job-sharers as part-time workers, which affects their rights (see above). For job sharing to increase, the example set by Stockport Education Authority needs to be more widely followed. There, job-sharers are considered as full-time workers, and the full-time salary and accompanying conditions of service are divided proportionately between them (TUC 1996).

Working from home is an option which would suit many people, and allow for greater flexibility. However, as noted above, there are certain conditions that must be guaranteed to protect the health and well-being of people working from home, be they the “homeworkers” described above, or those involved in “tele-working”, e.g. running a business or doing a full-time job from home using the latest telecommunications technology. The National Group on Homeworking campaigns for “parity with on-site workers in terms of:”

  • Pay;
  • Employment terms and conditions – including maternity, redundancy, unfair dismissal and pensions;
  • Health and safety provision;
  • Access to training and promotion;
  • Provision of equipment and materials necessary to do the job;
  • Reimbursement for overheads […];
  • Access to affordable and good quality childcare. (Briefing Paper No.8)

Frieder Otto-Wolf (1996), a German Green MP, more with tele-working in mind, emphasises the need for:

  • equal employment rights, including compensation for resources used in the home for work;
  • communication and interaction with other workers to avoid isolation and loneliness (through combined office and home work, neighbourhood working spaces, more local offices);
  • full representation and participation in the company affairs, with regular contact between the tele-workers and the management. (29)

Work-sharing is certainly an idea which is being considered increasingly in the mainstream. However, the question still remains as to how much of the work that goes on now we do actually need. Bertrand Russell (1932) points out that during the First World War the number of people involved in production was massively decreased, without disaster: “The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organisation of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world” (27). A shift of emphasis to the local and regional level, rethinking what it is that people really need, and how much of that they can produce for themselves, should provide a clearer answer.

Appropriate Work


Having looked at how work could be redistributed and time freed up to allow people to engage in the full range of fulfilling activities, it remains to examine the type of work that is being done, and the possibilities for change within that sector of paid employment itself. Méda (1995) quotes G. Roustang as identifying four areas to analyse:

  • paid work and employment;
  • unpaid socially-useful work;
  • productive work to meet the needs of the individual or their close community (subsistence);
  • “activités désinteressés”.

The first three I would relate to the “activity” of “collective production”, in terms of producing the goods or services we need to meet our survival and physical comfort needs. Participating in either of these three areas should therefore count as participating in the “collective production” activity, and be rewarded and recognised as such, to allow the person to then spend time in the other essential activities. However, at present only the first in this list is recognised as “work”, in terms of receiving a salary and access to State protection and benefits. In carrying out either of the other two, you would still be classed as “unemployed” or “economically inactive”.

The task, then, is to create a situation where all of these activities are recognised as being part of the “progress” of a society, and should be given equal status with what is currently accepted as “employment”. A form of basic citizen’s income could provide the basis for this restructuring. There are also many jobs which could be created in the “social economy” (see the final section). Meanwhile, the creation of an economy parallel to the present one which encapsulates many of the values we are looking for is already underway, and indeed it is only by showing that it can work and that there is public demand for such a restructuring, that our political leaders are likely to listen.

The Parallel Economy


Keynes wrote:

I sympathise … with those who would minimise, rather than those who would maximise, economic entanglement between nations. Ideas, knowledge, art, hospitality, travel – these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible; and, above all, let finance be primarily national. (in Daly & Cobb 1989, 209)

I have outlined above the damage that the present ethic of “free trade” is doing to individuals, communities and the environment. The need to bring economics down to the human level means bringing production and trade down to a level where people can be part of the process, and know that they have some control over what is being produced for them and their community. This is the essence of what Robertson (1985) calls “ownwork” and Illich (1981) refers to as the “subsistence” economy. Robertson gives a comprehensive definition:

