Chapter Changing Labour Markets: Towards Real Flexibility 1 The Changing Nature of Work



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USBIG Discussion Paper No. 004, March 2001

Work In progress, do not cite or quote without author’s permission


Chapter 5. Changing Labour Markets: Towards Real Flexibility


5.1 The Changing Nature of Work

As with the last “great transformation,” the transition to the “New Economy” of the 21st Century promises to create profound changes in the organization of work, families and communities (Cornoy 2000). The forces of technological change and globalisation have the potential to increase the quality of life and help Ireland and the world build truly great societies. But they also have the potential to transform societies and economies into segmented communities of haves and have-nots, increasing the level of polarization that has been created by the “old economy.” Any economic transformation will have both costs and benefits and it is important that both costs and benefits be included in any analysis of the “New Economy.” Too often we can get swept up in the high tech hype and only emphasize the marvels of technological change and world trade without fully accounting for the new costs created by the same processes that have generated this new material prosperity. In this Chapter we will concentrate on the changes in work, but it is beneficial to briefly look at how the “New Economy” will impact families and communities as well. Too often work is understood purely from a narrow “economic” perspective, including in our analysis only the factors that directly influence the supply and demand for labour, the determination of wages and the level of employment. Yet the full costs and benefits of work go beyond the wages paid to workers and the contributions to output and profits received by employers. The full cost of a worker includes many family and social costs. Productive workers need supportive families and communities in order to be productive. Families provide not only the social support for labour market participation, they also produce and socialize the next generation of workers. Similarly, communities are necessary for productive workers, both today (creating a safe environment for economic activity) and for tomorrow (educating future workers). Yet the “New Economy” places greater stress on families and communities. It creates a more individualized economic space, weakening the social bonds of community. It also calls for greater labour market flexibility, which often translates into greater insecurity for workers, more atypical forms of employment and greater claims on the time of workers. Along with the potential for widening the gulf between the haves and the have-nots, the most serious challenge the “New Economy” is creating is how do we provide for the economic and social security which a good society demands while at the same time providing for the flexibility the “New Economy” requires.




5.1 Changes in Work

Beyond the trite speeches on how “brain power” will replace “mechanical” or physical power, is the reality that the “New Economy” will bring about significant changes in the work-life of many groups in society, changes which will be as dramatic as those brought about by the rise of the factory system in the early 19th Century. Many of these changes revolve around the issue of labour adapting to the new technology and life-long learning, both issues of labour flexibility. Another unavoidable aspect of the “New Economy” is the decline in the “job for life” goal of the Keynes-Beveridge model and the increasingly temporary and short-lived nature of employment relations. On the macro level this is seen in the trend upwards in the level of unemployment in the advanced capitalist economies. At the micro level we see this in the rise in “atypical employment.” The key labour market issue of the next century is to find mechanisms for accommodating the flexibility needs of the “New Economy” while supporting the position of the worker in an environment of high capital mobility and ensuring that the benefits of economic progress are shared by all. In Chapter Two we looked at the macro issues of rising unemployment and technological change and in Chapter Four we examined how the issue of competitiveness in this new economic environment. The various factors that have promoted the competitiveness of the Irish economy in the “New Economy,” where globalisation and technological change are of paramount importance, centre on cost competitiveness. Ireland’s cost competitiveness greatly promotes exports and Foreign Direct Investment, both of which are the driving force behind the “Celtic Tiger” economy.

In this chapter we will look at some of the micro labour issues, specifically the importance of labour flexibility and the rise in “atypical employment.” We will then look at how a Basic Income policy would influence labour supply and demand. One of the central focuses of much of the labour market research in the past decade, in Ireland and the OECD in general, has been the influence of social insurance on labour market outcomes. Thus in examining how our proposed Basic Income system will influence the labour market in Ireland we examine these issues, especially the two topics of the “tax wedge” and “replacement ratios.” Finally we return to the topic of Chapter Four with an examination of how a Basic Income proposal will affect the competitiveness of the Irish economy vis-à-vis its influence on the labour market; taking the National Competitiveness Council’s recent Annual Competitiveness Report as our guide.


