More recent developments like zero-hours contracts and the gig economy are widely seen as a baleful departure from this ideal, dragging people into membership of the 'precariat' (and ignoring aspects such as (a) quite a few people enjoy the flexibility of piece-work; (b) many Labour councils are at the forefront of zero-hours; and (c) some of our wealthiest and most glamorous citizens operate in this manner, from choice. OK, not very many in the grand scheme of things. But it's how I've operated for many years**, following on from an early career of a more conventional type.)
Easily forgotten, then, that at the first flowering of the industrial revolution, the wage-slave model was itself widely viewed as an abomination, and a dangerous one at that, putting the entire economy at risk. How so? I was reminded of the issue by a recent BTL comment from our friend Andrew:
We may be going back to the pre-industrial revolution days where it was normal to wfh. Some of the nicer terraced houses in Weston Super Mare still have large workshops at the end of the garden. Back in the day, that was where the artisan did his/her work^^.It's a bit more complicated than that. Prior to the introduction of the factory system, large quantities of properly marshalled labour were periodically required, regular examples being for the harvest, and for war. But other large-scale projects (inevitably labour intensive) were conducted as well: the construction of large buildings, canals, drainage schemes, country parks.
Able-bodied people - mostly of course, a rural population - lived primarily in smallholdings++. They had various basic skills, often crafts, and of course they represented a "reserve army" of raw labour since routinely they were more than somewhat self sufficient at the margin, if not strictly subsistence farmers. When a project was in the offing the menfolk could fairly readily drop what they were doing (a bit of work around their plot or in the little workshop), leaving that to the wife and children, and for several months, if needs be, go off and sell their services to someone who could make profitable use of them, be that commercial or the in the King's pay for a summer's campaigning season. When times were quiet they would return to their homes.
As a socio-economic system, this had tremendous flexibility. The theoretical fear was that by taking adults away to the newly expanding towns and cities to work 60-70 hours a week exclusively for one employer, all flexibility and social resilience would be lost. Somebody could no doubt explain how this danger was mitigated in the industrial transformation that brushed past all objections (there were of course moral as well as economic dangers foreseen by many - not least concerning how many people, newly-rich and poor, would no longer go in fear of the lord of the manor). We know, however, the transition was made triumphantly if not painlessly.
I haven't formed a theory of how this pertains to 2020. But it's an interesting input. As you know, along with our good friend Sackers I'm always intrigued by questions relating to flexibility / resilience vs efficiency. What's the perfect balance? Difficult to assess.
** and you know how glamorous I am
^^ a neighbour of mine who was a silversmith worked in that manner until around 1990; and my next door neighbour today, a prosperous IT developer, has always worked mainly from his converted garage at the end of the garden
++ when I was first a local councillor (in a London borough), my ward still contained a number of smallholdings on a peripheral site of 15-20 acres - people living in railway carriages and the like, on plots like glorified allotments. They were all bought out for a housing development after only a couple of years of my tenure