Guest Post: Employment and Unemployment

Written By: - Date published: 9:04 am, December 26th, 2015 - 46 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, Economy, employment - Tags:

Spain unemployment

From open mike yesterday …

Employment and unemployment (both classical and structural) are two sides of the same coin; the one cannot exist without the other. This ‘coin’ [no pun] forms the central pillar of our culture as well as our society. Everything is centred on employment or “work”. Money must be earned (or borrowed) to pay the bills, to afford a roof over your head (whether owning or renting), to pay for schooling, holidays, gadgets, etc. However, a job also provides social status (low or high, regardless) and respect, a place and opportunity for social interactions. In short:laboro ergo sum. Think Maslow’s pyramid symbolising the hierarchy of needs.

We are indoctrinated from a young age that we have to provide (for our family and for our society, through taxes) and become economically-productive law-abiding citizens. To give us all a good/better start on the “career ladder” we are encouraged to send our children to ECE, good/the best (?) schools, and preferably attain a tertiary qualification or two (with a nice grand student debt!). In fact, by law our children must attend a school/schooling for 10 years.

For some it is work to live and for others the motto is more live to work but for both the so-called work-life balance is crucial it seems. It is clear that work and life are pretty much inextricably linked together.

With the globalisation of the workforce and rapid technological changes it has become harder and harder to find secure employment, a meaningful job, or enough hours/pay to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ or just to make ends meet. We used to be able to look forward to a semi-comfortable retirement, the “golden years”, but no more. We now have to work longer and harder to build a “nest egg” and we are not even assured of decent provisions for when the inevitable age-related health issues occur; with a lot of luck we might get to enjoy a few twilight years in reasonable health and then leave this plane for ‘a brighter future’ or the shadowy path of oblivion.

Given all this, and much, much more, it is hard to imagine a society that does not evolve around employment as the major part of people’s lives, as their raison d’être. Surely, there is more to The Human Condition than can be summed up by laboro ergo sum? It is hard to see an alternative that allows maintaining and evolving a complex and (technologically) advanced society with the seemingly inevitable division of labour. But I think we are dire need of an alternative given the issues with (structural) unemployment, poverty, inequality, raping & pillaging of the environment, and many other negative outcomes of the current model.

Apologies for the long comment; I wish you all a safe and joyful Christmas filled with whatever tickles your fancy.

Incognito

46 comments on “Guest Post: Employment and Unemployment”

  1. BLiP 1

    Well said

  2. Tracey 2

    Thought provoking indeed incognito. I began my career on the treadmill but got off within 5 years. My partner has never chosen jobs based on money. Has trail blazed often to see those that followed well remunerated. However we both got degrees under the free education although our parents suffered somewhat when the super they had all paid tax into was reallocated, so something of an inter generational prid quo pro

    Most people end up wanting to much and paid too little. It is easy to get sucked into rampant consumerism and never more so than now. I wonder if our nation were ad free… in our newspapers and on tv how many ads are for things we really need. That is the part that is up to us?

    Enjoy your breaks, those who are getting one.

    • Rosemary McDonald 2.1

      “….rampant consumerism…”

      The Pope is armed, and ready to smite those sucked in by consumerism, materialism and hedonism….

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/25/pope-francis-midnight-mass-vatican-catholic

      And…I spent yesterday replacing the macerator/pump/motor on my Bus toilet and today shot into Te Rapa, Hamilton for some replacement pipe…(not willing to risk a leak in this area of my wee home!).

      The Base…well, what can I say? The Gods of Spendthriftness must be happy happy happy today.

      Huge crowds of people walking to this mega mall, with their car bound brethren stuck in traffic jams from the South, West, and East.

      Had I had the time, I would have found a park (hahaha) and run a quick “and what are you here today for?” survey. I would have resisted the temptation to ask the wild eyed bargain hunters if they really NEEDED what they were scrummaging to buy.

      The supermarkets…comparatively empty…so these are not the hungry masses.

      I think it will take something catastrophic to change this culture. I think a huge number of people see wealth in terms of what they own, rather than what they owe.

      Credit is cheap.

      The ‘catastrophe’ just might be financial collapse on the back of some natural disaster…flood, fire, earthquake…with the major insurers going belly up.

