“The Conservative belief that there is some law of nature which prevents men from being employed, that it is ‘rash’ to employ men, and that it is financially ‘sound’ to maintain a tenth of the population in idleness for an indefinite period, is crazily improbable – the sort of thing which no man could believe who had not had his head fuddled with nonsense for years and years. The objections which are raised are mostly not the objections of experience or of practical men. They are based on highly abstract theories – venerable, academic inventions, half misunderstood by those who are applying them today, and based on assumptions which are contrary to the facts…Our main task, therefore, will be to confirm the reader’s instinct that what seems sensible is sensible, and what seems nonsense is nonsense.” – John Maynard Keynes in support of Lloyd George (1929)
“It is in the very nature of the capitalist mode of production to overwork some workers while keeping the rest as a reserve army of unemployed paupers” – Karl Marx
Unemployment is one of the major scourges of any society. People who lose or are unable to find a job may find themselves unable to pay bills or mortgages, which may in turn lead to eviction or homelessness. The repeated frustrations suffered while unsuccessfully seeking work can destroy families and cause health problems including depression and stress-related illnesses, which in turn can lead to more serious ones.
A study (pdf) conducted by Dr M Brenner in 1979 found that for every 10% rise in unemployment there is a corresponding rise of 1.7% in suicides, a 4% increase in arrests, 0.8% more reported assaults, and a 1.7% increase in cardiovascular deaths. Unemployment also leads to a situation where people are more likely to take a job which does not exploit all their skills or abilities, the resulting waste of talent harming society as a whole. Furthermore, a long period of unemployment can lead to skills being lost or becoming obsolete as technology continues to progress at an exponential rate, leaving some almost unemployable.
In addition to individual ills, serious negative effects can be felt on society as a whole. Crime can increase as disposable income falls. Xenophobia increases as those identifying themselves as ‘native’ members of the labor force accuse ‘foreigners’ of stealing ‘their’ jobs, leading to breakdowns in communities. The national economy also suffers as income tax receipts fall and benefits spending increases, forcing governments to borrow in order to make up the deficit. In countries that do not have the prized AAA sovereign credit rating, these borrowed funds must be repaid at higher rates of interest, leading to higher debt – a vicious circle.
Under the economic doctrine currently dominant around the globe, unemployment is seen as necessary to control inflation; having a stock of unemployed people reduces overall wage demands, ultimately reducing inflation.
One might legitimately argue, however, given the long list of societal and individual woes created by this hopeless condition, that an alternative approach ought to be urgently found; that this necessity of intentionally keeping an army of miserable, frustrated and unfulfilled human beings may in fact be dogma, a blindly followed principle of an economic theory rarely questioned in modern mainstream discourse.
Because that is exactly what it is.
As George Monbiot explained in a recent article, the neoliberal economic model as a whole has been utterly discredited.
Last year’s annual report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development should have been an obituary for the neoliberal model developed by Hayek and Friedman and their disciples. It shows unequivocally that their policies have created the opposite outcomes to those they predicted. As neoliberal policies (cutting taxes for the rich, privatising state assets, deregulating labour, reducing social security) began to bite from the 1980s onwards, growth rates started to fall and unemployment to rise.
For this reason alone, an alternative needs to be urgently sought, and the clues for finding it can be seen later in the same article:
The remarkable growth in the rich nations during the 1950s, 60s and 70s was made possible by the destruction of the wealth and power of the elite, as a result of the Depression and the second world war. Their embarrassment gave the other 99% an unprecedented chance to demand redistribution, state spending and social security, all of which stimulated demand.
With this economic model now proved a failure, the obsolete concept of having a buffer group of unemployed people, with all the social problems thus engendered, must be thrown out with the dirty dishwater and replaced with a system where in theory everyone can work.
The concept of ‘full employment’ has been around for some time. Most classical economists consider full employment to be slightly less than 100% of people in work – William Beveridge himself considered a 3% unemployment rate to be full employment – as the inflation issue will always be there.
There is, however, an alternative.
The so-called ‘job guarantee’ is an economic policy proposal under which the state provides all people who are willing and able-bodied with work at a standard minimum wage. This group of people performs the same function as the buffer of unemployed people because in economic booms, the private sector recruits from this group, while its ranks grow during a recession as firms lay people off. This controls inflation while making certain that all those searching are guaranteed work, in one stroke easing – possibly dispelling – many of the myriad societal ills associated with unemployment.
