Commission on the future of work | Brussels Blog

Commission on the future of work

posted by on 10th Mar 2017

This is a minor rewording of a submission to Tom Watson’s Commission
on the future of work. It introduces an extra element to discussions

about the robot revolution: Climate change.

The original can be down loaded as a PDF here.

Robot revolution, growth, and global warming

Note for the Commission on the Future of Work

A robot revolution?

Scene from Karel Čapek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots

In Robot wars – Automation and the Labour Market, Adam Corlett asks, ‘Should we be concerned that robots will ‘take all the jobs’?’ He contrdicts Frey and Osborne who, in The Future of Employment, claim that, ‘as many as 47 per cent of jobs in the US are susceptible to automation over the next two decades’. Corlett points to OECD research, which suggests, ‘in the US only 9 per cent of jobs are threatened over the next 20 years’.

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The BBC is a trusted source, says Tony Hall

posted by on 3rd Jan 2017

Oh no it isn’t says George Monbiot.

Prospect Magazine

I don’t always read my copy of Prospect Magazine – the writing in it is top quality but it seems firmly inside one of those bubbles my social betters inhabit – but, on New Year’s Eve, I had an hour to kill in the pub and I had just collected the January edition with my post from my previous address.


It was good to see Tom Watson’s piece Robotisation: time to face the future because we are at a time when labour-saving technologies must cause a fall in the value of labour that cannot be counteracted by economic growth. Now we must decrease consumption to cut carbon emissions. This means we have less production at a time when the labour content of production is reducing. (See Jobs, the AI revolution and climate change and Labour’s Industrial Strategy. A wrong place to start.)

Our profitable universities

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Plotlands again?

posted by on 18th Oct 2016

There are signs that the Government’s White Paper on
Housing will bring in a form of plotland development.
Will it deliver affordability and sustainability?

Can we avoid the motorists?

One of the last plotlands houses to be built

I grew up in Kent in a house built by my father on a plot of land bought as a wedding present. My parents were married just before the World War II so building did not start until 1946.

Under construction in 1946

Its construction was not what you would see today. The “bricks” were very heavy concrete and cinder blocks. They were in a figure of eight. They had two vertical holes. I remember my father showing me the machine that made the blocks. It was rather like the Wizard Block Making Unit described by Preservation in Action. It had other odd features like very hard floors containing sawdust. It was a Magnesium Oxychloride Composition Floor. My father altered the internal walls from time to time. I particularly remember that he mended a bathroom tap through a hole he made in my bedroom wall. He filled the hole in a year later – after moving a wardrobe to hide it – temporally.

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Feeding the geese and robbing the rich

posted by on 15th Sep 2016

Why can’t we just rob the rich?

Moral Sentiments

Back in the 1950s I watched the series “The Adventures of Robin Hood” on TV written by lefty blacklisted Hollywood writers. I liked the fact that TV Robin took from the rich to give to the poor – without too much real-life brutality.

Trying to throw to the newcomer at the top right

I still have a moral sentiment which could be called Robin Hood redistribution – redistribution from haves to have-nots. It guides me when I am feeding the geese: That goose over there has more than enough food so I try and toss other the scraps to the “poorer” ones.

Perhaps this is related to a moral sentiment that wants all geese to be as satisfied as possible – and I guess the food-rich geese don’t need the crusts of old sandwiches as much as the food-poor geese.

Such moral sentiments come naturally to us and can drive us into action. For example, if one day I pass by with no crusts to give the geese, I might follow my moral sentiment for Robin Hood redistribution and jump into the river to take food from the food-rich geese to give to the food-poor geese. (Note to the family, especially to those of you that have tried something similar: This is only a “thought experiment”.)

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Will the new government department sideline climate warnings?

posted by on 5th Aug 2016

A warning about our carbon budget

The RealClimate website (“Climate science from climate scientists”) has a moderated discussion at the end of each article so that readers can ask questions and make comments. These are sometimes answered by the climate scientists that run the site. In the July Unforced variations, which allows any relevant topic to be broached,  I responded to a comment by Bill Henderson, who said

Recent advances in the carbon budget science over the past year have now shrunk this budget to now much less than 1000 Gt, to somewhere closer to 600-800Gt.

The Rogelj et el paper is the main paper quantifying this lower carbon budget but the budget is shrinking because the climate science is also getting much more dire.

