Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Suppose a man has two cows (cont.)


The intrinsic dignity of labour (as opposed to Labour)

I am not convinced by the theory which says that it is better or righter for children to be supported by wages that their parents earn from work rather than in some other way.

If I won the lottery, or discovered an oil well at the bottom of my garden, or was a member of the House of Lords, then I would stop working and spend more time with my children. I don't think that they would necessarily be worse off because they had a father was independently wealthy / one of the idle rich.

I can conceive of happy children raised in a hippy commune where no-one does much work, and unhappy ones raised by a horny handed son of toil.

Granted that there are useful jobs which need doing, the best way for them to get done is for someone to do them. Our present system, in which a person goes and exchanges his skills and labour for wages, seems to be a pretty good one, although not necessarily the best possible.

I tend to agree with Oscar that the human race would be much happier if machines became so efficient that hardly anyone would have to do any work.

Welfare dependency

As long as there are jobs which need doing, it is a Bad Thing for the state to pay someone to stay at home and do nothing.

If there are no jobs which need doing -- if supply exceeds demand in the labour market -- then I don't necessarily think that it is a Good Thing to artificially create jobs for the unemployed. You could create a million new jobs tomorrow by saying "Self-service petrol stations are henceforth banned: every petrol pump must have an attendant." But I see no advantage of that compared with paying people dole cheques.

It follows that any welfare system under which the unemployed are financially better off than the employed is a Bad Thing, since it creates a financial dis-incentive to find a job.

If, in a given system, you find that unemployment benefit pays better than some salaried work, your options are, pretty clearly, decrease unemployment benefit, or increase the pay of some salaried employment.

Unemployment benefit, would, on my system, amount to the absolute minimum you need to live and participate in society. (Well above subsidence, but not much left over for luxuries. TV, books (*) and a newspaper are, on my view, not luxuries.) Any company paying its staff less than this amount should (and, I think, probably is) be regarded as committing a criminal offence.
Welfare dependency can therefore be solved by the simple expedient of "slightly increasing the national minimum wage to a level of about 25% more than unemployment benefit."

That's that one sorted out. God, I'm good.

Benefit fraud
I am not convinced by the theory that it is easy for individuals to generate huge incomes for themselves by defrauding the unemployment benefit services. The most serious large scale benefit fraud is perpetrated by organised criminals, who have run scams where landlords manage to claim housing benefit from fictitious tenants living in fictitious property. This is a Bad Thing, but nothing to do with the poor becoming dependent on welfare. And, by the way, it won't be solved by charging me £40 for a compulsory I.D card.

The most common kind of benefit fraud that private individuals are accused of is continuing to claim benefit while they are, in fact, in work. This is only possible if you are doing casual, cash in hand type work, but it must be relatively common. It is obviously Very Naughty but doesn't quite fit into the "people who have never worked" model.

£45 is the basic benefit for a single person. You can also, by an extremely convoluted system, get your council tax paid as well. (One office in the town hall sends out cheques so that citizens can send them back to other offices in the same town hall!) You can also get your rent paid, if you are living in a reasonably sized flat, or a contribution to your mortgage interest.

I am trying to think what else I claimed while out of work.
Cheap spectacles.
Reduced dental fees.
Free train fares to job interviews out of town (very useful)
One-off "hardship payments" if you can make out a case that you need, say, a new pair of shoes. (I never claimed that, myself.)

If I was going to do a scam, the best I can think of is getting someone to send fake job-offers from Scotland in order to get a free train ride. But they don't give you the money, just a little note that says "This person can travel free between these stations." Maybe you could somehow sell the warrants on the black-market.

I am genuinely interested to know what kind of frauds people are supposed to be doing to get very high payments out of the system.

The £45 is for a single person. If you have dependents, then you can get very much higher sums of money -- X pounds for each wife, and Y pounds for each child. You might be able to claim for imaginary children, but social services would catch up with you very quickly.