5.2 Labour Market Flexibility
"An intriguing aspect of the recent wave of productivity acceleration is that U.S. businesses and workers appear to have benefited more from the recent advances in information technology than their counterparts in Europe or Japan. Those countries, of course, have also participated in this wave of invention and innovation, but they appear to have been slower to exploit it. The relatively inflexible and, hence, more costly labor markets of these economies appear to be a significant part of the explanation. The elevated rates of return offered by the newer technologies in the United States are largely the result of a reduction in labor costs per unit of output. The rates of return on investment in the same new technologies are correspondingly less in Europe and Japan because businesses there face higher costs of displacing workers than we do. Here, labor displacement is more readily countenanced both by law and by culture. Parenthetically, because our costs of dismissing workers are lower, the potential costs of hiring and the risks associated with expanding employment are less. The result of this significantly higher capacity for job dismissal has been, counterintuitively, a dramatic decline in the U.S. unemployment rate in recent years."

Allen Greenspan


One of the key factors mentioned in all discussions of the “New Economy” is labour market flexibility. In many ways labour market flexibility is a double-edged sword, especially in the Keynes-Beveridge Welfare State world. Labour market flexibility, or at least some aspects of labour market flexibility, is a necessary precondition for competing in the “New Economy.” However, it is only though the regulation of labour markets, that is by creating rigidities, that advanced capitalist economies have been able to increase the living standards of the majority of the population and ensure that the benefits of economic progress are more equitably shared. However, what worked in the past is no longer an option, new methods of promoting competitiveness (the subject of the last chapter) and equity (the subject of the next chapter) are needed. This Chapter, therefore, will serve as a bridge between Chapters Four (competitiveness) and Six (poverty and income inequality). Both issues, which roughly make up much of the equity/efficiency focus of this report, are greatly affected by developments in the labour market. Future competitiveness hinges, at least partly, on the ability of Irish workers and companies to adjust to changes in market conditions. However, much of the rise in income inequality also stems from developments in labour markets, and under the current “rules of the game” the factors that promote flexibility and thus competitiveness, also promote income inequality and higher levels of poverty. The attraction of a Basic Income system is its promise of allowing Ireland to promote both efficiency and equity, to promote greater levels of competitiveness and allow all to share in the benefits of this economic progress.
5.21 Types of Flexibility

Labour market flexibility is a phrase that generally is used with a positive connotation; it is not often that we hear someone come out against it, at least in principle. Often the term is a buzzword, meaning different things to different constituencies. However, one thing is certain: when one group asks another to be more flexible, they are seeking some concessions from another group. Thus the call for greater labour market flexibility by businesses is a call for greater power over the production process by capital. It can be argued that the “New Economy” requires this redistribution of control. What is more certain is the fact that the increase in the mobility of capital and other factors of globalisation have given them the ability to demand such control. But we should not forget that workers and citizens, and society as a whole, are being asked to give up some of their power and influence. Some form of institutional adjustment will have to be made to ensure that this transfer of power does not also generate a shifting of risk and uncertainty to workers and the poor, making labour market flexibility merely labour market insecurity.

There are essentially four types of labour market flexibility we will consider here: labour costs; adaptability; mobility; and work time and scheduling. When economists write about labour market flexibility, especially as it relates to unemployment, their conception of labour flexibility is almost exclusively in terms of labour costs, specifically wage flexibility. The idea here is that when the demand for workers falls, wages would fall instead of unemployment increasing (thus you have price effects instead of quantity effects). This pre-Keynesian notion (discussed in the appendix to this chapter) assumes that if wage flexibility exists, there could never be mass unemployment. Keynes and the Great Depression showed how inaccurate this theory and policy proposal was, and common sense tells us that wage flexibility is a bad idea. Just imagine the level of uncertainty in the economy if all workers’ wages rose and fell with changes in market conditions (like stock or commodity prices). There is considerable evidence that wage flexibility is increasing (Standing 1999). Some of this can be seen in the rise in wage inequality (caused by changes in relative real wages). Other aspects of this can be seen with the increased use of time rate and piece rate pay instead of a fixed wage, and in the increased use of incentive pay (stock options) and profit sharing (Ibid., p. 95). But labour cost flexibility is more than wage flexibility. Labour costs are determined by many factors (Ibid., p. 98-101): overhead costs; fiscal costs (paid to government); training costs; protection costs (worker, consumer and community safety); labour turnover costs; motivational costs; productivity costs; adaptability costs and bureaucratic behaviour costs. At least some part of the decline in labour costs in Ireland (see Chapter Four), and in other OECD countries, stems from a shifting of some of these costs from the firms to the workers or to society. To give an example, the educational system subsidises business training costs to a large extent, and the more the educational system is adjusted to being a source of trained workers, the greater this subsidy becomes. Social insurance, as we see below, pays for a large share of the protection costs of production in Ireland. A basic income can be seen as compensation for the shifting of costs. The benefits of flexible labour costs generally go to the firm. Part of this benefit is the ability to make adjustments to new market conditions, but part of this is merely a shift in the costs of production away from the firm and onto the worker, consumers and society as a whole, simply because they have the power to do this. This sort of labour market flexibility is neither good for society nor necessary for the technological aspects of the “New Economy,” but it is brought about by the increased capital mobility of globalisation and thus is a reality that must be dealt with.

