Working from home is about redistributive justice…or the chance of it, anyway

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 27, 2020

Photo by Nelly Antoniadou on Unsplash

Soon enough the holiday season will be over and those who can, will be back to working from home. So, how is it for you? Is it a burden or a luxury? Is it a perk or a sign of privilege?

Two views are emerging when it comes to the increasingly popular phenomenon of working from home.

That it is an elite and privileged activity, which should, in fairness, be taxed. (Click here to read about the #wfh tax recently proposed by strategists from Deutsche Bank’s research arm. The researchers say the levy could pay for subsidies for low-income earners and essential workers who are unable to work remotely.)

The other opinion is also about redistributive justice but less as a privilege to be taxed than as a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Some thinkers are talking about #wfh as a chance to fix regional inequality. The pandemic has made it less necessary for people to congregate in big offices in crowded metropolises. This could, in theory, mean that workers can sustainably stay home and stay employed – in their small towns, suburbs, exurbs or villages. Remote workers no longer need to be in big cities to keep their jobs. Instead, they could take their jobs to struggling areas, spending money in the local economy and boosting growth.

That’s a good point. According to studies, in the last century, the shift from industry to services led to a social, economic and political divergence between rural and urban areas, with jobs, productivity and opportunity increasingly concentrated in big cities. Big cities grew richer and more aspirational; small towns and villages became poorer and more despairing.

But the #wfh push during the pandemic could shift the balance the other way. Rather than trying the traditional tactics of trying to attract jobs into struggling areas by means of incentives and tax benefits, policymakers can now simply help anchor the #wfh trend.

That’s one way of levelling up.