The tabloids occasionally get excited by the existence of someone (often a dark-skinned someone) who has 17 children and is therefore getting a huge amount of money out of the state. They conclude that the evil working classes are all dropping litters of babies all over the place simply in order to claim increased benefit. I have never been convinced. The alternative is to cut off the offender's benefit, whereupon his children either starve to death or get taken into state children's homes. Which sounds a lot like "Using an intercontinental ballistic missile to crack a nut."

Incidentally, did you ever see "Cathy Come Home"?

The Undeserving Poor
Ebenezer often pretends to believe that there are plenty of jobs for everyone, and the unemployed are simply lazy people who refuse to work. This is very unlikely to be true.In the 80s, when Mad Norman made his famous "on yer bike" remark, there simply were not very many jobs in some areas. Mrs. Thatcher was keeping unemployment artificially high as part of her policy to destroy the Trades Unions and therefore depower the Labour Party (a policy which largely succeeded.)

After Gordon Brown's first budgie, the Daily Mail got a massive stiffy because it thought that Brown was going to "force" lazy unemployed people to work whether they wanted to or not. But nothing appeared to come of this, presumably because most unemployed people want a job, but can't find one.

I have had periods out of work under Thatcher, Major, and Blair, and each time, you had to demonstrate that you were making a reasonable effort to look for work. Under Thatcher, you had to bring copies of job applications with you each week when you "signed on". Blair has introduced a radical new scheme called "the New Deal" where you have to bring a folder of job applications to a special interview you attend every three months. If you are unemployed long term, they hassle you (or help you, depending on your view point) in other ways. The idea that the unemployed are encouraged to remain unemployed is simply one of Ebenezer's fantasies.

But. Let us suppose we found an example of the a lazy person who really doesn't want to work. Are we saying that we would be prepared to cut off his benefit and put him on the streets selling Big Issue? Would this, in fact, be preferable to letting his rip us all off for £45 a week? More to the point, are we going to say to the genuinely poor person who is genuinely looking for a job "Sorry. You can't have any help, because there is a lazy hippy up the road?"


I agree that the best way of helping the undeserving poor is to address the conditions which made them poor and undeserving. This probably involves educating them, improving their health care, improving their standard of housing, giving them better mobility so they can look for jobs out of town. The best way of doing this is, er, through the welfare state.


(*) It makes no difference whether the unemployed have money to buy books, or access to really good free libraries.

26 comments:

Dan Hemmens said...

You forget, however, that Ebenezer's beliefs are based on personal experience, and therefore must be absolutely correct...

Charles Filson said...

Andrew,

Yes, absolutely. The wellfare state is a good way to handle many of these issues, but not in the way they are handled in the US. (I am not really sure about Britain.)

Sadly in the US, people do live for generations on public assistance. (Meaning grandmom, mom, and son have all spent their whole life on wellfare.)

Why is this sad? It's not sad because it takes money out of my pocket. If the government did not take this money, I would (and in fact do) give it freely through public charities. (I give about 10% of my annual income, above taxes and my tithe to charities intended to help the structurally impoverished. Nobody, not even Ebenezer feels that there is a problem with helping the cyclically unemployed.)

The trouble is that there is no hope that the next generation will not do the same, and who knows if America has lost it's next Einstein or Bill Gates by not engaging these folks in Acedamia and the work force.

The trouble is that American has a brain drain...we are losing ground to Asia (I am sure Britain is the same.) It is important for the US to engage all its people...both for the good of the country and the good of the individual.

I would like to believe that poverty and public assistance leads to parents spending more time with their children but this is not born out by statistics. Poverty (living on public assistance) leads to teen pregnancy, single parenthood and more poverty. (Single parent hood seems to be the single biggest risk factor for poverty or vice versa) It also (statistically speaking) leads to crime and drug use. I could give anecdotal explanations but they are pointless.

The trouble is that society must act like mom and dad if it is going to spend like mom and dad, and as you pointed out that is a problem with socialism...inescapable.

I don't have an answer except balance. And balance is not the status quo. The state meddels where they should not, and shirks where they should have responsibility.

G T Kingston said...

I think there are many reasons for people to be unemployed.