The other forms of labour market flexibility: adaptability; mobility; and work time and scheduling, all have become important ingredients in the “New Economy” and are, in many ways, the result of the need for flexible production in order to be competitive. However, they too can amount to being a shift in costs away from the firm and towards workers and society unless some system is created in order to reduce the risk and uncertainty of workers and citizens and to ensure that all benefit from the new technology. In order for the benefits of these new flexibilities to be realized in a way that benefits all, some system of reducing the new insecurities these flexibilities create will be necessary. Increased mobility means that workers will be expected to move between jobs more often. Yet they have to be supported all the time, even when they are between jobs. This a basic income does. A more adaptable workforce means that employers will need less total workers, yet those that will be made redundant will need to be supported. This a basic income does. Flexibility in hours and schedules means that more workers will be “atypical workers,” meaning that they will work only part- time, work on short contracts or other forms of less than full time work. But these people need to be supported full time, and this a basic income does.



5.3 Changes in Employment

The “New Economy” requires flexibilities that were not necessary for the mass production “Fordist” economy of the 20th century. One way that these flexibilities have become institutionalised in the Irish economy, as well as in other OECD countries, is the rise in what has been called “atypical employment,” or “non-standard forms of employment.” The most common forms of “atypical employment” are: part-time work, temporary or casual work; consultants; sub-contractors; agency workers; home workers; teleworkers; and concealed workers.1


“Atypical work is commonly associated with weaker labour market position. The extent to which this is the case depends largely on the social policies of a country as a whole. From the point of view of the well-being of an individual it is also crucial whether part-time or temporary work is voluntary or involuntary, in other words, whether flexibility serves primarily the needs of the employer or the worker” (Nurmi, 1999).
In looking at “atypical” forms of employment we should keep in mind both the positive and negative aspects, as well as the realities of the flexibilities of the “New Economy,” and most importantly, the well-being of the worker. On the positive side “atypical” employment can help individuals enter the labour force and it can allow the individual free time to pursue other interests and to fulfil family responsibilities. However, “atypical” employment is frequently at low pay, without benefits, does not meet the requirements of social insurance programmes and is often involuntary (the worker would prefer full time work).
5.31 Part-Time Work

One of the most dramatic changes in the Irish labour market has been the growth in part-time work. As we see in Table 5.1, part-time work has more than doubled in the last decade, and while most of the part-time workers have been female, the upward trend for male workers was higher than for females.



Table 5.1

Incidence of Part-Time Working in Ireland, 1983-1997 (ILO basis)


Year

Men %

Women %

All %

1983

2.7

15.6

6.7

1990

3.4

17.6

8.1

1993

4.8

21.3

10.8

1994

5.1

21.7

11.3

1995

5.4

23.1

12.1

1996

5

22.1

11.6

1997

5.4

23.1

12.3

1998

7.8

30.1

16.7

Source: Eurostat Labour Force Survey, and

CSO, from O’Connell (1999)


