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Friday, 18 November 2011

Work and Wages

With total unemployment in the United Kingdom well in excess of six million, including one in five of under-twenty-fives, the cost of maintaining them all - even at a low standard of living - is a major cause of the still-growing budget deficit. It is highly desirable that at least two million of those people should get jobs, raising their standard of living and paying taxes. There is much talk of creating those jobs; but staff are being shed from the civil service, the armed services and the health service, so it is hoped that other sectors of the economy should generate employment. The private sector - business - is showing little sign of major job creation. In the few segments of the market where there is opportunity for employment there is an evident employer preference for immigrant labour. The available jobs are mostly in entertainment, hospitality and services, where emphasis is placed on personal attributes of clean appearance and willingness to work hard at peak periods. Native British unemployed products of comprehensive schools are perceived by employers not to possess these characteristics. It is even reported that many graduates do not meet employers' requirements for literacy, articulateness. smartness and diligence.

Manufacturing industry has been through half a century of decline: many skills have died out and 'habits of industry' that used to be cited as a great attribute of British artisans have become extinct. There is a fashion for people to be given 'apprenticeships'. For many centuries apprentices used to work alongside craftsmen and learn skills on the job. In the twentieth century industrial apprenticeship took on a more institutional form, where apprentices [including graduate apprentices] were put through a sequence of jobs in the works in parallel with study part-time of relevant technical subjects. As industry diminished the good schemes attracted more applicants and now the few surviving exemplars [like that at Rolls-Royce] stand out as remarkable opportunities for employment. The 'real' schemes are highly competitive and attract excellent candidates: they bear no relationship - other than the use of the word apprentice - with the charade that is in mind for the masses. Without access to the appropriate industrial plant, or to experienced trainers, or to skilled supervisors the new apprenticeships will largely be classroom based, with simulated work situations and rare factory visits. Candidates will recognise it as a sham, and there is no chance of such a scheme creating a mass supply of skilled women and men who could operate new factories: even if the necessary capital and desirable patented product concepts could be conjured into existence.

The present government is following its predecessor in looking to 'the third sector' - not-for-profit firms, and charities - to create jobs, with financial assistance from the government. At a cost of billions of pounds, this will enable a few people to get useful job experience; and it will condemn hundreds of thousands to disillusion and cynicism. Unemployment is a horrible experience, even for a few months: when it lasts for years its psychologically and morally destructive. If the surrounding circumstances include fake apprenticeships, subsidised non-jobs in charity and a penal attitude by the state to claimants for benefits, the destructive impact of unemployment is enhanced. Only 'real' jobs in 'real' industry and commerce - and genuinely useful roles in charity and the public services - give job satisfaction. Such jobs are only created by the investment of capital and the engagement of protected intellectual property ik as defined in Personal Political Economy. Tragically, there is no sign that this is in the offing for the British people.

The USA also has a huge problem of unemployment, and many failed schools. Hundreds of thousands of the unemployed are dysfunctional from an employer perspective. But most of the employed in the USA work hard: and those who are seeking employment expect to work hard. The average US employee has many fewer days per years of annual holiday than do Britons or continental Europeans; and the torrent of Latino immigration ensures that employers can expect to get a full days work for the pay that they offer. Despite very significant de-industrialisation, the US remains a formidable centre of manufacturing, especially in high-value-added sectors. Nobody on the eastern shores of the Atlantic should read into America's unemployment statistics the same dire picture as is to be inferred from British data. The relationship of work to wages in the USA is an example from which Britain can learn beneficial lessons: any idea that 'they are in the same boat as we are' is deeply mistaken. Americans are right to be deeply concerned about the current state of  work in their country; but they have the means to ameliorate their relatively benign situation far more readily than we do in Britain.

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