Government Isn’t the Mother of Invention – Especially Not for Jobs

Tim Dunlop

I don’t think the government is good at many of things. Which isn’t to say it’s not good at anything, I mean, it’s great at bombing the shit out of children and people of color. It’s great at declaring war on drugs, poor people, marginalized communities, surveying domestic populations, indoctrinating children and destroying the economy.

But it’s not very good at inventing jobs, as Tim Dunlop writes:

The Government’s new “jobs” scheme, announced in this week’s budget, is called Prepare-Trial-Hire (aka Youth Jobs PaTH) … It is in the absence of jobs – work that pays people a decent living on an ongoing basis – that governments dream up schemes like PaTH. They are less about getting people into work than about policing the unemployed within ever-shifting parameters of discipline (bordering on cruelty at times), a process I explained at more length a few weeks back.

That part about “policing the unemployed” is very well put and astute of Dunlop to notice.

Most people (conservatives and liberals alike) will cheer these types of government based work programs. For conservatives it’s because the government is teaching those damn “millennials” some manners and a work ethic! For liberals, it’s because it’s giving youth some sort of civic indoctrination that they hope will lead to more “civic engagement”.

Wherever you fall on the usual political spectrum, these sorts of programs are always hailed because they supposedly add “value” to the economy. But giving people millions of dig ditching jobs when no one wants or needs those holes would be “valuable” because it’d employ those people and give them money, but ultimately pointless generally speaking.

I could give my friend $5 to punch me in the face and that’d be just as good, honestly. It’d employ them and create “value” and yet still not really create much sustainable value in general. There’s no real economic benefit to these programs that simply exist to employ youth (or anyone else) just for the sake of employment.

And yeah, most of us reading this probably understand that. But this is really difficult for a lot of people to understand. Not because they’re stupid but because they’ve believed the lie told to them that jobs are the same thing as value and if you have a job then you must be doing something valuable. But that’s absolutely not the case.

You can have any sort of job and do a really lackluster job, the job might not be a good fit for you, the job might not be a really well-desired job in the larger community or economy, the job might be really hazardous but happens anyways because of outside contributors, etc. There are so many scenarios where jobs lose their supposed “inherent” value.

Dunlop goes farther than that though:

ll the talk about “jobs and growth” – which is the alleged focus of the budget – ignores the fact that both jobs and growth are confronting the structural limits of what the economy can provide.

That is to say, the presumption underpinning employment schemes like PaTH is that at some point in the future there will be decent, full-time jobs that will eventually lower unemployment.

What I am saying is that no such future exists.

The era of full-time work is coming to an end and we have to stop holding out the false promise that at some magical moment the jobs are going to reappear.

Dunlop thinks (and I have no opinion on this first example) that global warming and technological unemployment.

Obviously I have much more to say about the latter which goes past simply technological unemployment.

Dunlop also points out the basic fact that many more sectors of the economy are requiring less workers as we advance technologically and not more. This basic fact will adversely affect the ability for governments to keep artificially creating jobs that people may or may not even want to begin with. Of course, none of that will stop the government (whether in Australia or the US) since they can just keep getting guaranteed incomes from the citizenry.

But surely, the jobs we “destroy” through technology will be replaced, right?

Dunlop isn’t so sure, he cites a report by the Oxford Martin School that looked at the number of jobs created by new technologies which remarks that, “Because digital businesses require only limited capital investment, employment opportunities created by technological change may continue to stagnate…”

On the other hand, working less isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as we all know. Less work means more time we can all spend time together, time working on our own personal projects and increased productivity from robots who do just as well, if not better, with less effort, means we all win out in the end.

But on my third hand (when did that get there?) there’s certainly problems with capitalism to worry about. And as tempting as it may be to think about a universal basic income Dunlap is correct to note that “we are a long way from that being a viable political option”. And I’d add that it’s much more realistic to think about mutual aid societies, institutions and groups that can from within decentralized and horizontal communities.

To take an example there have been mutual aid societies within crisis-oriented places as Greece, New Orleans and New York during Hurricane Sandy. In all of these situations mutual aid activists vastly outperformed government agents and often also outperformed private entities as well. Obviously these were emergency situations but I think it also shows the potential of these mutual aid organizations in normal situations to one extent or another too.

Whether jobs are going to eventually go away with robots being the main culprit is still debatable though it increasingly looking like technology is the way of the future. Unfortunately, capitalism in many ways is still continuing and government isn’t making the process any better by constantly pumping artificial unwanted values into the economy.

All of this is just more reason to abolish government and capitalism.

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