• Fairy Stories Are Not the True Explanation

    Shane Jones’ plan to help unemployed youngsters, particularly Maori youth in Northland, to join the workforce has received a mixed response.  Everyone agrees that something needs to be done to help NEETs (young people Not in Employment, Education or Training – there are so many of them that they now have their own acronym) but the proposal has predictably brought forth the usual stories about young people being workshy, drug dependent or ill-prepared to do a day’s work.

    The story usually follows a familiar course.  An employer is found who is prepared to say that he has jobs available but has been unable to find anyone to take them up.  The story is then repeated, with no doubt a gratifyingly substantial dollop of publicity for the originator, by high-paid broadcasters, comfortably ensconced in a television or radio studio – who, true to form, enjoy using phrases such as “let’s get them out of bed” – and is then peddled by politicians who will seize any chance to argue that youth unemployment is not their fault or responsibility.

    On this latter point, let us be in no doubt.  John Maynard Keynes established more than 80 years ago that unemployment is not the fault of the unemployed (through, for example, demanding too much by way of wages) but is brought about by failures of policy.  It is the responsibility of policymakers, he said, to run the economy so that there is sufficient demand for labour; without sufficient demand (something over which the unemployed have no control) they will remain jobless, no matter how keen they are to work.

    Little attempt is made to check whether the employers telling the story are offering a genuine job, properly valued, paid and permanent, or whether the attitude is instead that a NEET should be grateful for whatever is offered and that young people’s labour is just another commodity, to be picked up at knock-down rates, and dispensed with as soon as possible.

    All too often, one fears, the attitude is that the offer of a job should be viewed as an act of charity or generosity, rather than an economic transaction agreed between equals, with a commitment on both sides to fair value.  There is no recognition that for most young people a job is the basis on which, potentially, they can begin life as a full member of society, earn a living, pay their way, strengthen their sense of self-worth, and plan a future.  It is not just a further opportunity for society to drive home to them how little they are worth, a hoop through which they have to jump so as to land at the bottom of the pile.

    The repetition of such stories reveals more about those telling them than about those who are their subjects.  The stories are usually told with the most relish and gusto by those in secure and well-paid and reasonably interesting jobs, and by people whose good fortune means that they don’t have the least idea about the lives of those they presume to denigrate.

    The purpose of such stories is usually to allow the tellers to wash their hands of the issue of youth unemployment, and to comfort themselves and excuse their lack of concern, by telling each other that the victims have no one to blame but themselves.  All too often, as well, there seems to be a political motive – to establish, against all the evidence, that the market economy serves everyone’s interests and that it applies a moral judgment so that it will reward those who deserve it and that only the ne’er-do-wells will fail to prosper.

    In any event, the popularity and frequency of such stories is further and depressing evidence of how divided and fractured we have become as a society.   Those who are concerned about our future, and especially the future of those who seem to struggle from the outset, would do well to subject such convenient explanations of their struggles to careful scrutiny.  To blame the strugglers themselves for their difficulties is quite literally to add insult to injury. We can do without such self-serving nonsense.

    We will all benefit from living in a healthier and better integrated society oif we take the trouble to understand how the pressure points arise.

    Bryan Gould

    6 December 2017







1 Comment

  1. Patricia says: December 10, 2017 at 9:58 pmReply

    What if Kataia was chosen for a twenty year UBI trial. Kataia is small enough to see how well such a system would work. I believe it would raise the standard of living of the whole town and any work people could get, seasonal or otherwise, would be a bonus. Surely in these days of work being so precarious it is worth a trial.

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