Christopher Lake and Adam Gold wrote in July about the systemic risks to the UK economy posed by the rapid move to homeworking since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Empty city centres, boarded-up offices, and a crash in the commercial property market were the red lights flashing in our future. But if the debate about our cities did not begin with events in Wuhan, the same is true of the debate about the future of work. The idea that artificial intelligence might do to the economic security of wite-collar workers what new technology and cheap overseas labour have done to the economic security of their blue-collar counterparts has been doing the rounds for a while. The question is one of the collective choices we are willing to make, the extent to which we want to apply the brakes to the market or to re-configure the way we regulate it, for instance through accepting that jobs (as we have understood them up until now) will increasingly become scarce goods in our society and that the link between jobs, self-respect, and economic security will need be broken once and for all if, as a society, we are to get through this next industrial revolution in one piece.Share
In her televised address to the nation back in April, Her Majesty the Queen invoked the spirit of the Blitz. In years to come, she hoped, the people of Britain would take pride in their response to the pandemic. The “attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling” – connecting as they do generations of Britons past and present – would see us through.
Four months on, what we see is a mixture of admirable and not so admirable behaviour. Have the authorities done all they could to harness the national spirit the Queen invoked or have they contributed to the very anxiety they should be in the business of remedying?Share
Having looked at the costs and benefits of homeworking from the perspectives of employees and employers, Christopher Lake and Adam Gold broaden the discussion to consider the externalities of homeworking – its costs and benefits to wider society. They argue that while the pandemic opens up the possibility of social and economic renewal, it also contains the seeds of systemic damage – damage that has innocent and small-scale beginnings in calculations on the part of individual employees and employers that the benefits of homeworking outweigh the costs for them. Christopher and Adam claim that policy-makers, charged with the task of charting our collective future and the wellbeing of the overall system, do not have the luxury of leaving the market to take its course in the hope everything will turn out fine in the end.Share