The author presents ideas on using history of thought to illuminate economic theory in the teaching of introductory economics. In this, he draws on his experience as a life-long observer of economics teaching and from 35 years teaching Introduction to Microeconomics, first at Tufts University and then at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He suggests how the study of history of thought can enhance learning both for those who follow the dominant orthodoxy and those who criticize it. Furthermore, as pedagogy, teaching history of thought can help students learn, by maintaining their interest and by giving them a deeper and richer understanding of economic theory.
This chapter first reviews the rise of long-term employment relationships as part of the creation of the modern business enterprise from the late nineteenth century through to the middle of the twentieth century. This is followed with a discussion of challenges these enterprises faced with changing legal conditions, rising labour militancy, and rapidly changing business conditions in the later twentieth century. Next, it discusses the rise of the ‘gig economy’ or short-term employment using contingent workers, and evaluates the extent of the change in employment and social conditions. Finally, it concludes with some suggestions of appropriate policy responses to these economic changes.
A growing number of American workers are no longer employed in ‘jobs’ with a long-term connection with a company but are hired for ‘gigs’ under ‘flexible’ arrangements as ‘independent contractors’ or ‘consultants,’ working only to complete a particular task or for defined time and with no more connection with their employer than there might be between a consumer and a particular brand of soap or potato chips. While the rise of this ‘gig’ economy is praised by some as a response to the wishes of a more entrepreneurial generation, it is more likely that it is driven by the concerns of businesses to lower wages and benefit costs during business down-turns while also reducing their vulnerability to unfair dismissal lawsuits. The rise of gig labor calls for new initiatives in social policy because it shifts more of the burden of economic risk onto workers even while removing gig workers from many of the employment-bound New-Deal-era social insurance programs.