Subtext! One of my favourite things. Now what do you think is the subtext in this little quote from “The Age” this morning?
According to a draft of Australia’s action plan obtained by Fairfax Media, the Abbott government nominates five key commitments that underpin its pledge.
“Employment welfare reforms” is ranked as the No 2 commitment, and notes that the changes will “strengthen participation and activation strategies”.
By cutting payments entirely to some unemployed and requiring jobseekers to search for more jobs to qualify for payments, the government argues it will spur the unemployed to look for work rather than live on welfare, thereby boosting economic activity.
The government argues it will spur the unemployed to look for work. Because that’s all they have to do – look for work. And the only reason that they’re not doing it is because nobody has spurred them. Or said “Giddy-up”.
I’d like to suggest to the Abbott nuff-nuffs that instead of spurring the unemployed to look for work maybe they should encourage them to look for the wish fairy. Ok, there is no wish fairy, but there ain’t enough jobs to go round either.
The idea that it’s wrong to be on welfare is a moral discussion, not an economic one. From a moral point of view, it can be argued that we shouldn’t have “freeloaders” who don’t contribute to society while the rest of us work… Unless those happen to be wealthy enough that they can just consume. Then they’re not “freeloaders”, they’re consumers. You don’t have to agree with this argument, but it is at least an argument about values, rather than economics.
However, from an economic point of view, the unemployed are surplus to requirements at the moment. This may be because they lack basic skills or don’t have the requisite skills in the areas where there are shortages. Whatever, people are unemployed because there are no jobs. If there were jobs which the unemployed don’t wish to accept, then the government has the power to strip them of benefits.
We all know this. So why do we shake our heads when the media present some poor bastard who seems content to live on a pittance as the modern day equivalent of Jack the Ripper?
If we were to consider the unemployed as just another part of the means of production, the absurdity of bringing the moral argument becomes even clearer. If a factory were to have an oversupply of what they create – let’s say they create widgets – we’d expect them to slow down production. We wouldn’t have “A Current Affair” running a story on how this factory is idle for much of the day, and how – while the factory down the road is operating 24 hours a day – the widget factory doesn’t even run a night-shift.
Or perhaps we could use an analogy that Tony might understand – a sporting one. When somebody is made the 12th man in a cricket match, you don’t suggest that he’s not working hard enough because all the others are batting and bowling, and he just has to field occasionally and bring out the drinks.
Some of you undoubtedly remember the concerns of the 70s:. Thanks to technology, people were going to working less hours, so how would we be spending our leisure time? Of course, technology has made us more efficient, but this hasn’t translated into more leisure time for the majority. Just for the lucky(?) few who get to be unemployed.
We’ve chosen to structure the economy a certain way. We’ve chosen to say yes to a society where you work harder in order to accumulate more. And we’ve chosen to allow some people to become unemployed, rather than structure the economy so that this is temporary thing. These are value judgments.that we’ve made.
And still we can have a government that seem to think that economic activity will increase if we just “spur” the unemployed into looking harder. If that doesn’t work, perhaps we could try whips and chains.