Tag Archives post-capitalist economy

Rebuilding the economy one home-office at a time: the pros and cons of working from the office

Are we sure we still need to be in the office 40+ hours a week? The economy may suffer in the short term if we continue flexible working, but society suffers in the long term if we force a return to the office So, do we really need to return to full time work-from-office? I say no. Hear me out.

It’s 2022, and now that COVID-19 is not as serious a threat, we are collectively looking at figuring out how to move forwards (or backwards) to a post-pandemic reality. This includes the slew of opinion pieces we are bombarded with extolling both the perils and virtues of continued hybrid working (Hsu, 2022; Duncan, 2022; Sherman, 2022). It is time, therefore, to look at both the merits and consequences of not returning to the office.



Before doing my master’s degree, I was working in a large multi-national corporation in Singapore. As someone who had to work from home from November 2019 (read: before the global pandemic) because of a broken leg, but whose job required her to personally connect with as many colleagues as she could, let me tell you that working from an office is not the end-all solution. Before November 2019 I had been going in every day, and not once did I underestimate the power of working face to face in an office environment. However, working entirely from home didn’t stall my productivity either. If anything, the more flexible schedules allowed me to take better care of local and global relationships because I could catch colleagues at all hours of the day based on their own disparate schedules, and take proper breaks in between to deal with personal needs like physio and doctor’s visits, cooking, cleaning, or other household needs for myself and my family without scheduling set office hours or the pressure of commuting. The lack of travel to and from office, as well as huge savings on professionally mandated socialising via lunches, coffees, and drinks meant saving enough money that I was able to pay for my degree almost in full!


We saw during the height of the pandemic that our biggest collective fear is facing the consequences of the unknown, which is why the urgency we see from governments and companies in having people return to the office is understandable (Franklin, 2022; Lim, 2022; Forrest, 2021; Gordon and McGregor, 2022). It is far more comforting to revert to the familiar, and in this case, those in charge – from companies to governments, to university administrators – are keen to go back to what they know: physical attendance.


Let us give them credit: in-person connectivity has immeasurable benefits. To start with, an influx of staff back to office buildings will certainly help those businesses that rely on office spaces (think cleaners, the food and beverage industry [F&B], real estate), and by extension the families who depend on these businesses. In addition, it is undeniable that team rapports and knowledge sharing are built more effectively through face-to-face interactions. However, this is where the fallacy fails: it is misguided to assume office jobs are only truly effective when conducted from an office. Indeed, the pandemic has taught us otherwise, and forgetting this lesson will result in regressive consequences (Choudhry, 2020).

To be clear, no one questions the need to rebuild economies. This is a feat that takes both manpower and brainpower, but I would argue that the more of both we have, the faster and more efficiently we can rebuild. Working from an office once again limits brainpower to those who are able enough to reach the office in the first place (usually men, the able-bodied, youth, and for instance those who can afford or do not need childcare). In considering this state of affairs, we exclude hugely talented swathes of the community who, during COVID-19 were actually being given the opportunity to find employment through remote-working opportunities, including fully educated but full-time mothers, the retired and the elderly, and those with disabilities. Inherently, in forcing staff back to the office, we once again exclude these groups: fundamentally counter-productive to rebuilding.


It is true that maintaining a permanent hybrid working environment does pose risks, but inherently they are all short-term. The most obvious has already been mentioned – the financial strain on the office-dependent businesses and the families who depend on those businesses. By extension, businesses that have depended on in-person connectivity will also be affected, like the airline business. Just recently, British Airways announced the cancellation of 30,000 flights in 2022 alone (BBC, 2022). F&B and hotels are equally affected, as are their related supply chains (Jagt, 2022; Mijnke, Obermann and Hammers, 2022). But people and businesses are creative and resilient. They will find ways to reinvent the wheel and make it work for them. Indeed, considering the tenacity of human nature, we will endure – for instance, an option to convert existing unutilised office spaces into public utility spaces such as schools, day-cares, or temporary shelters with related shops to protect housing and living costs.


But for any of these to happen, governments and companies need to stop thinking short-term, and start considering the long-term effects of their actions. A full-time return to office spaces will result in an undoing of all the effort that went into repairing what this neoliberal, profit-centric, exclusionary, high-pressure system progressively broke in the past: from the strengthened family relationships (hello two-year lockdown!) to the healthier diets and more socio-environmentally conscious purchasing and living (home-cooking, supporting local shops, gardening, the upsurge in second-hand markets, a reduction in carbon footprint from reduced traveling). Talent from forgotten resources like mothers, the less-physically-abled and retirees can be reinstated in new forms, and the subsequent intellectual discrimination that has, until now, been a detriment to the economy can be renewed and utilised. The cost, therefore, of forcing a return to the white-light corridors, communal coffee machines, recycled air, and open plan desks will far outweigh the benefits of corporate camaraderie, social capital, and political protection. As important as it is to recognise the value of in-person work, it appears that, once again, companies like LinkedIn and Twitter appear ahead of the curve by suggesting long-term work-from-home options (Kay, 2021; Kelly, 2022). Perhaps the time has come for other institutions to follow their lead and see the value they derive in it. And perhaps in changing what an ‘office’ looks like, corporations can gain back some of the trust they have lost by putting profit over people for so long.


