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  • A Post-employment Utopia?
  • Mihail Evans (bio)
Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society 1: The Future of Work, Cambridge, Polity, 2016
Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 2017
Peter Fleming, The Mythology of Work, London, Pluto, 2015

The dramatic transformation of work sometime in the near future has been forecast for more than a hundred years. In 1930 John Maynard Keynes gave a lecture in Madrid entitled 'Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren'.1 His vision there–and Fleming begins his first chapter with it and Bregman his second–is that people in our day would be facing the challenge of what to do with so much leisure given that we would be working only fifteen hours weeks.2 In particular, he predicted that the global economy would grow sevenfold, something it has indeed already done. In Keynes' time the working day was becoming shorter following Henry Ford's discovery that production increased when he cut the working hours in his factories and he predicted this trend would continue. He was certainly correct that the development of technology would increase productivity inexorably and even Nixon, when Vice President in the 1950s, promised a four-day working week 'in the not too distant future'. In the 1960s it was largely those on the left who sought to appropriate these developments and build a radical politics on the basis of them. In France André Gorz held this torch over the years. The Belgian academic, Phillippe van Parijs has published important work and thirty years ago founded the BIEN association of activists for basic income. In the 1990s it was Jeremy Rifkin, an American futurologist rather than a political radical, who notably publicised a version of these ideas in the Anglo-Saxon world.3 In recent years–as all of the writers under consideration note–the idea that technology will result in many jobs becoming redundant, has been widely discussed.

One of the great political questions currently facing developed societies is how to respond to this challenge. Bill Gates, as Stiegler reports, told the American Enterprise Institute in 2014 that the best solution would be to lower income taxes and to make tax changes to encourage companies to hire people, that is, to reprise or continue with the trickle-down economics of Reagan. He specifically argued against raising the minimum income.4 In contrast, all three of the books under consideration suggest that the solution is for employment and income to be separated, giving rise to a situation that all three describe in terms that verge on the utopian. Bregman argues that 'the richer we as a society become, the less effectively [sic] the labour market will be at distributing prosperity' (p92). He suggests 'free money' or a basic income as a response. Stiegler speaks of 'the inevitable withering of wage [End Page 146] labour', and tells us, 'the end of employment ... has become obvious' (p173). This leads him to project: 'a fully automatized society where employment has disappeared and hence where wages are no longer the source of purchasing power, in turn implying the disappearance of the purchasing consumer, which clearly requires the institution of a new process of distribution' (p84). In particular, he proposes a contributory rather than a basic income or free money although he fails to flesh this out in any detail. Fleming suggests nothing less than 'a surplus living wage' set at a minimum of £30,000 and it is the basis on which he does so that I will first examine.


Peter Fleming is Professor of Business and Society at London's City University. His earliest research looked at everyday practices of resistance to working life and this focus has remained at the core of his work.5 His Dead Man Working, written with Carl Cederstrom, a lecturer in business studies with Lacanian interests, received impressive reviews many of which praised its wit.6 The Mythology of Work, however, shows a much less sure touch. Early on, Fleming tells us that he intends to 'focus on six themes that I believe we ought to comprehensively understand if we are to develop a post-work future' (p18). Elsewhere he says: 'this book offers...


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