It may be even worse

My reply may be of interest, as it contains an interesting quote from a leading climate scientist:

In Climate Change Network Dr Rogelj is quoted as saying

This study shows that, in some cases, we have been overestimating the budget by 50 to more than 200%. At the high end, this is a difference of more than 1,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

Differences between carbon budget estimates unravelled by Rogelj et al. in Nature Climate Change considers the effect of other green house gasses (e.g. Methane) as well as CO2. The abstract says

Including all greenhouse gases and using methods based on scenarios that avoid instead of exceed a given temperature limit results in lower carbon budgets.

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Long term labour subsidies. Letter to FT (1991)

posted by on 3rd Aug 2016

Give the unemployed long-term subsidies


Richard Layard and John Philpott repeat the conventional wisdom that “unemployment is the price we pay a for controlling inflation” (“A 12-month turnaround for the unemployed”, September 1.1).

More accurately, it is the price the poor (now renamed the underclasses) pay.

Layard and Philpott’s answer relies heavily on “high-quality training leading to recognised qualifications”.

Before we all jump on the training bandwagon, perhaps we should ask to what extent training independent of the workplace actually increases an individual’s ability to do a job. I remain highly sceptical of the trainers’ claims.

Their suggestion for a subsidy to employers for taking on an unemployed person has some merit: it does oil the friction in the labour market. But some employers are already using similar schemes as long-term labour subsidies by sacking employees after the subsidised period has ceased and taking ‘on new employees and new subsidies,

Why not confront the problem head on? At a given time, there will be people who cannot legally earn enough to have a civilised life. Instead of giving them life skills classes or paying them not to work, subsidise them into a job and, if subsidies need to be long-term, let them be long-term.

Geoff Beacon, 13th September 1991

Greening the greenbelt (February 2003)

posted by on 16th Jul 2016

This is a reposting of (2003)


Welcome to, started 01 February 2003. This is a protest against the unfairness and environmental damage caused by green belt policy.

The problem

Green belts are mechanisms for restricting the supply of planning permission. Green belt policy is usually regarded as the one strong weapon planners have against developers who would destroy our environment; our environment which is free for us all, rich and poor, to enjoy. But, in reality, it

— Increases in the value of land with planning permission

— Gives massive rewards to the affluent (owners of property and land)

— Penalises the poor and the young

— Rewards those that pollute the most – the affluent

— Protects green fields of monoculture with little biodiversity

Our suggestion

Open up the greenbelt to settlements that will

— Have dwellings and shops and public transport

— Use local horticulture – growing more food than conventional agriculture

— Cut food miles to 10% of the National average.

— Create more biodiversity than the farmer

— Have greenfootprints that are a quarter of the National average

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Jobs, training and video games (1993)

posted by on 13th Jul 2016

I was asked to write a note for the Fabian Society’s newsletter in 1993.

They decided not to publish this note.

Headings have been added.

The OECD solution to unemployment

The current economic orthodoxy is ubiquitous. We may be drowning in it. As an example, here is the FT’s precis of the OECD’s latest position:

“The organisation warns that the new and severe deterioration of the employment performance of its 24 member-states since the late 1980s is serious in its own right. It brings individual hardship, economic loss and treat to the social and political fabric …”

So we are screwing up lives, throwing lunches in the bin, creating a criminal society and risking another Hitler(ski?). But what about the OECD’s solutions?

They advocate big reductions in structural budget deficits to allow lower interest rates, which encourage higher consumption and investment. In Europe, the OECD believes, the way forward lies in high productivity jobs filled with workers with high skills and “low productivity jobs warrent the payment of only a low wage”. To achieve high productivity they emphasise two approaches: education and training for the workers and the encouragement of enterprise in high-tech, high-productivity industry at the level of the firm.

Labour Party policy and a reality gap

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Does this site use cookies?

posted by on 10th Jul 2016

The European Commission has asked if this site uses cookies.

My answer: I’ve no idea.

Please advise.

P.S. Since the EU chickened out on banning cookies altogether and really protecting our privacy, we are left with the nonsense of clicking boxes to use essential services.

Can Richard Layard really be following Percy Bridgman?

posted by on 21st Jun 2016

Professor Richard Layard, London School of Economics,
Programme Director – Wellbeing

Percy Bridgman’s operationalism

Operationalism became influential in social science, particularly psychology, through the work of Percy Bridgman. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says

Operationalism is based on the intuition that we do not know the meaning of a concept unless we have a method of measurement for it. …

In 1932, Lionel Robbins applied this to “satisfaction” claiming its use was unscientific because satisfaction could not be directly measured. He gave this example:

If we tested the state of their blood-streams, that would be a test of blood, not satisfaction. Introspection does not enable A to discover what is going on in B’s mind, nor B to discover what is going on in A’s.

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