Ownwork means activity which is purposeful and important, and which people organise and control for themselves. It may be either paid or unpaid. It is done by people as individuals and as household members; it is done by groups of people working together; and it is done by people, who live in a particular locality, working locally to meet local needs. For the individual and the household, ownwork may mean self-employment, essential household and family activities, productive leisure activities such as d-i-y or growing some of one’s own food, and participation in voluntary work. For groups of people, ownwork may mean working together as partners, perhaps in a community enterprise or a co-operative, or in a multitude of other activities with social, economic, environmental, scientific or other purposes in which they have a personal interest and to which they attach importance. For localities, the significance of ownwork is that it contributes to local self-reliance, an increased local capacity to meet local needs by local work, and a reduction of dependence on outside employers and suppliers. (Introduction – x)

This defines the agenda for a new concept of work. It is not a “leisure society”, where a small elite does the work, backed up by advanced technology, and the rest consume in a situation of complete dependency. In this latter situation, those not working will simply become the consumers of the leisure industry. Ownwork will allow people to use their leisure as they please, without the pressure of an economic system desperate for growth. It will encourage and value the “vernacular”, a word Illich uses to mean:

the activities of a people when they are not motivated by thoughts of exchange, a word that denotes autonomous, non-market related actions through which people satisfy everyday needs. […] those acts of competence, lust or concern that we want to defend from measurement and manipulation by Chicago Boys and Socialist Commissars. (Illich 1981, 58)

He goes on to give examples such as food preparation, childbirth and recreation. People should be enabled to carry out these activities themselves, not have to rely on services bought in from outside, geared predominantly to making a profit. Illich calls very strongly to beware of the interference of the State in the vernacular as a means for stimulating economic growth, and sees the new concept of work as reclaiming those activities for ourselves. This work, and more, under the ownwork agenda, will be carried out outside of the mainstream economy and institutions of employment. The EU Green Paper on Social Policy (1993, p.21) even mentions that “the main route, but not the only one, is paid work”(my italics). The paper, however, does not go into the other routes. As Robertson points out, “no-one should expect – or wait for – the ownwork agenda, and the shift from employment to ownwork, to be carried out according to any coherent or systematic plan. No government … can realistically be expected to make the ownwork agenda a basis for its policy programme, until it has become clear to everyone that the shift towards ownwork is already far advanced” (1985, introduction, xii).

There have been suggestions for an official policy of the “dual economy”, with the economy of international competition, and the economy of “social conviviality” (Grand Relève, 1992).  The latter would focus on social and ecological needs, with the State guaranteeing an income for all those involved in such work. An individual or a group could find work which they would like to do. They contact the relevant level of government (local, regional, state or EU), and put forward a proposal, including suggested salaries. If accepted, the authorities cover the necessary investment and salaries. Thus citizens themselves would be defining what they thought to be the important and necessary work. The obvious objection is that it does not address the cause of so many of the problems, which is precisely the economy of international competition. The alternative economy would risk just becoming a mop to clean up the mess left behind. On the other hand, it could begin to address people’s attitude towards work and society, and as it grew, that change in consciousness would come to challenge the values behind the other economy. In other words, its prime function would be to bring people together to work on the issues of most importance, and thus create a movement for more fundamental change. It could be the first step.

Theory into Practice


Proponents of new economics and ownwork (Douthwaite 1996, Dauncey 1988, Robertson 1985) see the priorities in building parallel local economies, with the following core components:

  • community capital and Local Exchange and Trading System (LETS);
  • self-sufficiency in energy from local renewable resources;
  • community land trusts;
  • self-sufficiency in basic food, e.g. Community Supported Agriculture;
  • community co-operative businesses providing as many local needs (products and services) as possible from local resources, e.g. clothing.

I will not be describing these in detail, as it has been done comprehensively elsewhere (see the three references immediately above). The graphic shows how the different sectors can fit together.

It is worth first attempting to define “community”. It has been suggested that a good guide to the size and spread of a potential community is the distribution of the local newspaper, as it is designed to cover as many people as possible whilst recognising there are geographical and social limits in terms of news interest and local commerce. Cobb and Daly (1989, 172) see “community” as the goal we should be aiming for, and give three criteria that need fulfilling to justify a society being given that title:

  1. there is extensive participation by its members in the decisions by which its life is governed;
  2. the society as a whole takes responsibility for the members;
  3. this responsibility includes respect for the diverse individuality of these members

(Cobb & Daly 1989)

The use of the term “community” below refers to the potential group of people and geographical area that might form such a community in the future.

