The Steady State Economy Conference

Workshop 8: Employment

Question: How can full employment and satisfying work be achieved in a steady state economy?

Why: Over time, technological progress has allowed businesses to become more efficient at producing goods and services, such that a given volume of goods can be produced with much less labour than was previously possible. Instead of using new technologies to reduce working hours, however, we have largely used them to produce more goods and services whilst keeping working hours relatively constant. This has allowed the level of unemployment to remain stable while the economy has grown. In a steady state economy, however, we cannot continue to increase production if this results in an increase in resource use and waste emission.

How: The main approach that has been proposed to prevent unemployment from rising in a steady state economy is to take productivity gains as an increase in leisure time, by gradually shortening the working day, week, and year. In many advanced capitalist countries, especially in Europe, policies have already been in place for many decades to reduce unemployment and distribute work more evenly through reduced working hours, sabbaticals, early retirement schemes and so on. Increasingly, “work life balance” policies are also providing workers greater rights to take career breaks and reduce working hours to meet childcare responsibilities. Whilst these policies have no environmental aims, and often exist alongside policies aimed at increasing total work in the economy rather than reducing it, they nevertheless provide useful insights into how working time reduction policies in a steady state economy could be designed and work in practice.


Martin Pullinger Martin Pullinger (Speaker)Martin is in the later stages of his PhD research at the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. He has a background in ecological economics, and a research interest in the role working time reduction can play in reducing overconsumption and its environmental impacts whilst still improving wellbeing. His research estimates the potential GHG emissions benefits of different working time reduction scenarios, and seeks to integrate this environmental agenda into the design and evaluation of work-life balance policies, which have so far considered only social and economic goals.
Christer Sanne (Chair)A principal and longstanding (30 years!) interest of mine has been the issue of shorter working hours. I regard this as a key to a better quality of life as well as sustainable development. My latest book about this is called Keynes’ Grandchildren (2007, in Swedish) alluding to John Maynard Keynes’ essay from 1930 about a possible 15-hour week for his descendants. To me, this is also a way of saving the planet. I am now retired from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm but active in issues of sustainable development and degrowth. More about my interests and writings in English (incl. the first chapter of Keynes’ Grandchildren) is available on my home page.
Blake Alcott Blake Alcott (Rapporteur)Blake is academically active in the de-growth movement, and is a PhD candidate at the Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds. He works with Klaus Hubacek on the land, labour production function in the history of economic thought. He worked as a self-employed cabinetmaker in Zürich for about 30 years. His B.A. in philosophy is from Connecticut Wesleyan University and his MPhil in environmental policy is from the University of Cambridge. His publications on conspicuous consumption, energy-efficiency and sufficiency rebound, and natural resource caps are at available on his home page.


Download the Proposal Download a discussion paper by Christer Sanne