British Broadcasting Corporation (6 July 2022) ‘British Airways to Cancel 10,300 More Flights’, British Broadcasting Corporation, accessed 19 July 2022

Choudhry P (2020) ‘Our Work-From-Anywhere Future’, Harvard Business Review, accessed 19 July 2022

Duncan E (18 February 2022) ‘COVID has Changed the Way We Work and There’s No Going Back’, The Times UK, accessed 19 July 2022

Forrest A (3 August 2021) ‘Government Urges Businesses to ‘Ramp Up’ Return to Office this Summer’, The Independent UK, accessed 19 July 2022

Franklin J (1 June 2022) ‘Elon Musk Tells Employees to Return to the Office 40 Hours a Week – or Quit’, NPR, accessed 19 July 2022

Gordon N and McGregor G (29 June 2022) ‘As the Return-to-Office Debate Rages in the U.S. and Europe, the Matter is Already Settled in Asia’, Fortune, accessed 19 July 2022

Hsu A (5 June 2022) ‘The Idea of Working in the Office, All Day Every Day? No Thanks, Say Workers’, NPR, accessed 19 July 2022  

Jagt R (2022) ‘COVID-19 and the Food Industry’, Deloitte, accessed 19 July 2022. www.deloitte.com/nl

Kay D (29 July 2021) ‘LinkedIn Allows Employees to Work Fully Remote, Removes In-office Expectation’, Reuters, accessed 19 July 2022

Kelly J (5 March 2022) ‘Twitter Employees Can Work from Home ‘Forever’ or ‘Wherever You Feel Most Productive and Creative’, Forbes Magazine, accessed 19 July 2022

Lim J (25 April 2022) ‘Some Firms Want Staff Back at Workplace, but Experts Warn Against Rushing Into It’, The Straits Times, accessed 19 July 2022

Mijnke F, Obermann W, and Hammers T (2022) ‘Impact of COVID-19 on the Hospitality Industry’, Deloitte, accessed 19 July 2022. www.deloitte.com/nl

Sherman A (8 March 2022) ‘Making Sense of Why Executives are Eager to get Employees Back in the Office’, CNBC, accessed 19 July 2022

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Niyati Pingali is currently completing her MA in Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), focusing on governance and development policy. As a former corporate employee, she knows the cost and the benefits of capitalism and plans to dedicate her life to changing the narrative to ensure both people and the economy benefit equally: a feat that sounds impossible, but she knows can happen.


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Toward a postcapitalist economics: Are community economies the answer?

Community economies based on collective action and reciprocity have the potential to help us move toward a postcapitalist economics. However, communities tend to be romanticised and their politics sidelined. (Almost) forgotten economists have some interesting things to say about community economies and how they can be strengthened to contribute to systemic change, writes Irene van Staveren.

Image: Good Energy

My training as an economist did not prepare me sufficiently to tackle the four ‘wicked problems of today – climate change, rising inequality, pandemics, and increasing financial volatility – through my work. The reason for this is that I was taught to take an individualist perspective, which holds that markets generate added value for society and improve well-being, whereas the state merely redistributes this created value. According to this logic, markets are by definition the most efficient mechanism for allocating value, even when this reinforces inequalities. When having to choose between market and state, the market always wins – or so mainstream economists claim. The exception is when markets fail, but then the state may be captured by private interests and hence may not be able to repair market failures. I’ve struggled with this concept ever since coming to the realisation that it simply isn’t working in this day and age.

There is a way out of the binary trap that forces us to choose either government-led or market-based ‘solutions’ that to date have been insufficient. We can look completely beyond either the market or the state to find innovative and hopefully enduring policy options that could help address the four wicked problems. Of course, a global tax floor for multinational companies is very welcome, as is a demand for a temporary waiver of patent rights on COVID-19 vaccines. But systemic change in the economies of both the Global North and Global South may come from an unexpected corner: the community economy.

A number of heterodox economists have mentioned community economies as alternative to the state-market binary either explicitly or implicitly in their work. This triggered my interest, so in a recent book I decided to look at fundamentally different ideas about the economy in which the community economy plays an explicit or implicit role. Interestingly, they do not only have a positive role, as I’ll explain below.