Education need not be a factor. It could just be someone whose psycology means that they really struggle with the concept of work. They could just be not very good at finding a job (as in my period of unemployment). They could (as Charles says) be in an situation where work is not part of their environment.

I don't think these problems are necessarily easily solvable however, unless we re-introduce workhouses (or in a more modern variant, get them into uniforms and get them to pick litter).

Hmm, perhaps benefits & evidence-of-seeking-work is the least bad option after all.

However, the government should ensure that a route out exists.

P.S. Don't really believe the Thatcher created unemployment to break the unions thing. I think the unemployment was a consequence and not an aim of her policies.

Dan Hemmens said...

Yes, absolutely. The wellfare state is a good way to handle many of these issues, but not in the way they are handled in the US. (I am not really sure about Britain.)

Interestingly, from what I was told about the US benefits system on the other thread, it sounds to me like a lot of the problems in the US actually come from the lack of a welfare state. As far as I understand, long-term unemployed Americans get things like free health care, which is extremely valuable, but available to everybody in England through the NHS.

Altin Gavranovic said...

Charles, you seem to be conflating poverty and life on public assistance. Whilst the two, of course, go together, I'm not sure you're right in so doing. It seems to lead you to blaming on public assistance what are, in fact, the consequences of generations of poverty.

Do you really feel that most of the jobs in 'the workforce' would substantially improve these people's lives? Really, when you think about it, probably the vast majority of people are working in soul-destroying, poorly paid menial jobs -- and so contributing to the Western world's 'brain drain'.

Indeed, I am always amazed somewhat at Andrew's optimism about the kind of life created by market capitalism backed up by a strong welfare state. I agree that it is better than without the welfare state, but it still doesn't seem very good. It seems to me that more and more people work just in order to earn a living, rather than because there's genuinely something for them to do. Do we really need quite so many people working in quite so many McDonalds, making sure I don't have to wait more than two minutes for my Happy Meal?

Yours,
Altin Gavranovic

Dan Hemmens said...

Do we really need quite so many people working in quite so many McDonalds, making sure I don't have to wait more than two minutes for my Happy Meal?

In a sense, we do. If you had to wait more than two minutes for your Happy Meal, the entire concept of "fast food" would be pointless, and McDonalds would go down the tubes.

Now, of course, you could argue that we don't really need McDonalds either, but at the risk of playing the patronising middle class white boy, it does bring a certain amount of simple happiness to a lot of people. I personally hate it, and wouldn't care if it vanished tomorrow. Not everybody feels the same way.

The sad truth (I always feel uncomfortable declaring something to be "the sad truth", since what I essentially mean is "this is my opinion, but because my opinion is a little bit cynical, I am going to employ a cheap rhetorical trick and imply that disagreeing with me is just naive") is that most people aren't going to follow their dreams, much less fulfil them. The world simply does not need more than a handful of writers, actors, and game designers. Most people will wind up peddling whatever useful skills they have for whatever they can get, and use the money they make to do the things they actually want to do.

Charles Filson said...

Kingston,

I hate to lean to heavily on personal experience, but from time to time I must. During the 1930’s Saint Frank (Pres. Roosevelt) introduced a series of public works programs to get America working again; CCC, WPA, TVA-W, and so on.
My Grandfather served in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) where he learned skills as a carpenter. He was a poor child from a farming family of 10. (5th child) There was no way he was ever going to have success in that family. Like many people at the time, he didn’t even have much schooling. (6th Grade: 11 year old child level)

The CCC, by forcing him to learn a trade and learn how to work in general in order to earn a livelihood, taught him skills that kept him employed and relatively happy for the next 60 years. This also had the effect of training about 23 million Americans (between all programs) how to be machinists, carpenters, bricklayers, and all manner of tradesmen. When WWII rolled around, the US was able to gear up for industrial production very quickly with all these trained men, and it prepared us for the boom of the 60’s…partially created the industrial boom of the 60’s.