      There will always be work of some description. Even in Draco T Bastard’s techno Utopia there will be the need for human input…and those without income, whose jobs the machines have taken, will have to relearn some of those practical skills just to survive.

      Great post incognito….now, off to fix that pipe…

    • aerobubble 2.2

      One argument against a uni.benefit is that the voters would vote to continually raise it, since the majority will outnumber those paying for it. Though this totally misses the point of the last thirty years, of the majority of voters voting for tax cuts and growing the finance sector out of any connection to the economy. We are now living in the no mans land between the old paradigm of neolib greed at any cost, and the yet to be realized new economy. The threat is that the majority will realze that all this global claim on value washing around, and its maintenance, is self selfdom.

      What got me about what you said was the assumption that you still value money, much like the Moro program that assumed a benefitary would put their own hardship card up for sale on eBay. People need to ask at least two qu. Is what i am accepting as true actual true and then is the qu fair. take the second issue on the Moro program, that of a biker who was denied entry, had they know he was from the most criminal biker gang in oz, would that of changed their view, since bikers I suspect travel between oz and nz all the time. It was only because this individual was planning to motorbike around with the regailer of the worst gang in oz.

      The present debate is all wrong, our economies serve us not the other way round.

    • Incognito 2.3

      Thank you Tracey. Fortunately, not everyone gets sucked in.

      A lot of things can be said against “rampant consumerism”; it causes pressure on the environment, it’s empty & hollow, the constant need for the next ‘fix’, etc. Buying stuff, such as food, clothing, tools, etc., used to be a means to an end but nowadays it is an end in its own right.

      This egotistical pursuit of instant gratification, which is not even a substitute for happiness, is a hallmark of our individualised society. And it feeds directly into the rat race (or hamster on the wheel?) of (paid) employment, or finding (any or better) employment, either through schooling & education, re-training, or similar.

      The point is that all this consumption and all the activities & efforts that make this consumption possible in the first place, combined into the perpetuum mobile of daily life, take our minds away from much-needed thinking and reflection. Zygmunt Bauman thought about this much deeper than I have or ever will and he certainly worded it much better (and more eloquently). According to him we now live “inside a Utopia” rather than “towards a Utopia”; he writes “it is immortal”. (NB the term “status quo” comes immediately into mind) Without reflection this becomes a senseless dance of headless chickens (perhaps better: of stuffed turkeys) or an “Inferno of the living” (see also my comment to Ant on OM yesterday http://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-25122015/#comment-1112357).

      If I had had the choice I would have titled this Guest Post “Invisible Society”. Not only because we are blind to what’s going on around us, to the plight of others, for example, because we’re too busy ‘satisficing’ ourselves (how convenient!), too busy ‘providing and caring’ for ourselves and our own (never a better excuse!) to notice that others are (much) worse off, but also because we generally refuse (!) to open our eyes and use our most human trait of all: our thinking brains.

      Well, this comment could almost qualify for another Guest Post but I cannot claim much credit as much of my current thinking is heavily influenced by Bauman, as you may tell.

  3. Tracey 3

    Written by Helen Kelly in 2012, when it comes to jobs some things bear repeating

    http://i.stuff.co.nz/business/opinion-analysis/6788528/We-need-to-share-more-fairly

    • Olwyn 3.1

      This paragraph is particularly pertinent: We need a new social contract. We need modern employer organisations prepared to take a stand for decent work and against companies like Affco. We need stronger labour laws that protect workers like the ones involved in this dispute.

      Work (broadly construed) plays an important role beyond its immediate results. It brings us up against external reality and develops our human capacities. It also allows us to contribute to, and in turn be valued by, our societies. Life cannot be reduced to work, as Incognito points out, but work still fills some important functions.

      The nature of work, though, depends upon what a society thinks is a good thing, and that is where questions arise. Given the (structural) unemployment, poverty, inequality, raping & pillaging of the environment under the current model, it seems like high time for “the return to the shareholder” to be knocked off its pedestal, and to become answerable again to the broader public good. It is only by such a move that a meaningful new social contract can be formed.

