Freshly Pressed: Economics Professor Bruce Pietrykowski’s book shows readers that there are alternative ways to describe and imagine the world of work

5/17/2019

Pietrykowski offers explanation of the changing work environment in an era of increased income inequality and technological change.

Freshly Pressed highlights books written or edited by members of the University of Michigan-Dearborn community. Faculty, staff and students are welcome to submit their recently published titles to be considered for a future column.

Author: Bruce Pietrykowski, Professor of Economics

Book: Work, published by Polity Books

Summary: The 180-page book, which comes in both hardcover and paperback, explores the history and contemporary organization of work under capitalism. Employing a progressive, worker-centered vision that goes beyond mainstream economics, Pietrykowski examines themes ranging from inequality, care work and the gig economy to technological change and a universal basic income.

Why were you inspired to write the book?

I’ve always been interested in inequality and economic justice. After publishing academic research on the Fight for $15 and the devaluation of care work I realized that there was a need for a book that offered a clear explanation of the changing world of work in an era of increasing income inequality and dynamic technological change.  Income inequality is a growing global phenomenon. Additionally, we’re living in a world of continuous technological change. Jobs that were thought to be immune to automation are now threatened by robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. There is a robust debate among economists about whether this will expand or contract job opportunities in the future. I wanted to transform these economic debates into a conversation that undergraduate students, non-economists and the general public could better understand. 

How did your research for this add to your knowledge?

My goal was to introduce readers to the political economy approach. Too much economic research is written for insiders using mathematical models, employing arcane language and fanciful assumptions. Instead, I wanted to convey a sense that economics can also be attentive to the real-life problems of workers, parents, students and most of us who live in the messy, complicated world where economics intersects with class, race, gender, location and power. This is the world my students inhabit so I feel a commitment to write about the world that they/we live in.

What would you like readers to take away?

I want readers to understand that there are alternative ways to describe and imagine the world of work. There are different ways to organize work beside the traditional boss-worker arrangement. These include the world of gig workers who are increasingly part of a precarious labor force struggling to make ends meet. By contrast, there are alternatives involving cooperative workplaces in which workers share the revenue and manage themselves without the need for a separate group of bosses and supervisors. Finally, I want readers to see the how the worlds of work in the past have established the pattern for work today while also illuminating the possibility of and need to establish new meanings for the phrase “working for a living.”

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