Citizen Action Monitor

Work in the employment-rich service sector is not only more fulfilling, it’s material-light

Service-based vocations “have the potential to restore the value of decent work to its rightful place at the heart of society.

No 2098 Posted by fw, November 13, 2017

To access all other synopses from Prosperity without Growth, click on the Tab titled “Prosperity without Growth” — Links to All Posts in the top left margin of the Home page.

In the synopsis of Section 2, Tim Jackson stated that “Almost all of our needs can be cast in terms of services.

Tim Jackson

In this synopsis of Section 3, which Jackson titles “Work as participation,” he follows up on his “almost all our needs” praise of service activities based around care, craft and culture. The author argues that people who work as producers and consumers of material-light, satisfaction-rich activities in these three sectors “often achieve a greater sense of wellbeing and fulfilment.” Service-based vocations, says Jackson, “have the potential to restore the value of decent work to its rightful place at the heart of society.

Tim Jackson is a British ecological economist and professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey.


Work as participation, a synopsis, from Chapter 8, “Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow” of Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity without Growth, Routledge, 2nd edition, 2016-17

In a “best case” scenario, work is more than just a means of livelihood, asserts Tim Jackson, “it affords a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

Disappointingly, for many trapped in mindless, insecure, poor-paying jobs, that is not the reality. Young people, in particular, suffer most.

At the crux of the problem is capitalism’s dilemma: the relentless pursuit of increasing labour productivity — often hailed as “the engine of progress” – results in rising unemployment.

An escape from a rising worker unemployment “productivity trap” is work sharing and work shortening: “Sharing the available working time by reducing working hours is thus an important strategy for ensuring that everyone has access to a livelihood, particularly when demand growth is hard to come by.”

Jackson cites Germany’s success in maintaining employment with a working sharing arrangement at a machine-tool making company, which took advantage of government incentives to reduce working hours instead of laying off employees. Meanwhile, the US operation of the same company laid off almost 15% of its workforce.

There is, fortunately, another approach to addressing the “productivity trap”, notes Jackson: “challenge the assumption of ever-increasing labour productivity.” To put it another way, challenge capitalism’s ideological worship of “efficiency” and “productivity.”

Which is not to overlook the fact that being able “to generate more output with fewer people has been at least partly responsible for lifting our lives out of drudgery. … increased labour productivity has a lot to commend itself.”

Given that “Work remains one of the ways in which humans participate meaningfully in society,” work that reduces the quality of our on-the-job experiences threatens to undermine our opportunities for a flourishing lifestyle.

In contrast, Jackson underscores the inherent advantages of work in the service sector:

“Strikingly, these sectors of the economy – care, craft, culture – are exactly the ones identified in this chapter as the basis for a renewed vision of enterprise. Service-based activities – of the kind described in the previous section – are inherently labour-intensive as well as being potentially lighter in environmental terms.”

In addition, there’s an added bonus for service-based activities. Jackson presents a graph mapping the carbon footprints associated with different economic sectors, which clearly confirms that “the carbon footprint of the social and personal services sector is between three and five times smaller than the footprint of the manufacturing or extractive sector.”

Moreover, service-based activities resist the pursuit of labour productivity: Not even economists are demanding that Beethoven’s 9th Symphony be played faster and faster each year.

In his summary of Section 3, “Work as participation”, Tim Jackson emphasizes:

“Perhaps the most telling point of all is that people often achieve a greater sense of wellbeing and fulfilment, both as producers and as consumers of these material-light, employment-rich activities, than they do in the time-poor, materialistic, supermarket economy in which much of our lives is spent.

In short, achieving full employment may have less to do with chasing endlessly after labour productivity in the hope of boosting growth and more to do with building local economies based around care, craft and culture. In doing so, we have the potential to restore the value of decent work to its rightful place at the heart of society.”

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