I often make the argument that pushing up minimum wages and labour standards, and enforcing both better, can be good for productivity. It creates incentives for businesses to upgrade machinery, invest in technology, train their workforce and organise their production processes better. Those that do not will gradually be displaced by those more productive businesses that do.
It is fair to ask if this is still a good guide to policy in a crisis as enormous as the one we find ourselves in today. With much of Europe holding its breath to see how many people will go from expiring support schemes into unemployment, is it not dangerous to push for better jobs when we should focus on getting people back into whatever work can be found? Must not quantity go before quality?
I was asked just this question at a recent panel discussion, where I gave three reasons to reject the seemingly commonsensical view that there must be a trade-off between job quality and job quantity.
First, the crisis has exposed that bad jobs make people less able to bear risk. When you are working hand to mouth and struggling to find enough time to combine jobs and family obligations, you are less likely to have financial buffers, and a job loss is likely to be a serious disruption. It also turns out that the “precariat” —…