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Social Justice and the Future of Work

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SOJUFOW (Social Justice and the Future of Work)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2020-09-15 al 2022-09-14

Partly as a result of technological change, such as computerization and automation, we are witnessing a sizeable reduction in the demand for low skilled labour, and an increase in demand for high skilled labour. Low skilled employees are becoming increasingly dispensable, with larger numbers facing a choice between joblessness and insecure employment in the ‘gig economy’, whereby workers take on shifts on demand and with no guarantee of future employment. The project investigated several risks associated with these trends, focusing on how states should act in response. International organizations, including the European Union, advocate for improving individuals’ opportunities to find employment, and for it to be available on decent terms. However, little is said about why states must single out employment for special treatment, or about what makes employment decent and why this is the case. Furthermore, promoting these outcomes requires financial resources, and so brings opportunity costs. States committed to ensuring that decent opportunities for employment are widely available must say something about the costs that they are willing to bear for this outcome, including costs to economic efficiency. Part of the contribution of this project is to shed out on how we might go about resolving such trade-offs. The project set the following main objectives: (1) to publish three publications developing arguments relating to social justice and the future of work, (2) to host a series of events, including a conference, discussing these themes, and (3) to disseminate research to a wider audience through an array of activities, including presentations, outreach activities, and media articles. The project was hosted by the Law and Philosophy Group at the University of Pompeu Fabra, under the supervision of Andrew Williams.
The project produced five peer-reviewed journal articles that have been published:
(1) Tom Parr, ‘Automation, Unemployment, and Taxation’, Social Theory and Practice, 48 (2022), 357-378.
(2) Daniel Halliday and Tom Parr, ‘Ageing, Justice, and Work: Alternatives to Mandatory Retirement’, in Christopher Wareham (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Ethics of Ageing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022), 228-242.
(3) Tom Parr, ‘Automation, Unemployment, and Insurance’, Ethics and Information Technology, 24 (2022), 1-11.
(4) Tom Parr, ‘In Cash We Trust?’, Journal of Applied Philosophy (Online First) [part of a symposium on ‘Egalitarianism and the Future of Work’].
(5) Tom Parr and Areti Theofilopoulou, ‘Against Credentialism’, Journal of Ethics (forthcoming).

Additionally, the project has produced an additional three articles that are in progress:
(6) Kieran Oberman and Tom Parr, ‘Automation and Immigration’. (Kieran Oberman was a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action Fellow at the same time).
(7) Tom Parr and Areti Theofilopoulou, ‘Frustration at Work’.
(8) Tom Parr and Andrew Williams, ‘A Philosophical Review of Recent Work on the Gender Earnings Gap’. (Andrew Williams was the project’s supervisor).

Finally, the project has led to a monograph, on The Future of Work, which is under contract with Oxford University Press.

The project involved fifteen presentations at: Aarhus University (x2), St Andrews University (x2), Max Planck Institute, Queen’s University, Institute for Futures Studies, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, University of Oxford (x2), University of Pennsylvania, University of Hong Kong, Erasmus University Rotterdam, EAFIT University, and the University of Sinu. It culminated with a two-day international conference on social justice and the future of work, which took place on June 16-17th 2022. It brought together global experts on the topic. Participants included Jeremias Adams-Prassl, David Autor, Marc Fleurbaey, Anna Salomons, Philippe Van Parijs, and Barbara Petrongolo.

The project involved a monthly online reading group on the future of work, which brought together researchers from around the world with an interest in the project’s topic. Also, the PI wrote quarterly blogpost that were made available on the project’s website and advertised through his email signature. The website remains available at

The PI promoted the project in the media in two ways. First, he presented at a Global Insights Webinar on ‘The Future of Work in a Post-Covid-19 World’, which was attended by a global audience of policymakers. There remains a link to the event at Second, he published a guest blogpost with the Social Market Foundation on taxing automation, which is available at The PI also promoted the project through two sets of outreach activities. First, he presented some lectures on ‘The Future of Work’ to students on the International Foundation Programme that is associated with the University of Warwick. Second, he presented related material to students at Denbigh Sixth Form college.
The project made three sets of advances relative to the state of the art. The first was to shed light on the issue of how states should respond to the technology-driven threat of involuntary unemployment. Two published papers explore this issue, (1), (3), and (5). Together, they argue for the joint conclusion that, when reflecting on this issues, policymakers should be appropriately sensitive to the economic opportunity costs of mitigating the risk of technological unemployment by slowing the pace of automation. The principal disadvantage of this view, it is argued, is that it means forgoing the fruits of automation, which individuals recognize as improving their lives. These papers are among the first within the subdiscipline of political philosophy to focus on these questions, and defend such answers.

The second way in which this project advanced our understanding of labour markets is by offering a framework for thinking about the justifiability of measures whose purpose is to improve the quality of individuals’ work lives. Again, this occurs across two pieces, one published and one in progress: (4) and (7). The guiding theme of this pair of papers is to expose the fact that workers have a broader set of interests that are affected by labour markets that extend beyond their interest in economic security. This fact may seem straightforward and obvious, but the challenge is to work out how to integrate a concern for those interests with other interests and reasons that are more commonly cited in debates about work. These articles pursue these matters to defend surprising conclusions that are not widely endorsed either by political philosophers.

Finally, the third contribution concerns the relationship between automation, labour markets, and marginalized groups. There are three components to this. The first concerns the interests of the elderly, and especially whether their interests provide decisive grounds on which to reject mandatory retirement. The question is explored in (2). The second concern the way in which automation affects the gender earnings gap between men and women. This topic is explored in (8). Finally, there is a question about whether and why populations respond differently to the economic and cultural threats posed by the automation and immigration. These matters are pursued in (6).

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