In 1997 about 20% of the part-time female workers were part-time because they could not find full time work, while the rate for male workers was considerably higher at just under 50% (falling from nearly 60% in 1995) (Kaarina, 1999). Part-time work is beneficial to the worker when it is the result of a voluntary choice, but it is a sign of weakness in the labour market when it is involuntary. However, what we need to know is the reason why part-time workers want to work full time. If it is because the income earned part-time is insufficient, then a basic income would certainly make part-time work more appealing.
5.32 Temporary Work

The advantages of temporary work for employers are obvious, for it gives them “numerical” flexibility, that is they can adjust their labour force easily to changes in the demand for their products. This shifts all of the “demand risk” onto the workers and away from employers. The extent of temporary work in Ireland is about equal to the European average, fluctuating for males between 6% and 8%, and for females between 11% and 13% from 1993 to 1997 (Kaarina, 1999). (Spain has by far the highest level of temporary workers in Europe at around 35%). As of 1997 about half of the females engaged in temporary work in Ireland, and over 60% of the male workers, were temporary because of an inability to find full time employment (Ibid.). Just over 10% of the temporary male workers in 1997 would not take up full employment, while 30% of the females chose temporary employment voluntarily. While there is certainly a good deal of overlap between part-time and temporary workers, it is clear that as Ireland increases its role in the global economy, its work force must be competitive with other export driven economies, and this includes labour flexibility.




5.4 Basic Income and Work Incentives

Much of the research on labour markets focuses on the influence of social welfare and social insurance on the decision of workers to take-up a job. This approach is very one sided, for it looks at the “costs” of social welfare and insurance without looking at the significant benefits and necessary role they play in the efficient operation of the economy and society. Before we look at how a Basic Income system will impact the labour market, it is important to look at this issue fully. Thus we will first discuss the necessary role of social insurance and social welfare. Here we will see that it is part of what could be called the social overhead costs of economic activity. Then we will examine the two statistics economists have concentrated on when examining the impact of social insurance and welfare on labour market activity: replacement ratios and the tax wedge.

The argument that social insurance creates a disincentive to work rests on the contention that workers will be less likely to take-up a job if the net benefits of the job (after tax income) is not sufficiently greater than the benefit levels provided by social insurance. Thus the replacement ratio is seen as reducing the willingness of workers to take job offers. Given all the attention it has gotten in Irish studies of labour issues, and especially the topic of Basic Income and the labour market (this is the bulk of the TWIG report analysis of labour market issues) it is surprising how little empirical evidence has been offered to support replacement ratios as a meaningful statistic. Furthermore, the main conclusion of this literature, implicit and explicit, is that the way to reduce the replacement ratio is by reducing social welfare benefits and not by increasing the net pay for work. The problem isn’t that social welfare benefits are too generous, it is that they are not universal, and that when a person takes up a job they face high marginal tax and lost benefit rates (that is when you add the taxes paid plus the benefits lost due to taking up the job) which can act as a disincentive for taking up a job. Lastly, almost completely ignored in this literature are the benefits of social insurance to supporting the labour market. These benefits are worth noting here, for anything that replaces the current system of social welfare will need to provide the same beneficial effects.
5.41 Benefits of Social Insurance

A recent report by the Department of Social Welfare (1996) has highlighted the important role social insurance plays in supporting the labour market. First, they note that social insurance is only one aspect of labour competitiveness:


