Saving Work/Saving Liberalism? A Democratic Liberal Approach

Decent work and wages play a central role in guaranteeing the dignity and economic self-sufficiency of individuals in a liberal democratic order, yet are under increasing threat in an age of globalization and automation. This threat to work and wages is also a threat to liberal democracy itself. As global public lawyers, we therefore urgently need new ways to respond to this threat. In this paper, we propose a range of “democratic liberal” ideas or proposals: place-based policies, a generous earned income tax credit, incentives for wage-earner equity, universal basic benefits for all workers and a jobs guarantee. This is also in contrast to calls for a UBI. Finally, we argue that saving work requires more than just saving work as it existed in the 1950’s. It means saving work in a form that is sufficiently flexible to create true gender-based inclusion and equality, and work-life balance for all. We also consider the kind of politics likely to lead to such policies.

How Decent Work and Trade Unions Bolster Democracy in Diverse Societies

This paper contends that stable work relationships in diverse workplaces, together with trade unions, can help to counter ethnic polarization and the rise of ethno-nationalist political narratives. First, the experience of working with diverse co-workers tends to engender social ties and feelings of shared fate and mutual belonging across lines of social division. Second, trade unions, with their roots in common work and shared economic interests, have both powerful reasons and a distinctive capacity to coax such ties into stronger bonds of solidarity, and to counter divisive narratives of racial and ethnic competition, from the workplace up to the highest tiers of national political discourse. Unfortunately, the capacity of workplaces and unions to perform those vital political functions has been seriously degraded by union decline and by changes in the organization and security of work through fissuring, fragmentation, precarity, virtuality, and automation.

Corrupting Popular Sovereignty

Populism draws on the unilateral authority of a charismatic leader with an electoral mandate. The result is governance in disregard of the institutions of governance. Even more centrally, populist leaders try to dismantle or “corrupt” institutional constraints to allow for greater individual discretionary power and tilt the electoral arena in their favor. Two forms of corruption are examined. The first is the attempt to subordinate the electoral system itself. The second is the use of state discretionary authority to push the boundaries of clientelism and ultimately outright corruption. The claim is that because corruption invites review by broader layers of judicial and prosecutorial authorities than constitutional law, this branch of “ordinary law” may prove a key limitation on populism.