Five Questions for Juliet Schor

We had a quick exchange with Juliet Schor earlier this week in preparation for her lecture at Illahee this Friday (February 24th).  Like her message? Join us at 7pm at the First Congregational Church in Portland for her full discussion of jobs and the meaning of true wealth during this economic crisis. 

Job creation is a great topic of political discussion during this election season, and largely focuses on creating new jobs in new industries to ease unemployment. Is growth the solution for our jobs crisis?

Schor: Not “indiscriminate growth.” We need a growth in green jobs—to increase energy efficiency, expand alternative energy, and transform agriculture (sustainable agriculture will require more labor than chemical agriculture). But  the standard trickle down model of jobs (try to rev up the economy and hope the jobs follow) is now bankrupt.

To re-balance the labor market we need to reduce hours of work in long-hours jobs, make part-time work more appealing, and over the next 15 years, use productivity growth to reduce hours of work. That will get us higher employment and a saner pace of life plus it will reduce CO2 emissions.

As you discuss in your book, the first principle of Plenitude is a new allocation of time.  This involves moderating work time and decreasing income and consumption in order to reclaim free time. Decreasing the use/consumption of anything (even when we know it is good for us or will be the right move in the long run) is a difficult thing for many people to do. How do we start? How do we get going now?

Schor: As noted above, we start not by taking away income that people have, but by altering the path of income. New hires come on at 80%, rather than 100% of salary and work time (i.e., 4 day workweeks). That’s a gradual transition to a shorter hours economy that involves a slows rate of growth of consumption. We need to start by slowing down the engine of expansion.

Many of the fundamentals of Plenitude involve change at a personal level.  How can policy makers support this transition (to what you call the  “80% Solution”) at a larger scale?

Schor: Some important policies include fixing health care, and esp expanding public options/single payer solutions. High health care costs are a big reason that companies set long hours,  which in turn lead to more unemployment. Tax credits for shorter hour jobs could help.  Another key change would be honest energy prices. That’ll enhance local business, small-scale enterprises, self-employment and community connection.

In Oregon, the private sector has not been robust enough to keep up with the unemployment numbers and the jobs lost at the state and local levels. A new approach to creating jobs, called Economic Gardening, has been floating around in the Oregon. It focuses job-growth practices that target homegrown companies rather than using “economic hunting” methods that recruit companies from out of state. The companies are largely based in software or technology and have the ability to scale-up quickly due to their less-capital-intensive products. Do you think this is a viable solution for our long-term unemployment rates?

It’s an interesting approach, and one that I think is worth exploring. Yes.

You also have addressed high-tech, innovative and entrepreneurial solutions, but they revolve around self-providing. Could you discuss this a little more?

The high-tech, innovative side of this is also connected to the spread of ecological knowledge, up-skilling of eco-knowledge and higher productivity in “natural capital.” But this will work better if it’s more collaborative and less privatized. Information because of its non-rival aspects (my consuming it does not impinge on your consumption of it) should be freely available. I see a shift to more open-source, accessible new eco-knowledge (spreading digitally, in part) as part of a paradigm shift to collaborative production, peer-to-peer economies and the like.

2012 Illahee Lecture Series: Sacred Cows

Juliet Schor: Jobs, Markets & True Wealth

February 24, 2012 | 7pm | First Congregational Church, Portland

Tickets: $20 (individual lecture)/$64 (remaining series)

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