International Labour Review, Vol. 159 (2020), No. 3
Copyright © International Labour Organization 2020
Journal compilation © International Labour Organization 2020
Full and productive employment in developing economies: Towards
the Sustainable Development Goals, by Rizwanul ISLAM. Oxford, Routledge, 2020.
xi + 224 pp. ISBN 978-0-81-536786-4.
In his report “Full employment in a free society”, published in 1967, William Beveridge
dened full employment not only in terms of quantity but also of quality: “It means
having always more vacant jobs than unemployed men … It means that the jobs are
at fair wages … and so located that the unemployed men can reasonably be expected
to take them”.1 In the subsequent decades, the focus on full employment shifted to
the notion of a trade-o between unemployment and ination (i.e. the Phillips curve),
borne out by the experience of “stagation”, before turning to an almost singular
emphasis on supply-side explanations for unemployment, especially the so-called
“rigidities” imposed by labour market regulation. The global nancial crisis of
2008/09 created a new juncture that led to a debate on the role of demand-side policies
to counter the recession and their devastating impact on the labour market.
Now, a decade on, a discussion on full employment has re-emerged in light of re-
cent labour market trends. At rst glance, unemployment rates of 3.3 per cent in Ger-
many and the United States of America at the end of 2019 would suggest that these
labour markets are, indeed, at full employment. However, even in these cases, there is
evidence that labour market slack persists and, as argued by David Blanchower and
others, that labour underutilization is a far better indicator of the labour market situ-
ation in these economies. As also witnessed in the United States, real wages have barely
moved in decades, while in Germany and other countries, falling unemployment rates
have been accompanied by rising shares of part-time, casual and temporary work.
Another prominent debate has emerged in recent years under the banner of the
future of work, driven by the expectation that rapid technological change is going
to lead to job losses and make the goal of full employment unattainable. This fear of
“technological unemployment” has gripped many policy and academic discussions in
recent years, even though the empirical evidence is much more nuanced.
How do these discussions on employment resonate with the realities of devel-
oping economies? The most recent data from the ILO indicate that 89.8 per cent of
workers in developing countries are informally employed in jobs where many quality
dimensions are missing, and that 42.3 per cent of workers in low- and lower-middle-
income countries, representing over 622 million individuals, earn less than US$3.20
a day. Clearly, an indicator that only captures the openly unemployed does not accur-
ately reect the employment challenges in these labour markets.
The new and highly informative book by Rizwanul Islam, Full and product-
ive employment in developing economies: Towards the Sustainable Development
Goals, sheds light on these complex and interrelated topics. Drawing on decades of
1 W.H. Beveridge: Full employment in a free society (works of W.H. Beveridge): A report, Third edition,
Abingdon, Routledge, 2015, p. 18.