This parallel economy is putting into practice the desire to meet our needs – primary, comfort and well-being – directly, where increasingly often the mainstream economy is failing. A LETSystem enables people to exchange skills, acquiring goods and services without needing money, and to use their abilities and creativity to supply people with their needs. Although it clearly serves to meet some of our primary needs, most systems are not yet developed enough to meet the most fundamental such as food, housing and energy, although they are progressing rapidly in this direction. One of the major benefits of these systems so far has been the meeting of “well-being needs”, in the form of establishing contact with people in your community, making the human links that have been broken by a system focused on the individual as opposed to the society.

The primary and comfort needs are more likely to be met through systems that still act within the mainstream economy, but incorporate values of well-being. These include community businesses and co-operatives, often funded by community capital through credit unions or community banks. This capital is invested by members of the community who have a direct say in how it is used, one of the preconditions being that any project to be funded is of benefit to that community. An essential component to this is the fact that people can see that they are in control of their money, and increasingly of their community and their everyday lives. Working within this economy gives one a sense of connectedness to life. It is possible to see the positive effect on the community of the work you do and the money you spend or invest. In aiming to meet the primary and comfort needs in this way, we also meet our well-being needs.

A vital role this sector must play is to connect with people who are in full-time employment, to give them a taste of the energy involved. Today, a number of those people working long hours do so because they would prefer to be at work than face the stress of the family, and because there is nothing really fulfilling and worthwhile to do outside of work. They probably wouldn’t even recognise the “community” as such. If there is to be a move towards shorter hours spent in the work activity, then people must want that change. At present, work is often a refuge from everything else. To give people a taste of the activities that give more meaning back to life would show them that there are useful and engaging things they could be doing if they spent less time at “work”. As their needs for well-being are addressed, this would surely benefit the family, where the stress and conflict is often a result of frustration at those needs not being met in the rest of their lives.

The Immediate Future


As well as starting to physically build the society we want in the future through community action, there are immediate possibilities to lobby for in the present system, which will make a start in reshaping the values behind work and employment.

A paper by Michael Kitson, Jonathon Michie and Holly Sutherland, presented at a conference in Cambridge in July 1996 illustrated the potential for creating one million socially useful jobs immediately for a very low net cost (The Guardian, 20.5.96, 5). It suggested that 750,000 jobs could be created directly: 150,000 each in housing, education and health, and 100,000 each in Care in the Community, environmental projects and energy conservation. An extra 250,000 would be created by the “knock-on multiplier effect”. The net cost (having deducted benefit payments and added tax) came to about £6 billion, a small amount compared to the £300 billion public spending per year. This calculation does not include the less quantitative aspects of quality of life for those people, their families and communities.

Guy Aznar (1996), along similar lines, calls for the invention of a new sector of employment, geared to meeting social needs. The areas he identifies are:

  • Environmental, e.g. prevention, regeneration, recycling etc.;
  • Everyday life and education, e.g. school assistants, adult education, health, home repairs, transport;
  • Culture, e.g. maintenance of heritage sites, local animation, music and theatre workshops etc.;
  • Security and support (especially in the cities), e.g. guards on platforms at train and underground stations, pedestrian zones, social clubs;
  • Local development, e.g. upkeep of local shops and businesses, eco-tourism, seasonal work, creation of community business etc.

Much of this could be carried out in the parallel economy described in the section above, especially if given government support. Aznar sees the funding coming also from an active use of social security money, through the taxation system (the eco-tax), through local fund-raising, and the marketing of the services being created.

In Ireland, an innovative “Part Time Job Opportunities” scheme is proving extremely successful in achieving precisely those goals Aznar identifies, mainly though the creative use of the social security budget. It is, once again, matching up people’s skills and desires with the needs of communities. It involves the Government initiating a programme whereby unemployed people can be employed:

  • voluntarily, by local authorities, Health Boards, Education Authorities, voluntary or community organisations or groups;
  • doing work of public or social value which is not currently being done or which is only partly being done at present;
  • at ‘the going rate for the job’;
  • for as many hours as would give them a net income equivalent to what the unemployed person was receiving in unemployment assistance.

