A Nobel Prize-winning economist has claimed that teleworking is potentially "damaging and even dangerous" for society, and suggested that its excessive use could stifle innovation and inhibit the free flow of ideas which are essential constituents of any thriving economy.
In an interview with l'Echo, Edmund S. Phelps, an American who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2006 for his work on the trade-offs between the short-term and long-term effects of economic policy, was careful to temper his criticism with recognition of some of teleworking's positive effects.
"I recognise that working from home has advantages," he said. "Many jobs can be done at home. And this eliminates the problems of transportation and the associated waste of time."
"[But] you have to be able to exchange and interact with other people, which will bring new ideas. The idea of a society where everyone works at home is a naïve idea. It is damaging and even dangerous."
A study conducted last year found that roughly a third of employed Belgians work from home at least one day a week – twice as many as in 2018.
'An extraordinary world'
During the wide-ranging interview, Phelps – who recently published a memoir entitled 'My Journeys in Economic Theories' – also took aim at another idea which has recently been gaining popularity in progressive circles, namely universal basic income.
"A universal income would keep people away from employment," he said. "It would dissuade people and their children from engaging in interesting work, depriving them of participating in the country's economy."
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Turning to the broader state of the world economy, the 89-year-old noted that the combination of high inflation and low growth prevalent across much of the Western world reminded him of the "stagflation" crisis of the 1970s. Indeed, he suggested that our current economic predicament "could be even more serious".
"Yes, [today] resembles [the 1970s] in a way," he said. "Especially in the late 1970s. But it could be even more serious. The unemployment rate could rise, we could fall into recession. I don't have a crystal ball. All that can be said is that we are in an important adjustment phase."
"But I don't know what will come next. We have entered an extraordinary world, but still with many unknowns."