In June 2021, the Europa-Forum Wachau was dedicated to the topic "Heading for New Horizons". A top-class colloquium, organized by the University for Continuing Education Krems, analyzed central aspects of a strongly changing economy, which is under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the digital transition. The resulting "vision statement" focuses on "work" in the society of the future.
Under the title "An Economy that works", experts including Dr. Wolfgang Price, Univ.-Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs, Ph.D. M.A. B.A., OeNB Governor Univ.-Prof. Dr. Ewald Nowotny, Dr. Katharina Fellnhofer and Univ.-Prof. Dr. Gerald Steiner, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Globalization, formulated a resolution for purposeful, profitable and socially useful work. In this way, political decision-makers are to be supported in drafting a concept for the future of work in the European context.
Work as an expression of self-realization
One premise of the "Vision Statement" is "work" not only as gainful employment, but as the answer to human striving for meaningful activity in order to contribute to society. The current upheavals, triggered by the digital transition and accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, are leading to, among other things, a decentralization of work settings and a further individualization of work. A comprehensive understanding of the core of this change in organized work is still missing.
In the future, the divisions between "doers" and "thinkers" on the one hand and work and personal life on the other will blur as households become productive units through 3D printing and co-working settings. For people, the transition will bring two main effects in the long term: liberation from arduous and dangerous work on the one hand, and freeing up labor for the social service sector on the other. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular highlighted the vulnerability of the social service sector in Europe and other parts of the world.
New role for the labor factor
Increasingly powerful autonomous means of production will change the role of the factor labor. It is questionable whether it will remain the primary driver of value creation. For this reason, the resolution already calls for the development of new models of labor economics in which jobs are recognized not as market imperatives but as responses to individual or social imperatives. The term "work" should then be understood not only in terms of "gainful employment," that central aspect of working life that goes back to the industrial and commercial patterns of the machine age. The new approach, on the other hand, understands "work" as an inclusive order of tasks that will include wage labor, child rearing, forms of volunteer work, household management, community cultural work, and even adult physical fitness activities.
Special case of social service sector
While human labor output will tend to decline in many sectors, the unique human qualities in the social work sector will retain their high relevance. The scale can be seen in some figures: in Europe there are two million social economy ventures (which include NGOs, cooperatives, associations, microfinance, etc.) with eleven million people in this third sector economy. This represents six percent of the workforce in the EU. The resolution sees the need to expand the prospects for people to do purposeful, profitable work from creative investments in social innovation for the common good. That the health factor also has a major economic impact financially is demonstrated by the fact that the European economy loses an average of 15 percent of GDP due to the consequences of poor health and related lost production.
Strong economic and civil society institutions are needed to strengthen the social service sector. This would require funding from the EU and its member states. For example, an "EU monetary fund" analogous to the IMF could support the development of a market and the financing of investments in social ventures. New tax models could also promote social innovation, as could expanded crowdsourcing. Expanded volunteer services, support for companies through paid time off for community service, and compensation programs, such as pension creditability, can make this sector more attractive.
Measuring economic performance more adequately
The status of economic well-being would need to be measured by new indices beyond GDP, inflation and employment figures. Currently, for example, neither the non-profit social sector nor the consequences of climate change, disasters or adverse social dislocations are given due consideration. Information technology could provide value measures that better reflect reality, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) for the economic transition period. A Time Use Survey could also provide valuable insight into how much time is spent on average on work, child care, volunteer services and the like.
EU as a driver
EU programs such as Horizon Europe, which aim to provide financial and political support for innovative social goods and services sectors in member states, contribute to EU goals such as economic growth and job security. Another proposed funding body is a Ministry of National and Community Development, which could manage its own financial services for the start-up costs of social enterprises. To independently assess these investments, analyses could be commissioned from academies of science in member states. These would include intended as well as unintended consequences of policy interventions and the social change processes they induce.