1970s >> 1978 >> no-887-july-1978

The Guardian solves unemployment

 Nothing is inevitable about unemployment. It is man-made and man can abolish it.

The above quotation is contained in a box attached to an article in the Guardian (May 19) and is thus the distilled wisdom of perhaps the most distinguished columnist of perhaps the most distinguished paper in the English-speaking world and I dare say a good case could be made out that he is the most distinguished columnist in the entire universe. Unfortunately, without even looking too critically at the statement above, one’s immediate reaction must be—with such geniuses, who needs fools?

We can all, of course, agree immediately that unemployment is man-made. We are well aware that it was not given by God because it was laid down that Mr God (or maybe in these days we should say Mrs God or Ms God) chased out Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden because of some monkey business with fig leaves and there and then laid upon the human race the injunction to work. ‘By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread’. No question of unemployment there. It is one of the cardinal points in socialist propaganda that the capitalist system of society, which now obtains all over the world, produces a variety of social evils, prominent among which is unemployment. And as it is obviously true that man makes his own society, it follows that he also makes the evil of unemployment. And can therefore unmake it. Nevertheless Peter Jenkins is talking ignorant nonsense. For what he is saying, throughout this article, is that we have only to put our thinking caps on and, within the context of capitalism, we can simply eliminate the curse of unemployment.

The conceit of this man is truly alarming. It does not even seem to occur to him that unemployment has been a recurrent feature of the world we live in for nigh on two centuries. So what this conceited hack seems to be saying is that, whereas all the other conceited hacks (not to speak of conceited statesmen, academics and similar natural-born leaders of the human race) have lived and died through numerous periods of unemployment, some of which, for example in the 1870s and the 1930s, were far worse than the level being experienced today, yet none of them found the magic cure to unmake this man-made scourge. But he, Peter Jenkins, can provide the cure that has eluded all these other mighty intellects who have wrestled with the problem in all the industrialised nations of the earth.

No doubt the answer came to him in his bath like Archimedes of old. The only difference is that when the latter called out ‘Eureka!’ — I have it — he really did have it and his answer to that particular problem is accepted right up to this day. Somehow one fears that Jenkins’ name will not go down to history in this way. His notion that you can find a cure for unemployment, while still retaining the system which gives rise to it, is no better than looking for the philosopher’s stone.

Jenkins says the answer is to modernise British industry so as to bring the productivity of British capitalism into line with its main competitors. It only needs a moment’s thought from an ordinary mortal to demonstrate that, as a cure for unemployment, this must be nonsense. If it were true that Britain’s competitors who have indulged in so much more investment in industry and have thereby procured a higher rate of productivity (or a higher rate of exploitation of their respective working classes) have solved the problem, then of course the suggestion that all we have to do is to copy them and, hey presto, the problem is solved would sound fine.

But the whole thing is a joke, of course, even though Jenkins is apparently blind to it. Everyone else knows that, even in the currently most successful country in the western world, namely Western Germany, which has a trade surplus running into billions of marks, unemployment is proportionally almost as high as in comparatively backward Britain. Similar considerations apply to all the other relatively successful countries such as France and the USA. Unemployment is rife in them all, yet they all have highly paid scribblers like Jenkins, they all know that unemployment is man-made and not a fact of nature (it is understood that unemployment was not a serious problem among the slaves of Egypt or the peasants of medieval Europe) and yet none of them have ever been able to solve the problem.

The simple fact which Jenkins doesn’t see, is that unemployment is a built-in feature of the anarchic system known as capitalism. So-called crises are a feature of this system and always have been. Slump follows boom follows slump. And a slump simply means that markets are glutted, that more goods have been produced than purchasers have money to buy and consequently there is no profit in producing a still greater surplus of goods. Production is curtailed and workers become unemployed.

It is as simple as that and yet it is, by definition, incurable. What is needed is a system of society in which markets cannot become glutted because there will not be markets. Goods will be simply produced for the direct use and enjoyment of human beings. If, because of the powers of technology, more food or clothes or houses are produced than the human race requires for its convenience and enjoyment, then society may decide to work shorter hours.

Unemployment of this nature, however, would obviously be a boon and not a curse. After all, nobody worries about the sorrows of the class which is permanently unemployed because it is in fact the employing class itself. They are perfectly happy in the Bahamas or Ascot. Nobody seeks to solve their problem of unemployment, because nobody thinks it is a problem. It is no doubt too much to hope that the Jenkinses of this world will ever realise that it is impossible to solve the problem of unemployment in isolation. What we need is the abolition of employment and the introduction of a new, man-made system in which there will be no employers and no employed. And consequently no unemployed. There is no other way.

L. E. Weidberg