Thursday, November 15, 2007

The laziness theory of unemployment

Chris Dillow has a good post about the real facts about unemployment, here. Some right wing creatures in the comments contend that unemployment is caused by people being lazy, with such potent arguments as:

"If I was being flippant I’d say the evidence is my local social housing estate, which I drive by on my way to work every morning. There’s no sign of movement, apart from the satellite dishes, as no one there works...The real problem is that unskilled people are unwilling or unable to accept the consequences of their life choices/their situation, believing themselves to be somehow worth more than the market will pay them, they use this insult to their over inflated self esteem as justification for doing nothing at taxpayers expense. A decade of brainwashing about “not stigmatizing poverty” allows them to sit in front of the TV all day with a clear conscience. "

So...people are unemployed because they think (shock horror) they are worth more than £5.50 per hour, so instead they choose to receive 50 or 60 quid per week. The robust evidence base for this being, 'I know what they are like, I drive past them every day.'

If out of work benefits had increase in line with average earnings since 1981, they would be £30 per week higher then they are. In real terms, the value of out of work benefits has fallen massively over the past three decades. And yet the number of people out of work has increased substantially.

The 'laziness theory of unemployment', when applied to recent British history, goes like this:

After the First World War, British people got lazy, and became increasingly lazy in the 1930s. When the Second World War started, they stopped being lazy, and continued not to be lazy up until about the mid 1970s. Then they suddenly became very lazy indeed in the 1980s, before becoming a bit less lazy in the 1990s and through to the present day.

Put like that, it sounds ridiculous. And it is. And we need to make sure everyone knows just how ridiculous it is.


At 5:53 pm , Anonymous Ed said...

I know it depends which measure you use, but the number of people in work is at a record level.

The only bit which makes me anxious is the reference to the growth in the number of people out of work.

At 1:46 pm , Anonymous angus said...

"The only bit which makes me anxious is the reference to the growth in the number of people out of work."

I think this must refer to the number of working age 'workless' households (i.e. households with no adult in work)which substantially increased between the 70s and the the present decade. Partly this is growth in number of single adult households, and in lone parenthood. But some will reflect disguised unemployment (e.g. some of the growth in incapacity benefit), where people would be willing to work if they thought jobs were available.

With regard to unemployment in the strict sense it would be valid to point out:

i) that unemployment in the three decades since the mid-70s has been consistently higher than it was in the previous three decades.

ii) that the value of unemployment benefits peaked in the mid to late 70s and has been declining since. So, at least in the late 60s/early 70s, u/e was lower yet benefits higher in value than now.

It isn't an easy picture to snappily summarise and I think the post got the essential message across.


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