My suggestion would be for the government to find areas that require manpower and employ as many people as possible. I am a software engineer. Bill Gates says that he would hire another thousand Computer Security Engineers if he could find them. So why not train the unemployed to work in computer security? Why not train workers in the western world to work in manufacturing or software development? The government could allow the market to determine the wage of the worker, and then supplement that wage with a negative income tax. It would be better than paying 100% of the benefit, and it might bring some manufacturing and industry back to the western world, (while simultaneously putting gradual downward pressure on wages and increasing deflationary pressure in the western world’s economies, but whether that is good or bad we could debate ad infinitum)

Altin:

Actually I do believe that jobs such as the ones described above or even jobs with wages subsidized by Government would improve the lives of most people who have never held one.

The reasons should be fairly obvious, but to make it short (I deleted three paragraphs of my life history here…you can thank me anytime) I never would have achieved my current lofty position (I make quite a lot of money and have a fair bit of local renown in my industry.) if I had not taken my first job for $3.75/hour. Each job lead to the next, and all lead to where I am today.

So yes, I do think that the CCC and being a Barista at Star Bucks…or even a burger flipper at McDonald’s can lead to opportunity. It can help people to get to know the world and it can change their perspective on life. Should the government subsidize people to be comic book artists and game developers? I think Dan handled that one quite well. We need more people who grow and harvest and process crops than design games, but games are so much more fun that if we simply paid everybody to do it who wanted to, then there would be nothing to eat. I would rather write computer games than medical imaging software, but if everybody wrote computer games, then you’d be in tough shape when you needed an MRI.

Anonymous said...

or discovered an oil well at the bottom of my garden

Actually I very much doubt that Andrew has ever been anywhere near the bottom of his garden: a lost opportunity perhaps.
Colin

Colin S said...

or discovered an oil well at the bottom of my garden

Actually I very much doubt that Andrew has ever been anywhere near the bottom of his garden; a lost opportunity, perhaps.
Colin

Colin S said...

So "preview" and the posting page shows text in bold but not if it's in italics and the identity buttons keep reverting to anonymous. Mmmm - please excuse me while I fall off my learning curve.

G T Kingston said...

Charles,

You may well be right. I think many people would benefit from actual experience of working.

However, I have reservations about obliging people to work (eg, if they have dependents they can't easily care for if they work, or if they have some sort of significant problem that would make it destructive).

Stephen S said...

or discovered an oil well at the bottom of my garden

I'm fairly sure that you don't own the rights to any natural resources found on your property. I'm sure I read this when having to pay out for a survey to buy a house.

I can't remember if it's the government or a private company (for some reason the local water company rings a bell) but I don't think you'd profit from it.

Man-made though, is okay. So you can profit from finding gold Roman coins on your land, but not from finding a gold seam.

James Holloway said...

So you can profit from finding gold Roman coins on your land, but not from finding a gold seam.

Unless, of course, you're an archaeologist. Chiz.

Charles Filson said...

Kingston Said:

I have reservations about obliging people to work

This drives right at the heart of our differences of philosophy. I am not being flippant (not intentionally) when I wonder if this is because despite our similarities, Britain traces it's roots to a feudal society and the United States was founded in aversion to that mentality and chose a Roman or Greek model. (Highly bastardized.)

I do not believe that it is the government that obliges people to work. People are obliged to work by the need to make a living and feed themselves; At the most basic level. (At a more complex level we could start talking about a social contract but that would be more involved than my brain, which is light on sleep from having watched Sith until 3am, could handle today.)

So the government does not require people to work. It offers them money. We can then debate whether asking for labor in exchange for that money is immoral.

From a feudal standpoint, a government (lord) has a duty to care for his people, but also vast powers over them. (In the best case tempered by laws...in the worst feudal Japan.)
From a greek standpoint the government is not over the people. The people are the government. They have an obligation to each other, but where a person has far more rights, they also have far fewer obligations. If you don't want to work, then your neighbor cannot use the force of law to make you, but you can also not use the force of law to make him feed you. This model works well if based in a society with strong morals. There are no laws forcing you to care for your downtrodden neighbor, but there are strong cultural mores that do so.

