Running Commentary: Be your own boss?

During the nineteenth century Samuel Smiles offered the doctrine of hard work and abstinence to the British working class as a path from the poverty and suffering they experienced during the “golden era” of empire and industry.

Today the government peddles a similar message of self-help to the unemployed through its Enterprise Allowance Scheme with advice on how to become self-employed. The Prime Minister has revealed her vision for the future — a nation of self- employed. This is a bold vision in its denial of economic reality but it does reflect the pressures of party politics.

At the heart of the matter is government concern over unemployment levels and the consequent fear of losing power at the ballot box. This is a problem that has been faced by successive governments, whether Conservative, Labour, or Liberal (and will no doubt prove a source of worry to the new SLDP). Each has offered a variety of “solutions” that have proved useless without exception. Unfortunately for all parties hoping to capture power and administer capitalism the problem remains that unemployment is an inherent part of the capitalist economy and not capitalism gone wrong. As such the “solutions” offered by these parties and their accompanying economic advisers are spurious and, regardless of the promises, unemployment will be relatively high or low depending on the prospects for the capitalist class of realising a profit given prevailing market conditions. If the economy is expanding the capitalist will draw on the reserve of unemployed workers to increase production. When the economy contracts redundancy notices are issued.

The present government is offering the unemployed worker a chance to Be Your Own Boss. This self help booklet is available at Job Centres and offers advice and financial assistance in setting up your own business. It promises that “You won’t have a boss breathing down your neck” (not that the target audience has the luxury of this inconvenience) and offers a list of services you could provide as a budding entrepreneur. Among the services listed that could launch you on the road to prosperity are: picture framing, making pottery, sign writing, gardening and child minding. Contact with reality is avoided by ignoring those crucial elements of market economy — competition and profitability. The reader is simply advised to identify a service that cannot be obtained at the “right price” in the area they live. The realities of the market place are left further behind when advice is offered on forming a co-operative. A co-op may suit you if you are “. . . more interested in serving the community than making profits”. It would be hard to find a more cynical denial of the priorities of capitalism than to offer hope to unemployed workers by implying that a desire to help others may be enough to earn a living.

Tony Dobson