The minimum wage should follow from article 23(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
This minimum wage, therefore, should be significantly higher than that currently provided in unemployment benefits to ensure an ‘existence worthy of human dignity’, simultaneously providing an incentive for the able-bodied content remaining on benefits to instead enter employment.
There are several enormous advantages to such a system. A generation of people will suddenly have the opportunity to earn enough money and live a more decent life. It would also be ideal for on-the-job training as job seekers could be permitted to choose their preferred vocation as much as possible, providing millions of people with new and essential skills. As an added bonus, those made homeless or destitute by the disastrous economic policies of the last few decades will suddenly have an escape route.
Poverty would be vastly reduced, community ties improved, and social networking, not only of the online variety, enhanced. Underfunded essential services like health and education, for which a complete handover to the private sector would be disastrous, could be supplemented: teachers swamped with endless menial paperwork and marking could be provided with great relief by assistants, freeing them up for lesson planning and other more important roles; overworked hospital staff could be greatly aided in the same way. The list of professions and other employment fields that could also benefit is endless.
Vitally, a new global green infrastructure could be built, an undertaking which would require a vast number of full-time, trained workers. The single existential issue facing mankind is not the miniscule (and vastly overhyped) threat from asteroids or terrorism; it is global warming brought about by man-made climate change. An immediate change to a non-fossil fuel-based economy is deemed essential by climate scientists in order to prevent the armageddon promised by nature if this warning is not heeded. One partial solution to this issue is the optimal utilization of our most powerful resource – all our people – via full employment.
The only possible argument against such a policy is cost, but the money is there: government spending on benefits would be drastically cut with most of the labor force in training or employment while income tax receipts would simultaneously soar. Global defense spending, already completely out of control, could easily be reined in if the arms industry lobbyists were not so firmly entrenched in the revolving door between arms contractors and politicians. A crackdown on tax avoidance by large corporations and the wealthy, as well as tax evasion and non-collection in general would also provide ample funding. These simple measures, so obvious to ordinary peace-loving people, are all that are required, and there is only one thing stopping them: the very systems we continue to sustain in the name of democracy, a word that has been rendered meaningless by the greed and paranoia of a tiny group of financial and political ideologues.
A job guarantee proposal is not a cure-all but it would represent a profoundly positive step in the right direction. Additional measures like bringing exorbitantly high rents charged by greedy landlords under control and outlawing outsourcing etc. would also be essential, certainly, but it would be a start. With inequality and poverty soaring even in the so-called rich and developed nations, any honest government which sees its population as human beings and not simply consumers would not hesitate to pass these measures.
Which means that most governments will not pass such measures, for the simple reason that most of us do not live under honest governments.
Ordinary citizens, by sustaining the status quo, are their own worst enemy. Continuing to do this is therefore no longer an option. A whole generation of people are facing poverty, unemployment, inequality and misery. Civil disobedience, general strikes and a grassroots movement to true democracy, in whatever form that may be, is now vital. It should be obvious that the number one civic duty must be to inform those ignorant of what is occurring behind the wall of distraction, obfuscation and general bullshit erected by the mainstream media, 96% of which, one must always remember, is controlled by just five mega-corporations (Viacom, Disney, Bertelsmann, AOL Time Warner, News Corporation), all of whom have a vested interest in keeping things just as they are. Inform and educate your family, friends and workmates as much as possible in ways that make them realize that it is in their own interest to act against these malign, sociopathic forces.
An informed citizenry is the ultimate nightmare of the greedy, dishonest entities that hold such enormous power over the world and its inhabitants.
So let’s inform.
‘The 99.99998271% – Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a voluntary group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)
Author’s note: For a year now I have been writing detailed articles on human rights and direct democracy, and have written a book on the topic which is freely available. However, despite some small successes, I am yet to make a scratch in any meaningful way that will bring about real change. For this to happen, I need to create an NPO or similar organization devoted to creating and promoting direct democracy. I therefore appeal to any reader who has significant resources, or who has connections to someone who has, to contact me with regard to making a philanthropic donation to bring about a transparent organization with paid, professional staff which can actually make a difference.