(CORI 1995, 16)

Employer organisations are encouraged to employ people for a few extra hours, so their income is greater than it was on benefit. However, even if this is not the case, the participants only have to work the set hours and are then free to do what they want with the rest of their week. They are not obliged to be otherwise “actively seeking work”. Their other social welfare benefits remain unaffected. Income from an additional job is liable to tax in the normal fashion. This is once more an application of common sense to  today’s situation, and has great potential for benefiting both unemployed people and their communities.

A proposal that would help in a similar fashion is made by Europe99 (1995, 11). They suggest linking up voluntary work with social security benefits, thus allowing people engaged in voluntary work to be credited with National Insurance contributions. Both this and the Irish scheme are ways of meeting the goals outlines above, and if adopted and adapted by communities across Europe could be the beginning of a major shift in how we value the work we do.



The immediate future looks bleak. The present economic system, with work and employment at its heart, is failing us. It is damaging us as individuals both physically and on a psychospiritual level. It is damaging our families and our communities. It is damaging the ecological balance that allows us to survive on this planet.

There are alternatives which can reverse this trend, some of which require policy changes from above, some of which can be implemented, and are already being implemented, by people in their communities today. The package of policy changes outlined above require such a major step in political and economic thinking, that any immediate hope for their implementation seems a long way off. Some believe that society needs to be brought to the brink of collapse before the size of the problem and the fundamental nature of the solutions are recognised. The enlightened policy makers must continue to make their case heard, and to develop their ideas. It’s only by offering an alternative that people are given the chance to choose.

The greatest hope lies, however, in the grassroots creation of alternative local sustainable economies. It is happening already, and doesn’t need political consent. It is, naturally, at the level of people and their communities that the common sense in the new approach is so clear – far from the fantasies of macro-economic theorists. As pressure on people and their lives builds, local economies have the potential to provide both safety net and escape valve. The crunch will come when these alternative economies are perceived to be damaging the prospects for greater national economic growth. Will the economically useful parts, which may, for example, be providing social security where the state is failing, be co-opted into the system, and the rest outlawed? Is there a critical mass at which it will no longer be possible to break the communities that have been re-established? Could people’s awareness, the raising of which is an essential component of the new economic activity, reach a point where governments will be forced to respond to a new wave of public opinion? No-one can know the answers to these questions.

The most important steps for the future now are to keep researching, experimenting with and learning from the experiences that people are having all over the world with alternative economic structures. These experiences can help to make the vital connection to our deeper sense of worth and well-being. It is to these we must look if we want a future society in which we, our children and all future generations, can live healthy and fulfilling lives.

[1] This is what is called in French “Allocation Universelle”. Some refer to a “Revenu de Citoyenneté”, but this is dependent on the person’s current income or savings – a fundamental difference. There are, as we shall see, a number of different definitions.

[2] What is perhaps even more remarkable in that finding is the other half who will take a job, even if it means them being financially worse off than they were on benefits.

[3] 21 boulevard de Grennelle, 75015 Paris, France. Tel: +33 45 78 34 05; Email:

[4] Address as above; email:



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14 thoughts on “Economics and Work for People and Planet

  1. Pingback: Future of Western Civilization » Blog Archive » Energetics: The Pain and the Promise- Peter Merry on Leading from the Field.

  2. Hello Peter,
    Your paper is very interesting. When you wrote it in 1997, some of the solutions you present would seem a bit strange, such as the community-based economy, but nowadays, things are changing, and that’s a good sign.
    However, some of your suggestions, such as the basic citizen’s income and the redistribution of work, are quite dangerous for those who support austerity measures in Europe and elsewhere: in France, many people criticize the measures that set up the 35 working hours/week, because “competitivity decreased” and “France needs to be competitive in global markets”. Besides, some politicians like Angela Merkel state that Southern Europeans should work during more hours and have less summer holidays. How can this trend be reversed in such troubled times?
    Anyway, it’s urgent to bring sense to work, so that people live their lives in a fulfilling way.
    With est regards and the best holiday wishes.
    Carla Guerreiro

  3. Thanks Carla. Yes, the “international competitiveness” argument tends to get in the way. We either have to wait for things to get so dire that nation states take unilateral action or hope that something like Simultaneous Policy ( works.

