–Unemployment Is A Distribution Problem Not A Production Problem

4 08 2009

In current economic thinking unemployment is usually considered to be a production problem. That is when there is not enough production going on to make use of all the available labour you end up with some people left out of the whole economic cycle. The usual response to this is to try to create more work to absorb this excess labour. This is why we are compelled to continuously increase our production so as to keep ahead of the growing pool of unemployed.

But looked at from a broader perspective unemployment is not a problem of production but rather one of distribution.

Even if output goes down a little, as it has over the last year – putting more people out of work, our enormously productive technology still goes on churning out more than enough goods for us all. So we are not looking to find work for the unemployed because we need their labour to ensure we can produce enough. We are trying to find work for them so they can earn an income to gain access to the things that would be produced whether they were working or not. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just give it to them directly rather than go through this complicated process that results in so many negative side effects? (the marginalised unemployed, environmental problems of overproduction, the lack of fulfilment in trying to consume all this stuff, resources not being used where they are really needed – ie in ending hunger and poverty in the world for a start)

When I say – wouldn’t it be simpler to just give it to them directly – I’m not advocating having one section of the community sitting idly by while the rest of us work to support them. What I’m suggesting is that if we are already producing enough, we share the “less work” around equally and all work that much less while still having the same living standard as before. Paradoxically that would be an increase in living standard because the same living standard on less work is an increase in living standard.

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5 responses

5 08 2009
Survive Unemployment

That’s a great idea. It would be awesome if everybody could work — but only 30 hours a week or so. If you read literature from the ’60s and ’70s when robotics first got started, you’ll see that that was actually the original idea. What a concept, right? Technology giving people more time to enjoy life and be creative!

15 08 2009
If only...

I remember being told at school in the early eighties that our adult lives would see ever increasing amounts of leisure time. Sadly, the reality over the last 25 years for most in work is ever increasing demands from employers. Meanwhile those without work get left further behind.

No argument with a fairer distribution of work, but where is the analysis of what went wrong with the utopian predictions and how you would get there?

15 08 2009
Michael

The analysis is contained in the title of the blog unemployment is good As far as I can make out from my studying of mainstream economic thought, our belief that unemployment is a problem to be solved rather than a development to be welcomed is what prevents us from fully realising the great gift our technological genius is offering us.

If you talk to most economists about the problems and destructiveness of continual economic growth, the final justification usually comes down to the assertion that we need growth to generate work, to prevent unemployment – even if it does have unfortunate side effects.

While I am not saying I have all the answers, I don;t believe there is much hope of a turn around as long as we base our economic actions on the idea that unemployment is bad and is to be avoided at all costs.

I’ve recently come across an article by Robert Anton Wilson titled the Rich Economy. I think he says it really well. …I don’t think there is, or ever again can be, a cure for unemployment. I propose that unemployment is not a disease, but the natural, healthy functioning of an advanced technological society.
…Suppose, for a moment, we challenge this Calvinistic mind-set. (ie that unemployment is a disease) Let us regard wage-work — as most people do, in fact, regard it — as a curse, a drag, a nuisance, a barrier that stands between us and what we really want to do. In that case, your job is the disease, and unemployment is the cure.
“But without working for wages we’ll all starve to death!?! Won’t we?”
Not at all. Many farseeing social thinkers have suggested intelligent and plausible plans for adapting to a society of rising unemployment.

7 10 2009
Rupert

As fringe as this idea may be, the very existence of money is the bigger question we need to tackle. A brilliant invention that has solved the problems of scarcity and distribution of our natural resources for centuries, are we now approaching a time in our civilization when it has become unnecessary and in fact counter productive?
It appears that money doesn’t in fact make the world go round, money could be the end of us all.
The Venus Project and the Zeitgeist Movement are just two groups of people considering alternatives to a monetary system. A Resource Based Economy, however ‘out there’ an idea it first appears to be, is a fascinating concept that needs further exploration and discussion. Certainly not a problem free solution but just to consider a world without money and dismiss it without any further consideration would be a terrible mistake. This idea needs to go mainstream and opened up to public scrutiny

9 10 2009
Michael

I agree that a deep questioning of money and it’s place in our world is what is ultimately called for in this whole issue of an emerging new economic paradigm. I still find Alan Watt’s essay wealth versus money says it in the way that makes most sense to me. To me what is important in the unfolding of this new paradigm is for each person to follow their heart and act and speak on what is important and makes sense for them. I think there is a danger in believing that one’s particular understanding is the answer, just as it is important not to downplay the great importance of each contribution.

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