Productivity Prolapse

The Magic Pudding report generated a keen response calling for more analysis of the unchallenged economic and social assumptions of modern society. The holy grail search for ever-increasing labour productivity is another great economic shibboleth (lovely word) in need of deconstruction. The Applied Social Sciences unit at Kookynie Lo-Tech University (KLOTU) has been conducting longitudinal research on low labour productivity for years.

Consider the unremitting logic of producing widgets with less and less human intervention. Theoretically human wage slaves released from factories would then move on in post-industrial societies to make ‘services’, while the Chinese beaver away. Unfortunately there aren’t enough jobs in services to soak up this workforce, hence the high rates of unemployment in Western Europe & USA. The furphy that we would progress seamlessly to having lots of uplifting leisure time, while the machines did all the work, aka Barry Jones 1982 book “Sleepers, Wake!”, has definitely not come to pass. Reality has proved to be uglier and society inflexibly selfish (known as capitalism). So, with not enough work to go around, in our Thatcherian world we wind back social security because it’s now too expensive. The result is that society starts to fracture as the wealth divide widens. Beware the uprising and malcontent!

KLOTU has been collaborating with the University of Surrey’s Professor of Sustainable Development Tim Jackson (best-selling author of “Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet”). In a recent opinion piece he argues compellingly for a slowing of the drive for labour efficiency, as we may have reached its limits. He calls for the value of human services to be properly recognised rather than the ‘relentless outpouring of stuff’.

The Kookynie study findings in favour of a low-productivity future look promising. The pendulum is swinging towards the life side of that infamous balance with work. The latter has been re-defined along eco-working lines with cottage industries like tea-cosy knitting, beer brewing (don’t tell the pub), composting and screen door repairing. Meantime creativity is flourishing. Don’t worry Barry, some of us are awake, just not that early in the day.

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