6.21.2015

a 150-year-old solution

I stumbled on this letter to the New York Times Book Review from a few weeks ago. It's in response to a review of two books about precarious work - one about technology threatening jobs of even the most educated people, and another about the rise of unpaid labour.
Barbara Ehrenreich’s chilling review of Martin Ford’s “Rise of the Robots” and Craig Lambert’s “Shadow Work” (May 17) is the best evidence-based response I’ve seen to all the headlines announcing that a recovery is “just around the corner.” But if it isn’t, and unemployment and part-time employment can only get worse, what can be done? Ehrenreich concludes that “the best that the feeble human mind can come up with at the moment” is a guaranteed annual wage.

Actually, one human mind came up with another solution over 150 years ago, and that was to share the work among all able-bodied people, with society making sure that all the skills required to serve everyone’s needs are widely distributed. In this way, everyone would have a job as well as more free time to do the things that most people cannot do until they retire. With the rich sharing their excessive wealth with others and taking on productive jobs, this could be done — especially today — without lowering anyone else’s living standards.

That person’s name was Karl Marx.

Bertell Ollman, Manhattan

The writer is a professor of politics at New York University.

2 comments:

johngoldfine said...

Marx would not be very impressed with Ollman's thumbnail sketch of Marx's ideas. In fact, nothing Ollman mentions is specific to Marx--Marx wasn't much for the romantic or utopian view of economic arrangements. If a professor of politics wants to appeal to Marx, he ought to start with the Marx's certainty about the inexorable materialist dialectic of history.

laura k said...

Well, fortunately or unfortunately, Marx is not here to be unimpressed. I believe in the vision the letter expresses, and that's good enough for wmtc.