5.1.9 When assessing the impact of labour costs on competitiveness, it should be borne in mind that Social Insurance costs are only one element of labour costs and must be considered in the context of other statutory charges, especially income tax. Specifically in relation to Social Insurance, the system involves benefits as well as costs and both must be taken into account when considering the impact of Social Insurance on the competitiveness of business. The system provides important services such as pensions, in-work benefits and other direct and indirect labour market supports so that the benefits deriving from Social Insurance contributions - both for workers and employers - are an important ingredient of the competitiveness 'mix'. S.I.I., 1996
5.2.1 Social Insurance payments are an important factor within the overall competitiveness mix as they provide income support to workers who fall ill or encounter other contingencies, such as retirement and redundancy. Were it not for Social Insurance employers would have to contribute to these costs through other mechanisms such as enhanced in-house sick pay and occupational pension schemes. The cost of such schemes would, as a consequence, be higher than it currently is.
Social insurance thus pays for many of the labour costs mentioned above. Clearly both workers and employers benefit from having some form of social protection. As John Maurice Clark has demonstrated in his classic Studies in the Economics of Overhead Costs (1923) there is a distinction between the full costs of production and the costs that are actually paid by a business for a specific activity. For a large firm, the problem of overhead costs is well known, but the principle holds for society as a whole. The full cost of reproducing society and the economy has to be paid, but much of it is not compensated through regular market relations. Part of the cost is the support for workers who are unemployed, for whatever reason. Also included here are those who work in the social economy or household production. Both provide necessary work for social reproduction, yet are outside of traditional market relations. Under normal conditions these two activities are supported by the market compensation of a household member (i.e., one parent works at a paid job and financially supports the parent who works at household production). Here part of the overhead costs of market production is the necessary household production, which, if the market is fully efficient, will be compensated through a living household wage to the worker in the market economy. Most of the people who are outside the labour force (elderly, children, adults in home duties, disabled, sick, unemployed, etc) also fall into this category of social overhead costs, and currently social insurance and social welfare payments supplement their incomes. Thus, social insurance and social welfare are necessary for any civilised society and efficient economy. The problem with the current Welfare States in the advanced capitalist economies today is that they do not fully cover everyone who contributes to society or they are inefficient mechanisms for covering social overhead costs, that is they are too costly or they create barriers to fuller social participation (such as poverty or unemployment traps).
5.42 Incentives and Dis-incentives

Almost all of the standard analysis of the influence of tax and social welfare benefits on labour market behaviour centres on two variables: Replacement Ratios and the Tax Wedge. In this section we estimate both statistics for our Basic Income proposal, and compare them with estimates under the current social welfare system (year 2000). After these estimates are provided we will discuss their implications for labour market participation rates in Ireland under a Basic Income system. In Appendix 5A we discuss the theoretical issues raised by both measures.


5.421 Tax Wedge

The Tax Wedge is the difference between the cost of employing a worker to the employer (wages plus contributions to social security) and the after tax and benefit incomes of the worker (net income). Theoretically this reduces employment in two ways: 1) because it increases the cost to employers for hiring workers, employers will hire less workers (assuming a downward sloping demand curve for labour). 2) Assuming that the supply of workers is determined by the net income from work, the tax wedge reduces the income workers get to keep (net of taxes) and thus reduces the supply of labour. Both are suspect explanations of labour market behaviour. The negative effect of the tax wedge on employers’ decisions to hire workers assumes that this tax falls upon the employer. Yet in reality much, if not all of it, is typically passed on to others. As the Department of Social Welfare’s report on Social Insurance in Ireland (1996) notes: “The Commission on Taxation concluded that the actual incidence of Employers' PRSI was diffuse as it is ‘partly passed on to consumers in higher prices, partly passed on to labour in the form of lower levels of income and employment and partly borne by employers through reduced profits.’ ... [And that] ‘there is a also a growing body of empirical evidence for the claim that the incidence of (Employers' Social Insurance) falls on workers.’"

The influence of the tax wedge on the willingness of workers to offer their labour is also empirically weak. Firstly, the overall influence of taxes and benefit levels of labour supply, it turns out, is very small. Labour economists have long noted that tax rates and benefit levels have very little impact on adult males and single females and that only married females seem to respond significantly to changes in taxes or benefit changes. The reason that this is so is because social and cultural factors (as well as the necessity to earn money to survive, since few social welfare benefit systems provide a standard of living one would call comfortable) out weigh the logic of “rational economic man” which economists assume determines all human activity. Secondly, the influence of something like a tax wedge on labour activity is rarely an either/or situation. No one would seriously argue that workers would drop out of the labour market because of a change in taxes or benefit levels (these never change so radically as to cause this extreme behaviour). The change, it is alleged, will come in terms of a reduction of hours worked. However, most workers do not have the power to set how many hours they work, and certainly cannot adjust them in response to changes in their real net pay. Generally only part time and temporary workers have this flexibility (though certainly not all or even most of them have this type of power). As these two categories are dominated by married women, it is not surprising that here we do find some evidence of changes in labour supply due to changes in taxes and wages. Lastly, an increase in taxes will have both an income and a substitution effect, and the tax wedge argument only considers the substitution effect (workers are substituting leisure for work at the higher tax/low net income levels). Yet, most evidence suggests that income effects overwhelm substitution effects in these types of situations. In fact a look towards history quickly confirms this. A common way for the King or ruler to force the people to work harder for him is to raise their taxes.

