Re: Fix unemployment

Damien Broderick (
Fri, 04 Sep 1998 12:42:46 +0000

At 10:49 AM 9/3/98 -0700, Robin wrote:

>I think asking us to "fix unemployment" is a bit too broad. It's like
>asking us to fix "ill health", "poverty", "stupidity", or "arrogance".

Yes, but see below.

>There are lots of causes of unemployment, and a discussion would best
>focus on one of them if it is to make substantial progress.


>5) Bad luck - if your industry/career gets less in demand, you may have to
> accept being less in demand. Insurance can mitigate this loss.
>6) Poverty - if you live in a time/place with little capital, and moving
> is prohibitively expensive, capital may be too expensive to make it
> worth training you.

It bothers me that some people on the list (I'm not thinking of Robin) apparently have no empathy for the *ruinous experience* of those who get thrown out of work, especially those over 40, and those who never get started - those who are unemployed precisely because of the `rationality' of the current economic protocols. Robin's list is interesting, but I see that he ends with insurance as a mitigating measure. Decent societies have that built-in, but it still doesn't touch the social/spiritual corrosion of not having work or a meaningful time-binding, community-nurturing role in a job-oriented culture.

I find the throw-away rhetorical equation of structural unemployment with `ill health' and `stupidity' rather disturbing. (Of course, we *can* do a lot about ill-health, on both the individual and the communal scales, and already do. Sadly, Australia, e.g., seems to be dismantling its once-excellent public health system in the name of economic rationalism, thereby locking plenty of jobless or retired people into a downward spiral. Sigh.)

I raised a preposterously large topic, and I think Robin's approach of breaking it down into modules makes good sense. den Otter's comments about automation concur with my own basic utopian/dystopian estimate of the imminent collapse of a jobs-based economy, but all he addresses is the question of providing basic food, clothing, housing. (And Robin can explain why his precise model is economically hopeless anyway.) But that skirts one of the problems I see at the heart of the coming transition - the malaise of anomie, far worse than anything the 1950s' sociologists ever had nightmares about. As people have remarked before, iirc, the black drug culture of inner American cities is not just about getting money to live on, it's about creating a meaningful social order, a working power hierarchy, all that mafia Godfather stuff - and it apparently isn't working all that well even in those terms. One has the impression that Russia is falling into just that kind of gangland sociology in default of anything workable - even though the land is still there, the crops could still be grown, the oil pumped, the machines cleaned and run... Presumably *that* is the evidence libertarians would point to, when arguing the failure of systems allegedly run for the good of the collective. I'd argue that it's a transition from one gangsterism to another. But that's another debate...

Damien Broderick