The bad/sad news is that romantics who hope that communities will save the world will be disappointed. Communities are made up of people – the same ones who are also consumers, investors, producers, and workers. Feminist economist Barbara Bergmann pointed at gender discrimination in communities, which affects the attitudes of employers, colleagues, and, through socialisation, even sometimes of women themselves. Indeed, gender norms may constrain women worldwide in their agency and wellbeing, as many feminist development economists have shown.

Thorstein Veblen, the founding father of institutional economics, pointed at another negative effect of communities, namely their tendency for emulation: we look up to the rich, copy their lifestyles, and thereby increase our ecological footprint – we emulate them. And status seeking makes it difficult to shift to a less materialistic lifestyle or even simply to give up the basic comfort of using plastic bags and bottles, for example.

Fortunately, there are also economists who believe in the transformative power of the community economy. Because it can be where collective action for the common good originates, it can provide the social norms for cooperation even if the benefits are not individually, but jointly obtained or are reserved for future generations.

Adam Smith, who is often referred to as the promotor of markets with his metaphor of the ‘invisible hand’, actually used this famous metaphor only once in his foundational economic book The Wealth of Nations. Instead, Smith wrote a whole book titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments twenty years earlier in which he theorised that the community economy was necessary to help markets flourish. Not the other way around, thus.

Let me mention one more almost forgotten economist here: Gunnar Myrdal. This Swedish economist who won a Nobel Prize did an extensive study on relentless racism in the US. In his explanation, he came up with the concept of cumulative causation. He deliberately proposed this as an alternative to the concept of a market equilibrium. In a market, supply and demand are supposed to be independent. But, Myrdal argued, markets are influenced by social norms, attitudes, beliefs, and behavioral patterns.

Why is this important? Just like Veblen before him, he recognised the power of institutions in economic behaviour. But he added a dynamic model to this, showing that one form of discrimination, for example racial segregation in neighbourhoods, triggers another form, such as prejudice among white populations about unemployment and poverty in those neighbourhoods. This in turn feeds other forms of discrimination, such as lower-quality schooling for black children, which subsequently feeds into lower labour market opportunities.

So the important insight from Myrdal was that discrimination is not a linear process that can easily be ended with some legal changes. Instead, he argued, when discrimination is part and parcel of community life, it inevitably affects markets and is self-reinforcing.

The good news is that social inclusion and empowerment follow the same logic of cumulative causation, for example of women in the Global South. For example, with more girls in school and the labour market, African economies experience more growth and human development while at the same time individual girls and women obtain more opportunities, bargining power in the household, and more influence on their fertility.

Challenging unequal North-South relations

I think that these ideas are still relevant today, but now on a global scale. They help us to understand how social norms, attitudes, and beliefs in the Global North affect the Global South through structural inequalities in markets: global value chains, financial markets, labour markets, and even land markets. Hence, global markets tend to constrain the opportunities of people in the Global South to choose their own development paths.

Countries in the Global South are then likely to rely less on global markets and more on the strength of their own communities to help markets flourish. This is an inherently negative development, but it can also have positive dimensions when it comes to a possible economic transformation. Here are three of countless examples of how community economies in the Global South can provide the seeds for postcapitalist economies to develop their own strength in a way that makes them independent from the unequal market relationships with the Global North.

A first example is the increasing popularity of worker cooperatives. We find them in all sectors – from agriculture to manufacturing, and from construction to energy. The strength of these is that the market in which capital hires labour is dissolved. In worker coops, labour owns capital and controls it in terms of investment out of their own pockets, bank loans, and retained profits.

A second example is the decades-old practice of savings and loan associations such as the ROSCAs (Rotating Savings and Credit Associations) in Africa. Here, the market is dissolved by excluding banks and financial market transactions. Communities themselves bring savings and credit together by using rotating schemes or lotteries with all members having an equal position as both saver and lender. The stokvel is a classic example.

A third and last example is community-led energy initiatives. Across the Global South, rural communities which are not yet connected to the national electricity network, or who experience many power interruptions, build off-grid solar power networks. These provide the community with power for light, water pumps, or other basic needs. Again, the market is dissolved, in this case through bypassing electricity firms and national supply and demand of electricity on markets.

Community economies can be key – but don’t romanticise them

The urgent wicked problems that the world faces cannot be addressed by the market, while the state is often not capable of addressing them effectively. The community economy is a likely candidate for systemic economic change. But it should not be romanticised. We need a new balance of power, influence, and innovation between the market, the state and the community economy, with the last one in the lead. How this may be done can be learned from some key insights by (almost) forgotten economists.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Irene van Staveren is professor of pluralist development economics at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Professor van Staveren’s theoretical interest in is feminist economics, social economics, institutional economics and post-Keynesian economics.

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