The effects of unemployment

We forget at our peril that the economy isn’t just about making stuff.  It’s also about integrating men into society and cementing their identities as productive citizens and providers.  Proph points out the great danger mass unemployment poses to those affected and to the social order as a whole:

People forget that (chronic) unemployment is a relatively recent phenomenon. For the vast majority of human history, productivity was so low that most people suffered through lives of back-breaking physical labor just to survive. Even well into the 19th century, recessions were generally not characterized by chronic mass unemployment. To the extent employment suffered at all, it was the last to do so and generally the first to recover.

Industrialization and mechanization, of course, changed all this. Part of what made the Great Depression so especially traumatic, despite the fact that it was tame in comparison to earlier depressions, was the fact of mass unemployment. The solution then was simply to conscript them all into public service through make-work jobs. In the long run, killing all the unemployed workers and blowing up all the excess productive capacity was the only thing that worked.

But as the pace of industrialization increases (aggravated by foolish free-trade policies that permit manufacturers to exploit Third World manual labor for pennies and ship their products back to the United States without consequence) and the number of chronic unemployed continues to rise, the resources to keep those people employed in makework jobs is being taxed beyond capacity. And, for obvious reasons, another world war is something to be avoided.

The libertarian claims that unemployment doesn’t matter because jobs only exist for the purposes of production. As I’ve argued before, his claim rests on a macro view of economic activity. In this sense, jobs don’t exist at all, only productivity; therefore the loss of jobs is meaningless if production remains the same. But it falls apart at the micro level, where the well-being and dignity of the individual man is of primary consideration — not statistics and aggregates.

Man yearns for rational order: for a rational society in which he has function and a rational community in which he has status. Employment is one means of integrating him into just such an order. Employment directs his energies toward the accomplishment of some good, and thus unites him and the community in a common purpose. Large-scale employment is insufficient, certainly, for a healthy society; but it is necessary.

This is why all the efforts in the world to mitigate the consequences of unemployment — through welfare, Social Security, unemployment insurance, etc. — have failed. They can feed a man, but they cannot integrate him into society or assign him status and function. Thus, unemployment, while perhaps not a problem from an economic standpoint, is certainly a problem from a sociological and psychological one….

Unemployed individuals exhibit marked increases in depression, anxiety, and sleep issues. Their sense of self-worth erodes. Their locus of control (the general attitude regarding control over the events of one’s life) shifts toward externality. They grow bitter and cynical.

A while back, I called for the adoption of a post-capitalist economic system. Much of that system involved creating the conditions right for employment: the revision of our tax system to make it business- and employment-friendlier; the erection of trade barriers; and the end of our turbulent debt-based money system.

5 Responses

  1. Employment does matter. It effect every thing. From education, social, ethics, future generation, security and etc.
    To understand this, we need to go to root basis, why need production? Production are required to produce product that are to be market and sell. Without one of this (consumer and merchant), production is nothing. To balance between consumer and merchant, consumer must be “educated” by media (promotion and etc) and must have power to buy.
    Power to buy is one of the root that balance between production. Without employment, power to buying is become lower, so production also can collapsed soon.

    Economy collapsed usually because some people are manipulate the world market, controlling share market, taking excessive profit. To control this, government have implement high tax, to cover during recession, bank have implement usury (which is not allowed in Abraham Religion) to help those market manipulator to buy share without using their own money. When all these become too much, economy can hold anymore, interest can not be hide anymore. This thing need to be burst somewhere. And this burst call recession.

  2. The current state of affairs, when a person’s life is severed from production by so many degrees of causality, is psychologically unsustainable – self-destroying, creative of unchecked (uncheckable) parasitism.

    Too many people really believe that production or generation of the essentials of life *just happens* and that the ‘serious’ question is merely administrative: how to spread them about.

    We need to think of human life in terms of ‘village economics’ – *all* stuff is either ‘made’, swapped, charitably-given (by choice of the giver), or has been coercively-taken from somebody else.


