Unemployment in this country, as well as in most of the Western world, is the buzzword on people’s lips. Our generation is constantly demonised as lazy, feckless and unable to face the harsh realities of adult life. We lack the work ethic of those before us, or so people say, and our entire country is doomed to economic failure because of it. Many of us choose to live off of minimum wage jobs and pursue other interests; there are even some people, though few in number, who choose to live off of welfare. Why? Well the right wing press would tell you it’s because our parents did a bad job of raising us. I would argue that it’s because we’re undergoing a fundamental shift in our way of life, and we’re still wedded to old, outdated ideas.
Let’s not talk about unemployment, but instead talk about productivity. By any measure, productivity has continued rising throughout the financial crisis in 2008 and right through the double dip recession up until now. In laymen’s terms; things are still getting made, even though more people are out of work. In fact, more things are getting made and more stuff is getting done, even though jobs are incredibly difficult to find.
So why is this?
Well, firstly, it’s possible to live a happy and fulfilled life off of less and, consequently, to produce things which don’t have a high yield. I write a blog every day, I run an organisation offering free language lessons (for which I’m a teacher) and I also write for this publication. On top of that, I’m currently studying a degree and have a part-time job. I am not earning a lot of money, yet I am still producing. We aren’t really a lazy generation; look at the number of young people producing videos and articles across the internet, look at all the small start-up businesses with very modest profit margins. We’re working hard, but on things that satisfy us.
The right wing media might frame this as a choice, but the evidence points to the contrary. What is the fallout of the way many in my generation work? We still have an abundance of food, energy and housing. We still have all the consumer trinkets that produce status in this society. It seems that what the futurism of the 50s and 60s promised us has actually come to pass; we, in Western societies, are living in a post-scarcity world.
There’s not enough work to go around, not because the economy is heading south, but because it simply is no longer needed.
So how are we supposed to conceive of work now? The overall number of work hours that are needed for our society to function is reducing whilst the population is rising. There’s not enough work to go around, not because the economy is heading south, but because it simply is no longer needed. Yet, why are there still people who are working multiple minimum wage jobs just to get by?
Well, in that we have to look at how our economy is structured. In short, businesses need us to buy things. The reason why we are expected to head out to work every day and make money is so that we can afford those things or the entire system collapses. What is happening right now is that the amount of work that needs to be done is being allocated extremely inefficiently, simply because we arbitrarily require people to receive a certain amount of income in order to keep the economy moving.
makes sense economically that, in a time where people do not need to work 40 hour weeks for our society to function, everyone is given the money to support their basic requirements
I’ve written before about the basic income and why that could help our society’s problems, but there are a few arguments I never made. For a start, it makes sense economically that, in a time where people do not need to work 40 hour weeks for our society to function, everyone is given the money to support their basic requirements, so that all of their additional income gets plunged straight back into the economy. Not only that, but this policy would deal with huge inefficiencies in the public sector by doing away with job centres and all existing benefits, plus would give people time to actually find the holes in the market and plug them.
I know how this sounds. I know it seems like the utopian dreaming of a feckless, lazy student, but this is the economic reality. The longer we continue treating work like the absolutely necessity it was back when failing to work the land would result in the entire population starving, the more divisions we are going to create in society and the more damage we are going to do to our economy. We are living in an exciting time, where we could really see a flourishing of creativity, general wellbeing, and social cohesion.
First, however, we need to let go of our resentment for the world we have created. After all, isn’t a good thing that the hard work our forebears put in has lead us to this point?