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What is the value of work today?

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Inaugural lecture with Professor Christopher Land. In 1930, the economics John Maynard Keynes looked forward to the prospects for his grandchildren, arguing that technological innovation, the miracle of compound interest, and the natural limits of human consumption, would mean those of us alive today are working a 15-hour week and living in comfortable luxury. Instead of the widespread technical unemployment that Keynes predicted, employment levels are at a historical high and unemployment is at its lowest for 50 years. Despite this, consultants and anti-capitalists alike continue to predict the imminent ‘end of work’. In this lecture I will argue that work is not disappearing but it is changing. Innovations like ethical consumption, the rise of social media, and the resurgence of ‘craft’ in production have changed the way we think about work, the values that motivate our work, and the way that work creates economic value. Using examples from the fashion industry, Facebook, and craft brewing, I will argue that, for some workers at least, changes in economic production in the last 50 years have displaced the boundary between work and life by extending the circulation of economic value, and the logic of management, into our private lives. In contrast to Keynes’ predictions, ever more of our life is spend ‘working’ but the nature of that work, and its connection to economic value, requires shift in how we understand the relationship between work and employment.

This talk is part of the Anglia Ruskin University - Community Engagement series.

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