    Sadly, I believe that William Langland was correct (in Piers Plowman – the greatest Christian poem in the English language, according to Nevill Coghill) that humans actually need the lash of hunger – ultimately of starvation – as the economic bottom line. This is extremely unfortunate, tragic indeed, but abundantly proven by experience. It *is* a fallen world.

  3. Gains in productivity, outsourcing, mechanisation, automated and digital production have so progressed that they have almost reduced to zero the quantity of living labour necessary in the manufacture of any product. Today work is tied less to the economic necessity of producing goods than to the political necessity of producing producers and consumers.

    This surplus population of workers must somehow be kept occupied. But to this day no better method than wage-labour has been found for keeping the masses docile The Welfare State is being dismantled, so that the most restless ones, those who will only surrender when faced with the alternative between dying of hunger or stagnating in jail, are lured back to the bosom of wage-labour.

    If politicians are serious in this, are they ready for a repetition of les journées de juin 1848, following the closure of les Ateliers Nationaux? [the National Workshops] Then, the Liberals secured a victory over the Radical Republicans, but at the cost of 1,500 dead in the streets and thousands of summary executions of prisoners. The Assembly, one recalls, welcomed the surrender of the last barricade with cries of “Long Live the Republic!” What they got, inevitably, was Napoleon III.

    Talleyrand once observed that “governing has never been anything other than postponing by a thousand subterfuges the moment when the mob will hang you from the lamp post, and every act of government is nothing but a way of not losing control of the people.” Nowadays, when governments depend for their legitimacy on media coverage and the cult of personality, it is widely accepted that welfare cheques, drug-dealing and cheap alcohol are indispensible guarantees of the political order.

  4. These are the sorts of questions that occur to me while I am mowing the lawn. Pushing the mower back and forth, I wonder how it is that we have high unemployment and yet the bid price for someone else to mow my lawn remains higher than I care to pay. Of course the answer is that people like me are already subsidizing the lives of prospective lawn mowers to a point where the marginal value of twenty dollars has dropped below the marginal value of two additional hours drinking cold ones on the porch.

    There was a story in our local paper the other day about a guy and his “girlfriend” (they were both in their forties) who were making do without air conditioning. He’d just been released from prison and both were unemployed. So they were forced by a heartless world (the newspaper implied) to sit out the long, sweltering afternoons on chairs in the yard. I wonder who paid for the chairs, or the yard. I wonder why he isn’t mowing my lawn.

    There are millions and millions of people like me, who work all week at a job, and then all weekend on domestic chores. We are in a sense over-employed, but we’re not wealthy enough to hire menials under the present wage regime. If subsidies to the long-term unemployed (i.e. the shiftless) were reduced, they would have more incentive to mow my lawn, and I would have some extra money with which to pay them.

    And it’s not just the long term unemployed. There are lots of people priced out of your range because of pointless make-work government jobs. Assuming you’re not one of them, you work all week to pay their salary, and then you mow your own grass because you’ve paid their salary.

    Dangerous thoughts come into one’s head while mowing the lawn.

  5. I disagree on the issue of free trade

    On the political front, the factories, the mines and the shipyards were cradles of sedition. It is there the agitators found each other. They had the strike to show their numbers and to unmask and intimidate loyal employees. There, they were able to pit the party of labour against capital and to reinforce their solidarity by provoking conflict. Their overweening power could only be weakened by the free movement of capital, goods and labour. That is why modern trade unions are confined to the public sector.

    On the economic front, any barrier to foreign imports raises the price of home manufactures. The fact that the increase is paid direct to the favoured home producers makes it no less a tax, than if it were paid to the government and then passed on to the producers, their suppliers and their workers as a subsidy. Its effect is still to take money from consumers and hand it over to producers. It astonishes me that the Tea Party supporters have not grasped this simple point, unless they are so patriotic as to prefer to give dollars to American workers rather than cents to Chinese ones.

    Finally, mutual interdependence renders conflict impossible. It is no accident that main architects of the EU were all Catholics from marginal German-speaking areas: Adenauer (Rhineland), Schumann (Alsace), De Gasperi (Trentino Alto Adige). De Gasperi actually sat in the Vienna parliament pre-1914.

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