The last comment we will make on the theoretical issue of the tax wedge is that it looks at such taxes only as a cost, and ignores the benefits of social insurance, which are likely to be much greater than the costs. What the employer seems to want, according to the proponents of the tax wedge cause of unemployment, is to be a free rider, that is to get the benefit of having social insurance provided for their workers (which is a legitimate and real cost of production which either the employer, the worker or society must cover) without having to pay their fair share. As the evidence suggests that most of this is passed on to the consumer, that is it is included in the cost of production, it doesn’t seem that it would enter into the employers’ calculus on hiring.

In Graphs 5.1-5.4 we see the tax wedge for different households under the basic income proposal developed in Chapter Three and under the current system (Budget 2000). Graphs 5.1 look at a household with married couple, one income and no children. Here we see that the current tax and benefit system has tax wedges that are significantly higher than what would exist under our Basic Income proposal. Moreover, for low-income households, under our Basic Income system, they have a negative tax wedge, which acts like a “wage subsidy.” Following the logic of the tax wedge as a disincentive, a negative tax wedge must be seen as an incentive to employment.

In Graphs 5.2 we see the tax wedges for married couples, one income and two children. Here we see that our Basic Income proposal has higher “wage subsidies” or negative tax wedge, for low-income households and lower tax wedges for middle and high-income households.


Graph 5.3 is for married couples with two incomes and two children. Here we see the same differences between the current system and a basic income system.


Our final example is the tax wedge for single households.




Again we see that our Basic Income proposal outperforms the current tax and social welfare system, giving low-income households greater benefits than currently exist. In terms of “tax wedge” analysis, our Basic Income system is much better than the current system, providing strong incentives to job take up.



5.422 Replacement Ratios

The argument that high replacement ratios increase unemployment is very similar to the tax wedge argument. The “replacement ratio” is the difference between income earned from employment and the benefits received if one were unemployed. As is argued in the TWIG Report (1996, p. 174-175):


Because unemployment benefits reduce the cost of becoming unemployed, employed people may take greater risks with the security of their jobs, for example in individual disputes with an employer or in collective bargaining over wages. People who feel that they are better off unemployed than in their present employment may be less willing to accept changes in wages and conditions which might be necessary to safeguard their jobs. This can have a negative effect on employment. It can be expected that these disincentives will pose an even greater problem as increased competition arising from the globalisation of the world economy will put further cost pressure on firms competing on the margin against low-cost producers and employers seek to improve their trading conditions.
As with the tax wedge analysis, only the negative aspects of unemployment assistance are considered in most analysis of its impact on the labour market. Unemployment assistance allows those who are out of paid work to still consume goods and services (though at a lower level), supporting aggregate demand (and the jobs this spending supports) and is one of the automatic stabilizers that help to prevent small down turns and recessions from becoming crashes and depressions. Secondly, for the replacement ratio argument to make sense, there must be job vacancies to match the numbers and skills of the unemployed, and the persistent of unemployment is due to the unemployed choosing to be unemployed. As high levels of unemployment have never been accompanied by high levels of job vacancies, it seems that this explanation is a non-starter. (In fact, it is common that during periods of high unemployment the news will report stories of employers taking hundreds of applications for a handful of jobs). The notion that workers determine the level of employment seems to have everything backwards. Since a Basic Income is a universal program, with the benefits not being reduced by ones employment status, the notion of replacement ratios doesn’t make much sense. The worker who takes a job gets to keep both the wages earned (minus taxes) and the basic income benefit, thus they do not have to choose one over the other.

The Replacement Ratio (RR) is a statistic designed to measure the extent of the unemployment trap. Unemployment traps are said to exist whenever a person who is unemployed would not significantly improve their economic circumstances if they took up employment. In extreme cases the unemployed person would be made worse off (that is one sums up all lost benefits due to working and subtracts it from their after tax income, the persons net income is reduced by working). This creates a significant disincentive to taking-up a job. “This disincentive is usually represented and measured in terms of the Replacement Ratio, i.e. the ratio of income when unemployed to the net income if employed” (TWIG, p. 13).