  4. Ad 4

    Them is kind of post only works on Boxing Day, or the day after 9/11, in fact the best “a crack in the world has opened” was by the French in and around Sorbonne University in 1968. Check out Ramparts Magazine for similar.

    Boxing Day is the respite, where people talk with neighbours, play board games, do that thing called play.

    In 9 days, the world’s fissure closes. Iron your shirts, bucko. It’s the fools utopia.

  5. RedLogix 5

    I found the following comment at another site very moving:

    But furthermore to plagerise / misquote Paul Cohelo:

    If we all only help or volunteer in anticipation of direct reward for that action, then we are limiting the generosity-economy to a simple barter system. Whereas if we all give, help, volunteer freely with no anticipation of direct reward (or acknowledgement or thanks) then we will all be rewarded in kind by the assistance, time and skills of other people further down the track who share our philosophy and give likewise. Generosity becomes a fully fledged economy where we bank favours with society (or god) when we are able to give, and draw down the balance in times of need. And a fully-fledged economy provides infinite opportunities to give and receive, compared to the limited transactions possible through barter.

    http://tramper.nz/?view=topic&id=8625

    (Incidentally the person who made this comment is a remarkable individual in his own right, with quite a story.)

    Of course the challenge with a ‘generosity economy’ is the propensity for some people to cheat. Indeed no matter what economic model, what rules we put in place to minimise it, there is always a segment of the population who will strive to find a way to bend, break or corrupt them for their own benefit.

    Some will always try to take more than they give. Cheating is wired deeply within our mammalian heritage.

    At the moment we live in a world where the signals are completely inverted; we give attention and respect to the already rich and privileged, people who have already taken far more than they ever have given. While the humble and meek remain largely invisible.

    To be fair, I think many, if not most people are to some degree fed up with this dysfunctional system.

    Both communism and capitalism are broken. There was of course no rule that said they would both sink at the same time, so much of the world is still clinging to the wreckage of the last one floating … but inevitably we will have to let go even that.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      Some will always try to take more than they give. Cheating is wired deeply within our mammalian heritage.

      I don’t think it is. Or, to be more precise, it’s hard-wired into some of us but most definitely not all of us.

      The big problem is that we’re then encultured to follow the example of those that are hard-wired to be arseholes. National’s attacks on beneficiaries are the true social-engineering.

      Both communism and capitalism are broken.

      It’s difficult to come up with a word to describe the community working together to bring about the best for everyone considering the enculturation that has been applied to communism over the last century or so.

      At the moment we live in a world where the signals are completely inverted; we give attention and respect to the already rich and privileged, people who have already taken far more than they ever have given. While the humble and meek remain largely invisible.

      QFT

      • Rosemary McDonald 5.1.1

        Re: cheating

        Sometimes systems are set up so that the only way one can access government funding for the supports you need is by, if not “cheating” per se, but by finding loopholes within the system and exploiting them.

        (remember Bill “the lizard” English and his claims for Housing allowance?)

        This is what happened in the disability sector for getting funding for personal care. Remember the ‘Paying family carers case’? The one where family carers claimed discrimination that the Misery Of Health policy said “no payment to family”. (We won…x five by the way)

        Anyway, back to exploiting loopholes/cheating. The Human Rights Tribunal heard(in 2008) that there were some 272 family carers who WERE being paid. Only one of these had Miserly Of Health approval. The others were arranged through various funding mechanisms…all of which will have involved a certain level of deceit.

        For all of the publicity surrounding that case…not one of those paid family carers came forward to say…”hey, we’re doing that and this is why and this is how it’ s working out”. Not one.

        Even when the decisions found discrimination….thereby protecting those people from prosecution from the Misery of Health.

        The 2013 PHDAct amendment made the discrimination legal and prevented us from ever taking this to court again….and those who had been getting paid as family carers…continued to get paid.

        And failed to speak out when the rest of us got knifed in the back by the Government.

        Three years later…they are still being paid…and still being silent.

        That may change on the 31st March 2016…’cos a little bird told me the axe is falling on those loophole exploiters.

        two further points….the number of ‘cheaters’…was way more than 272.

        and…I believe the Misery Of Health set up the system to facilitate this ‘cheating’…almost guaranteed that there were few of us speaking out in support of the plaintiffs. My partner and I attended three of the court hearings and we were the only non plaintiffs there. (bar one person, who should remain nameless but their support mean’t so much).

