By David G. Blanchflower
Don’t trust low unemployment numbers as proof that the labor market is doing fine—it isn’t. Not Working is about those who can’t find full-time work at a decent wage—the underemployed—and how their plight is contributing to widespread despair, a worsening drug epidemic, and the unchecked rise of right-wing populism.
In this revelatory and outspoken book, David Blanchflower draws on his acclaimed work in the economics of labor and well-being to explain why today’s postrecession economy is vastly different from what came before. He calls out our leaders and policymakers for failing to see the Great Recession coming, and for their continued failure to address one of the most unacknowledged social catastrophes of our time. Blanchflower shows how many workers are underemployed or have simply given up trying to find a well-paying job, how wage growth has not returned to prerecession levels despite rosy employment indicators, and how general prosperity has not returned since the crash of 2008.
Standard economic measures are often blind to these forgotten workers, which is why Blanchflower practices the “economics of walking about”—seeing for himself how ordinary people are faring under the recovery, and taking seriously what they say and do. Not Working is his candid report on how the young and the less skilled are among the worst casualties of underemployment, how immigrants are taking the blame, and how the epidemic of unhappiness and self-destruction will continue to spread unless we deal with it.
Grace Blakeley on New Statesman wrote:
"the central argument of the book: underemployment associated with weak bargaining power on the part of workers leads to contained wage pressure. Blanchflower advises that we should therefore rely on underemployment rather than unemployment to analyse the labour market situation, especially within this post-recession period characterised by ‘an extended semi-slump, of subnormal prosperity’ (80). If such a proposal is quite orthodox, three elements transversal to this first part capture the reader’s attention: the economics of walking about (EWA); the societal consequences; and house ownership and mobility. Firstly, thanks to Blanchflower’s EWA approach which is ‘fundamental’ to the book (184), he is in contact with what has been happening to ordinary people. As he explains, Blanchflower believes in drawing data from the real world; his thinking has been ‘driven mostly by observing how the world works and attempting to uncover fundamental truths and patterns in the data’ (9). [...] The second part of Not Working is composed of five chapters and aims to study the response to the Great Recession. [...] In this section of the book, Blanchflower’s efforts may appear overly detailed to the less specialised reader and not especially innovative for the specialists. Yet, he convincingly establishes the socio-economic, demographic and geographic profile of the ‘left-behinds’ in the US, the UK and Eurozone countries after 2010. [...] This inquiry leads us to the third part dedicated to prescriptions and policy recommendations. Whilst the quality of analysis and richness of its scholarly references impress across two-thirds of the book, here the author fails in making the reader optimistic or confident about the future. Why? First, because the recommendations he formulates are unoriginal and lack ambition, and second, because several dimensions elsewhere detailed in the book, like the decline in unionism and bargaining power, are not even discussed. [...] It could certainly be argued that this third part is disappointing as Blanchflower fails to provide sufficient depth in the formulation of his recommendations, which is essential once the analysis has been delivered. However, even with this limitation, this encyclopedic book is highly welcome and will be an unquestionably worthy addition to the bookshelves of a general readership as well as scholars in labour economics, macroeconomics, monetary economics and political science."
Milton Ezrati on City Journal wrote:
"David Blanchflower’s book Not Working is a wide-ranging and impeccably researched interrogation of this problem. Blanchflower, a British-American economist, analyses mountains of labour market data from the US and the UK since the crisis in an attempt to explain why wages aren’t rising. He finds that labour markets are not functioning properly because many people classed as employees are not working as much as they would like to. Underemployment, which remains above pre-crisis levels in both the US and the UK, is the missing link between the employment rate and average wages. [...] Blanchflower accepts that low productivity growth is part of the reason for low wage growth. But he also points out that the relationship between wages and productivity is complicated. [...] The book is an excellent critique of mainstream economics that explains why many advanced economies’ labour markets aren’t working. In doing so, it identifies a number of deep-seated flaws in modern capitalism. Blanchflower’s proposed solutions are, however, less ambitious than his analysis."
"David Blanchflower's Not Working is about many things - too many, in fact. Each time I picked it up, I recalled how I felt as an undergratuate, heading off to the class of an avuncular professor who seasoned his lectures with personal anecdotes, titillating asides, name-dropping, references to other professors, and other material peripheral to the subject. sure, it made the time pass more pleasurably, but I wanted a more comprehensive treatment of the subject matter. Not Working reminded me of those experiences, but it also gave me a lot to chew on. [...] Blanchflower mines an impressive array of measure - first in the U.S., then in the U.K. and the EU- to document how poor employment prospect have demoralized many working men and women. [...] But Not Working elsewhere makes sweeping generalizations, without establishing basic facts. [...] Blanchflower hardly mentions technology, an odd omission in any book on labor markets, especially when fears of artificial intelligence and robotics run high. [...] Inconsistent application of evidence weakens Blanchflower's arguments. [...] Lavish attention to how things work but only slight interest in why they work that way renders the book incapable of answering the question in its subtitle. [...] Not Working offers something cloe to the well-known progressive agenda, except with an appealing emphasis on work - and so, mercifully, no mention of a universal basic income (UBI). Blanchflower's policy prescriptions would be more persuasive had he mad more effort to explain why things are as bad as he says and perhaps spent less time describing the problems in as much detail. Still, there is food for thought in this engrossing but flawed book."
Videos about the Book
A 17-minute interview with Blanchflower by the British Institute for Employment Studies (14 June 2019):
Alternative, you may want to watch his 1+ hour lecture at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (14 June 2019)
Table of Contents of Not Working
- What the Whole World Wants Is a Good Job
Part I - The Problem: The Great Recession Exposed Underlying Fractures
- Unemployment and its Consequences
- Wage Growth and the Lack of It
- The Semi-Slump and the Housing Market
Part II - The Response to the Great Recession
- Something Horrible Happened
- Sniffing the Air and Spotting the Great Recession
- The People Have Lost Their Pep
- Somebody Has to Be Blamed
- Disastrous Cries for Help
Part III - What to Do?
- Full Employment
- Put the Pedal to the Metal
About David G. Blanchflower
David G. Blanchflower is the Bruce V. Rauner Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College, professor of economics at the University of Stirling, and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is the coauthor of The Wage Curve. He lives in Canaan, New Hampshire.