Sunday, September 6, 2015

Work as Labour, Work as Experiential Good

Even now, it's not easy to contemplate, or respond, to the fact that labor force participation will not return to the highs of earlier levels - at least not in terms of today's workplace structure. Indeed, both Scott Sumner and Marcus Nunes have emphasized a "permanently" lower participation rate more than once. True to form, some at the Fed still express concern about the matter, despite a relatively low unemployment level. Just the same, there's no easy way to undo the monetary policy mistakes which led to the Great Recession and its aftermath. By overreacting to a negative supply shock, the Fed contributed to a now present long term unemployment pattern. Long term unemployment statistics did not improve alongside other indicators, once hiring finally resumed.

If "going back" is no longer an option, how can workplace concepts move forward in the 21st century? Labor Day serves as an apt reminder, that the circumstance of work as experienced in 20th century settings, is changing. Even though more people are free to pursue their own destiny in the marketplace - in contrast to earlier workplace expectations - thus far there is little definition for doing so. As a result, the nature of work needs some serious reconsideration: not just in terms of what today's workplace remains capable of providing, but also the nature of work which people have long imagined for themselves and others.

The work which many marketplace entrants aspire to, is different from labor in many respects. Indeed, it is not just knowledge and specialized skill sets which are the domain of experiential work, but also the diverse activities of personal time management as opposed to management on the part of others. However, knowledge based work became the most sought after experiential work, because until recently it provided more security than was possible through self employment.

Work as an experiential good is an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. Even though it includes many elements of value in use, the lack of a marketplace for time (thus far) leaves experiential work structured for value in exchange as defined by special interests. Hence the vital distinction between challenging work versus "necessary" work has been partially lost.

Differences between labor and experiential work, have distorted the economic context of work in a number of ways. For instance, time value is perceived differently. Does one wait for work to begin, and not think about the clock when it does? Or does one work, and wait for the moment it becomes possible to do something else? Much about one's personal health may also depend on the answer.

In the historical moments when it is possible to do so, people approach much of their work not as drudgery, but as a way to interact with resources, individuals and one's environment. Even though some forms of this activity is transitional rather than recurring, its changing nature is far more stimulating. Among other things, the confusion of labor with productive endeavor, has led to the separation of young and old alike from other age groups. The challenging nature of work as an experiential good would not harm either young or old, in the ways that physical labor has sometimes done in the past.

Knowledge use systems would seek to redress the fact that the work so many seek, cannot really be considered as labor in the traditional sense. The paradox in today's workforce is the fact experiential work tends to be more highly remunerated, than the kinds of work which individuals find tedious or wearisome. This has some bearing why higher education - as the primary means of economic access - became so expensive. What people really sought through the cost of education, were the service production "rights" which higher education made possible, and the financial security that only a good employer could provide.

Despite the fact some labor has been made "unnecessary" because of technology, the experiential work of knowledge use is ultimately threatened to a greater degree than traditional labor. How so? It is the work people most want, even though many service based aspects of experiential work have been indirectly provided through other wealth based means. Given the chance, populations seek the challenges and status of experiential work. Not only does such work mean a chance of greater longevity, it also provides means to maintain options as one ages.

It's odd to think that the ultimate threat to the kinds of work people desire isn't purely technological. Rather, the main problem is how so much knowledge based work came to be funded and provided by governments in the first place. Unlike labor, experiential work has yet to be subjected to the realities of supply and demand. So long as a reasonable degree of wealth is maintained in a given equilibrium, the demand for labor could remain reasonably stable. A marketplace for time value, would also allow people to discover the possibilities for supply and demand in services formation at local levels.

Presently, demand for many forms of knowledge based work is hidden through asymmetric compensation, which occurs across multiple channels at system wide levels. Thus far, it has not been possible to determine economic value for knowledge based work, as it might be perceived locally. In the meantime, experiential work is subjected to political and social pressure which creates uncertainties for fiat monetary systems as well.

Fortunately, local groups can provide mutual support for experiential work at local levels. This process could eventually ease some of the pressure on services budgets - pressure which has some groups questioning what is essentially the (government) fiat backing of knowledge based endeavor.

A marketplace for time value would also provide further incentive for innovation. When people manage the structure of their own time in relation to resources and other individuals, they gain the ability to innovate their environments to make more time for the experiential work they seek. It is only when individuals don't have the ability to manage their own time - when they are dependent on an employer's salary - that technology is often seen as though in competition with work of all kinds.

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