Most modern governments are a relatively healthy mix of each. But I wonder if the difference between European and American thought on the role of government might stem from this exactly: the underlaying memes are different, though the offsetting moral memes are similar.

Then again, I am tired enough that I could be making absolutly no sense at all.

Anonymous said...

"sigh" Others dwell on the philosophy of Molesworth (you said "chiz"- what pages that recalls).

Emily H. said...

I used to believe that people benefited from the actual experience of working even tedious and menial jobs.

Then I got a job in fast food. *g*.

(No doubt there are people out there for whom the opposite is true; still...however dehumanizing being on the dole is, it was more so).

Tom R said...

I vote that Andúril-Stone lay off the politics and hurry up and post at least the first of his seven reviews of The Sith, Revenge They Take, Hmmm, yes, Terrible Revenge.

If you had told me in 1995 that "By 2005, Star Trek will have collapsed into extinction and the best science-fiction on screen will be Dr Who, Battlestar Galactica and a prequel to Star Wars"... I would have laughed.

Colin S said...

Mmm.
Intersting comparing US and UK attitudes. I feel though that one of the biggest cultural differences has not been addressed- that of movement.
The US was founded by people on the move- seeking land, fortune, or just an escape from persecution. Once they arrived many continued to move westwards, still looking for a better life. The mass movement of the people also forms a strong part of the USA's historical identity.
In the UK we had, as you pointed out, a feudal society; however, it was also a relatively stable society where little changed, in terms of technology and working practices, for many centuries. Quite recently a close analysis of the records has revealed a surprising amount of social and geographical mobility, despte the apparent stability, suggesting that people were in fact trying to better their lot, but, contrary to the US this mobility does not form part of our historical self-identity; our ideology. We see ourselves living in the same small village for generation upon generation, paying fealty to the Lord of the Manor and his heirs, and doing much the same job as our grandparents did.
All this changed with the industrial revolution, of course. Except it didn't; not really. Yes there were new jobs in the mills and coal mines to replace the old ones lost on the land following the enclosures and changing farming systems, and the workforce had to move to the towns and cities; but the old stability soon reasserted itself with the Lord of the Manor replaced by the mill/mine/factory owner. The evidence for this is the very marked regional differences in dialect, diet, and custom that can be found throughout the UK, not only between the much older rural regions, but also between the much more recent industrial regions. It's hard to believe that these marked differences could have developed and survived if people had been on the move.

OK- enough history. What this means in the modern UK is twofold, so far as getting a job is concerned.

1. Our historical identity is based on stability. Thus, when our local jobs suddenly go, be it the coal mine, the ship-yard, or very recently, the car plant, we are stunned (note; these are often very macho idustries). Not only have I lost my job, but so have all my friends, and my son has lost the job I expected would be his. An entire region has suddenly lost its economic underpinning, and with it part of its cultural identity. Almost invariably there is then a call for the government to act. To bail out the old industry with subsidies or to provide new jobs to replace it(often a problem then arises because the new jobs are wimpish light assembly/service sector jobs which conflict with the macho culture of the old jobs.)

The government, of course, is just the Lord of the Manor's Lord.

2. Even if you accept the economic neccesity of moving to seek work there is a huge problem in doing so- accepting that you, in part; your children, mostly; and their children, totally; will lose their cultural identity is very difficult. The people you work with (assuming you get a job) or share a street with, won't talk like you, eat like you, dress like you, or perhaps even think like you. And they, in turn, quite possibly won't even understand what you're saying (I used to work with a guy from Glasgow) In short, you are not just moving to a new area you are giving up who you are, and must come to terms with being an outsider.(from experience a south-east English accent can experience xenophobia a mere 100 or so miles north-west of London!) Difficult for many, and unendurable for a few.

From my limited first-hand experience of the US I'd say the situation is rather different over there. Your regionalisation of dialect and culture is, even at its extremes (say: The Bronx, Alabama, and LA) less marked than in the UK, and the vast majority of you all share much the same dialect and way of life. This makes it much easier to be mobile as the local culture you are giving up, and the local culture you are moving to are reasonably close. You will feel more comfortable in your new surroundings and your new neighbours will be more accpeting of you. This, along with your historical identity as "fortune-seekers", makes your labour force much more flexible than the UK's, and so what might work in the way of re-training, benefits, etc when the US deals with mass unemployment (like in the rust belt) may not be directly applicable to similar situations in the UK.
We are, in many ways, profoundly different in our attitudes.

