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COVID-19 Dispatch: Dr. Simon Mair Talks The Future of Work

As PhD in Ecological Economics and research fellow at the University of Surrey, Dr. Simon Mair has focused his work on building a better economy through the thorough analysis and understanding of our current systems. However, his wide range of interests stretches far beyond: from the history of economic thought to utopian economics. Previous works of his reflect the broad scope of his inquisitiveness, such as Climate Change and Capitalism: A Political Marxist View, alongside in-depth studies of the clothing industry. In particular, it is his writings on the future of work after COVID-19 that take up the majority of the interview conducted by Room for Discussion, as Dr. Mair shares his predictions on how the pandemic will change our views and practices. A very relevant subject matter for students and future professionals.

The initial section of the interview was used to cover the basic definition distinctions regarding the purpose of work. A capitalist view of achieving income was heavily criticised by Dr. Mair, who presented the socialist utopian view of work as an art form, that freedom can allow every individual to express their full potential. Moreover, through a deeply Marxist approach, the capitalist system was further chastised for making people dependent on markets to live. Thus, Dr. Mair discussed the example of “bullshit” jobs, such as the advertisement industry, as the ultimate form of the market conception of value creation, which perpetuate the lie of necessary consumption. To finish this section, he left the audience with the question of why jobs seen as vital are not the ones best valued, nor remunerated.

On the issue of recovery after COVID-19, Dr. Mair reflected upon the possible supply chain disruptions deriving from the pandemic’s effects in Africa and India. Incidentally, he argued that future political reactions will tend towards self-sufficiency in production, even though he views those measures as wishful thinking in our interconnected globalised world, where the return of most industrial production is futile. Finally, fears were expressed over the reintroduction of austerity measures after the subsiding of the crisis, which could bankrupt essential medical services, leaving millions of healthcare workers excluded from their  hard earned compensation.

Having recently called for the “dismantling of the labour market” and the “nationalisation of core services”, while denouncing the manipulation by brands of “the social realities of capitalism”, Dr. Mair proposed certain possible reactions to COVID-19, namely: State Capitalism, Barbarism, State Socialism, and Mutual Aid, all of which were discussed at length. He argued that responses to COVID-19 could be classified based on whether the focus is put upon value creation or human life, and if they are centralised by the government or decentralised and left to the devices of individual communities. The interviewee expressed his disappointment regarding the early application of barbarism in many western nations, where the instinctive reaction to COVID-19 was to preserve economic activity.

Dr. Mair also poignantly discussed the fallacy behind the belief that all right-wing movements are inherently based on free market capitalism, arguing that many conservatives place importance on metrics beyond value, making their reaction to the crisis distinctly contrary to that of their liberal peers. Finally, he also introduced burgeoning new economic tendencies, namely feminist and ecological economics, as alternatives to our current neo-liberal capitalist views.

In conclusion, Dr. Mair expressed his content with the current societal break from capitalist realism, seeing how alternative systems are now being seriously considered for the first time, opening the gate to a future without a fixation on value creation.

Given the current COVID-19 crisis, this special interview took place as a podcast in collaboration with UvA Radio. For all those interested, you can find it as a video on demand at Room for Discussion’s Facebook page. It will also be uploaded on Spotify and Soundcloud as a podcast.

We hope you tune in soon!


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