Thursday, August 20, 2015

Needed: Marketplaces for Skills Value AND Time Value

Keynes could not have known, that people would choose to work so much in the twentieth century, at least when they got the chance to do so. From a survey on the evolution of American work and leisure between 1965 and 2005, Tim Harford notes:
The best educated and the highest earners, both men and women, had less free time than ever. Starting in the mid 1980s, this elite began to drop everything and work furiously...Perhaps the real story, then, is that we are trying to keep up not with the Joneses but with our work colleagues. By pulling the longest hours and taking the least leave, we climb the corporate ladder. It may be no coincidence that the collapse in leisure time began in the 1980s, at a time when inequality at the top of that ladder was surging. The rewards for working hardest are large.
It helps to remember that this is a logical extension, of what was still a growing marketplace for skill value. Even though much of the value in these services was time related, it was the skills component which provided additional value for both tradable and non tradable sectors. When skill levels indirectly assist specific product creation as contrast to other product, corporations understandably seek to maximize the skill sets they find preferable. However, this approach - without the inclusion of a formal marketplace for time value - means time value imbalances depending on who gains economic access, and time value losses for aggregates as a whole.

A marketplace which primarily exists for skills value (instead of time value, as represented by purposeful direct resource interaction), means one's time is either in demand, or not. For those whose time is in demand, a lack of personal time tends to result. This, even though well compensated skills mean more leisure options appear as though possible. The paradox for those whose skill sets are in less demand, is that they no longer have other sufficient access points to the marketplace, as was once the case.

As a result, part time workers have more time for leisure, but fewer means to otherwise make productive use of extra time. When few options exist for leisure time, this translates into problems regarding one's ability to participate in normal relationships or lifestyle options. Hence "voluntary vacation" time as an aggregate concept - even in periods of seeming low unemployment levels - could mostly be in the eye of the beholder. That's not to say that some of today's unemployed don't have meaningful lives, and I know individuals who have been quite fortunate in this regard. Only that the permanent retirement/vacation is not necessarily a preferred choice, for those who leave the marketplace prematurely.

In the U.S., a person did not always need to be "gainfully" employed (by others) in order to maintain personal obligations, particularly if one was able to maintain resource connections through land ownership. Even a century earlier, personal time value could still contribute to a good life. After all, there were more than adequate means to fulfill obligations for oneself and others through personal initiative. Too many of those means have either been removed through regulation, or designated as production rights for the few.

To some degree, the twentieth century contract for Social Security, was a recognition on Washington's part that earlier self employment options were beginning to disappear. Access to outside employers gradually became a life necessity, on the part of entire populations. It is possible that Social Security in the U.S. was enacted to address some of these lost options for survival, for older citizens were now competing with technological gains in agriculture, for instance. In the twentieth century, one could imagine Social Security as a payoff for staying connected to city life throughout adulthood if necessary, then retiring to other environs for (what could have been) the reduced costs of retirement.

Now, those "other environs" need a chance to prosper as well, given the no vacancy signs which city marketplaces are signalling in the present. Prosperous regions take the skills marketplace for granted, and other regions need the ability to compete, based on the possibilities of formally coordinated time value. Earlier means of informal coordination, inadequate though they may have seemed at times, were still able to provide economic access to individuals through the course of their lifetimes. When time value is directly invested with resource value, there are local means for production and consumption smoothing, which otherwise are not always available.

In a marketplace for skill, knowledge use and skills sets can become sticky, for they involved sacrifices and compromises which make it difficult to consider other options which might be better for given sets of circumstance. This is one of the best advantages to a marketplace for time, in that it allows more flexibility for the knowledge and skills sets which are ultimately used. The local corporations of knowledge use systems would coordinate multiple product capacity for non tradable environments. Since product creation does not have to be contrast with (specific) other product, aggregate time value - instead of skill value - has the chance to become the primary contributor to corporate and group gains.

Corporations can also be structured to benefit from aggregate time values. Knowledge use systems would compensate participants based on the time value which they coordinate with others, rather than the specific skills sets or knowledge that they utilize in the process of doing so. This allows more flexibility for the system, overall. One paradox of the sacrifices required for present day skills capacity, is that skills sets can still be "pushed" out of the marketplace by technological gains. Better to rein in costs by generating a marketplace for time value, so that technology can be utilized alongside knowledge use, instead of taking its place.

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