Colin

Charles Filson said...

Colin,

Those are some great points that I had not even considered. I think you are spot on in much of it.

I have always been amazed at the differences in England. Though in the US we do have a cultural divide between the rural and urban, the Urbanites are much the same all over. As much as I poke fun at the other end of interstate 35 (Texas, I'm in Minnesota), I feel pretty comfotable and at home there. (except for the overt racism...we are much more covert and circumspec about it in Minnesota) Hmmm...they also smoke in Grocery stores there...I'll never be totally comfortable with that one. In Urban Minnesota (Hennipen and Ramsey counties) you can't even smoke in any place where food is served. The point is that the differences in culture are few enough that I could list them. When looking for work, it is nothing for me to look all over the US and in Canada.

I could understand if there is this cultural barrier to moving to find work. Here is a question that popped into my head though:

Why pay the people displaced from their jobs in the auto factory to do nothing...this seems like it would also hurt the macho aspect. Why not publically subsidize the wages and reduce the cost for the auto-manufacturer. This helps the region economically, let's the macho men still be macho auto men, preserves the culture of the region and might help the business to be competative bringing more money into Britain? Mind you, we don't do this here in the US either.

Charles Filson said...

PS: Yes yes, please give us a Sith review Andrew.

I originally gave it a 6 out of 10...but I gave back the point I took away for there not being enough wookies in the film. I made it 7 out of 10 because I figure most movies suffer from that same problem now-a-days.

G T Kingston said...

I am not 100% convinced by the mobility issue, as I understand (someone who actually knows about this might correct me here) that people in the US are relatively immobile, with most remaining in their state of birth.

I also think people in the UK are (now) fairly mobile (this may well be personal bias, as I and most of the people I know at my current employer have moved there from all around the UK). This is noticeable in general as well, as most of the accent differences seem to be reducing, apart from those between the large urban areas.

I think, as Charles says, that this is to do with the historical background of our governmental systems and the differences in the philosophy of government.

I think the pioneer background is also relevant, as a pioneer that did not work would starve.

Charles Filson said...

Well, people in the US are actually quite mobile, at least many of the people that I know.

Of my 10 best highschool friends, I am the only one that that remained within a few miles of where we lived at the time. 2 moved to Rochester (Where the Mayo is...about 100 miles south) One moved to Texas, then to Oaklahoma and moved back with his bride from there. Several still live in Texas, one in Arizona, one to New York, one to New Jersey, and one moved to Wisconsin. About 20% of people end up living in a different state then their birth state...that's what I think that the statistics say. Many end up moving to where they went to college, or to the homeplace of a person they met in college. So we are a pretty mobile people.

Yet, I think that philosophy is still a pretty big factor. The pioneer attitude is pretty strong. The self-sufficient man of the earth. Of course this is changing too, but without the history of feudalism (which is a form of collectiveism.) we may not come to the same place as you have, even though the majority of us share common ancestery.

This is actually very interesting. Like most Americans, I identify with Britain an aweful lot. We have a common history, common names, common religion (mostly), many common heroes, similar legal systems and business norms. In many Americans there is this nagging feeling that we really ought to stand up for a British flag, and some of us even know that there are alternate lyrics to _America the Beautiful_. When I read about Horatio Nelson, and Arthur Wellesly (who I named my dog after ;-) I feel a swell of pride similar to the one I get from Israel Putnam, George Washington, and crazy Uncle Ben.(Franklin)

Yet for all this, it seems that our collective psyches are rather different...I suppose this would make a great doctoral thesis...if only I knew what degree it would be for.

Altin Gavranovic said...

So yes, I do think that the CCC and being a Barista at Star Bucks…or even a burger flipper at McDonald’s can lead to opportunity. It can help people to get to know the world and it can change their perspective on life.