Using the tables provide in Budget 2000 on the impact on different households, we can calculate the replacement ratio for different household types. Here we give the replacement ratio under the current system and what would exist under our Basic Income proposal. We see in Graphs 5.5-5.8 that in the relevant cases, the “replacement ratio” is lower under our Basic Income proposal than it is under the current system. Only at very high incomes, where replacement ratios are very low, and economically meaningless, does our Basic Income proposal’s replacement ratios exceed those under the current system. But at the income levels where replacement ratios might matter, our Basic Income proposal produces replacement ratios that are significantly lower than the current levels. This is rather easy to explain. Since a basic income system is a universal program, which does not change with changes in labour market status, that is the basic income payment does not change, households do not experience drops in their non-labour income with an increase in waged income, thus the replacement ratio under a basic income policy is lower by raising the “net income if employed.” This contrast with the typical view of “replacement ratios” which calls for a reduction in the statistic by reducing benefits, i.e., making work more attractive by making being unemployed more unattractive. This Thatcher/Reagan approach is particularly punitive on the poor and low-income households, and is also not an effective means of increasing employment, which we have seen earlier in this study, is done at the macro-level.

In Graphs 5.5-5.8 we see that our Basic Income proposal has lower replacement ratios for all but those in high pay, and it does this by increasing the net income of those in work, instead of by reducing the incomes of those out of work.









The differences between the replacement ratios for unemployed workers under the current system and our Basic Income proposal show the same trends. Under a Basic Income system the net income of the newly employed worker is higher than the net income of the newly employed worker under the current system because the worker does not lose the basic income payment on taking up a job.

Some have argued that under a basic income scheme the “replacement ratio” for adults in “home duties” goes up and this is possibly true, but whether it is meaningful is another question. The main reason that the “replacement ratio” for adults in home duties might go up under a basic income system is that under a basic income system all adults receive the same payment, which means that workers and their spouses whether they are in “home duties,” that is working at home, or in paid employment both receive the same payment. Both are treated equally. But under the current system the spouse of someone on public assistance is worth only 63.2% of the person on unemployment (£54 for the spouse, £85.5 for the unemployed worker), thus the replacement ratio can be lower under the current than under a basic income system. The real question should be why would anyone be interested in this statistic? What insight does it give us? Why not calculate the replacement ratio for children as well? Those in “home duties” have chosen to carry out these important and necessary activities, and thus have chosen not to be in the labour force as conceived by economists. Clearly the only reason to calculate the “replacement ratio” of adults in home duties is to figure out what price signals would induce these persons into paid employment. Here a basic income is clearly contrary to this view, as it gives adults in home duties the financial support to make a decision on how they will contribute to society based on what they feel is best for their families, and not be forced into taking up a low paying job because of economic need. This sort of analysis is either naively irrelevant or it masks a hidden agenda of undercutting all social supports for the family so as to force all adults into low paying jobs in order for these families to meet their expenses. This is the path the United States and the United Kingdom have taken, and the results speak for themselves.
5.3 Supply of Labour

The decision to enter the labour market and seek employment is made up of many factors, some economic and some social. The most important economic factor for determining the supply of labour is economic need. Even in the most generous welfare state, only the very rich can provide a standard of living most hope for without working. This is by far the most important factor and it makes the other factors pale in comparison. The factors economists like to look at: tax and benefit levels; and wage rates; are of only marginal importance, and almost no importance when it comes to adult male workers and single female workers. As Stafford (1986) noted in his survey of 759 articles on labour supply: “labour economists have a consensus view that adult males have a labour supply which is relatively unresponsive to changes in incomes or wages while adult women have a labour supply which is quite responsive to changes in income or wage rates” (Leoni, 1994, p. 19-20). Most people work because not working would cause serious economic hardships. Factors such as tax rates and benefit levels tend only to influence the decision to seek work if they are at levels that make increasing one’s paid employment very unattractive.2 The marginal tax rate for low-income workers under a basic income system is the basic income tax rate alone (as there is no loss of benefits), and at 40.7% in no way acts as a disincentive to taking up paid employment or for increasing hours worked.


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