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Individual Paper: Technology, Plutocracy and Care: Baumol’s Cost Disease in a Post-Growth Economy

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The future and purpose of work are vital concerns in the consideration of the post-growth economy. An economy of care, craft and creativity (Prosperity without Growth, 2nd ed, Jackson 2017) may have much to offer in terms of sustainable, good quality employment and greater material efficiency. But such a proposal cannot ignore the fundamental economic forces that are already shaping the future of work in the 21st Century. One such force is the rise of automation. The development of machine learning is currently extending the scope of automation into previously ‘safe’ occupations reinforcing the need to address questions about the intrinsic value of different forms of work. Another such ‘fundamental’ relates to the relative productivity of different sectors of the economy.

The economist William Baumol pointed out that industries with below average labour productivity growth (such as care, craft and creativity) will experience above average cost inflation, because wages will increase in proportion to average labour productivity growth across the economy. Hence, the very sectors that offer the most potential for sustainable, good quality work are liable to suffer from what Baumol called a ‘cost disease’ and find themselves either squeezed out of the market, struggling for finance or dominating an increasing proportion of the household budget. Despite numerous theoretical and empirical studies of the cost disease, little consideration has been given to these dynamics as the economy moves into a post-growth phase.

The goal of this paper is to redress this imbalance. Specifically, we explore the relevance of the Baumol hypothesis for a post-growth economy. We discuss the future of employment, quality of work, provision of care, and fiscal survivability of public services as technological development shapes the economy and determines the allocation of power. Through review the existing literature, grounded in specific case studies, we insight into the challenges and opportunities that Baumol’s cost disease raises for post-growth economies. By situating the Baumol hypothesis alongside socialist, anarchist and philosophical literatures on technology and work, we are able to highlight particular tensions between desirable future visions of work and the economic forces that will shape them in post-growth economies.


Day: 2018-08-24
Start time: 11:15
Duration: 00:15
Room: ABF205
Track: Custom (describe on the submission note)



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