Whilst I certainly agree that such jobs *can* lead to better things, I am not really sure that they do (or even can) lead to such opportunity for anything more than a minority of those working in them. Sure, for you such a job may have been a pathstone for better things, but I don't think people reading Andrew's blog constitute a fair sample of society. Besides, society as it is at present sturctured more or less demands, does it not, that a rather large portion of society be employed more or less permenently in menial, personally unsatisfying jobs? That some of us can escape this condition hardly amounts to a justification of the general state of things.

I'd go as far as to agree with you that if your only options are utter poverty and burger-flipping, you're probably better off with the burger-flipping, but I must still insist that there is something dreadfully wrong with a society in which so many people are presented with such a stark choice.

We need more people who grow and harvest and process crops than design games, but games are so much more fun that if we simply paid everybody to do it who wanted to, then there would be nothing to eat.

I think this would have been a much better argument about fifty years ago. It seems to me that the amount of sheer human labour needed to obtain basic necessities in the Western world has greatly been reduced lately (by technological innovation, third-world exploitation, ect.) whereas the amount of labour actually performed has not meaningfully decreased. This suggests, to me at least, that something is wrong with the way our society operates. We've made a fetish of labour, I often think -- for perfectly sound historical reasons, I grant you, but I wonder whether we're not clinging to an out-dated preoccupation with the need to work.

I also wonder whether it is true, as one hears so often, that human beings in general would all rather be poets (or game designers) than farmers or car mechanics. I think this is an argument which is often made by people who hang out too much around poets and game designers. I am not persuaded that letting people's inclinations dictate to a greater extent what they do with their lives would lead to the downfall of civilisation as we know it. And even if it did, I don't really know that you'd be that much worse of being a post-apocolyptic subsistence farmer (or whatever) than the average person spending half of their life in a job they dislike.

Your perspective in this debate will, I think, depend largely on how dysfunctional you think the world is just at present. I, as you may gather, take a rather dim view of the situation. I gather you take a more cheerful view of the world?

Yours,
Altin

Charles Filson said...

Altin,

No I take a rather dim view of future as well.

You said:

It seems to me that the amount of sheer human labour needed to obtain basic necessities in the Western world has greatly been reduced lately (by technological innovation, third-world exploitation, ect


And there's the rub. We only get our basic needs satisfied by tens and hundreds of thousands of Chineses kids working in sweat shops to make cheap goods, and tens of thousands of migrant laborers who live in comparative squaler.

If a job flipping burgers is too menial then I wonder what pig farmers thought 200 years ago. What if they didn't like slopping pigs? Did they simply tell the government that they didn't feel fulfilled by this chore? We all live in a society...that much Andrew has convinced me of. That society has a duty to care for all its people, but all those people have a duty (a social contract) to provide some good or service required by the collective. If the individual fails in this duty, then the social contract is broken and the collective is dismissed of its duty to the individual. Or so the arguement could be made.

I take a dim view of the future of the western world because we live in relative wealth and comfort and discontent. (Beign a Barrista at Star Buck is beneath our dignity.) The average Chinese worker (according to the latest gallup poll) lives in what we would call poverty and squaler, doing menial labor for 10-12 hours a day 6-7 days a week, yet they claim to be happy with what they have.

If the surplus labor force spent their time working for the betterment of society, increasing the catalog of human knowledge especially in the areas of medicine and physical and social sciences, then I would have a brighter view of the future.

Yet instead, the majority of the surplus labor force focuses on Television and other forms of entertainment and complains that there is not enough, or trys to get rich by making more entertainment. (Why not that is what is most valued in the western world.)
We all know who Madonna, Miachael Jackson, Russell Crowe and Ian McKellan are, but how many of us can name even one Nobel Prize winner for Physics, Medicine, or Chemistry in the last 5 years?

The Westen World will crumble under its own weight because people ask not what they can do for society, but only what society can do for them. The Social contract is only spoken of in terms of the duty of the collective, never the duty of the individual.

TS said...
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Kevin Jackson said...
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