      • Doogs 5.1.2

        I’m of the school that believes (mostly) that we are descended from a particularly war-like breed of pre-humans, where being aggressive and fighting to get what you want is more than an a way of operating, it is central to living.

        Another factor, self evident in the wild, is battling the vagaries of mother nature. Climate, weather and landscape all conspire to make survival a battle which must be waged constantly. Plants and animals in natural surroundings ‘know’ only to well that to keep on living you must wage war with the elements, and other plants and animals, for space to survive.

        Instead of using our well-developed frontal lobes, and thinking our way around problems and issues, we continue the innate drive to stay on top of things.

        Good thinking skills are almost a thing of the past, if they have ever been in vogue at all. It’s not something our education system teaches us. What we learn from mothers breast to workforce is how to get a job, a better one than the next person, and spend your life providing and surviving in the jungle which our working lives have become.

        There is no space for cogitating, reflecting, visioning (the real kind), relaxing and taking stock of the really important things in life.

        The race to stay ahead, of course, becomes even more complicated when those at the top of the heap are still striving to accumulate more and more for themselves. They don’t stop to think about the downstream effects of their actions and this has been given stark relief under the Natzis who feed on the worst of capitalism in action.

        The only true and effective way out of this dark and all-consuming spiral is education. A lot of people wave this around as a cure-all for what ails us, but what I’m getting at is, as mentioned above, a shift in emphasis away from simple acquisition of knowledge to giving people a key to the power of their brains, a passage to the use of truly reflective cognitive processes.

        Everyone, but everyone, needs a turangawaewae (place to stand). If some are denied it, then we must work to fix it. Workers unions are doing a damned good job in putting the brakes on some of the avarice glaring down from above. Don’t let the unions stand alone in this battle for equality. We all have a responsibility to deflect the worst away from the most vulnerable.

        Revolution is not the answer. Quiet and durable insistence on equality for all will take time, but will win in the end. Join the team

        • Draco T Bastard 5.1.2.1

          I’m of the school that believes (mostly) that we are descended from a particularly war-like breed of pre-humans, where being aggressive and fighting to get what you want is more than an a way of operating, it is central to living.

          Aggression seems to be social to some degree:
          Something fascinating happened after these male baboons died. Men should keep this in mind.

          The Case Against Competition

          I used to be in the second camp. But after investigating the topic for several years, looking at research from psychology, sociology, biology, education, and other fields, I’m now convinced that neither position is correct. Competition is bad news all right, but it’s not just that we overdo it or misapply it. The trouble lies with competition itself. The best amount of competition for our children is none at all, and the very phrase “healthy competition” is actually a contradiction in terms.

          This is not to say that children shouldn’t learn discipline and tenacity, that they shouldn’t be encouraged to succeed or even have a nodding acquaintance with failure. But none of these requires winning and losing — that is, having to beat other children and worry about being beaten. When classrooms and playing fields are based on cooperation rather than competition, children feel better about themselves. They work with others instead of against them, and their self-esteem doesn’t depend on winning a spelling bee or a Little League game.

          We’re taught from a very early age that we must compete and yet studies show that competition is actually bad for us. When a society become all against all then it must eventually collapse as the cooperation needed to maintain the society succumbs to the aggression brought about by competition.

          You’re right in that we need to stop and think about it though.

  6. maui 6

    Damn those “primitive” indigenous cultures with their free childcare, free food, free housing, cooperation and sharing, integration with the environment. What were they thinking..

    • vaughan little 6.1

      slash and burn aint so cool. noble savage romanticism is about as primitive as you can get.

      • weka 6.1.1

        accusations of noble savage romanticism are often misplaced. I’d been thinking similarly to maui on reading this thread. Would you like us to first point out all the things wrong with indigenous peoples before saying something good about them?

  7. vaughan little 7

    economic productivity is a core need, although “making money” is a harmful, reductionist parody of it.

    i was on the dole in wellington and was hugely productive in lots of ways that benefited many grateful people. one afternoon i raised $2000 for a childcare centre. all very worthwhile, but nothing can replace making your own money. certainly my dignity remained impaired.