    • Hello Peter,
      Thanks for your comment.
      Unfortunately, I have to agree with you: it seems that everybody is waiting for the chaos. As for Simultaneous Police, I had never heard of it before. I’m going to take a look at their site.

  4. Hi Peter, thanks for posting this part of your work. Three things that I see now is one the testing of the hypothesis that people are inherently lazy or not, two the exspected loss of jobs due to the robotizing of society and three the need to prevent too much people in poverty to keep things going versus international competiveness..

  5. Given all the recent interest in basic income and other policies covered in the paper, I am planning to update and get the book republished as an e-book and print on demand in the near future. I’ll be sharing some of the endorsements I get as they come in. Feel free to add your own!

  6. Great endorsement from Prof Wayne Visser – who was there when I wrote the original :-):

    Why Work? is a brave treatise that refuses to shy away from Western capitalism’s most vexing dilemmas, such as how to create meaningful work and halt the social cancer of growing inequality. Merry effortlessly weaves together philosophical, economic, political and even spiritual perspectives into a highly readable book that is as grounded in pragmatic solutions as it is uplifted by inspiring aspirations. Many of the policy ideas are rooted in the decades old “new economics” and “green politics” movements, which are only recently being taken up and stress tested by various governments around the world, especially in Europe. This makes the book highly contemporary and recommended reading for changemakers in government, business, civil society and academia. A fertile and far-reaching book of possible futures.
    — Prof Wayne Visser, director of Kaleidoscope Futures, author of Sustainable Frontiers and Senior Associate at Cambridge University

  7. A short yet unequivocal endorsement from Dr. Bernard Lietaer:

    “Radical, Necessary, Different, and most importantly Timely!!”
    – Bernard Lietaer PhD, author or co-author of 17 books and numerous articles written in five languages and co-designer and implementer of the European Currency Union.

  8. Great overview and endorsement from Dr Jim Garrison:

    This is a brilliant exploration on the deep significance of work in the life of the individual and community. Work is what most of us spend most of our waking time engaged in and thus the challenge of how to make work meaningful and ecologically sustainable is perhaps the single most important priority for society, especially at a time such as ours in which alienation, exploitation, and social unrest are endemic worldwide. If we could crack the code for work that empowers individuals and communities, we could create a paradise on earth. Peter’s book points the way.

    Jim Garrison PhD was educated at Cambridge and Harvard universities, is the founder and president of Ubiquity University and has served as President of the Gorbachev Foundation and State of the World Forum.

  9. Great to have this endorsement from Herman Wijffels too:

    “When Peter wrote this he was ahead of his time, as ever. This book is not only still relevant but very current.”

    Herman Wijffels is the “best Prime Minster the Netherlands never had” – former CEO of the Rabobank, head of the Dutch Social Economic Council and Dutch representative at the World Bank.

  10. Many thanks to Ken Wilber for this:

    “Peter Merry’s book addresses a central question faced by every human: Why should we work? His overview is lively, direct, readable, and very timely. With technological advances threatening to continue to eat away at employable jobs, new solutions are ever-more urgently required for human daily survival. Peter’s work looks at this issue head-on, with both analyses and possible solutions. Well done!”

    Ken Wilber—Philosopher and author of over 20 books, including The Integral Vision. Originator of Integral Theory.

  11. From Barrett Brown:

    “Once again, Peter Merry is years ahead with his thinking about global flourishing and what it takes for us to bring about a future that works for all. In this work he deftly weaves a tapestry of hope for our future from the threads of ecological economics, consciousness development, and social change theory. This mash-up of paradigms and trans-disciplinary thinking, combined with examples of practical, liberating structures for the individual and collective, is precisely the grounded wisdom that will stimulate real change. With this text, he will continue to positively influence those with authority, power and influence for many years to come.”

    Barrett C. Brown, PhD, organizational consultant and author of The Future of Leadership for Conscious Capitalism

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