Tuesday 22 July 2008

Slavery is not Gone!


I hear this crap all the time from my peers: “Damn scroungers! Cut their benefits, make the buggers work!” The practical and ethical problems with unpaid work schemes for the unemployed are so varied and vast that I hardly know where to begin!

In America under Reagan's "workfare" trial they took a group of about 10 long-term unemployed people and put them to work in their city's sanitation department cleaning the streets (So called "menial jobs", which are nothing of the sort, but that's another story! http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2007/12/dont-tell-em-were-porters.html ). But the department had to give them work to do so they made 10 of their existing employed staff redundant to create vacancies for the Workfare slaves! As a result unemployment increased by ten! If this chain reaction had continued then unemployment would shoot through the roof in a negative feedback loop and an entire underclass of slave-workers would emerge. I'm all in favour of getting unemployed people back into work, but if we're going to do that then it has to be through giving them real jobs where they get a real wage, not just making them work for nothing on slave-labour schemes.

It's also worth bearing in mind that although there are lazy people around (like everybody’s neighbours it seems!) the vast majority of unemployed people would love to have a job! Few people actually enjoy having no work to do, even though it may seem like a nice prospect when you're getting up in the morning for an early start. I was off sick for two weeks last year and I couldn't wait to get back.

However right-wing politicians cannot give up the myth that mass-unemployment is simply caused by laziness. Every time a recession hits and millions of people are out of work they say "Oh, they're lazy!" But they never explain how when there is an economic boom, unemployment drops! It's a complete fantasy that some kind of whip-cracking negative incentive is necessary to make people work. In societies with very generous social security, that effectively gives an unemployed person a similar lifestyle to an employed person, unemployment is no higher. Nearly everyone wants to earn their own money; it's a natural human instinct!

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