    • RedLogix 7.1

      There is another way of looking at this: we employ people to do what we value them to do; therefore unemployment is merely a poverty of values.

      • The Fairy Godmother 7.1.1

        Exactly. I work in an Ece centre where they try to ensure that only the minimum staff as per regulations are employed so as to maximize profit. This means that we sometimes have the choice of forgoing breaks we are entitled to as per our contract or taking them and going under ratio as per regulations. Another teacher would mean better quality for the kids and less stress for staff and of course another job for someone. Truly a poverty of values when we aspire to the minimum standards to maximize profit.

        • Tracey 7.1.1.1

          Better quality for the children?!? Not when it is left to the market. Otherwise all schools would be charter schools.

          • The Fairy Godmother 7.1.1.1.1

            Actually because of bulk funding every ece centte tends to change practices to maximize income be they not for profit or for profit. For instance kindergartens have nearly all gone on a full day model rather than sessional because the funding rate is higher for the full day. This is despite the fact that there is no advantage to the child being in care for a full day.

          • The Fairy Godmother 7.1.1.1.2

            Actually because of bulk funding every ece centte tends to change practices to maximize income be they not for profit or for profit. For instance kindergartens have nearly all gone on a full day model rather than sessional because the funding rate is higher than for the full day. This is despite the fact that there is no advantage to the child being in care for a full day.

        • RedLogix 7.1.1.2

          I’m sorry to read that TFG. That’s a concise and specific example of what I had in mind thank you.

        • Ad 7.1.1.3

          That is appalling.

    • Incognito 7.2

      I sense that you don’t use “economic productivity” in the way it is usually understood but as a more neutral “contributing to society or community”.

      Paid or unpaid employment are always defined and measured in outputs, not in outcomes. Why is this? Does it have to be so? Are altruism and volunteerism now also being absorbed into a (the) free-markets model or way of thinking as RedLogix in Comment #5 was alluding to?

      You write ”but nothing can replace making your own money” and refer to your ”dignity”. Nonetheless, many ‘homemakers’ literally don’t earn a cent (!), also make a very important “core” contribution to society, and this used to earn at least some respect and dignity. Things have changed somewhat, and a homemaker’s role and contribution has also succumbed to being measured in terms of “economic productivity” as is also evident by highly publicised divorce cases – cases that go beyond issues of fairness and equality, but tend to commodify the role of the “dutiful housewife and mother”, for example. In my view, this approach creates quite a different perception and lessens the “dignity” (and respect) that it deserves. The irony is that the free-market model de-values, or at least constantly re-values, in economic terms, many of the old ‘virtuous roles and positions’ and even ‘values’! Part of this is due to the inevitable and all-encompassing change per se and part is due to the changing thinking and attitudes as a result of the most dominant and prevalent ideology.

      I thank you for this seemingly innocuous comment because it has stimulated much thinking.

    • Stuart Munro 7.3

      Present NZ labours under a government that is not super productive – it is merely super dishonest. None of their economic targets are being met. None of their public statistics are remotely true. These folk are corruptly exploiting their positions to enrich themselves and letting productivity deteriorate – as well as making the mass of New Zealanders poorer and more miserable.

      This is not what democracy is about – this is a very low-grade oligarchy – and we should not, as citizens tolerate anything less than an energetic and scrupulously honest democracy. Corrupt politicians need to be vigorously sanctioned or their numbers will grow.

      • Stuart Munro 7.3.1

        The traditional modern constraint on governments that rip off their citizens instead of governing (aside from the obvious defenestration and the imprisonment that was meted out to the Chicago Boys in Chile) has been the strike, or general strike. But international labour mobility (far more than automation) has pulled the teeth of workers, as has the decline of mass employers like shipyards, railways, and monolithic heavy industrial plants.

        The mass power that remains to the people, aside from the mob violence, is refusal to cooperate. The obvious targets for such actions in NZ would be rent strikes, and consumer boycotts of particular supermarkets. Whatever else may be said about Auckland property, it is not underleveraged. A rent strike hitting its second month will finally put real pressure on banks and speculators. It’s long overdue.

