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Milder Recessions, Wilder Careers

Remote work makes it easier for the economy to adjust to changes in supply and demand and allocate people to their most productive use. But a more efficient economy also means more volatile careers.

Dror Poleg
2 min read
Milder Recessions, Wilder Careers

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Are recessions a thing of the past?

A slowdown is the economy's way of adjusting to a new reality. People, resources, and capital are pulled away and gradually allocated to more productive uses. This process can take months or even years.

Hiring remotely can expedite this process. As Daryl Fairweather, the chief economist at Redfin, told Vox:

"Historically, recessions have lasted longer because it takes time for workers to move to job opportunities. If a salesperson in Cleveland lost her job, she may have had to move to San Francisco to find another sales job. But with remote work, you can do a sales job from anywhere. Hopefully this recession is shorter than historical recessions because of remote work."

Fairweather's comments were highlighted by economist Adam Ozimek, who pointed out how they turn the existing discussion on its head: People are asking what recessions mean for remote work — "But how about what does remote work mean for recessions?"

Fairweather and Ozimek are postulating that remote work could smooth out or moderate recessions by making it easier for firms and employees to adjust. I tend to agree with them. But there's another aspect to this argument that needs to be stated explicitly.

A remote-heavy economy does not simply function as before and occasionally experiences a very mild adjustment. Instead, a remote-heavy economy is constantly adjusting and operates with fewer constraints. In such an economy, people find and lose jobs more frequently. More likely, many jobs are no longer jobs per se but are actually on-demand projects or gigs.

From an economist's perspective, a more efficient economy is better: More people are employed more of the time. But from an employee's perspective, it might be far less pleasant. Would you prefer to work in peace for a few years and occasionally look for a job, or to constantly switch between jobs (and gigs)? The latter might keep you employed more of the time and even generate more income. But it is still a completely different lifestyle, a lifestyle that most employees are not ready for.

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