Full Employment in Europe
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Full Employment in Europe

Managing Labour Market Transitions and Risks

Günther Schmid

Transitional Labour Markets (TLM) – defined as legitimate, negotiated and politically supported sets of various employment options in critical events over the life course – are an essential ingredient of modern full employment strategies. After assessing the European Employment Strategy, this book offers a detailed comparative analysis of employment performance for selected European member states and the United States. It suggests that successful employment systems arise from a new paradigm of flexibility and security (‘flexicurity’) the balance of which varies according to countries’ institutional paths. Whilst there is no ‘best practice’, TLM theory does provide normative and analytical principles that can be generalised for various institutional settings. The book also provides good practice examples for managing critical transitions over the life course – from education to employment, from one job to another, from unemployment to employment, from private activities to gainful work and from employment to retirement – and develops the contours for extending unemployment insurance to work–life insurance.
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Chapter 3: Comparing the Performance of Employment Systems: Is Jobless Growth on the Horizon?

Günther Schmid


Comparing is the end of happiness and the beginning of discontent. (Sören Kierkegaard) Understood in this chapter as fairly stable, evolved employment policy configurations that reflect specific national and regional characteristics, employment systems are very complex institutional arrangements. Such configurations eventually emerge by institutional centres of attraction giving a characteristic coherence to the multitude of everyday interactions between individual members of society. Given this definition, how can one ever compare employment systems both comprehensively and comprehensibly? Had anyone asked Arthur Schopenhauer this question, his response would have been even more pessimistic than Kierkegaard’s. To Schopenhauer, comparing was the root of all misery. Shall researchers therefore stop comparing the performance of various employment systems in Europe? I think that Kierkegaard’s less pessimistic stance can even be turned into an optimistic perspective if one accepts that discontent – if reasonably analysed – is the only starting point of changing for the better. ‘Reasonably’ analysed means, first of all, not falling into the trap expressed in a Chinese proverb: ‘The chicken in our neighbour’s garden looks like a goose.’ This chapter and the following one have the general aim of demonstrating that the foreign ‘goose’ is often the same size or even smaller than one’s own ‘chicken’. They also have the specific aim of proving that there are promising alternatives to the ‘neoliberal’ strategy hailed by many observers as the only answer to the challenges of globalisation, individualisation and transnationalisation. There is no reason to be afraid of...

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