Good news – UK unemployment hits record high

Today, UK unemployment is said to have reached a 17 year high; all mainstream politicians think this is a bad thing, but is it?

This was the headline on today’s BBC lunch time news programme; the latest figures show that unemployment rose by 114,000 to 2.57 million, the highest since 1994; the young – 16-24 year olds – were especially badly hit.

The response of politicians has been predictable; those in power blame the previous administration, and those not in power blame the current one, Call Me Dave and his gang. While David Cameron means well, on this issue at least he hasn’t got a clue, because full employment – which is what his and all governments aim for – is not a good thing, rather it is a terrible thing. What could we do if we wanted to see full employment? Well, one sure thing is to start a war. Take this gem from Gilbert Frankau in a speech to an apparently receptive audience: “A war would be a great idea” – yup, he actually said it – “Another war would give our three million unemployed ample employment.” He added “I would suggest conscription for this country. It would be immensely popular”.

In case anyone who actually knows something about both the rudiments of economics and the horrors of war thinks this quote is bogus, the full citation is MR. FRANKAU, PHILOSOPHER “DEAR, SENTIMENTAL ENGLISH”, published in the Daily Express, March 24, 1933, page 2.

Yeah, you got that right, in 1933, fifteen years after what was then the bloodiest war in history, this muppet wants to see another one. His statement is even more extraordinary when one considers both that he was educated at Eton, where no doubt he sang the Eton Boating Song while rubbing shoulders with a future Prime Minister or two, and that he did know something about the horrors of war, having served and indeed been wounded in, the Great War, as it was then known.

Six years after making this speech, his wish came true, Britain saw not only conscription but an even greater war. Certainly this war “cured” unemployment, but at what a terrible price.

Curiously, or maybe not so curiously, David Cameron also attended Eton, and is the 19th alumnus of that august institution to hold the office of Prime Minister of England.

Now, the big question, is unemployment really too high? Of course not. Imagine there was no more war. We would not need soldiers, or far fewer than we have now. Imagine there was no more rape, murder, or serious crime. We could downsize the police forces and empty our prisons. Gilbert Frankau and now David Cameron are blighted with terrible ignorance; Frankau was ignorant of not only the broken window fallacy but of the very basis of wealth creation. Wealth is created increasingly by technology, the appliance of science. True, in Frankau’s day there were no personal computers and jet engines, but the production line was far from a recent innovation, nor were advances in fields as diverse as engineering and agriculture. David Cameron has even less excuse than Mr Frankau.

The reality is that the world is becoming increasingly automated; while this is leading to a boom in service industries, entertainment and the like, it also means that more and more goods can be produced by fewer and fewer workers, so unless an alternative method is found for distributing purchasing power, we will face the absurd dilemma of companies producing massive quantities of high quality goods at rock bottom prices which only a tiny, privileged elite will be able to afford.

Rather than seeking to create make-work jobs in one form or another, David Cameron and his Coalition Government should look first and foremost to renouncing the so-called deficit, and distributing a Basic Income to all.

[The above op-ed was first published. October 12, 2011.]

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