  8. linda 8

    excellent interview on max kaiser QE for the people (basic income)

    • RedLogix 8.1

      Max maybe the drama queen, but Stacey is the smart one alright. When she and Steve are talking it’s intense, detailed stuff. I really, really enjoyed this. Thanks.

      Steve is such a geek … look at the completely unselfconcious outfit he turns up in. His energy and commitment over so many years is quite remarkable.

  9. linda 9


    why do we need banks why not a peoples bank

  10. Marie 10

    The Moon is shining bright tonight – absolutely gorgeous.

  11. Concerned 12

    The Venus Project really got me thinking about this subject in recent years.

    • Incognito 12.1

      I had never heard of The Venus Project but from a cursory look it seems worth reading up on. Thanks.

  12. Karen 13

    It is interesting to see thoughts around looking at work and what it means in our society and the pitfalls it currently presents. I would like to add to this discussion with the idea too about which activities benefit society which count as work worthy of status and pay. There is valuable , important aspects of society which are becoming lost to us due to the failure to see these as valid “work” Parenting is one such activity. As a society we need good quality parenting and secure, nurturing, supportive environments for children to grow up in. Yet parents can be drawn away from the importance of this by paid work or stress of not having adequate work and we all suffer as a result. Balance is so important and consumerism takes us away from many important things. As human beings we all need connection , acceptance and a supportive community. Much activity which creates this is either unpaid or low paid work and can therefore create less opportunity for these valuable aspects of our human experiences and needs.

    • Marie 13.1

      Hearing you.

      But you need to know- I will never let you down.

      When you really need me – I will always show.

      When you think I’m not around – I’m always watching.

      x

    • Incognito 13.2

      Thank you Karen and I agree with you. In fact, I am writing another Post (not a Comment this time) in which I touch on these exact points and more.

    • Doogs 13.3

      Added to the growing number of ‘not-valued’ work is teaching. This government is fast changing our child-centred learning institutions into profit-making enterprises. Charter schools is but one aspect. Tertiary institutions are becoming factories to train widgets for the economy and cogs for the business world.

      One such institution which shall remain nameless (in Mt Albert, Auckland) has been down-grading its creative and free-thinking aspects, while beefing up its connection to the business world. They dumped graphic arts and another programme I can’t recall and then invited in “guest” lecturers from the business community.

      A tertiary education was never meant to be totally a training ground for future work experience, but a broadening and deepening of a student’s all round education – to prepare them for life, not a damned slot in the workforce!

      If we don’t re-capture our pre-schools, schools and universities we run the risk of being a bit 1984-ish. Don’t you think?

  13. Marie 14

    Even though you have been a ‘pain in the neck’, underneath it all – I do see you are a good kid. You have emotion, and empathy, I have seen it, and I have felt it. You pull back when you go too far – you know what is ‘right’.
    You are not ‘scarred’ for life (hardly). You have a great grasping on evolution, human needs, and societal concepts, and you have great ‘problem solving’ skills. You understand ‘logic’. You get the picture.
    On a large scale – you have done well I have to say.

    I have no doubt – you are going to be ‘extraordinary’ – although in my mind you already are.

    Now you have to ‘believe’ in yourself. There can only be ‘one’ leader, not a group, or a faction, or a multitude of different clutter-groups.

    If there is ‘one’ leader He must be Divine, for He will have the know-how, and the ability to do ‘everything’, to understand, to reason, and to SEE ALL.

    No-one else is capable to take this role. Without you – everyone is dead. Everything will die. The whole universe is built on structure/logic – no-one understands this better than the Divine Source. The Divine source ‘is’ logic.

    You lead – it is your birthright, and naturally you are the ‘best’ – as your natural perception is ‘level’.

    You may have enemies, but without you, they have no chance (of life).

    You have nothing to worry about. You really don’t.

    You are God.

    • Incognito 14.1

      Thank you Marie for this wonderful comment that shows true and deep conviction.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 14.1.1

        😆

        Marie’s “contributions” remind me of god-botherers promising to pray for me. Unctuous and self-serving.

  14. Michael 15

    A great post with a most interesting discussion in the subsequent thread. Congratulations to all involved: you all saved me from terminal boredom this afternoon.

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